Tuesday, April 05, 2016

HISTORIC BUILDINGS, HISTORIC MINISTRIES, AND RIVER ROCK

(the following post was written late at night and is more personal than most. Fair warning.)

Today was a big day for our church. A historic section of the church building was torn down in spectacular fashion by some heavy equipment. More on this later. . .

One of the ministries to children at our church is "Bible Story Time." This is based on the "release time" state law that allows elementary children (with parental permission) to be dismissed from class in order to participate in "religious instruction." In our case, a group of walkers goes over to the elementary school up the street, collects nearly 100 children, and escorts them to the church,where they sing and hear a Bible lesson. Then they are walked back to school.

We've been doing this for 60 plus years!

Today at Bible Story Time, our story teller did Joshua 4. If you are familiar with the Bible, chapter 3 is where Joshua, the new, dynamic leader of the next generation of Israelites, leads the people across the Jordan River, into the Promised Land.  It had to have been a time of mixed emotions. The previous generation, along with their leader Moses, was dead. With anticipation and excitement and courage and maybe a little apprehension and fear, the children of Israel were ready to take the land. Joshua sticks his big toe in the river, the river miraculously stops flowing, and the people march across while the priests hold the Ark of the Covenant in the middle. And then things get interesting. . .
As chapter 4 begins and before the priests can move, Joshua says, "One more thing: Each tribe needs to go back and get a river rock." So while the priests are standing there, holding this ark (I can imagine what's going on in their minds!), a representative from each tribe goes back to the middle of the dried up Jordan, picks a big rock, and carries it back to shore. They take these rocks and build an memorial to the Lord, so that succeeding generations will be taught how God helped the Israelites get across the river).

The river rocks would serve as a reminder to the future generations about God's faithfulness to the previous ones. 

Now about our building demo. . .

It only took two hours for the old office wing to be knocked down. The original church building was built in 1906 and some time in the next 35 years, the office wing was added (we're still researching the date). We will be building a new sanctuary in the coming months (a project called ARISE. . . and how God brought all this about is a story for another time!), which meant the old office wing had to be come down. It's exciting, but for some, it's also sobering and sad and bittersweet. The previous generations had built and faithfully served in this section of the building. A lot of memories rose to the surface, even as sections of roof, timber, and rock crashed to the ground. Two hours and this historic wing lay in a heap of rubble. The rest of the day was spent hauling the debris away.

And then, things get interesting again. . .

With the empty basement staring up like a drained swimming pool, our pastor noticed that he could see portions of the old foundation for the church building. And what was the main material in that foundation?

River rocks!

I speak to my dear friends and church family at EPCBC, but also to anyone who might be struggling with crossing the Jordan, fearing the previous generations might be left behind:  Don't forget the river rocks!  The river rocks aren't there to stop the new generation from moving ahead, but to provide a base upon which to march forward. We honor those who have gone before and we will look at the river rocks with fond memories of God's faithfulness to us and to our local church. And we will go forward. Just like the new generation of God's children. Just like Bible Story Time for over half a century. And just like EPCBC.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

OF EASTER AND EGGS

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Yes, it's Easter time, a glorious season to remember and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. What a great thought: Jesus, Who is God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, died to pay the price for your sins and mine, then three days later, He rose again, so that by trusting Him as Lord and Savior, we can have eternal life and a day to day relationship with Him.  What's not to celebrate?

Not so fast, there, Skippy!

About this time every year, I start getting emails, seeing Facebook posts, and reading blog entries that try to dump cold water over my Easter enthusiasm. I'm not referring to skeptics or cultists who either try to deny the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ or who try to show that historic Christianity has it all wrong, but they alone have the truth. No, I'm talking about those self-professed paganism professors who not only know the detailed sinister origins of Easter, but can show you the insidiously evil function of every symbol traditionally associated with the holiday (and if they seem eerily familiar, it's because they also come out in December to let the air out of Christmas).

These folks, to various degrees, feel it is their duty to point out that eggs and rabbits were used in ancient fertility cults and therefore, should not be used by Christians. Even the holiday known as "Easter" is named after Ishtar (or variations thereof) and has nothing to do with Jesus, so churches that celebrate Easter are, in essence, denying the faith.

I don't have the time or patience in this blog to specifically address the specific arguments against Easter eggs or anything else connected with it. I just want to leave a couple of thoughts (with the usual stipulations that the views expressed here are mine alone):

1. How is the hard-boiled egg that sat in my fridge the night before suddenly transformed into an instrument of paganism when I put some food-coloring on it? Doesn't that seem like an inordinate amount of power to give to something that will eventually be chopped up and put in a salad?  Using an egg does not mean I'm engaging in pagan rituals any more than saying, "It's Thursday" means I'm revering Thor, the god of thunder for whom the day is named (sorry Chris Hemsworth fans).

2. I know this stuff. I know about the eggs, Ishtar, bunnies, and the spring rituals. I'd venture a guess that most educated Christians have heard about all this. But when I get to the end of a rich, full Sunday of remembering and rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ and celebrating the life He gives, I'm not thinking about what ancient pagans did. It's not even on my radar. And while the unbeliever may not be contemplating the truth of Scripture while engaging in egg hunts or gathering with family for dinner, he is likely not thinking of paganism either.

I'm not trying to argue for or against Easter celebrations by Christians. . .or anyone else. I commemorate Jesus' triumph over death because He saved me and I love Him.  You can argue all you want about whether or not the organized Church should have "Christianized" a pagan festival, but the fact that, for millions of believers, Easter means the resurrection of Christ, I'd say the process was successful.

Agree or disagree, I welcome your comments, but be nice. If you want to "egg" me on, I might just delete your comment and that's no yolk!

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HOLIDAY MEMORIES: PARTIES

I confess that I don't attend too many holiday parties. I would say it's because of my hectic schedule, but I know folks that attend three or four parties a night and still have time and energy to go to work, spend time with their families, and be productive citizens. So I guess I have no excuse.

But I do have some parties and gatherings under my belt, each one providing fun and meaningful memories. I don't always have detailed recollections, but more like snapshots of events.

Sunday School Move. I don't remember if I was in middle school or high school, but our small Sunday School class held our own Christmas party during class time. We had refreshments and music and a gift exchange. I liked Sunday School because it was one of the few places where the popular and the unpopular hung out together. And the holidays, with preparations for Christmas programs and caroling, were especially fun.

When we exchanged gifts, I received a model kit of a German roadster.  I laughed and said, "That's funny. At the school gift exchange, I got a model kit of a German bi-plane.  I wonder what it means?"

Without planning, the whole class said, "you should move to Germany." It was a funny moment that always sticks out in my mind (and yes, they were teasing).

Bible Study at Pastor's House. Back in Colorado, our Wednesday afternoon Bible Study moved to the Pastor's house on the week of Christmas for a special gathering (the Pastor in this case was me). We enjoyed treats, relaxed, shared, had a short, informal study, and just enjoyed each other's company.

Candlelight Fellowship. Our church in California rented a facility for Sunday Morning Services, so our other weekly gatherings were in homes. So, as expected, it was a tight fit for the annual Christmas Eve candlelight service. But what we lacked in space, we made up for in fellowship. It was a party, really, with guests bringing refreshments, sharing, and laughing. We just sort of blended into the service, with music, Scripture, and then the candlelight ceremony (accompanied by Evie's "A Thousand Candles"). It was a time of love and warmth.

Day Care parties. Our church operated a day care center for a number of years. At Christmas, we came together to eat a meal, share treats, and exchange presents. Two things stand out about these parties: 1) The laughter. The stress and difficulties of the week seemed to vanish as we shared our stories and broke out in glee over the smallest things.  2) Jazz Choir. The local high school had a special group of singers that toured local businesses and events. We tried to make it a point to invite them each year to sing for us. To this day, when I think of "Santa Baby," I think of the Jazz Choir.

I haven't been to a lot of parties, but I've been to enough to have had a lot of fun. May you enjoy your own set of memories as you gather with friends, family, and co-workers to celebrate.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

HOLIDAY MEMORIES: TRAVELING

I have a lot of special Christmas memories. Some are very detailed and specific. Others are like quick photographs, out-of-context images embedded in my mind.

Several of these "pictures" involve travel. During my college days, I went back and forth between Colorado and California via the goodness of friends or courtesy of the bus lines. It was the trips during the holidays that always stuck in my mind.

Music: Hurtling down the highway. It's dark and most of the passengers in our car have settled in to a quiet reverie. Except  for the few who are listening to Evie's "Come On Ring Those Bells" for the 20th time. Or the highly techno cover of the "Hallelujah Chorus." Or when our driver croons along with Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", along with distinctive warble. Even today, when I hear some of these songs, I can hear the drone of the vehicle and see the landscape slipping past my window.

Fatigue: It sounds funny to list this as a memory, but plug a few college students in a car for a thirty hour drive and see if you don't remember it.  Not that there weren't moments of tension (getting lost has a way of doing that). But what usually comes to my mind are the jokes, the laughter, the time at the 24 hour diner, at which I am convinced there is a yellowing bulletin by the counter warning about us (ok, we laughed and joked a lot...we were a bunch of Christian college students, not rowdy bikers!).

Lights: All cross-country trips, whether in a car or a bus, have the same view of city after city, town after town, one right after another. Unless you stop for gas or meals, they all approach, pass, and fade out your window.  But at Christmas time, it was as if each burg brought out its finest to welcome one and all to their town. It was as if it was a shared party. And each year, whether with one or six or a bunch of fellow travelers, I always thought, "I know Who the Guest of Honor is!"

The Reunion: Most of my Christmas travel memories happened in college. When I got married, "home" was where my wife was. But one year, we went through a transition and a move. My family relocated to Oregon, but I had to stay behind in Colorado to wrap up lose ends. It was a difficult time and I feared that I'd never be able to afford to make it to Oregon (not that I could stay in Colorado either). But thanks to some friends, I was able to get a bus ticket to travel the week of Christmas. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me in the months ahead, but I knew that I was going to be with family...my family.

The trip on the bus had everything.  I saw city after city with lights. Theological issues aside, Salt Lake City knows how to deck out a town for Christmas. There was the drone of the bus, the weariness of travel, but the shared camaraderie of fellow passengers heading for holiday destinations. We even had music, as the bus driver valiantly attempted to lead us in "Jingle Bells."

And then, the day before Christmas Eve, a foggy day, I arrived "home" to my wife and three "tator tots."  And the destination made the long bus ride all the more memorable.

I have many Christmas thoughts and memories which I look forward to sharing. But those scenes of buzzing over the highway in anticipation to Christmas celebrations with family and friends stick in my mind and heart to this day.

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

TIM'S TOP FIVE: DECIDEDLY DIFFERENT DISNEY COVERS


I like all kinds of music and genres, from rock to Gregorian chants. I especially enjoy music covers, when different artists perform an established song. And if they can do it in a different style or genre, all the better. It's cool to hear a rock anthem performed like a country ballad or a classical piece given a heavy metal twist. When artists have a different take on a popular song, I find myself listening to the lyrics more closely.

Today, I'm going to count down my top 5 different covers of Disney songs. Why Disney? Disney has had a big influence on music in our culture, and Disney songs have likely been covered hundreds of times by hundreds of artists.  I chose these particular tunes because of their slightly different approach to the songs.  Yes, this is a highly subjective list and there are no doubt many songs that could be included (if you have a favorite, list it in the comments below!). And who knows, next month or year I might claim a different list.

Another disclaimer: I do not necessarily endorse the individual performers in these videos or do any extensive research as to their background, values, and political views. So please do not say, "hey, I heard that guy kicks puppies, so why is he on this list?" For now, just enjoy and evaluate the songs. If someone indeed is on America's Most Wanted, I'll write about that another time.

5.  "I'll Make a Man Out of You" (Mulan)  Jackie Chan (in Chinese). 
Martial arts star Jackie Chan shows he has some halfway decent singing chops as he performs this standard from Mulan. The video is full of Chan's martial arts moves, which are more than halfway decent.

4. "I Have No Strings" (Pinocchio) Ultron
This isn't strictly a cover, but it makes you think. It was featured prominently in the trailer to the hit movie Avengers: Age of Ultron, about a maniacal sentient robot who wants to wipe out humanity. By sampling Pinnochio and bringing in Ultron to some deep dark music, it is genuinely creepy and well done. (the folks at the pop culture parody sight How it Should Have Ended have a fun take on this in their video).

3.  "Let It Go" (Frozen) Daniel Taylor
"Let It Go," the song that launched a million covers, is an inspiring and motivational song. But enter this artist who uses numerous Disney characters to belt out the tune. His skill in transitioning from one voice to another is fun to watch.

2.  "Prince Ali" (Aladdin) Jonathan Young
Metal is not my thing, unless I can understand the words. In this video, we are given a hard, energetic translation of the "Prince Ali" song that allows us to hear every single word clearly and forcefully.

1.  "Friend Like Me" (Aladdin)  Bri Ray
When I first saw this video, I was stunned. Bri Ray is not only an incredible singer, but an actress whose facial expressions and body language fit this song perfectly. Yes, it reminds me of Robin Williams' original performance, but in a unique, fresh way that would suggest, "What if the Genie was a young woman?"  Seriously, it's that good.

What are your favorites? Suggestions? Rebuttals (be nice!)? Use the comment section below.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2015

USING WORSHIP DVDS FROM ONE WHO IS MUSICALLY CHALLENGED


I recently heard about a church official who had strong opinions about children's praise and worship DVDs. Upon hearing that one of the music leaders was looking to add to the children's department's DVD music collection, he said, "I thought we determined that DVDs were no longer allowed. It's just another video that the kids sit in front of." He promised to talk to the music leader and put his foot down, so to speak. In this official's mind, DVDs (and other media based items) constituted "passive entertainment" and were not worthy of the goals of Christian education.

And I agree: DVDs and other forms of media are, indeed, passive entertainment . . . if used passively!

The fact is, many churches do not have a band, musicians, and song leaders that can effectively do live contemporary children's praise and worship. I don't have enough technical knowledge to tell you what distinguishes modern kids praise music from adult or even teen music, but there is a difference! And so several companies have attempted to bridge the gap with music videos that have music, words, and even motions. It's like bringing in a band to help lead your music.

But music DVDs are a tool . . . and like most tools, they have to be used properly. If you stick in a DVD and tiredly expect the kids to sing along, you will likely get tired results. But even the musically challenged among us can get good results using the tools in the right way. I am not a singer and I probably lack certain motor skills to do complicated choreography (although I've got a little game). But in my years in kidmin, I've learned some principles in working with DVDs.
  • Look at the kids, not the screen. There are two reasons for this. One, it keeps you from having to contort your back and neck to look over at the screen for the lyrics, and second, with your attention on the kids, you can pick up those subtle signals that every children's leader needs (like the two fifth graders who are sitting in the corner with their arms crossed).
  • Interact with and use the music. By knowing the music and words of the DVD, you can interject prompts ("a little louder now!") at the right spots, or take advantage of longer musical gaps to insert a quick devotional thought ("and Jesus loves you too and you can love one another, so let's sing it together..").
  • Move it, move it #1. Clap your hands, try the moves, shuffle back and forth . . . do something! If you can't pull off all the moves, try to do the major ones. You may not be able to get those fifth graders moving, but you can virtually guarantee they won't move if you won't move.
  • Move it, move it #2. Recruit some kids to help with the moves. Be on the lookout for the children who are into the music and motions and bring them up to help. Kids love seeing other kids in action. You can even try bringing the two fifth graders up and ask if they would be willing to help lead songs (they might just surprise you with their enthusiasm).
  • Transition smoothly. Try to eliminate that awkward time when you are switching songs. Have something happening while your sound guy makes the switch. Or if you are your own sound guy, designate someone to do an announcement while you work controls. Better yet, have all your songs lined up and ready to go in a "mix." One of the more recent innovations is the availability of songs on MP3, where they can be mixed and lined up seamlessly on a computer, which sure beats cuing up VHS tapes (yes, I am that old).
  • Put the songs in context. Relate the songs to the lesson or theme when possible. And that requires advance preparation, not just loading a DVD in the player that morning.
Sure, live music is best. You can do things with live musicians, song leaders, and a praise team that you can't do with a DVD. Even a talented, on-fire guy with a guitar can get a group of kids going in ways that electronic media cannot. But if you don't have those things, children's praise and worship DVDs can be just the tool you need.


Does your church used contemporary children's worship DVDs or other media, or is your music live? What resources do you use? Feel free to respond in the comments below.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SEVEN TIPS TO FILL THE RUTS IN YOUR CHILDREN'S MINISTRY

Frowny kids? Stressed-out volunteers? Directional anxiety?

Have we got a solution for you!  These seven things are absolutely guaranteed to transform your children's ministry from grump to up!

Okay, not quite. Like any anything involving children, there is a host of factors involved. And the reality of ministry is that sometimes you can do everything right and still get bad results.

But if you need a little injection of "different" and "happy" in your weekly routine, or you just want to take the edge off some ruts that you're in, these are good things to start with.

1.  Smile. A lot!
One of the first things that vanishes when we're rushing around trying to get things done is our smile. Kids respond to smiles, adults respond to smiles, and even you will respond to your own smile (don't believe me? Look in the mirror and make the silliest grin you can and see if your mood doesn't improve.).

2.  Take the time to hang out with parents.
Politicians affectionately call what they do "grip and grin." Why do they do it? Because the few moments they spend shaking hands and engaging in a few moments of conversation makes a big impression. So too, it pays to connect with the parents. If your church has a foyer where people mingle before and after the service, go visit there. Take advantage of fellowship opportunities with other grown ups.  Make a connection.

3.  Do a funny voice.
Seriously, do it. While you're teaching the lesson, suddenly deepen your voice. Or make it higher. Or strange. Or break out into Minionese.  Kids love the unexpected.

4.  Educate yourself.
I'm not just talking about self-development resources, such as books, magazines, articles, and conferences.  I'm talking about educating yourself in what kids are involved in. In point #3 above, I mentioned speaking "Minionese". If you have no clue what a Minion is, then it's time to get on Google (or ask the kids!).  I remember a little girl coming in with a lunch box featuring the Power Puff Girls. I asked her what her favorite Girl was: Blossom, Bubbles, or Buttercup? Her eyes grew wide and she looked up at her mom and said, "He knows who they are!" Even just knowing the name of someone on the child's t-shirt will set you apart from most of the grown-ups.

5. Turn distractions to opportunities.
One of the kids brought an action figure to church. As he played with it during the lesson, it became more and more of a distraction. I could have confiscated the figure and warned him never ever to bring it again or else. Instead, I asked if I could borrow it to help teach the lesson. The boy hesitated for a second, then handed over the toy. I incorporated it into the lesson and the kids seemed to be paying more attention (maybe to see if I would keep it). But I learned that sometimes, distractions can be springboards to better opportunities. When the little girl wants to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" in worship time, it's a great opening to talk about the Creator of the stars. Restless older kids can be transformed into helpers. Tune in to the vibe of the kids and see if there might be ways to channel their distractions into opportunities for greater ministry.

6.  Always, always, always lift up the team.
Whenever you have opportunity, encourage your volunteers. Compliment them, thank them, pray for them. And if you don't have opportunities to do this, then make the opportunity. No matter what your level of leadership in your children's department, you don't do it alone. Consistent affirmation of volunteers translates into joyful energy in the overall ministry.

7.  Take your children's service seriously.
 Don't ever justify a half-way effort by saying, "It's just for kids." Plan, prepare, pray over each and every Sunday or mid-week service. It doesn't mean you can't be flexible, but it does mean that children's ministry deserves the same quality and attention to detail that the adult service does. Kids are important, so it's important to treat them that way.

What things do you do to add a little fun, energy, and positive vibe into your children's ministry? Please share in the comments below.