Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best of 2010

Here's a list of some of the most popular posts for this past year, according to general categories:

The number one way that people are referred to this blog is through Facebook.  So, when you read an article your like, be sure to share it!  Other blogs that are top referrers (thanks for your support!):

For a look back, see the post Favorites of 2009.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Preschool Curriculum: God is Compassionate

"Be kind and compassionate to one another."
Ephesians 4:32

As we continue in our regular programming in 2011, we will be teaching preschoolers about God's kindness and compassion.  We just finished our Christmas series, where we see the wonder of God's love manifested in His Son coming as a baby.  Now, we will use the story of Ruth (along with Naomi and Boaz) to show what it looks like to be kind, no matter what situation we are in, merely because God has been kind to us.  Read an excerpt from the Leader Preparation material:

Kindness is no little thing.  It often calls us out of our comfort zone to places we could never imagine.  It may cost us something.  And it always asks us to rely on our faith and hope in God.  That is why the apostle Paul wrote, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Ephesians 4:32)  We can never be truly kind until we recognize the amazing kindness that God has already poured out on us.  Our kindness is simply an overflow of God's mercy.  

See more of our upcoming curriculum topics on our website.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"May It Be to Me As You Have Said"

image courtesy of ColinBroug via sxc.hu
Itʼs dark outside at dinner time these days. The leaves are finally all down now at our house and the air has taken on a constant chill. The sounds of children in the backyard have moved into the playroom, and the world seems to be quieting itself for another winter. As Christmas draws near, I am beginning to feel that familiar anticipation I often experience during this time.

Itʼs a strange blend of emotions. Feelings of excitement and hope mixed with a heaviness of heart that comes with everything our world has tainted. I love Christmas, and I love to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior over and over again each year. But what if another year passes and all Iʼve really done is worried about buying the right gifts and spending money we donʼt have on things we donʼt need? I love the privilege of celebrating with an abundance of food and lots of time relaxing with my family. But I am more aware than ever of how few people on our planet get to experience such joy and such an overflow of blessing. God knows our hearts and He delights to draw us to Himself, whatever it takes. Thatʼs what I want this Christmas to be about for my family, and thatʼs what I want every day to be about for our families at Grace Church.  God drawing us away from ourselves and into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him. 

Mary, Jesusʼ mom, said something of profound importance as she prepared to experience the first Christmas ever. “I am the Lordʼs servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Mary, like me, must have had a plan for her life that seemed like it should work just fine. Her plan, as we read it, included marriage to Joseph, and she was in the middle of planning a wedding and preparing for her new life with him when the angel Gabriel stopped in for a visit. In one moment, news came that would shatter her dreams, bring untold pain and confusion into her heart, and change the entire course of her life...not to mention the entire course of human history. 

We are told in Luke 1:29 that Mary was “greatly troubled” by these words. You think? Any other immediate reaction would be implausible to me. But her second response is the one that gives me hope this year. In the face of life taking an unexpected, unbelievable, and unprecedented turn, Mary humbles herself before the Lord and says, “May it be to me as you have said.” Essentially, she says to God...you know whatʼs best for me and my life, so I will trust you. This is really all we can say when our lives are altered from their intended course. Any other response leaves us hopeless, terrified, and in deep despair. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a hope that transcends all that life can throw at us. We can experience a “peace that passes understanding” and an “inexpressible and glorious joy” in the midst of our questions or suffering. Mary understood this, accepted Godʼs Lordship over her life, and made the choice to move forward trusting in His ultimate goodness.

I want to be like Mary. I want to look around me and say that God is good, regardless of what I see. I want to say, like Job in the midst of his suffering, that “God might kill me but I have no other hope” (Job 13:15 NLT). As you anticipate his coming again this year, I pray that, regardless of what circumstances you find yourself in today, you will choose to fall at His feet and say, “May it be to me as you have said.”

-- Ed Sweeny

Monday, December 20, 2010

Non-Negotiables: Your Children

Wayne Stocks wrote a series called "The Non-Negotiables," which can be read on Kidmin1124.  As volunteers, parents, spouses, workers, ministers, etc, we all face the battle for time.  (As Andy Stanley points out in Choosing to Cheat, we need to make courageous decisions about how we use our time, since whatever choice we make will ultimately cheat someone else who wants that time.)  The tendency for those of us who do ministry (whether paid or unpaid) is "to let our ministry become the main thing in our lives.  After all, we are doing the work of God, right?"  But Stocks reminds us that our priorities need to be in this order:
  1. God (not doing His work, but growing and trusting in Him)
  2. Marriage (if applicable)
  3. Children (again, if applicable)
  4. Community (such as church)
  5. Ministry

In the 5th post in this series, about children, the author points out that our children don't just need quality time; they need quantity time as well.  He then gives more specific direction for Dads:
  1. With regards to their sons, Dads need to model godliness, love, protect, and teach.
  2. With regards to their daughters, Dads need to love, show respect, lead, affirm, and be humble.

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Children's Ministry Staff

There have been a number of changes in the staff in Grace Children's Ministry in 2010, and you probably don't know all of them.  Some of the changes have been due to growth and the need for leadership and support (especially with the launch of Children's Ministry programming at our Downtown campus), and some have been to other staff transitioning out of their roles.  

Here's an overview of the staff that has joined in the past year (the links are for any blog posts they have written):

  • In January, Nicole Snyder joined us part-time to cover some administrative tasks, and then increased her responsibilities with Downtown and other Children's Ministry needs.
  • Laura Moore also joined in January, as the Hospitality Coordinator, and is responsible for Nursery, Welcome Team, and Communication.
  • Ivy White and Betsy Zimmerman came on staff this summer and fall, respectively, and together they lead our Preschool programming.
  • Will Bouton leads as our Children's Ministry Director on our Downtown campus.  His campus-specific responsibilities include connecting with families, recruiting and developing volunteers, and long-term planning.
  • Ed Sweeny joined the staff last month as the Pastor to Families.

You can read more about each of our staff, along with their contact info, on our staff webpage.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Lord's Prayer

This past weekend, our elementary "campers" learned about prayer, from Matthew 6:5-15.  To learn more about this topic, see this article from The Resurgence Blog.  The author highlights these topics:
  1. Position
  2. Praise
  3. Purpose
  4. Pardon
  5. Protection
  6. Power

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shameless Plug

What's your blog or website?  Go ahead and tell us what it's about in the comment section.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Are You Santa's Helper?

Here's an article from Jay Younts, writing on the Shepherd Press Blog:

Are You Santa's Helper?

Little children are dependent upon their parents for everything. This includes more than food, clothing and shelter. Children are dependent upon you, parent, for how they view the world around them. The way you live in front of them is the most powerful teaching tool that God gives you. This is teaching in the milieu. God designed families to demonstrate what it means to have a relationship with Him. If you love God, if you sincerely attempt to live your life by His Word, if you recognize that every moment is given to you so that you will glorify and honor God, then you will teach your children these same truths without even thinking about it. Your children observe you, everything about you. They see when you are sleeping, they know when you have been good or bad, they know when you pout and when you shout. In the midst of the turmoil of life your children know whom you delight in. Your kids know this without your ever having to say a word. When you stumble and ask God for help -- they learn. When you stumble and snap or make excuses -- they learn from that, too. If you value your relationship with God above all else, your children will know this, even when you fall short of your calling as a Christian parent.
 

Santa_parentWhat does this have to do with being Santa's helper? Just this: in Psalm 72:18 we read that "God alone does marvelous things." However, at Christmas time, for little children someone else is portrayed as doing the most marvelous things. Santa brings the toys! Not just any toys, but toys that come in brightly wrapped boxes under a colorful, sparkling tree. These toys have been longed for, prayed for, craved for, hoped for and wished for. This longing has gone on for months if not years. The goodness of Santa is confirmed by the tag on the present: From Santa. Amid the pile of wrappings, bows and empty boxes, happy children know they have been adorned. When I was a child we always left milk and cookies for Santa each Christmas Eve before we went to bed. And sure enough, when my brothers and I bolted out of bed to head for the tree, the milk and cookies were gone. But in their place were presents and full stockings. Santa was for real! 
  
So there is no question that children who experience this visit from Santa feel adorned. Yet this adornment is clearly of the material sort. The children don't really know "Santa." But they may actually know his helpers, as I did as a child. His helpers? Why Mom and Dad of course! When Mom and Dad help Santa, good things happen. Toys pour down from the chimney and appear under the tree. 
  
However, if Mom and Dad are Christians, they often may say they are somebody else's helper. That's right, parents are also God's helpers. This brings a question: whom would your children rather you help? Do your children feel the same sense of adornment when you are God's helper as they do when you are Santa's helper? Proverbs 1:8-9 implies that children should be adorned (and feel adorned) everyday. Even discipline and correction should feel like adornment to your children. Sadly, most children are anything but adorned by their parents' discipline and instruction. 
 
Proverbs teaches that these opportunities for discipline and teaching are to be times of "adorning your children" as with the finest jewelry, just like Christmas time. God is often appealed to as the reason for the spanking or scolding. So, being God's helper can mean spanking, harsh words, cold, silent treatment, banishment to rooms, broken relationships. On the other hand, Santa's helper brings longed for treasures. The contrast is not lost on a young child. Don't misunderstand; I am not saying, "Don't discipline." But the Bible teaches that you can discipline in such a way as to adorn your children. Try the special combination of Proverbs - the rod and pleasant words mixed together (Pro. 16:20-24). This is a powerful combination. Verse 24 says pleasant words promote instruction. This is not easy, but with Christ's Word and the power of the Holy Spirit you can be a different parent -- one who adorns at times other than Christmas.
 
Teach your children that One more wonderful than Santa loves them and has given them parents to teach them about Christ and true riches. Don't confuse your children by helping a mythical visitor. Tell them that you love them because Christ has loved you. Tell them that your God has given you a rich blessing - your children. Let them know that the gifts they receive are expressions of your love to them. Adorn your children at Christmas. Adorn your children on August 3rd as well, and every other day. Let them know that you are God's helper to bring them into relationship with Him. Let your children know that you are Christ's helper. Tell your children what true riches are. In addition to the gifts that you wrap, adorn your children with gifts that are more valuable than silver and gold. Show them the excellence of being Christ's helper.
 
This Christmas, whose helper will you be -- Santa's or Christ's? Blessings to you this Christmas Season!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Adopt-A-Child Reminder


So far, in our goal of raising $1200 for our Adopt-a-Child initiative, we have raised $741.91.  This coming weekend will be our last weekend to collect money.  If your Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) child has not yet brought in $2 to contribute, and your preschooler (2's to Kindergarten) has not brought in $1, please make sure to have them bring it.  Remember, if we all do a little, we can have a big impact.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tips for Dads at Christmas

Here's a great blog from last year, giving encouragement and suggestions for Dads to lead their families this year during the Christmas season. We need to "intentionally plan out the upcoming holiday season" so we don't "miss the sacred moments God opens up for us to connect with and bless our families."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why is X Used to Replace Christ in Christmas?

To many, "XMas" is quicker to write than "Christmas."   RC Sproul gives a more full answer on how this abbreviation came about, and even adds an explanation of how "ichthus" (fish) came to be a symbol for Jesus Christ.

When do you write "XMas," and when do you write "Christmas"?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hope Network


A few months ago, Hope Network asked us to write an article summarizing our special needs ministry.  What a honor to be able to share what God has been doing in our body, and what He's been teaching us as leaders.  You can read what we wrote in the Fall 2010 Ministries Newsletter.  Go to this page, and scroll down under the heading "Pastoral Services Publications." 

Thanks to the Hope Network for letting us be a part of this, and thanks for all the folks at Grace Church (staff and volunteers) who contributed to this ministry and this writing!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Camp Grace Review Day: Answer Key

We had a Review Day this past weekend in Camp Grace.  We asked the campers questions from what they've been learning over the past few months.  Then, we sent them home with a sample of the questions, so that they could quiz their parents.  If you missed it, here is a list of the questions.  Try your best, and then scroll down on this post for the answers (in red).



********************************************************************************

1. What was the first thing Nehemiah did when he learned Jerusalem’s wall and gates were destroyed?
A.  He prayed to God, praising Him, humbling himself and asking God for help.
B.  He immediately went to Jerusalem to see how he could help.
C.  He sent people to rebuild the wall and gates.
D.  He did nothing.

2. Who did God allow Satan to test to see if this person would continue to believe and trust in God no matter what happened?
A.  David
B.  Nehemiah
C. Adam
D.  Job

3. What happened to Daniel after he was thrown in the lion’s den?
A.  God did not take him out of the lion’s den, but God protected Daniel while he was in it.
B.  Daniel was eaten by the lion’s, but God was glorified for Daniel’s faithfulness to Him.
C.  God gave Daniel superhuman strength to fight and kill the lion’s so he would not be eaten.
D.  Daniel escaped from the lion’s den and saved himself.

4. When Jesus was just a baby, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple in obedience to the Old Testament law.  Who was it that recognized Jesus at the temple, and worshiped Him?
A.  Simeon
B.  King Herod
C.  Anna and Simeon
D.  The Magi and King Herod

5. When Jesus was in Capernaum teaching at the house where He was staying, four men brought a friend to be healed by Jesus. What was wrong with their friend, and how did they get him to Jesus?
A.  Their friend had a broken leg, and they carried him through the front door to Jesus.
B.  Their friend was paralyzed and they led him into the house to Jesus.
C.  Their friend was blind and they lowered him through the roof of the house to Jesus.
D.  Their friend was paralyzed and they dug a hole in the roof to lower him down to Jesus.

6. John the Baptist was not like many of the religious leaders of his time, but God still chose to use him to prepare the way for Jesus.  What are some characteristics of John the Baptist?
A.  He ate ants and syrup, dressed in horse hair, and frolicked in fields.
B.  He ate snails and honey, dressed in cat hair, and hiked in the mountains.
C.  He ate snakes and vinegar, dressed in donkey hair, and swam in the ocean.
D.  He ate locusts and honey, dressed in camel hair, and lived in the wilderness.

7. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights while being tempted by Satan. There were three things Satan told Jesus to do in Matthew 4. What was NOT one of the things Satan told Jesus to do?
A.  Jump off the highest point of the Temple and let the angels protect Him.
B.  Turn stones into loaves of bread so He could eat
C.  Change sand into water so He could drink
D.  Kneel down and worship Satan to gain the world and its glory



How did you do?  Leave a comment and let us know how many you got right.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What is Advent?

From Noel Piper (2009):
"Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25. . . . For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus. That’s what advent means—coming. Even God’s men who foretold the grace that was to come didn’t know 'what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating.' They were waiting, but they didn’t know what God’s salvation would look like."
Read the full article.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Preschool Curriculum: Christmas

"Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before Him with joyful songs."
Psalm 100:2

Next weekend, we begin our series in our Preschool programming on Christmas.  Here excerpts from the Leader Preparation section in our curriculum:

The Christmas season is a time of joy and excitement.  But it can also be a time of stress and busyness. . . .  Take a moment to read Luke 2 and Matthew 1:18-25.  Reflect on the extraordinary events of Jesus' birth while remembering the extraordinary love an purpose of Jesus' life.  God chose ordinary people, Mary and Joseph, to be the parents of His extraordinary Son. 

God also chose ordinary people, the shepherds, to proclaim His Son's extraordinary birth. . . .  These ordinary men responded by going to meet Jesus and worshiping God for His birth.  Their joy was so great that they went on to tell everyone they could find about this amazing news.  

In light of this, how does it make your feel to know that although Jesus was God, He also lived an ordinary life on earth and understands what you experience?  How do you respond to what God has done for you through Jesus?  Do you share in the shepherds' reaction -- a heart of worship, praising God for the gift of His Son?
The story of Christmas is one of the ordinary being invaded by the extraordinary.  God sent His Son to ordinary people in an ordinary world and through Him, God brought the extraordinary into their lives.  As you share this lesson, look for ways that God can use someone ordinary, like you, to bring the extraordinary message of Jesus to the children in your class and to others.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Camp Grace Review Day Questions

In case your child missed our programming for 1st - 4th graders this past weekend, or if you want to see how well you could have done, here are some questions that were asked during our Review Day.  Check back on Wednesday for the answer key.



 
1. What was the first thing Nehemiah did when he learned Jerusalem’s wall and gates were destroyed?
A.  He prayed to God, praising Him, humbling himself and asking God for help.
B.  He immediately went to Jerusalem to see how he could help.
C.  He sent people to rebuild the wall and gates.
D.  He did nothing.

2. Who did God allow Satan to test to see if this person would continue to believe and trust in God no matter what happened?
A.  David
B.  Nehemiah
C. Adam
D.  Job

3. What happened to Daniel after he was thrown in the lion’s den?
A.  God did not take him out of the lion’s den, but God protected Daniel while he was in it.
B.  Daniel was eaten by the lion’s, but God was glorified for Daniel’s faithfulness to Him.
C.  God gave Daniel superhuman strength to fight and kill the lion’s so he would not be eaten.
D.  Daniel escaped from the lion’s den and saved himself.

4. When Jesus was just a baby, Joseph and Mary took him to the temple in obedience to the Old Testament law.  Who was it that recognized Jesus at the temple, and worshiped Him?
A.  Simeon
B.  King Herod
C.  Anna and Simeon
D.  The Magi and King Herod

5. When Jesus was in Capernaum teaching at the house where He was staying, four men brought a friend to be healed by Jesus. What was wrong with their friend, and how did they get him to Jesus?
A.  Their friend had a broken leg, and they carried him through the front door to Jesus.
B.  Their friend was paralyzed and they led him into the house to Jesus.
C.  Their friend was blind and they lowered him through the roof of the house to Jesus.
D.  Their friend was paralyzed and they dug a hole in the roof to lower him down to Jesus.

6. John the Baptist was not like many of the religious leaders of his time, but God still chose to use him to prepare the way for Jesus.  What are some characteristics of John the Baptist?
A.  He ate ants and syrup, dressed in horse hair, and frolicked in fields.
B.  He ate snails and honey, dressed in cat hair, and hiked in the mountains.
C.  He ate snakes and vinegar, dressed in donkey hair, and swam in the ocean.
D.  He ate locusts and honey, dressed in camel hair, and lived in the wilderness.

7. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights while being tempted by Satan. There were three things Satan told Jesus to do in Matthew 4. What was NOT one of the things Satan told Jesus to do?
A.  Jump off the highest point of the Temple and let the angels protect Him.
B.  Turn stones into loaves of bread so He could eat
C.  Change sand into water so He could drink
D.  Kneel down and worship Satan to gain the world and its glory

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jesus Tree

From the Desiring God blog, some creative ideas about ornaments for your Christmas tree.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Are They Pilgrims?"

See this post for a funny Thanksgiving memory and some other thoughts about what it means to be a "Pilgrim."

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Special Needs Equipping Follow Up

We we excited to have 35 people (including Staff, Volunteer Coaches, and Welcome Team members) attend our Special Needs Equipping Event earlier this month.  After an initial welcome, we had about 45 minutes of a highly-informative program, including:
  • Emily McGowan and Jessica Crumpton (our Special Needs coaches on the Pelham Road and Powdersville campuses, respectively) explained the general process of how a child with special needs gets ministered to during our weekend programming.  Most importantly for this audience, we wanted to give an overview of how we try to reach out to families who have children with special needs.  In these cases, we expect our volunteers to go the extra mile, as a way to love on these families.
  • Jimmy & Susan Bates, and Joey & Charley Altom, two families that have children with special needs, shared their perspectives as parents.  In both cases, these families have been ministered to by other folks at Grace Church, and this not only encourages them, but has freed them up to minister to others (II Corinthians 1:3-5).  

The volunteers in attendance asked some good questions, especially of the Bates and Altoms, leading to further discussion and explanation.  For example, the parents said that it's OK for a church to tell a parent in this situation, "I don't know the answer, but we'd love to work with you to find a solution, if you'll help us."  Also, they were asked by a volunteer, "Do you want to know when your child misbehaves, or do you just need a break from that?"  All the parents were emphatic that they DO want to know about the behavior of their children, so that they can better shepherd them. 

We look forward to more events like this, perhaps from a different perspective or for a different audience, as we continue to seek ways to assist families in leading their children, and to equip volunteers to shepherd children

Take some time to check out our special needs page on our website, and watch this video about the Altoms' story when they started attending Grace Church over two years ago.



PS -- Special thanks to Amy Fenton Lee, author of The Inclusive Church, who made the 2 hour trip up to Greenville to check out this event.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Winners for the "300" Contest

We're excited to announce the winners from our 300 giveaway!
  • Winner of the $15 gift card to Chick-Fil-A (leaving a comment):  Julie Baker
  • Winner of the $15 gift card to Moe's (subscribing to email updates):  Joy D

We'll get those gifts to you ASAP.  Thanks to everyone for entering, and especially for following this blog! 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At What Age Is My Child Ready for the Bible?

Will Bouton, the Children's Ministry Director on our Downtown campus, answers this common parenting question. 

One of my favorite things to do as a parent is read the Bible at bedtime with my two boys -- ages 5 and 3 -- right before we cut off the lights.  We all snuggle into one of their beds and read one story each night.  I read and they listen . . . supposedly.  Often, one or both of them won't stop talking in order for me to read, and some nights they think it's time to wrestle, and some nights they would rather read some other book.  Nevertheless, I make sure I read each word from the story before we say goodnight.  I started this with our oldest when he was 6 months old.  Maybe you are thinking, "What's the point? He's too young to understand what you are reading."  Here is why I think it's beneficial to read the Bible to a young child:
  1. Model for them.  This daily time with me reading the Bible has impressed on my boys that the Bible is more special than any other book.  It is amazing to see a 1-year-old respecting the Bible.  Does he know everything it says?  Doubtful.  But I can tell you from experience how wonderful it is for your child to see you reading the Bible and run to find theirs so they can read right beside you.
  2. Confidence in God's word.  My children have become comfortable with picking up the Bible and thumbing through it.  I became a Christian when I was 16 years old, but I wasn't confident in reading the Bible until I was in my twenties.  My prayer is that my boys never have a time in their life where they are intimidated by the thought of spending time in the Bible.  They have confidence with it because they know the pictures and the stories already.  They can practically walk you through all three children's Bibles we own, even though neither can read; they have them memorized!
  3. Life application.  Reading the Bible with my boys consistently allows me to speak into their lives in meaningful ways.  I can reference things we have read in order to connect their everyday life to things the Bible says.  I am often able to say, "Son, do you remember the story in the Bible we read last night . . . " and relate what we are doing right at that moment with the Scripture.  And sometimes at bedtime when we are reading I can say, "Do you remember today when you weren't kind to your brother?  This story in the Bible talks about that very thing . . . ."
  4. Personal gain.  As I read with them, I learn just as much -- if not more -- than they do.  I know the order of things in the Old Testament better than I ever have.  Does it replace my own personal time in the Word?  No.  But, it is amazing what the Holy Spirit will point out to you through your children's questions and comments.  There is no question that I am drawing near to God when we have this time together.  Some of my most treasured memories as a parent have come from conversations with my boys while reading the Bible at bedtime.
No matter the age of your child or children, it is never too early or too late to start.  Find an age-appropriate Bible, and when you sense that you have read it so many times that they are getting bored with reading it, find another one.  The three my boys and I have loved are The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, and The Big Picture Story Bible.

God promises us that His word will not come back to Him empty (Isaiah 55:10-11).  Get to reading and watch what God does with it -- in your children's lives and also in your own!!

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    "300" Contest Deadline

    Don't forget the deadline to enter our give-away, to celebrate our 300th blog post, is this Thursday, November 18th.  See the 300 post from last week for more details.

    Remember - it will only take a few minutes for a chance to win a $15 gift card.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Adopt-A-Child

    As we did last year, we are going to "adopt" some children this Christmas season, but helping to provide them with gifts.  Grace Church is working with local schools, and we (as the Children's Ministry) plan to take 15 of those children.  We are going to have volunteers shop for the gifts, and we'll use the money we collect from the children in our programming to cover the costs.

    We are asking each Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) child to bring in $2, and each preschool-age child to bring in $1 sometime over the next few weeks.  The money will be collected during the Big Group portion of our programming, and our goal is to raise up at least $1200, all of which will be donated to this cause.  If everyone does a little, we can have a big impact.  We want this opportunity to be an opportunity to worship God more, as we seek to bless others in a reflection of the grace our Lord has shown us.

    Watch this video from last year, to hear how an initiative like this can touch someone's life:


    (You can also watch this video on our YouTube channel.)

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    All Pro Dad

    All Pro Dad is a great website with lots of tools and insight for fathers.  (See iMom for a related site for mothers; both sites are programs of Family First, out of Tampa, Florida.)  The goal is to help Dads do their most important job better.

    You can sign up for the Play of the Day, "the most popular and most read daily fatherhood e-mail in the world."  Each email will have brief direction and inspiration, as well as links for additional reading if you so choose.

    There is also a database of Top 10 lists, such as:
    Let us know if you signed up by leaving a comment here, to encourage others to do the same.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Meet Our Volunteers: Chris & Dorsey Ward

    Dorsey Ward, mom of 3 young children and a long-time volunteer in our Nursery programming, says this about her husband,
    "Chris thinks that if he keeps me serving in the nursery, it will be keep me from wanting a fourth baby, because it will fulfill my need to love on newborns!"
    While that maybe a valid motivation, this couple also mentions another great reason to serve in Children's Ministry, "the opportunity to meet and build relationships with others parents that have children the same ages as their children." 

    You can read more about their story, and how else they are being used by God to pour into others, on our Meet the Volunteers page.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Preschool Curriculum: God is Love

    "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, 
    and love your neighbor as yourself."
    Luke 10:27

    Starting this upcoming weekend, and continuing past Thanksgiving, we will have a series studying the divine attribute of Love in our Preschool programming.  All of us, kids and adults, are called to love others, not just because it is a good thing to do, but out of a worship response towards God's love for us.  We will use the account of the Good Samaritan to help our kids understand what it means to "love your neighbor."  Here is the Leader Prep material for this series:


    Despite all our technology, we live in a very disconnected world.  We become so consumed with our own lives that we often become blind and isolated from the world around us.  It is in the midst of that reality that God calls us to "love our neighbor as yourself." 
    Over the next few weeks we will be sharing the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:23-37).  During this unit we will also be giving our children an opportunity to apply what they are learning to their own lives by collecting donations for our less-fortunate neighbors.  As Jesus points out int his parable, it is not enough to just know the commandments; we must also live them out.
    There are many reasons why we fail to love our neighbors as ourselves.  One of the biggest reasons is that we just don't see them.  We're so busy with our own needs that we don't even notice the needs of others.  This leads to another reason for our failure -- pride.  Our love of self has poisoned us to see the needs of others as interruptions instead of amazing opportunities to be a part of God's plan.  And often we fail because of fear -- fear of sacrifice, fear of discomfort, fear of being taken advantage of, fear of rejection.

    Whatever the reason for our failure, the answer is a better understanding of God's love for us.  God acted on His love for us by providing a way of salvation through His Son, despite our unworthiness.  His love is freely given, with no strings attached.  And He did all of this for His own glory -- so that He would be praised, not us.  Our compassion for others is merely a reflection of God's love, mercy, and grace in our own lives. 

    As you prepare to share this lesson with your class, first spend some time meditating on the love of God.  What blessings has He poured on you?  What has He saved you from?  Then ask Him to show you how to share that amazing love with the people He has brought into your life.  

    As always, you can see our curriculum outline on our website.

    image courtesy of Billy Alexander via sxc.hu

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    300

    No, we're not talking about the movie about the brave Spartans.  We're referring to the fact that this is the 300th post on this blog, in just under two years.  We are now averaging 700-800 views per month, along with dozens of followers and subscribers.  Thanks for your support!

    To celebrate, we are going to give away gift cards, and you have two ways to win:
    1. To enter to win a $15 gift card to Chick-Fil-A, leave a comment on this post that includes your favorite kids movie of all time.  Be sure to include your contact info, in case you are selected as a winner.
    2. To enter to win a $15 gift card to Moe's, subscribe via email through the FeedBurner link (located to the right, near the top); you must activate your feed by clicking on the link in your email.  If you are already a subscriber, you do not have to do it again; we'll include you.

    You can try for both, but only once for each contest.  The contest closes on Thursday, November 18.  It just takes a couple of minutes of your time, for a chance at a free meal!

    Also, don't forget to follow us on Facebook, too.

    Let's hear those movie titles!

    (Update:  See the winners here.)

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    Is God Sovereign Over Disability?

    Of course He is!  John Knight writes: 
    "God's sovereignty doesn't mean he merely permits disability. . . .  [H]e sovereignly intends it, both for his glory and for our good." 
    See this article on Desiring God blog for the full answer.  In this article, note his creative paraphrase of Psalm 139:13-16, with specific descriptions of disabilities.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Camp Grace Curriculum: Following Jesus

    This coming weekend in our Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) programming, we will be learning about what it looks like to believe in and follow Jesus.  From John 1:35-51 and Luke 5:1-11, we'll look at how the disciples left everything behind in order to follow Christ.  Of course, this not only applies to our elementary-age campers, but for our Children's Ministry leaders as well.  In our Leader Prep section, we remind them that they need to be open to hearing God speak, and to be willing to leave behind their plans in order to receive God's plans for them.

    Additionally, we need to remember that our goal must not be to make disciples for ourselves, but that we must point others to Jesus, so they can follow Him.  Here's an excerpt from this week's Leader Prep:
    "As you read John 1:35-36, notice how John's disciples left John to follow Jesus.  As we seek to disciple our campers, keep in mind that our desire is to point them to Jesus.  We want them to see their sin and realize that Jesus is their only hope.  We do not want to create disciples for ourselves; we want to prepare our campers to recognize, believe in, and follow Jesus."

    As you go through this week, think about ways that you can point others to Jesus.  That was John the Baptist's purpose; let it be yours, too.

    Monday, November 1, 2010

    12 Good Blogs for Those Who Lead Children

    Besides the "Related Links" to the right (and besides this blog, of course), here are a few blogs that we like, according to general categories:

    For Children's Ministry Programming
    1. Growing Kids Ministry.  "A place to share stories, resources, and ideas."
    2. Ministry to Children.  Tons of resources.
    3. The Inclusive Church.  For special needs ministry in a church.
    4. Relevant Children's Ministry.  Lots of great thoughts from a Children's Ministry veteran.

    For Parents
    1. Shepherd Press.  Great articles for Gospel-centered parenting.
    2. Been There Learned That.  Random and helpful tips.
    3. A Different Way.  "Rethinking how we disciple the next generation."
    4. Creation Inspirations.  Helping people (adults and kids) see the glory of God through His creation.

    For Spiritual Formation
    1. The Gospel Coalition.  As the name implies, deep Gospel-centered theology.
    2. The Resurgence.  Clear and simple theology.
    3. Stuff Christians Like.  Truth, mixed with humor.
    4. Desiring God.  From John Piper.

    Any other blogs that you like that fit into one of these categories?  We especially are looking for more blogs and websites that have a Gospel-centered (not just values-centered) approach to parenting.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Special Needs Equipping Event

    We have already written almost 20 posts this year about special needs, giving both the theology behind and practical application of what we do.  Our goal in communicating these things has been to inform our own church body about what we are doing and to give direction to parents who have children with special needs.  Additionally, we hope to be able to share with other churches what we are learning, to encourage and equip them.  (For churches looking for additional resources and information, we recommend The Inclusive Church, which also profiled our ministry in this post.)

    To further equip our Children's Ministry volunteers, we are hosting a Special Needs Equipping Event on Wednesday, November 3.  This meeting is for our Welcome Teams (who are on the front line of greeting families and helping children get checked into Small Groups), and for all our Volunteer Coaches, who may need to help meet specific needs during our weekend programming for a child with special needs.  We will share our vision, helpful information, and inspiration, as we strive to reach the hearts of the parents and children.

    This event is by invite only, but if you want to know more or if you have any other questions (or if we mistakenly left you off the invite list), please let us know. 

    Additionally, we've launched a couple of additional communication tools:
    1. A webpage summarizing our Special Needs ministry.
    2. An specific email address (specialneeds@gracechurchsc.org) for questions about this ministry.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Preschool Curriculum: God is Sovereign

    "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; 
    lean not on your own understanding."  
    Proverbs 3:5

    Starting this coming weekend, we will have a two-week series on God is Sovereign in our Preschool programming, using the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3).  Along with teaching children the truth that God is in control, we also want to exhort our leaders to trust in His sovereignty.  Below is our Leader Prep material for these lessons:

    One of the greatest desires we face is the desire for security and control.  We want to minimize risk and be assured of the outcome before we launch into a new endeavor.  We want to solve our own problems instead of giving them over to someone else.  But the life that God calls us to is one that often seems very costly and is full of unknowns.
    Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30).  To most of us (if we're honest), these 3 men seem foolish, if not insane.  But in God's eyes, these men were living out their faith in His sovereign will.  They were demonstrating the total surrender that is required in order to follow God.  While they were uncertain of the outcome, these 3 men were certain that their God was in control and that they could trust in Him.
    We may not be facing a fiery furnace, but there are still lots of areas of uncertainty in our lives today -- worries about money, health, our families, etc.  And in the face of those uncertainties, God calls us to trust and worship Him.  He doesn't offer detailed answers of how and when our problems will be solved.  He only offers Himself.  And while that may not seem like a lot,remember that Christ laid down His life for you -- He left all the glory and comfort of Heaven so that you could have the assurance of eternal life.  Your security is not in what you can do to protect and provide for yourself, but in what Christ has already done for you.
    As you prepare to share this lesson with your children, think of areas in your own life that you may need to trust in God.  Are you looking for answers and solutions, or are you trusting in God's sovereign plan?  Ask Him to give you the courage to trust in Him instead of relying on "your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5) of your current circumstances.  

    See more of our upcoming Preschool series on our website.

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    Pointing My Child to Christ

    A month ago, my social butterfly floated off to school and returned home broken and angry.  A cherished three-dollar ring had been taken from her.  She relayed the day's events.  A friend had asked for the ring and then would not give it back.  And then she asked me, "Mom, what should I do?"  A million things rushed through my head -- can I fix this, what should she do, and how do I help her respond.  To be honest, i was angry and I wanted justice, too!  As I left for work that afternoon, I prayed, "Father, what should I tell her?"

    As I got to work that day, a dear friend asked me how my daughter, Molly Reagan, was doing in school.  I knew that God had prepared that moment just for me.  I relayed the situation to her and how  I felt, how my daughter felt, and how I didn't know yet how to respond.  This woman, a believer and a mother of three grown children, offered me some wise counsel.
    1. First, DO nothing.  The ring was gone . . . it would not be showing up the next day.  So, I didn't not call the teacher, call the parent, or anything like that.  I waited for Molly Reagan to  respond.  Her heart was revealed after days of her asking the teacher for for help and asking the friend who had taken (and then lost) the ring to give it back.  At wits end, she decided she would NEVER let the girl borrow anything again because, "She is a stealer."  
    2. Second, talk to her about forgiveness and about Jesus.  So I did.  After her "stealer" comment, we talked about Jesus' example of forgiveness.  Our injustices cannot compare to Jesus' death on the cross for our sin.  And how did Jesus respond to the people who crucified him?  In Luke 23:34 he says, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing."  He prayed for them, he loved them, and he forgave them.
    3. And finally, pray with her.  There is only one who can heal Molly Reagan's heart and help her forgive.  And while I want to fix this problem for her, I cannot, for I do not have what it takes.  And so, I directed her to the one who can.  
    I wish I could say that this three step process ended all discussions about the ring.  But it did not.  So, we repeat as necessary.  This experience reminded me of two things.  First, my daughter is on a journey too -- a journey of faith -- and my job is to guide, not to fix.  Additionally, I can never provide all that she needs, but I know the one who can and I can point her to him.


    --  Laura Moore, Children's Hospitality Coordinator

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    We Took a Hike

    I really like Table Rock State Park.  Our family has been there a number of times, usually to hike, picnic, and play on the playground.  Since we've always done the hike when one of our kids was toddler-age, we've always stuck with the shorter, 1.8-mile loop, as opposed to going all the way to the top.  I like this trail because you begin by going up, which means it's mostly downhill on the way back.

    After doing this hike this past spring, we talked about stretching it a little further the next time.  There is a picnic shelter almost 2 miles up the trail.  We thought it would be a great adventure to hike up there, eat lunch and then head back down.  Surely, a 4-mile hike would be a great accomplishment, right?

    A couple of weeks ago, with the nice October weather, we decided to pack up and do this.  As we drove to the park, I remember seeing the view in the picture above, and telling Joanna, "It's hard to believe that you could hike up that far in one day."  It seems so far away, and so high up, but we talked about how neat it would be to do that when our kids got a little older.

    We had a great hike up to the shelter, and ate lunch with a great view (see the right).  After a break, we decided to hike a little further up the trail, just to see if we could see some more views.  We hiked a little more, and a little more, and soon Joanna and I decided to see how far we could go.  After all, we had already hiked two hours, and the kids seemed to be enjoying it and doing fine.  Who knows when we would come this far again?

    The kids had a blast on the trail.  Hannah kept pretending she was an "Indian guide."  Elijah loved being up ahead as the "scout," and Sender insisted he was "Spider-Man" as he climbed up all the rocks along the path.  Before we knew it, we had reached the summit, and then the end of the trail.

    After spending some time on the rock -- ready to pounce and grab one of our kids should they get a little careless, and watching hawks fly and dive below us (what a weird feeling to be above those birds) -- we embarked on the trip back down. 

    All in all, we walked and climbed 7.2 miles (in about 6 hours), far more than the originally-planned 4-mile hike.  Hannah talked all the way down the mountain, still pretending to be an Indian guide.  I kept having to tell Elijah to stop ahead, or else he would have beaten us all down by at least 30 minutes.  Sender alternated between being Spider-Man and an Indian guide named "Billy Bob" (not sure about that one).  Joanna was patiently playing pretend with Hannah (for hours mind you).  And I was just beaming with pride about my family.  We just had a great adventure, and we truly enjoyed it together (a couple we saw at the end of the trail commented how neat it was that we seemed to be enjoying each other so much).  The older kids were troopers on this trek, and I carried Sender for no more than 2 or 2.5 miles, so he (at just under 4 years old) climbed about 5 miles by himself.

    Elijah summed it up best when he told us that it was great that "our family had a big accomplishment today."  Yes, we did.

    Has your family had a big adventure or accomplishment in 2010?

    --  Joey Espinosa

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Halloween

    For some Christians, Halloween is a time for kids to have fun, and probably the only day each year when dozens, if not hundreds, of your neighbors knock at your door.  For others, the holiday's roots in the occult leads them to not participate in trick-or-treating and decorating.

    What's your take?  What will your family be doing on the weekend of October 30-31?

    For more thoughts, you can read last year's blog post on this topic and a post from Growing Kids Ministry.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Elementary Camp 2011

    In our Camp Grace (1st - 4th grade) programming, we showed a video with the highlights from this year's camp experience (see this post for some other highlights, and read thoughts from Nicky Darling and Joey Espinosa).   Check it out:



    Now, it's time to start getting ready for next year's camp experience.  If you have a current 3rd or 4th grade, be sure to reserve June 24 - 26 for them.  They won't want to miss out on the fun, food, and fellowship, as well as a great opportunity for us to expand on our normal weekend programming -- with singing, skits, and solid teaching.

    Also, you can read our answers to common questions that parents asked us before this year's camp.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    How Can I Get Automatic Email Updates?

    We know -- sometimes it's hard to remember to come check the blog for updates.  Would you prefer to get an email any time the blog is updated?  Check out the "Subscribe Via Email" tool to the right, provided by Feedburner.  Just enter your email address, click "Subscribe," and follow the directions.

    Of course, you could always still come back to the blog to read the posts, and you'll still need to do that to search for specific topics.


    (PS -- Thanks for the tip, Sara!)

    Volunteer Appreciation

    We are so thankful for the 750+ volunteers that we have serving in Grace Children's Ministry.  We have Welcome Team members that work to create a safe and welcoming environment, Small Group Leaders who show love and teach Biblical truths to children, and Big Group Leaders who sing and perform funny skits.    These volunteers pour themselves out, with the goal of reaching the hearts of the next generation for the sake of Jesus Christ.

    As a small way to show our appreciation, we will have some light refreshments available on the weekend of October 23 & 24.  We hope all our volunteers can stop by to grab some snacks after or in between services.

     To learn more about what it looks like to serve in our Children's Ministry programming, see our Volunteer Central.  Any other questions?  Leave a comment here, or email us at children@gracechurchsc.org.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    5 Books for Dads of Daughters

    My daughter (and oldest child) Hannah just turned 9 last month.  Growing up with just an older brother, I had no idea what it was like to have a little girl in my house.  So, I have searched for instruction and direction.  I regularly seek out men with older daughters, I listen to teachings such as A Man and His Daughter (Men's Roundtable), and I read books about parenting in general and about parenting girls.

    Here are some recommended books for Dads of daughters.  The first two books are recommended by Justin Holcomb in his post called Daughters Are a Gift from God. The second two are books that I've read and enjoyed, and the last one is on my bookshelf waiting to be read.
    1. Why a Daughter Needs a Dad: 100 Reasons
    2. The Love Between Fathers and Daughters
    3. She Calls Me Daddy
    4. How to Be Your Daughter's Daddy
    5. Bringing Up Girls
    What about you?  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any other books or resources that you'd recommend to a Dad of a precious girl?

    --  Joey Espinosa