Advice from David: Stop and contemplate

In our Rotation this month, we’ve been asking how a person develops faith in God. So far we’ve covered some ways to grow our faith. Let’s expand on the one that suggests we spend time alone with God. How does one practice doing that?

What if you followed David’s lead?

Not the part about hitting Goliath in the head with a rock, but what comes before the actual battle: What David likely did as he picked out stones.

Stop. Think. Take time to ponder as you carefully choose your rocks.

A child contemplates rocks

The Bible doesn’t give us many details about the picking of these stones but I can imagine there was some thought that went into it. Let’s call it “Meditative Time.” Can we practice that? Yes!

You might first think of meditation as something that Buddhist’s do. It may be surprising to learn that meditation is found in all religious traditions. In Christianity it is the heart of the contemplative teaching of Jesus on prayer.

Here are the simple steps to begin meditation:

  • Sit with your back straight and lightly close your eyes.
  • Focus on your breathing.
  • Silently begin to recite a single word – a prayer word or “mantra.” Try the Aramaic [1] word that means “Come Lord” – Maranatha. Break it into four syllables:
    Breath In: Ma
    Breath Out: Ra
    Breath In: Na
    Breath Out: Tha
  • Let go of all thoughts (even good thoughts), images and words. When your mind drifts, bring yourself gently back and continue repeating your word.

(For a graphic with these steps refer to this website.)

Other questions:

  • How long should this last? With young children start with one minute. When it becomes apparent that they can handle one minute, “praise them and say that since they are so good at it now, you will reward them by increasing it to two minutes. Every time they are at ease with the length of time, increase it by one minute till you reach their age – 4 minutes for age 4, 5 minutes for age 5 and so on.” [2]
  • What if your child asks: Why say “Maranatha.” Is that some sort of magical word?” An answer.
Give David’s plan a try: stop and contemplate.

[1] Aramaic is the language that Jesus spoke.
[2] Suggestion from the website of The School of Meditation, of The World Community for Christian Meditation.

Photo credits:
Contemplating rocks by Hagerty Ryan, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image is in the Public Domain, provided by Public Domain Images.

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Choosing the good road

This Lent at FUMC, as a congregation we are walking once more to the cross and to Jesus’ resurrection. Along the way we are looking at “road options” that Jesus and his disciples chose along their journey. How might these same decisions be open to us? Which road will we take? Will we recognize the best choice – the good road? Let us journey together this Lent as we “Walk The Good Road.” See you in church!

Last weekend Rev. Doug Paterson’s sermon on the “Good Road” series spoke to the quandary that the “The Good Road is Not Always Smooth.” I don’t think he mentioned David and Goliath, but he could have.

When the road is not always smooth, perhaps we are facing a giant.

Cartoon painting of 'The Scream'

Perhaps that giant, creating yawning potholes in our path, is…

  • A conflict with a person — family or friends or teachers or co-workers or bullies…
  • A situational problem — I can’t figure out math, my grandfather is dying, my dreams don’t seem to be happening…
  • Peer pressure — I’ve got to be the best soccer player. I’ve got to be in the in-crowd. I’m worried about having a bad-hair-day. I’ve got to have a bigger house/car/phone. I’ve got to be thinner/sexier/smarter…
  • Or maybe the giant you’re facing is you! You want to change but you don’t understand why you do the things you do and how to be transformed.

This last one is my current giant! My giant says to me “Carol, who are you to be speaking about faith?” “Who are you to make decisions about Sunday’s Cool?” “Who are you to be a leader in a Christian educators organization with thousands of members?”

It would be easier for me to back away from my giants, letting them win. Sometimes the road we must choose is harder than we would like.

The Good Road is ever before us. Will we recognize it when we see it?

Can I trust God’s definition of me as Imperfect, God-seeking, Confident, Child-of-God, One-who-has-work-to-do?

Thankfully God is always with me (regardless of the road I choose). But I also know that I am called to move in the direction of faith. But how? Here are some ideas:

Intentional Practices for growing faith:
  • Remembering: Where and when has God been with me in the past?
  • Provide a platform for lingering together, for the asking of questions, and for finding hope. Encourage the expression of ideas and inquisition. (Ask: What do you think about ___?) Honor with attention and thoughtfulness.
  • Spending time alone with God. Perhaps practicing a bit like this.
  • What scripture can I learn so that strengthening words roll off my tongue? (How about this Rotation’s Key Bible verse?)
  • A "shrine" of things that invoke the memory of God's goodness

  • What visual reminders will I place in my path? A cross here, scripture written on an index card there? Set up a spot in your home that is designated as a “quiet spot.” Fill this space with objects that invoke memories. Allow touching and rearranging and additions and subtractions. (Photo on right is such a spot set up at the Nelson home around Easter time.)
  • As well as the usuals: communicating with God through prayer; learning God’s advice by reading the Bible; strengthening my relationship with God through worship; serving others. (Read more here.)

Which of these practices will you implement in your family this week?

Photo credits:
Cartoon “Scream” by Prawny. Used with permission from
“Shrine” photo from Chris Nelson. Used by permission.

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How was it possible?

David vs. Goliath? How was it possible that little David won the battle?

It was a little guy vs. a BIG Giant! Sort of like the tug-of-war we set up last week.

a tug-of-war between a little kid and a big man

We wanted kids to realize how unlikely it was that David could have won against Goliath. One little guy was a piece of cake for “our Goliath,” just as it should have been for the real Goliath.

Two kids even tried to beat him. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I realize that David didn’t face Goliath in a game of tug-of-war but… how did David pull this off?

Goliath vs. two kids

Meanwhile, tnree tried. Goliath didn’t even break a sweat.

Three kids try against our Goliath

So ask these questions in your family get together: How did David do it?
  • All of the other Israelites, including King Saul, were terrified of Goliath. No one else had enough courage to fight him. Why do you suppose David volunteered to fight Goliath? (Read David’s reasoning in 1 Samuel 17:37).
  • David trusted that God would be with him, I wonder how he came to believe that?
  • Why did David go into battle without any “protective” armor of the heavy-duty metal sort? (Read David’s answer in 1 Samuel 17:39).
  • Just because it didn’t feel right!!? David must have had some sort of super-weapon. His slingshot must have been the extra-whiz-bang-model! (Read about it in 1 Samuel 17:40). What! It wasn’t! What did David take with him into battle besides the 5 smooth stones and a slingshot? (Get a hint: 1 Samuel 17:45-47).
  • He had faith! He knew he could defeat Goliath by trusting in God and relying on God’s power! Let’s look at the way David thought of God: Read Psalm 23. (To David, God was a shepherd that took care of all of his needs.)
  • What lesson do you take away from this story about David’s faith and trust in God?

A cross decorated with palm branchesIt’s Lent! Here are some resources for the season:

Short spiritual practices to try during Lent.

More Lenten activities for your family.

A way to tell the Easter story using plastic Easter eggs.

Photo credits:
Photos are from my archives.

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David & Goliath: It’s not about bullies or stones

Our kids recently learned about David in the story of David’s anointing as Israel’s next-in-line king. Now we turn to a more familiar story of David, and his encounter with the giant Goliath. Read about our story in 1 Samuel 17:1-49.

A scene showing David slinging a rock at Goliath

Some keys points to take from this story (with help from Rev. Neil MacQueen):

  • This is not a story about bullies. The “giants” for our kids might be problems with other kids, but that’s where the literal parallel ends. This is a story about using faith in God to take-down our troubles.
  • The rocks in this story are not secret weapons. David’s slingshot is an improbable weapon; small stones are highly unlikely to dent a giant’s armor. We need to trust God to help us face giants.
  • David is a role model. He was raised in the faith, and when the time came, his heart was found true and that gave him both the opportunity to serve God, and the courage to do so! How can we raise kids so that they are prepared to serve God, and to courageously do seemingly impossible things?

It all comes down to this:

How does a person develop faith in God?

Journey with us and learn!

On Sundays, at the downtown location, here is our schedule of workshops:

Date Our workshops for 1st through 6th graders…
2/15 Everyone will gather together in the Social Hall to watch the animated video, The Beginners Bible Series: The Story of David and Goliath. What a great way to start a Rotation!
Date Our workshops for 1st through 5th graders…
Drama Bible Skills
& Games
Cooking A variety!
Room 215 Room 211 Social Hall See below
2/22 4th grade 1st grade 3rd grade 2nd & 5th – Games in Room 212
3/1 Enjoy worship and Communion with your family.
The sermon is on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. Read it before hand! It should sound familiar.
3/8 2nd & 5th grade 3rd grade 1st grade 4th grade – Cooking in the Social Hall
3/15 3rd grade 4th grade 2nd & 5th grade 1st grade – Storytelling in Room 212

And here’s what the 6th graders will be doing… (They’ll mostly be in the Pine Room.)

2/22 3/1 3/8 3/15
Cooking Workshop Worship with your family. Games Workshop Attend the 7th/8th grade Explorer’s Class

And on Saturdays at the Green Wood location, here is the schedule…

Date Workshop or Activity
2/14 A service project
2/21 Games Workshop
2/28 Drama Workship
3/7 Video Workshop
3/14 Cooking Workshop

What’s happening in each workshop?

  • In the Drama Workshop students will experience, through performing a skit, how faith in God gave David victory and can give us victory over the giant problems in our lives.
  • In the Cooking Workshop students will make (and eat!) a giant cookie while learning the story details.
  • In the Games Workshop students will learn story details by playing a game that involves throwing a “sock rocket” at a giant Goliath.

On Saturday nights and on Sunday mornings at FUMC our Cool Disciples experience Rotation Model Christian education, as they learn about Bible stories and concepts through kid-friendly multimedia workshops. If you are in the area please join us for the fun learning at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, MI.

Photo credit:
David and Goliath copyright MMBOX PRODUCTION, from; used under license.

For such a time as this?

Esther found herself in a tight spot: Face death if she went before the king, or do nothing and have her people be annihilated. Her wise cousin Mordecai was suggesting that she’d been situated as queen, so she’d be available to step in and save her people. He told her…

Open quote markAnd who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14b

Have you ever felt as Esther did – stuck in a quandary?

I’ve been in muddled-mode for a long time. There are lots of things I’m not sure I want to do anymore. And then there are new things that appear. Should I take them on? Something has to go from my to-do list but I’m not sure what!

I feel like I’ve been trying to do more and more, and accomplishing less and less. How do I decide what to let go? What if I choose wrong! Rather than make a decision, I’ve been just spinning my wheels. Perhaps it’s time to realize that I’m at a “such a time as this” juncture.

When one finds themselves in “such as time as this,” faith and trust need to triumph over fear.

A road sign indicates trust is straight ahead

Here are words of a blessing I need to hear and live:

Open quote markMay you be willing to leave behind a risk-free life and go out on a limb, for such a time as this.

How about yourself? Join me in becoming unstuck?

Did you know that blessing someone gives them a precious gift?
Click on a box if you would like to…
A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless others.
A check-box View other suggested blessings.

Photo credits:
Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
Road sign in the Public Domain, via Pixabay.

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More family talk on Esther (part 2 of a reading plan)

Our current Rotation story covers several chapters in Esther. Start with part one of our reading plan (covering chapters 1 – 3 in Esther) breaking the story into manageable chunks so that you can review it a little bit over several days. And here is part two, covering Esther, chapters 4 – 10.

Start off your discussion time by asking family members to tell the story up to where you last left off. Why not use a fun way to do this! Watch the first part of our story in this video. (If you are reading this in an email click here to view the video.)

Or use one of these ways to retell the story:

  • Begin the story with one sentence such as “Our story starts off with King Xerxes having a big party.” Let each person add one line to the story until you are caught up on the story.
  • Pictionary style: Take turns drawing parts of the story (and guessing what is being drawn!) Then put the pictures in story order.
  • Tell the story with inaccuracies and let them correct you — especially fun for the younger ones!

Note: Some portions of our story are rather graphic, especially for younger kids. For example, people are hanged or impaled on poles, depending on which version of the Bible you are reading. To be on the safe side, ahead of your family reading time, plan to skim a passage to check out what you may need to adjust in your reading.

Read in Esther Talk about or do…
4:1-7 What is sackcloth? (A definition). Can you imagine sitting on a heap of ashes? What do you suppose the advantage is of such public display of sorrow? How do you show sadness? Discuss other outward signs of inward conditions? Adults: You’ve heard it said that we need to help our children name their emotions but what about naming our own emotions? Do you ever do that? I’ve learned it’s important to say to myself: Right now, I am doing _____ (frustration or depression or whatever), now what can I do?
4:8-11 Does your child’s classroom ever use “talking sticks?” Why does it appear to work?
Name an instance when you feel “unsafe” talking. For me it was speaking up in class as a child! Oh, if I could have imagined someone holding out a gold scepter as a sign of my acceptance! What “gold scepters” do we need to display to others?
4:8-14 What is Mordecai’s challenge to Esther? Esther was in a pickle. If she went to the king, she could be killed. If she did nothing, her people would be wiped out. Name a stuck sort of situation you once found yourself in, where no matter what you did seemed like trouble.
Focus on the later portion of verse 14: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Sometimes the stories of our lives don’t make much sense. Can you imagine a “such a time as this” situation as an opportunity to serve God? Has such a situation ever occurred? (Adults: This is important sharing time!) How can you remember to think of each “right where you are this minute” situation, as to how you can possibly be Jesus to someone else?
4:15-17 What is a “fast?” (Refraining from eating food.) Esther’s calling for a fast, was essentially asking all of the Jews to pray for her. Name some situations where prayer has helped you do something hard. How is it helpful to know that others are praying for you?
God used an ordinary woman named Esther to save his people (who happened to be Jesus’ ancestors!) Do you suppose that God could use you to do something special? How does it change your life to know that God has something special planned for you to do?
chapter 5 Whew! King Xerxes held out his scepter to Esther! Esther chose to have faith in God and to take her chance at approaching the King. Discuss the athletic shoe company’s campaign to: “Just Do It.” How does such a saying apply to this story? Are the happenings in this story, and in our lives, coincidences or the special workings of God? (Room for lots of debate!)?
chp 6 Ah, the book of records comes into play! Who did Haman think that the king was talking about when he asked, “What should I do…?” How did this make Haman feel to have to do all of these lavish things for Mordecai? (verse 12) How can thinking of ourselves as better than others, get us into trouble? What is one thing you can do to help you amend this sort of character trait in yourself?
chp 7 This is a good time to play a game or two of “Hangman” using names or phrases from the story. For older children: How can you seek justice in a situation where you currently see injustice? What can you do if justice is not served?
chp 8 God provides not only for Esther and Mordecai, but for all of the Jewish people. How do the people respond? (They rejoice!) In what ways can our response to God be rejoicing? Have you ever thought of going into worship with an attitude of rejoicing?
9:20-10:3 (Note to adults: skipping all of the killing!) What is something that your family can commemorate and celebrate (beyond the typical birthday and graduation)? How about the day you were baptized? Or is there something that God has done for you that you would like to remember? What are some ways you could celebrate it?

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A reading plan for the book of Esther, part one

Have you thought about this…

Your home is the primary learning lab for your child’s faith growth.

That’s right. In your home.

Not what they get at church once a week.
Not what they get from Vacation Bible Camp once a year.
(Though those things certainly can help.)

At home.

A boy at the dinner tableBut, have no fear! Why not use the following “reading plan” to lead your family to deeply discuss our current Rotation story, which winds it’s way through several chapters in the Old Testament book of Esther.

Read (and talk about!) our story over several days. Try it at the family dinner table or wherever your family gathers together with a few spare moments.

This reading plan needs some map work. As a kid, I loved maps! Don’t be too quick to point out places on a map. Let kids work at finding them. This looking helps cement concepts in their brain! (Such as how far it was from Susa to Jerusalem.)

Middle East Map

Read in Esther Talk about or do…
1:1-2 (chapter one, verses one and two) Do some map sleuthing. Start with a map of the world. See if they can find Michigan! Name an African country for them to find. (How about Kenya! A bunch of folks from our church will be headed there soon.) Have them find Egypt and Israel. (Clicking on a country brings up a map of that country.) Now go to this map and note the outlines of the Persian Empire. Where was the home base of King Xerxes? (verse 2). Find Susa on the map above. Bonus points: Today what country was Susa in? (Check back with the world map).
1:1-8 King Xerxes (what a fun sounding name! It’s pronounced: Zurk-seez) gave some parties! How long was one of his galas? (verse 4) What’s the longest “party” you’ve ever attended? I’m putting the word party in quotes because perhaps it’s time for the adults to tell the kids about that days long event they’ve attended in the past. What about Art Fair in Ann Arbor – that counts as a party of sorts. Have you ever been to Art Fair more than one day in a row? It’s time to tell stories about special events!
1:9-22 This queen’s name is pronounced: VASH-tee. What did Vashti do that got her banished from the kingdom? What do you think of the kings advisor’s reasoning? Do you think Queen Vashti’s action was insulting to everyone? Discuss how roles in families have changed!
2:1-10 [Adults: Read this chapter ahead of time to plan to use substitutions for some words.] Here’s another character with a strange sounding name: Mordecai is pronounced: mor-di-KI. Why do you suppose Esther hadn’t told anyone about her family origin? Look back at the map above. The homeland of Esther and Mordecai’s Jewish family was where Israel is today. (Find Jerusalem on the map.) Do you know how Jewish people ended up in Susa? (Read about the exile.)
2:11-18 How do you suppose Esther felt about being removed from her home with no choice in the matter? How do you suppose she felt about a year’s worth of “beauty care?” About winning this beauty contest? Everyone seems captivated by Esther’s beauty, but beauty, all by itself, doesn’t cause people to like you! It also takes… what? (your character and your actions!) Do you see yourself as a “beautiful” person? (God does!)
2:19-23 [Adults: Be prepared to perhaps change the wording used in this passage.] What plot did Mordecai stop? Why do you suppose it is significant that this event was recorded in “The Book of the History of King Xerxes’ Reign?” Does anything ever happen that you wish could be written down so that you could refer to it later? Just for fun, try writing down the events of one day.
3:1-6 What behavior made Haman so angry? As second-in-command to King Xerxes, Haman held a rank that required everyone to bow down to him. Does the story tell us why Mordecai wouldn’t bow down to Haman? (Not really!) We know that because Mordecai was a Jew who only bowed before God, he would have refused to bow down to Haman. How does this sort of loyalty make you feel? Is there anyone (or anything) in your life that asks you bow down to it? Bonus question: Which of the Ten Commandments was Mordecai following?
3:7-15 What does it mean to “cast lots?” (basically, to roll dice!) How did Haman surreptitiously persuade King Xerxes to issue an edict condemning the Jews in the entire Persian Empire? Check the map of Xerxes’ empire. Compare that to the map above to discover what Jewish homeland would have been included in this order-of-death decree. (Jerusalem!)

Stay tuned. More to come!

Photo credits: Click here for info on banner photo (not visible in readers or email).
At the supper table by Eric Peacock, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Have you ever said to yourself, “I can’t do that, I’m not ____ enough.”

(Enter your word of choice: smart enough, or experienced enough, or perhaps brave enough?)

A cautious boy clings to the edge of a swimming pool

In our current Rotation on the story of Esther, I imagine that Esther herself wasn’t so keen about doing what her wise cousin Mordecai was suggesting:

Open quote markGo to the king and beg for mercy (Esther 4:8).

Surely Mordecai knew that in the kingdom of Xerxes, one didn’t just pop in to see the king without an invitation! No, no, no! That would result in certain death! Yet Esther takes that heroic, risky step.

Wow. She was brave.

But wait a minute. Esther was just an ordinary girl. Esther didn’t seem bold or courageous. Sure, she was just caught up in a strange series of events that led her to queenly status, but that was just fate. (Or was it?)

Once again. Another example: God chooses ordinary people to do his work.

We see this as a pattern in the Bible, look at all those humdrum humans carrying out amazing achievements: There are the disciples (including obscure fishermen, chosen to be Jesus’ students), and David (a lowly shepherd-boy chosen as king), and Mary (a simple, young girl chosen to birth God’s son)…

And then there’s you.

That’s right, you!

Open quote markGod can do anything you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Ephesians 3:20).

How can you (and your family members) believe this?

It helps to have spoken reminders, both in your self-talk and in your speech to others.

Use words of expectation; expecting only good to come from you.
Offer a blessing to yourself and to those around you:

Open quote markGod envisions you as worthwhile.
Live this day fully aware of your potential.
Go out with courage! Confident of your value to God.
God is making a difference through you.

Click on a box if you would like to…
A check-box Satisfy your curiosity about why you should bless your child.
A check-box View other suggested blessings.

Photo credits:
Cautious boy by Devon D’Ewart, who licensed this photo on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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