Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Supreme Climb

I've been reading the daily devotions of Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost for His Highest" on and off for years. I picked it back up recently, and yesterday's devotion (April 26th), "The Supreme Climb," was convicting for me. I hope you are able to examine your faith, recognize your misconceptions of God, and grasp His great desire to purify your faith.


"Take now thy son...and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one
of the mountains which I will tell thee of."
Genesis 22:2

Character determines how a man interprets God's will (cf. Psalm 18:25-26). Abraham interpreted God's command to mean that he had to kill his son, and he could only leave this tradition behind by the pain of a tremendous ordeal. God could purify his faith in no other way. If we obey what God says according to our sincere belief, God will break us from those traditions that misrepresent Him. There are many such beliefs to be got rid of, e.g., that God removes a child because the mother loves him too much - a devil's lie! and a travesty of the true nature of God. If the devil can hinder us from taking the supreme climb and getting rid of wrong traditions about God, he will do so; but if we keep true to God, God will take us through an ordeal which will bring us out into a better knowledge of Himself.
The great point of Abraham's faith in God was that he was prepared to do anything for God. He was there to obey God, no matter to what belief he went contrary. Abraham was not a devotee of his convictions, or he would have slain Isaac and said that the voice of the angel was the voice of the devil. That is the attitude of a fanatic. If you will remain true to God, God will lead you straight through every barrier into the inner chamber of the knowledge of Himself; but there is always this point of giving up convictions and traditional beliefs. Don't ask God to test you. Never declare as Peter did - "I will do anything, I will go to death with Thee." Abraham did not make any such declaration; he remained true to God, and God purified his faith.

-Nicky Darling, Elementary Coordinator

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Experience At The Seder

This past weekend, I had the chance to help and participate in the Passover Seder service offered to our elementary students. I had heard about it from my elementary-age child, friends and coworkers, but until Saturday had not had the chance to see it for myself.

Serving on Saturday nights, the crowd is definitely smaller than on Sunday mornings. With less than 25 students this past Saturday, the feel was much more intimate. The students had the freedom to ask questions and voice concerns, and even share triumphs. One child raised his hand and said, “I did not want to eat that parsley, but I did anyway and it wasn’t that bad!”

In order to lead the students into a time of learning and worship, the facilitator of the Seder shared that this was an act of worship, to remember what God had done for His people the Israelites, and also for us, as His redeemed people. And that even if the kids didn’t understand exactly everything they were being told (and there is a lot of information to take in!) and if they didn’t want to try everything offered, that they still needed to be reverent and respectful. Here are a few of my favorite moments:

Ryan, my husband, was the facilitator that evening. He tells the kids, “There are some things on our plates tonight that I don’t like to eat. But tonight, I am going to eat them. Do you know why?” To which a child answered, “Because it’s free?” Another time, after explaining the meal, Ryan tried to review and asked, “So what’s one thing we’ll be eating tonight?” “Chicken!!” someone excitedly yelled.

There were approximately 6 cups of grape juice spilled, an entire roll of paper towels used, some kids using the matzah like spoons to scoop up heaping servings of applesauce, and a few noses held as the horseradish was passed around. As funny as some of these “kids will be kids” moments were, I was also very humbled. Humbled that God had brought our family to a church that gives our children the opportunity to learn in new and exciting ways the history and truth surrounding Christ as the Lamb of Sacrifice. Humbled that God has given us so many ways to remember what He has done for us in Jesus. Humbled that I cannot remember enough what He has done for me on the cross. And the next time we talk about the Seder, the parsley or horseradish or applesauce, that we’ll remember the sacrifice that Jesus was for us on the cross.

- Molly Burns, Saturday Night Coordinator

Monday, April 18, 2011

Camp Grace Passover Seder

This past weekend, we hosted our 6th annual Camp Grace Passover Seder presentation at each of our campuses. Our elementary campers and leaders had the opportunity to learn about Passover, how it connects to the Gospel, and take part in a Passover Seder meal.

Our Passover Seder weekend each year is a unique time of learning to worship God more fully through developing a deeper understanding of how the events of the Old Testament point to Jesus. We see that the Bible is not made up of two separate books, the Old Testament and the New Testament, but it is one book revealing God’s story for our world. This is an important fact, especially for elementary-aged children, for us to know in order to grow and mature as followers of Christ.

Passover is celebrated to remember God’s faithfulness to His people, the nation of Israel, by leading them out of slavery from Egypt. In Exodus 12, we see both God’s just nature and His loving grace; at the time of judgment on Egypt, God provided a way for His people, the Israelites, to be saved through obeying His command to sacrifice a lamb and wipe its blood on the frame of their door. In the same way that God provided for His chosen people, He provides a way for us through His Son. Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s wrath and judgment for our sin, as the perfect Lamb who was slain for us so that we can eternal life through faith in Him.

As you see below, the story of the first Passover parallels the story of the Gospel:

Exodus Passover Lamb
Jesus, the Lamb of God
Choose a lamb and bring it into your home on the 10th day of the month.
Palm Sunday: Jesus chose Himself, and willingly came to Jerusalem
Lamb must have no flaw
I Peter: “Jesus is the unblemished Lamb.”  He was innocent and never sinned, and so He could die for our sins.
Kill and put the blood on door fame of your house.  If a home didn’t do this, the firstborn son would be killed.
Jesus' blood pays the price for our sins. We need to “apply” the blood by faith in Him.  If we believe that Jesus is God and died for us, we are protected from judgment and death. 
At judgment time, God only looked for and saw the blood of the lamb.  Whoever obeyed in faith, would not be judged.
When I stand at judgment day, God will look for faith, and only see Jesus’ blood, and not my sins.

This annual event is a unique opportunity for our campers to remember and celebrate what God has done for them. It provides a fun environment to taste new or different foods (matzah, parsley, horseradish, cinnamon applesauce, grape juice), and allows them to connect with God as we approach Easter.

We hope your child(ren) enjoyed their experience with the Passover Seder! As you go through your week, be reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made for you, and worship Him for His faithful obedience to the Father. Romans 6:23 reminds us that we do not deserve anything but death for our sin; Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is our free gift from God to have eternal life. Meditate on your need for Jesus' blood to cover your sin, and celebrate the free gift of life God has offered you!

- Nicky Darling, Elementary Coordinator

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shepherding Children Through Sibling Rivalry

As a parent, one of the biggest stresses can be sibling conflict. If your house is like my house some days it seems my children simply wake up in order to pick fights. How do you get it to stop? If you aren't in the room when an argument happens how do you decide who is in the wrong? If they are bickering over a toy or which TV show to watch, how do you make a decision on who "wins"? Is one of your children constantly coming to you to tell on another?  

Parents without a doubt need to be hands on in managing sibling relationships. After all, we are God's gift to our children in providing order, stability, and discipline. Without parents providing these things our homes will be a chaotic place for our children to grow up. When a child grows up without that order, stability, and discipline insecurity breeds and grows in the heart of a child. This certainly breaks God's heart.

But, how do we enter in to sibling conflict without feeling like all we do is referee? You know what I mean...yelling, "Don't hit your sister?!" Or, "Give your little brother the toy - he had it first!" Or simply spending your family time trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong in an argument you didn't see? Are you tired of putting out fires?

Here is my suggestion - we have to help our children learn to communicate with each other. Communication is a key to any conflict resolution. How do we do this?? By forcing them to work out differences and disagreements with each other. Simply put, instead of you doing all the talking and settling of the argument - make them TALK to each other and do it themselves - with your help, of course.

Refuse to let your children make you a referee. It is obvious we are not to let them be physically or verbally abusive to a sibling (or a friend). But, at the same time don't let them storm off in anger or cry uncontrollably in an argument. All of these reactions to conflict come from a sinful heart. All of these reactions are trying to dictate and control their situation. Whether they are hurtful or not to another doesn't make it better or worse. Instead, do not let any child get their way until they are able to talk with the person they are in conflict with to come to a mutual decision.

If we will stick to it as parents and refuse to be a referee we will cultivate a home where our children listen to and prefer others and ultimately create sibling FRIENDSHIP instead of rivalry. Could there be a better hope for our family than that? Imagine the blessing it would be not only at home, but for our children in any other relationship in their life if we can teach them how to talk things out. How blessed would their future marriages be? Remember, we want to mold our children's hearts to where they can humble themselves and consider others. Stop refereeing and FORCE THEM TO TALK!

- Will Bouton, Downtown Children's Ministry Director

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spiritual Gifts Part 3 - Intentional Parenting

So far in this series on spiritual gifts in children, we have discussed the importance of knowing what God says in the Bible about spiritual gifts, knowing what our own unique gifts are, and observing and leading the kids under our care to discover how they are uniquely created to serve God and engage the world.

But how do we really do this? 

My children are growing and changing so much can we possibly figure out how they are wired? With their rapidly growing and developing maturity level, is discovering spiritual gifts in children even possible? The answer is yes, but beware of wanting a formula to follow. You will find yourself frustrated, confused, and often doubting yourself. A young boy may be wired up for leadership one day, but could spend most of his childhood years as a strong-willed, independent rebel. A young girl may be equipped with the gifts of wisdom and discernment, but as a child may often be moody and opinionated, wondering why nobody else sees things her way.

Helping your children discover their unique spiritual gifts will be a constant process. It will involve a lifetime of presence, observation, and teachable moments. It will require nothing than your complete attention, but nothing more than your heart for them to succeed and to discover God's amazing and unique plan for their lives.

Five Practical Thoughts:

1) Be a Yes person whenever you can (but mean it when you say no). When my kids want something from me, my gut reaction is usually no...what's up with that? When I take 3 seconds to give their request an honest look, I find myself wanting to say yes a whole lot more...and if I must say no, really knowing the reasons why. Saying yes will create new settings for you to watch their gifts come to life.
2) Observe their sin patterns as well as their spiritual gifts. As parents, it is our responsibility to help our children see their sin and their gifts, and to bring the light of the Gospel into each scenario. It is our privilege to help them see these things, embrace them, own them, and give them both back to God. Whatever you to them! They will never know what we're thinking if we do not communicate it.
3) Give them lots of freedom to try things on their own (but be clear with regard to their boundaries). Doing things for our kids is much easier. It takes less time, makes more sense, and the results are always better. But although we may "win" in this choice, our kids lose big time. If we want our kids to take more responsibility, we must give it to them first. At least consider doing hard things with your kids whenever you can.

4) Do special things together often. Wednesday if family night at our house. Every other night may be crazy, with 5 people going in 5 different directions. But Wednesday is protected. We will eat, read, play, and laugh together. Don't miss this unique season of your family history because you were just too busy.

5) Count the number of Saturdays you have left with your kids under your roof. Seriously, get out a calendar and do it. Think of all of the time you want to spend with your kids and the stuff you'd like to do with them in light of this number. It should humble you and make you want to loosen up your personal agenda a little bit.

We all want it to be easy, but it won't be. We all think we know what the end result should look like, but we must leave that to the Lord. Intentional parents will shepherd their children's hearts, not just try to control or modify their behavior. Intentional parents make the most of every opportunity with their kids, but completely trust God with the results.

- Ed Sweeny, Pastor to Families

Friday, April 8, 2011

What Was I Thinking?

As some of you know, Betsy Zimmerman (Preschool Coordinator) is having a baby in June, which has led her to transition off of the Children's Ministry staff. When Ed was asking if anyone else on staff would be interested in taking over her role of bin stocking, it sparked my interest. Not having any idea of what goes into making bin stocking work, I volunteered. Boy was I in for a treat...what was I thinking?

No, it wasn't all bad. We just completed our 2nd bin stocking for this year, and it was amazing! I couldn't believe the number of "regulars" who come to volunteer for 2-3 days, multiple times a year. It was also really cool to see them pouring into each other and talking about things going on in their lives. Most people don't know, but bin stocking is just another form of community within our church. It's a great opportunity for stay-at-home moms or empty-nesters to spend time with other ladies while giving themselves away by serving the church...a win-win situation!

I was able to "shadow" Betsy to learn all of her tricks and techniques while getting to be a part of this wonderful community. It was some good practice, for sure! Having been my first bin stocking ever, I have a lot to learn. There is a lot of preparation and volunteer "woman-power" that goes into bin stocking, but I'm up for the challenge!

- Nicole Snyder, Children's Ministry Administrative Assistant

Monday, April 4, 2011

Spiritual Gifts Part 2 - Helping Your Children Discover and Develop Their Gifts

In part one of this series on Spiritual Gifts and children, we affirmed that all believers who are following and trusting Christ are given gifts from the Spirit. Believe it or not, these truths apply to our children as well...yes, even your children! We also affirmed that the purpose of these gifts is to bring glory to God and to benefit the body of Christ, the church. As parents, or as adult believers in the local church, we are Godʼs chosen vehicles to guide children in their journey to spiritual maturity. For the season of childhood, God has provided healthy structure (the nuclear family and the church family) for our kids to grow and learn and discover who they are and how they are wired to interact with the world.  Proverbs 22:6 says:
“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.”
This does not mean that we control the specific course or direction that a child should take. This means that we set the stage for them to discover how they are uniquely and specifically created, then encourage that path in them as they grow and develop in their love for the Lord.

Our kids desperately want to belong to a cause greater than themselves. Just like you and I, they are made for it! We are all designed for meaning, purpose and adventure. Just watch a group of kids playing together and you will see the fullness of humanity come to all of our glory and all of our brokenness. The children who continue in faith as adults are often the ones who are serving early and beginning to use their spiritual gifts for the glory of God today. Here are a few practical ways to help your children develop their gifts:

  • Observe your children as they interact with people, activities, and objects. Note how they learn best, and what emotional and behavioral traits they display. Make mental notes of what excites them and brings them to life. Talk to your children about their thoughts and feelings after a new experience...good or bad.
  • Study the Bible to learn more about spiritual gifts. Check out Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4. As you read these passages, look for words that speak to your heart about your children. Share these verses with your kids, and remind them (many times over) that God has made them uniquely and perfectly (Psalm 139) and has a great plan for their lives (Jeremiah 29).
  • Provide opportunities for them to serve. As they uniquely experience situations in life, they will grow uniquely passionate about God and about ways that they can be of service in His Kingdom. Encourage them to take an active role in programs at church, at school, and in your neighborhood community. Try serving together as a family, and then evaluate what your children liked best and why.

Helping our children discover their unique spiritual gifts will not happen overnight. It is a process which we are privileged to be a part of for a long season. Intentional parents will shepherd their childrenʼs hearts, not just try to control or modify their behavior (we will discuss this more in Part 3 of this blog series). So when the time comes for them to launch into the world and live independently, they could be well on their way to becoming the men and women that God created them to be...with practical gifts to serve the church, the world, and their own children one day.

- Ed Sweeny, Pastor to Families