Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Walking With Grandpa

It was a bright, sunny morning, not unusual for Tucson, Arizona. Ninety percent of the time, mornings were always clear and sunny. The inconvenience of bright and sunny mornings in Arizona is that bright sunny mornings turn into hot sunny days. If you want to do anything outdoors, from walking to watering your lawn, best to do it early.

Grandpa and I were out walking, not unusual for us either. I often took walks with my grandfather. Sometimes our walks had purpose, like walking up to a nearby store. Other times, like that day, we walked just to walk. Grandpa never said much on our walks. In fact, when Grandma shooed him out the door to take walks with the kids, he would often mutter under his breath. But I knew he enjoyed them. I could tell by the broad grin that spread across his face when he thought no one was looking, a smile accentuated by his weather wrinkled face.

We reached a four lane minor artery near the neighborhood park. In a childlike display of affection, I slipped my hand into his hand. When we reached the other side, he let go and I was embarrassed at my childlike action. He probably interpreted my gesture as nervousness over the busy highway and that I needed his hand as a security shield. At ten years old, I was too old to hold hands with my grandpa for such a simple reason as affection. Yet that is what I had meant it to be – a silent gesture that I loved walking with my grandpa. He always called me his little girl. I still regret telling him at one point I was a grown up girl and he needn’t call me that anymore. It took years for both of us to get over that. Now, when he calls me his little girl, I stow it away like a precious diamond nestled among the other treasures of my memory chest.

Walks with Grandpa became more numerous over the years. One day, we walked over five miles to his brother’s house, nestled against the mountains, just to see if we could do it. I was relieved when Uncle Eldon offered us a ride back into town. We walked with Grandma and Grandpa along the hiking trails that crisscrossed the mountain ranges surrounding Tucson. When they moved to Sedona, Arizona, we would walk several miles to eat lunch at a local restaurant. After such a strenuous walk, I wondered why Grandma still fussed at Grandpa’s food selections. In their late sixties, they walked with my sister and cousins down the Grand Canyon, a walk I regreted I would never have with them because they, like us, were growing older.

The walks became more symbolic as Grandpa journeyed with us through the important moments of our lives. Grandpa offered to drive both my sister and me at separate times to bible college, hundreds of miles away. Not yet a believer, Grandpa let us know in no uncertain terms, that he thought we were wasting our time. However, if that’s what we wanted to do, he would make sure we got there and got settled well. It seemed only natural that Grandpa would be the one who walked me down the aisle when I met my husband to be at the nuptial altar. I dare think he was as nervous as I was!

My last memory of my grandmother was seeing her and Grandpa turn from their goodbyes at our rented car to walk hand in hand along the sidewalk surrounding their retirement building. After age 80, it no longer mattered who saw you hold hands or kiss or say “I love you.” Another poignant moment came when Grandpa, age 85, walked anther aisle to take the minister’s hand and acknowledge his desire to make Jesus Lord of his life.

My grandfather is now taking another walk, a journey on which we cannot go with him but we will surely follow him someday. At 96, as he battles congestive heart failure, he is walking toward the end of his life and we all know, without saying much, that the end of that walk is drawing near when he will reach the throne of Almighty God and take his Savior’s hand.

Grandparents can have a powerful influence on their grandchildren. When the world is topsy-turvy with economic crisis, family disintegration and the fear of terrorism, a grandparent can be the security a child needs. Sometimes, all it takes is to be there and walk with your grandchildren – just as Grandpa walked with me. If you are a believer in Christ, you have a crucial opportunity to let your grandchild walk that faith journey with you. As you walk, you can demonstrate to them how to walk with the Savior.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bible Christmas Quiz

Tomorrow is the Sunday before Christmas. Adult services might run long. Do you have an extra activity planned in case you have too much time and not enough lesson? What about your bible story for tomorrow? How do you tell a story that your students have heard many times in a fresh appealing way?

Maybe your students don’t know that Christmas story as well as they think they do! Here is a Christmas quiz you can give them, With thanks to
Standard Publishing, I’m borrowing a quiz from the VBS Anytime series, “The Incredible Race” which is a wonderful curriculum. Test your Christmas knowledge then see how well your students do.

1. True or False: Mary rode on the back of a donkey to get to Bethlehem.

2. True or False: May gave birth the same night she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem.

3. True or False: An innkeeper offered them the only accommodations he had left.

4. True or False: Jesus was born in a stable.

5. True or False: Being a perfect baby, Jesus never cried.

6. True or False: Angels appeared to the shepherds, announcing Christ’s birth and singing praises to God.

7. True or False: There were angels present at the manger scene.

8. True or False: A drummer boy accompanied the wise men to the manger.

9. True or False: There were three wise men.

10. True or False: Jesus was born on December 25th.

How well do you think you did? Guess what? All of the questions are false. Most of these assumptions have sprung from tradition but the Bible is silent on these details so therefore, we cannot assume that they are true. We just don’t know! Just because there were three gifts does not necessarily mean there were three Wise men. Donkeys were often used for pack animals. Ladies, can you imagine trying to mount a donkey while nine months pregnant? Songs and pictures of the manger scene are not gospel truth. While there might have been angels at the manger scene, the Bible never says there were. The Drummer Boy is just a song.

I love the one about the manger! Who says a manger has to have been in a stable. It could have been out in a field to provide food for the animals there. We can’t even assume that the straw in the manger was clean!

We do know this. Jesus was born in the lowest of situations and had visitors from the lowest socioeconomic status. What humility! It was enough for the Lord to take human form yet He chose to enter at the world’s lowest level too!

Thank you! Thank you Lord Jesus, for entering our world, born in poverty, death as a criminal. You loved us that much. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Children's Christmas Service Projects

Did you hear about the eight year old boy who, when his parents asked him what he wanted for Christmas, said he wanted to give toys to sick children? So he and his parents took a bunch of toys to give to patients at a Children’s Hospital.

Perhaps you are thinking, “I wish that was my child” or “I wish that child existed in my classroom.” My thoughts were, “I’d like to meet this child’s parents!” What kind of example did they set for this child to have such a giving spirit? Even if that generous spirit came from deep within, kudos to those parents who put legs on a little boy’s dream and made it happen!

For the rest of us, we often find ourselves despairing about our children’s greedy attitudes at Christmas. Yet, like anything, character traits don’t just happen. They have to be taught. We can help our children grow in generosity by doing service projects with them at Christmas time. Here are some ideas:

1. Take fruit baskets to elderly folks in your neighborhood or who attend your church. Greet them with caroling.

2. Go Christmas caroling at a local nursing home. Have one or two of the children bring a pet along. Make sure the pet is well behaved and loves people. A Labrador or Golden Retriever or a Welsh Corgi have great personalities for nursing home visits. Get approval from the home before you do this and have an adult keep a careful eye on the pet.

3. Take treats to a nursing home. One year, our church youth group dressed up in Halloween costumes at Halloween, went to a nursing home, and gave each resident a banana. This was a great idea because we didn’t have to worry about whether someone was diabetic and couldn’t eat candy or cookies.

4. Offer to decorate doors of rooms at a nursing home. Better yet, offer to help a nursing home or children’s hospital take down decorations after Christmas is over.

5. Make a care package for a recently unemployed family. Decorate a basket and fill it with cocoa mix, tea bags, a tub of cappuccino mix, some cookies, muffin mix, a small bottle of dish detergent, a small kitchen widget and a couple of candy canes.

6. Become involved in
Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. Participants fill shoeboxes with specified items, such as school supplies or personal care items and send it to Samaritan’s Purse to be distributed to needy children in other countires. One local church asked families to send $5 with their child to a youth meeting. The youth sponsors then took the children to the local dollar store and let the children purchase items they could put in the shoeboxes.

If you would rather help local families, your class or family could take the same basic idea of filling a shoebox for a needy child. I love the idea of letting the children shop for the items of their choice. This works on several levels. It allows the child to take ownership of the project. It also teaches some valuable lessons about money management.

The greatest way we can show thankfulness for the gift God gave us through Jesus Christ His Son is to give to others. The essence of giving at Christmas is not to give obligatory gifts to those who will give back to us or who have no need for what we give. Christ gave us what we needed most and what we were helpless to provide for ourselves – salvation. Let’s mirror the love of Christ by giving to others what they need most. Let’s involve our children so they too can learn the art of giving.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Classroom Christmas Crafts and Activities

Classroom Christmas Crafts

Christmas! What an exciting time in a children’s ministry classroom! Students may come to your classroom that have never darkened your door before. As a teacher, you have the privilege to tell the most precious story on earth – the story that God himself stuffed the divine presence of His Son into human form so the Son could lead the world back to God.

All right, so you’ve told the same story year after year. The kids could tell you the story. How can you drive home the magnitude of what God did for us on that Christmas night so long ago without your kids yawning, interrupting you to tell you about the latest toy they want or without your students bouncing off the walls from too many candy canes and too many shopping trips?

Make the story fresh. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” What other ways can you tell the Christmas story? You can use skits, music, crafts, snacks, games; service projects; anything that reinforces the message of Christ coming to this earth.

Beware! It’s so easy to choose activities that celebrate Christmas in a general way, that fall into the trap of the secular symbols of Christmas. As a children’s ministry worker, you want to be different. You want your message to stand out in stark contrast to what the students are getting elsewhere. Choose crafts and other activities that present the biblical message in a strong and compelling way.

Recently, I’ve been looking for a craft that emphasizes the Nativity. I found some great possibilities on the Internet. Check out these websites for Nativity craft projects for kids.

www.daniellesplace.com (a great website for all kinds of bible crafts)
www.dltk-holidays.com (A wonderful felt board nativity set here. I think I will use this activity for my group.)
www.familyfun.com (This is a secular site but I often find ideas here that I can adapt for my bible lessons.)

Next week, I’ll share some service projects for kids to do at Christmas.