Purposeful Gratitude

In reading the story of Abraham and Sarah, have you noticed that Abraham has a habit?

He stacks stones.

A very balanced pile of rocks

No, Abraham wasn’t piling rocks in an artful manner such as the photo above. He built altars. He deliberately heaped soil and rock, forming a reminder. A physical stalwart to remind him of an encounter with God. He would use these altars in his worship to God and to remind himself of God’s promises of blessing.

In the season of Thanksgiving, how about we be as deliberate, and make our gratitude be purposeful. The key is to make this your new normal. Here are some ways to do this with your family:

  • Why not pile some rocks. Go out for a walk to collect stones. Once back at home, in a family gathering (perhaps at the dinner table), read about Abram’s altar building in Genesis 12:6-8 or Genesis 13:3-4 or Genesis 13:18. Make a pile of your rocks naming each one as a thanksgiving to God.
  • Take the next step and write thanksgivings on your rocks with a permanent marker, or use a glue and water mix (Modge Podge) to apply cut out pictures to your rocks.
  • Allow your rock pile to be re-built on a daily basis!
  • A "shrine" of things that invoke the memory of God's goodness

  • The Life Application Bible tells us that Abram built altars to “remember that God was at the center of his life.” Build a different sort of “altar.” Fill a space in your home with reminders of thankfuls. Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions. (Photo on right is at the Nelson home around Easter time.)
  • With older children discuss ways people often build “monuments” to themselves or to their stuff. Why do you suppose we do this? How can we break into a new focus of being grateful?
  • A blessing box - a place to store your blessings!

  • Fill up your family blessing box!
    If your child didn’t get to make one in our Art Workshop for the story of Abraham & Sarah, you can view the lesson here and download the instructions here. Decorate any old box!

What are other ways your family makes gratitude purposeful?


Photo credits:
Balancing rocks by Viewminder, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License. “Shrine” photo from the Nelson family. Used by permission. Blessing box photo from my archives.

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Become the blessing

Gather the family together and tell this story. Be prepared to stop for questions.

Once upon a time there was a man named Abram who heard from God. “I want you and your wife to be a part of something really big. Pack up and move far from here, and raise up a great big family; generation after generation! I promise to bless you richly, to give you much goodness! And in turn, you will bless the world!” (Genesis 12:2.)

Do you suppose that Abram often thought about those numerous descendants — the ones God had promised to him? I can just imagine him chuckling to himself as he watched the sheep, “When those grandchildren come, I’ll tell them all about the altar I built at the great oak tree in Moreh” (Genesis 12:6-7). “I’ll tell them how I didn’t see how, with all of those Canaanites around, the land would ever be ours! Ha!”

Have the adults in your family ever thought about their grandchildren-yet-to-be-born?
What about the kids; have you ever thought about your grandchildren?

I am sure there were times when Abraham’s doubts about God’s plan spilled over in frustration. I can imagine him grumbling to his childless self as he tended to the goats, “The Lord God can bless me all to pieces, but it won’t do any good. Copious kin! I don’t even have a son! I’m too old.” (Genesis 15:1-5).

Then there probably were times Abraham (God had given him that new name as a sign to remember God’s promises) wondered about “blessing the world.” As he leaned back his head to adequately view the marveling display of glimmering stars overhead, he wondered to himself, “What did God mean by that? I will be blessed… so that I can be a blessing? How can I be a blessing?”

Have you ever wondered how you can be a blessing?

"The greatest gift of all is to become the blessing." A quote by Ann Voskamp.

We share God’s promises; they belong to us.

What are we doing to bless others?
Our family? Our friends? Our neighbors? The homeless man on the street? The store clerk? Our grandchildren (the one’s way off in the future)?

Abraham and Sarah teach us to respond faithfully to God’s call, even when it doesn’t make sense; even when our trust wavers. The payoff is great. (God promises it will be full!) God can’t wait to bless us! And in turn, God wants us to enrich the lives of others; it’s part of God’s plan to bless the whole world!

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
The quote above is from Ann Voskamp’s book
One Thousand Gifts. The word art was created by Deb Chitwood.


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Take time to travel through the story

A public domain image: Abram Called to be a Blessing
(In Canaan) the Lord appeared to Abram and promised:
“I will give this land to your family forever.”
Abram then built an altar there for the Lord.
(Genesis 12:7)

The story of Abraham and Sarah winds it’s way through several chapters in Genesis, so here is a reading plan that breaks it down into manageable chunks. Print out this plan and over the course of several days (weeks!), have your family read the story together. Included are activities and questions to go with each reading!

a girl readingIf you’d like to print out this reading plan/discussion guide, click here.

Read in Genesis Talk about or do…
12:1 If God called you to suddenly move to a not-named spot, would it be an adventure, or something to avoid? Would you go? What would you pack?
12:1-5 Abram faithfully goes! He doesn’t know where he is headed! (The Bible can look in hindsight and tell us that he went to a land called Canaan.) Someone’s actions reveal their character. What type of person is Abram? What would you like your actions to reveal about you?
12:1,4 Have each person take a turn at being led while blindfolded. Talk about how this felt. (Trust was required!) How is our walk with God sort of like a blind faith walk?
12:4-7 Hey, wait a minute! But God said he’d give Abram this land and yet the Canaanites seem to have gotten there first. Yet what does Abram do? (Hint: 12:7 – he hears a repeated promise of land & builds an altar to worship God.) Name a time when your expectations didn’t meet what happened. How did you react?
11:31, 12:1 See if you can find on a map, all the places where Abram went. (Try this one.) Can you figure out how far Abram and Sarai traveled? What is the longest trip you’ve ever taken?
12:1-3 What does it mean to be blessed? (Ans: that you’ve received something good.) What does it mean to be a blessing? As Thanksgiving approaches, collect a list of your blessings. Everyone write or draw a blessing. Place them in your box you made in the Art Workshop! (or save them up if you haven’t visited Art yet.)
12:1-7 God has both made commands and promises to Abram. What has God asked Abram to do? What are his promises? Why does the promise to make Abram into a great nation (which requires lots of offspring) seem like a farfetched dream? (Hint: 11:30) What outrageous promises have you received?
13:14b-18 God is reminding Abram of the promises he has made. Abram used altars he built out of rocks to remind himself of encounters with God. Go on a walk and gather a few stones. Take them home & build a table-sized “altar.” Periodically restack the stones. Remember God is always with you.
15:1-7 Abram doesn’t bottle up his feelings! He tells God about his doubts. When have you doubted God? (It is okay to share your doubts with God!) What reminders of his promises has God given you?
15:5 Plan a star gazing night. What do the number of stars represent for you?
15:18a, 17:1-4 What is a covenant? (Look up the definition in your Bible dictionary.) A covenant is like a special agreement including a promise. What examples of covenants (special promises) can you think of? Write a family covenant that everyone can participate in. Bonus Q: What does the little “a” mean, after the 18?
17:1-9 How old is Abram? (99!) Look back at 12:4 to see how old Abram was when our story started. How many years has Abram waited for God’s promises? Why do you suppose God waited so long to fulfill the promise of a son? What can we discover in waiting for God’s promises?
17:3-5, 15 Caregivers: provide the story of how your child’s name was chosen. If you could change your name, what would you change it to? What if your name change signified a change in relationship with God?
17:7-9 What does God mean when he says that this is an “everlasting covenant?” What does this mean for us? Hint: check out 17:7 (it’s our key Bible verse). Develop a family cheer using the words: “God is our God!”
18:1-15 Who are these three visitors? What do you make of the way Abraham treats them? How do you treat visitors?
17:15-17, 18:10-15 Why do Abraham and Sarah laugh? Tell about a time you laughed at an inopportune time. Speculate about what makes God laugh.
21:1-3 What does this story teach you about God? What long-awaited event has brought you the most joy?
Bonus questions: How are Jacob & Esau related to Abraham? How about Joseph? Draw the family tree.


Photo credits: Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Abram worships God in thanks for God’s promises, by Providence Lithograph Company, circa 1906; in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Abraham & Sarah: November Schedule

Welcome! Join us as we offer ways to enrich your family’s faith journey. Extend once a week “church school learning” into your everyday!
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To see a growing list of opportunities to foster faith learning at home for our current Rotation story :: click here.

Abraham looking up at the stars

In November we are continuing the story of Abraham and Sarah. Read our story in Genesis 12:1-9, 13:14b-18, 15:1-7, 15:18a, 17:1-9, 17:15-17, 18:1-15, 21:1-3. Note that this is a long story and portions of Genesis are being skipped on purpose!

a speech bubble
Bonus Question for the Kiddos: Why is Abram star-gazing?


On Sunday’s at the Downtown location…

Date Our workshops…
11/3 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family
Video Art Games Puppets Cooking
Pine Room Room 212 Room 211 Room 215 Social Hall
11/10 3rd grade 5th & 6th grade 1st grade 4th grade 2nd grade
11/17 4th grade 1st grade 2nd grade 5th & 6th grade 3rd grade
11/24 5th & 6th grade 2nd grade 3rd grade 1st grade 4th grade

For Saturdays at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Workshop or Activity
11/2 Attend a special worship service with kids in leadership roles.
11/9 Cooking Workshop
11/16 Art Workshop
11/23 Video Workshop
11/30 Worship with your family and enjoy the holiday weekend!

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Art Workshop students will discuss blessings in their lives and how they can bless others. They will create and learn how to make use of a blessing box.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will make sugar cookies to give to others who are blessings in their lives.
  • In the Games Workshop students will participate in a Trivial Pursuit type of game to learn story details.
  • In the Puppets Workshop students will use handle-bag puppets to enact the story.
  • In the Video Workshop students will watch portions of an animated video on our story, Covenant Discovery, from the Great Bible Discovery series. Explore how we trust God’s promise.


If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI. On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings, children ages 3 to 6th grade experience Workshop Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly, fun, multimedia workshops.


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Abram is awed by the number of stars in the sky by Stjepan Mokatelo, via Christian Clip Art.

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Is Father Abraham an ancient relative of yours?

You remember the song about Father Abraham…

 ♫  Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you…   ♪♪

a winter tree

My family tree includes Swedes, Germans, and a few sprigs of Irish and English. Is Abraham a part of my genealogical chart? It’s highly unlikely.

So why do we sing that I am a son (figuratively) of Father Abraham?

Interestingly enough I had a child ask me on Sunday if anyone in our church was related to Abraham. The perfect lead in!

Abram (whom we later know as Abraham) started off with an empty nest. God made Abram a promise: You will have a tree full of descendants. And sure enough, eventually Abraham became the father of lots and lots of people; a whole nation full of God’s people! Lots of leaves on his tree!

the family tree of Abraham and Sarah

Oh wait, Not leaves! That wasn’t the metaphor God used to explain his promise! God compared the number of Abram’s eventual offspring to grains of sand on a beach and stars in the sky. Imagine trying to count sand particles! Lots!

So, about that song: where do we fit into Abraham’s family tree?

We are Abraham’s spiritual descendants.

It goes like this: God called Abraham and Sarah and all their descendents into a special relationship with him through a special type of promise we call a covenant. He said,

I will always keep the promise I have made to you and your descendants, because I am your God and their God. Genesis 17:7

The apostle Paul said it another way:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham.
You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you Galatians 3:26, 29.

God’s promise belongs to us! Remind your child(ren) (and yourself) of this daily! Sing a couple of bars of Father Abraham.


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Other photos from my archives. Check out the family tree I created here.

A book to be loved

A book that hopefully will be loved, and used and worn to pieces…

A 3rd grader proudly holds her Bible

How can we ensure that happens? That a Bible is utilized, consumed and worn right out?

  •  First, give to all of the third graders, a gift from the church: a Bible of their own. Distribute these Bibles in an in-front-of-everyone sort of way. This ensures that not only will recipients and their immediate caregivers feel the reverance, but everyone sees how important these kids are to us, and how serious we are about God’s word!
  •  Second, hold a special unwrap-the-Bible event for the 3rd graders and their families. Right off the bat announce that their shiny, brand-new, au courant Bibles are sheathed in numerous layers of various types of paper! Purposefully unwrap each layer while teaching its significance; each covering sheet introducing an aspect of the Bible.
The first layer of wrapping on their Bibles Layer two is revealed!

For example: What could a layer of comics-paper bring to mind? The Bible is full of stories. Carrying around a Bible is like carrying around a library!

Check out the photo I took! Little sister watches closely
Taking a close look A family pix

  • This milestone event has a third step.

    Use your Bible at home.

    Steps one and two were initiated by the church but step three is in the hands of all families. Oh yes, if your child attends the Cool Disciples program, they will learn a lot, but YOU, not the church, are the primary faith educator for your children.

    Where can you start?

    • Allow your child(ren) to catch you reading the Bible. Actions speak louder than words.
    • Read the Bible together. Often.
    • Talk about what is read. For our current Rotation story on Abraham and Sarah read these passages in Genesis: 12:1-9, 13:14b-18, 15:1-7, 15:18a, 17:1-9, 17:15-17, 18:1-15, 21:1-3. Look here for a reading plan for our story. Subscribe to this blog (see up above, on the right) to receive an email of each new post.
    • God made a covenant with Abraham. Make a covenant with your child to study and learn about God together.

    Be the first one to ask for a replacement for your worn out Bible!

    The 3rd grade class
    The class of 2023!


    Photo credits:
    Photos from the families of FUMC. Group photo by Joe Spaly.

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Ringy-ding-ding. God is calling.

It’s not just the phone that can call us away from something.

a phone is ringing
a phone is ringing

 
It’s the alarm clock,
the hungry family,
the laundry piles,
the boss,
the egg timer,
the ping of “you’ve got mail”...

All things that call us; demanding we turn our attention their way.

What calls have you heard lately?
Anybody heard God calling?

Abram did.

Of course things were a lot quieter in Abram’s day. (The bleating of a few sheep perhaps?) As you start a new Rotation on Abraham, you’ll be learning about how Abraham (whose name started off as Abram) heard God’s call and how he responded to that call. Here it is from the Bible…

 

Open quote markAbram, get up and go! Leave your country. Leave your relatives and your father’s home, and travel to the land I will show you. Don’t worry — I will guide you there. I have plans to make a great people from your descendants. And I am going to put a special blessing on you and cause your reputation to grow so that you will become a blessing and example to others.   Genesis 12:1-2

 

Talk about “calls” at the family dinner table (or wherever your family is gathered together). Start off with a game. Make it like the “I’m packing a suitcase” game, except in this case the first person tells something that called them away, for example, the alarm clock called them away from a dream. The next person repeats the first call and adds their own: the bell that called you away from recess. (They don’t have to be actual events that happened; the President called on the phone and asked you to come to Washington?) And so on, until someone can’t remember the list of calls!

Play again if you desire. Eventually turn towards a discussion about how many different types of calls there are on our daily lives. Ask these questions:

  • Do you suppose that there are so many calls on our lives that we can start to respond without thinking?
  • What can help us to stop and remember to prioritize which calls we’ll respond to?
  • What about God, does he call us?
  • Name some ways that God has called you in the past.
  • In what ways might God use to reach us? (through the words of a friend, a Bible passage, a song…)
  • What might keep us from hearing God’s call?
  • What can we do to help us listen for God’s call?

Ringy, ding, ding.
Check the caller-ID. It might be God calling.

--------------

Photo credits…
Phone call by Sean MacEntee, is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

Abraham & Sarah: October Schedule

Welcome! This is the spot to find ideas and encouragement to grow faith in your family. Easily read future posts (usually one a week) by subscribing over on the right. Enter your e-mail address to have posts sent directly to your inbox. Or click on the orange RSS icon to subscribe in a reader. Thanks for visiting.

To see a growing list of opportunities to foster faith learning at home
for this month’s story :: click here.


On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings at FUMC, our kids, whom we call Cool Disciples, experience Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops. Scroll down to view our October schedule of workshops. This month we’ll be starting a Rotation on the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah.

The Old Testament? Why study the Old Testament?

An old (now out-dated) floppy disk

After all, isn’t it the Old (i.e., Out-dated, Leaden, Dusty) Testament?

While the Old Testament can seem distant from our ways of thinking, there are important reasons why we include it in our studies:

  • It’s the Bible Jesus learned. (In fact, he likely could recite all of it by heart.)
  • Jesus and the apostles constantly refer to it in their teaching.
  • And the story of Abraham and Sarah is of particular interest…

  • It’s the story of God’s interactions with people; calling them to be in a relationship with him.
  • We see Abraham and Sarah on a journey. They took the first step and walked into the unknown, solely by faith. There is an element of mystery in walking faithfully. Abraham and Sarah can be a model for what it means to take a leap of faith.

Read about our story in Genesis 12:1-9, 13:14b-18, 15:1-7, 15:18a, 17:1-9, 17:15-17, 18:1-15, 21:1-3. Note that this is a long story and portions of Genesis are being skipped on purpose!

For Saturdays at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Workshop Activity
10/5 Drama Workshop One more week on the story of Jesus in the Temple as a young boy. Enact this story using masks in the form of a Greek drama.
10/12 Puppet Workshop Starting on the story of Abraham and Sarah by using “handle bag” puppets to enact the story.
10/19 No Workshop this week Worship with your family
10/26 A Special Workshop Make preparations to help lead worship on November 2nd and make a Halloween snack.

On Sundays at the downtown location…

Date What’s happening…
10/6 Enjoy worship and World Communion Sunday.
(Leave the service with your child after the children’s moment for Rev. Nancy Lynn’s Family Communion Class, and rejoin the service in time for Communion. Recommended for age K and up.)
Our workshops…
Art Cooking Video Games Puppets
Room 212 Social Hall Pine Room Room 211 Room 215
10/13 3rd grade** 5th & 6th grade 1st grade 4th grade 2nd grade
10/20 4th grade 1st grade 2nd grade 5th & 6th grade 3rd grade
10/27 Attend a special worship service with kids in leadership roles.

** 3rd graders will be receiving Bibles in worship during the children’s moment. Then they’ll have a special class!

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Art Workshop students will discuss blessings in their lives and how they can bless others. They will create and learn how to make use of a blessing box.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will make sugar cookies to give to others who are blessings in their lives.
  • In the Games Workshop students will participate in a Trivial Pursuit type of game to learn story details.
  • In the Puppets Workshop students will use handle-bag puppets to enact the story.
  • In the Video Workshop students will watch portions of an animated video on our story, Covenant Discovery, from the Great Bible Discovery series. Explore how we trust God’s promise.

We’ll be continuing our study of Abraham and Sarah next month!
If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI


Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Floppy disk by “Great Beyond,” who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.