Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thoughts on Spiritual Formation

Romans 8:29 and 12:2 are the scriptures I think of when I think of spiritual formation. I googled some other definitions below.

Dr. Robert Mulholland, of the Covenant Methodist Church, very simply defines spiritual formation as "... a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” I like it - simple and not "ME" centered.

Children have a good sense of what's meaningful to them. Paying attention to that helps us plan meaningful activities. Yet looking back as an adult we have a different sense of what lasts and what doesn't. Experience tells us what fruit grows from what seed. The harder part is remembering that despite the imperfections in our lives and our programs and despite what national statistics say - God can do anything.

When do you see children change from the inside out? Or does it happen from the outside in? Or both? What formed your faith as a child? What forms you now? What role did people play in your spiritual formation as a child? Specific Activities? The Holy Spirit? What choices do you remember making alone that affected your walk with God? What choices did you make as part of a larger faith community? Asking these questions to a group of adults would be an interesting exercise. It would probably give you more insights than just your own answers.

Ideally, Christian spiritual formation is the heart of Christian Education and Children's Ministry though each of the three is probably defined differently. We teach, we encourage, hopefully we inspire. The work of the Holy Spirit transforms us. The daily choices we make keep us growing. Gathering regularly provides both peer pressure and peer support to conform to the image of Christ when we might make other choices if left alone. And just the fun of being together.

There's another element (can't remember where I read it) which takes spiritual formation beyond individual maturing to congregational spiritual formation. He/she defined it as learning the collective disciplines of the faith community - a side of spiritual formation that I hadn't thought about. Spiritual formation is both individual and collective. There were times when God interacted with individuals and times when He dealt with the whole people of Israel.

In children who haven't had contact with church, spiritual formation and transformation often seem more observable than when you're working with kids who have grown up in the church and know all the right answers and (technically) know how to behave. Teaching, training, and challenging kids with meaningful activities without innoculating them to "real faith" is, I think, the most challenging part of spiritual formation for believers who work with children.

the Google Search:


the Upper Room

Dialogue with a seminary


Evangelical Covenant Church

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Word Study

So how do we worship Him in spirit and in truth - present tense. How do we teach children to worship Him in spirit and in truth - present tense. I think, in it's simplest form, to worship in spirit and truth has to mean something to God and something to the worshipper, present tense. God didn't always accept the offerings that people brought Him.

I started a word study to see where the words for "truth" and "spirit," as used in John 4, are used in other places. Maybe it will help me understand. Maybe the answer will better define "worship." Maybe it won't. My word studies have changed over the years. I'm trying to learn to look for the obvious before I go "deep" - the obvious being observations that no one can dispute.

One of the things kids have that adults seem to lose when we go for the "deeper" things, is the ability to see the obvious. Good old concrete thinking! I'm glad we all get to be kids before we have to be grown-ups.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Jesus Talked About Worship

Here are some observations from John 4. It's one of those places where Jesus is specifically talking about the thing we're looking for - worship. ( NIrV. )

Is it better to worship Him on the mountain with the newbies who do things differently or is it better to worship in Jerusalem where they've been doing it for centuries - a chosen people- with all their traditions?

Apparently the Jews know the God they worship in a way that the newly grafted don't. But Jesus acknowledges that both are worshipping Him.

God is looking for a people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. That was the requirement for both groups. That part is clear. God keeps looking for a people who will do this - just like we keep looking for something we can't find until we find it.

The Jews had a past with God. They were a people of tradition. "This is the way we've always done it. We worship Him the right way." Jesus spent most of His natural life reaching out to God's people, Israel.

The Samaritan woman was looking at the future. "When He comes He'll tell us everything we need to know. Someday we'll know Him but in the meantime we'll keep worshipping Him."

Jesus turned this Samaritan woman, worshipping God but not knowing Him, away from the future and into the present pointing to Himself. "I'm the one you're waiting for. I'm right here." We could say He spent His natural life trying to do the same thing with Israel turning their focus away from the past, to hear what He was saying face to face when He walked among them.

Later, He would hear the children cry, "Hosanna!" How did that happen amidst three years of all this adult ministry?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So, How Do We Do It?

Recently, in about 12 days, 61 out of 100 Emerging Kids readers came from Kidology looking for " worship and children ". Spiritual stomachs rumbling? Or looking for how-tos and activities?

I don't know what they left with. I don't know if they found what they're looking for. I don't know if they see or understand something they didn't see before. I don't know if they found a way to get where they wanted to go or if they're better able to draw their kids into worshp.

I'm guessing that when we look for something related to children and worship we're looking for something akin to what the children did during the Palm Sunday story - everyone's crying "Hosanna!". Jesus was pleased but the scriptures don't really tell us how they got there or do they? Something to ponder.

We have stories of children loving God. Is that worship? Wasn't Naaman's servant girl loving God when she sent Naaman to the prophet? What about Moses and the guard? But we wouldn't want anyone to follow Moses' example in that story. What about Joseph in Pharoah's court? What about David? Daniel? What about the boy who shared his lunch? Were they loving the Lord their God with all their heart and mind and soul and strength? Is that worship? Where did they learn to do that? Were they part of worshipping communities?

Maybe they didn't learn it. Maybe it just happened. Were they special? Singled out? Specially called by God? Gifted? Or were they just one of many everyday people going about their day-to- day life and it was just the natural thing, the right thing, to do? We don't know. We just know they did what they did and the scriptures tell us what happened next.

Does worship need to be the same for every child of God or can it be different for different people? What does God accept or not accept? Is that what worship is all about? Worshipping God the way He wants to be worshipped? How do we know if He's happy?

But, hey! We're not an ancient superstitious people trying to please our gods anymore. We're educated, sophistocated, civilized. We just need things that work, fun things that people can relate to, things that will draw people in and keep people here and help our churches grow . . .
to the glory of God...of course...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Justice and politics

Another shot at justice here. I've sent some recent emails to legislators about this issue and that issue - most were education or safety related.

Assuming you do your research, writing to legislators is probably another way for kids to participate in justice. Future voters, you know - especially teens.

A republican form of government (voting) gives believers here a shot at national stewardship that believers in most countries don't have. I'm not talking about political churches, I'm talking about informed voting. It's not clear if we actually affect anything but kids should probably know that having the freedom to vote and opportunity is better than the alternative.

justice, buying, and selling

Thinking more about justice. I'm not a big boycotter of this and that. Boycotting can hurt more people than the specific higher-ups that boycotters think they're targeting so I'm not sure whether boycotting is a true shot at justice.

Any company that loses business will, as a result, lay off workers. Those workers are usually the ones working hard to support their families. I don't know the stats but it might make an interesting research project to see what boycotting actually accomplishes. Justice and mercy trade offs are tough.

Still, in our consumer-focused culture, choosing to support local industry and local producers, supporting industries that treat their workers (and their customers) well, carefully choosing the products we buy and the producers we support is probably a really good way for kids to learn about justice, stewardship, and economics. Every child's question (Why do we do that? Why don't we do that?) is an opportunity to teach them what we value and why. As they grow their questions will grow, too.

Internet buying and selling is convenient but is it killing local business? I REALLY don't like shopping or spending money and I'm not particularly comfortable with business transactions especially when a business is looking more after its own interests than the interests of its customers. Internet buying from reputable vendors is cheaper, more convenient, time - efficient and I'd rather shop that way. But I'm rethinking.

I'm guessing over time internet buying and selling will seriously change more elements of our culture than we realize. Maybe for the better (parents working home). Maybe for the worse (local businesses going out of business and less person-to-person interaction and service.) I'm guessing consumer families -more than individuals- will largely determine the outcome. Life can get complicated.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

WWTK: Abram and Sarai

In Genesis 12-15 we're introduced to Abram and Sarai. Abram is part of Terah's story, who is part of Shem's story, who is part of....enough already...

References to children are missing in a lot of Bible stories but in the first part of this particular story not having children - not being able to have children is a driving element. You can look at all the historical and cultural factors (the most obvious being no children, no story - the story ends) but if you ask "where were the children," even though we don't hear about them, they were a driving force here - their absence was a force to be reckoned with, as it were. And, yes, God used it.

Take children and every child/seed related reference totally out of that story. What's missing? What's left?

The scriptures are God's story. We're part of His story. We listen, we read. Yes, we learn about ourselves but we learn about God. Asking "where were the kids" I don't want to lose sight of that. He's the hero. He's the teacher. Does God cause things to happen or is life just full of opportunities to get to know God better? I don't know.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Stories and geneologies...ah...not again...

Ok, all you Hebrew students! More food for thought here:

Genesis 11:10 - The KJV reads: "These are the generations of Shem . . ."
Youngs Literal: "These [are] births of Shem. . . "
NAS: "These are the records of the generations of Shem. . . "
NIV: "This is the account of Shem . . ."

But Genesis 11:10 (NIrV) from the International Bible Society reads, "Here is the story of Shem . . ." and the scriptures go on to list his children and their children and their children . . . Is story one of the meanings or an implied meaning of that Hebrew word for "generations"? Is it implied when they refer to the "account of" or the "book of?" In Genesis 5:1 (KJV) we find "This is the book of the generations of Adam. . ." Maybe that's where they got "story".

Gosh! All the generations that follow me are part of my story? We, as God's children are part of His story? Of course! Past generations had better handles on that kind of thinking.

Interesting? It was even more interesting to read that particular translation because (besides Christine's comments) I recently read this on a reader's blog. (If you're a graduate student or doing doctorate work, she has some other interesting posts, here.)

WWTK: Babel

The Story of Babel

Apparently, between the ark and the dispersion at the end of the Babel story everyone spoke the same language. ". . .the whole world had one language and a common speech." (Gen 11: 1) "The whole world" sounds so much bigger than just the thought that maybe they all spoke the same language because they were still all from the same family.

The people did what they did. God did what He did - God intervened in the affairs of men. The language thing, family, city, making a name, reaching the heavens, oneness of purpose, cooperation, determination ...There's a lot to ponder in this very short story.

Imagine being a child and watching all this and asking, "Why can't we finish building the tall tower?" (Maybe they didn't even know what a tall tower was!)

"Why do we have to move?"

"Why can't I understand my cousin anymore?" (The beginning of linguistics!)

And there's the line about the bricks. It probably would have been easier to use stones and mortar unless of course there weren't any stones or there weren't enough stones. Ever see a child build with stones? Do you think that later when the Israelites were in Egypt they remembered that line about the bricks and the story of Babel?

"The LORD said, 'If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.'" (Gen 11:6-7 NIV)

But what if God hadn't intervened when He did? Would that mean that nothing we plan to do would be impossible for us? We'd never be frustrasted? We'd always succeed? Every parent, every teacher, every child's dream! God didn't want that? Is He opposed to cooperation, determination, and ambitious achievement of the impossible? Was that the only moment in time when God could have affected the outcome? A little food for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers: What if God hadn't stopped them from building that tower? What if everyone in the world still spoke the same language and we could accomplish anything we decided to do and we could build a building that reached to the heavens anytime we wanted and make a name for ourselves?

Another angle - have you ever been part of a very close extended family who gathered for holidays and lived close but people you loved started moving away and you hardly ever saw them anymore? Have you ever been part of the generation that moved away - off in different directions so your children grew up not knowing extended family the way you did? Do you know children who hear stories of extended family but live too far away to experience that with family or perhaps they experience that with friends, instead?

Have you ever asked unchurched kids to tell you about a story from scripture and make observations? Kids who have never learned what that Bible story is "supposed" to mean? The story of Babel would be an interesting one to try.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Story, Heart, and the Unsung Hero

I thought you might enjoy yet another take on "story". Christine's thoughts at D-train, Northern Wales. (Don't worry about the Druids.)

It isn't that engaging our minds isn't important (over the years the church probably hasn't done enough of that either). But don't you think that the things that have the greatest affect on us and the things that stay with us are more tightly attached to our hearts than our minds? Maybe they start in the mind, but if they're going to stay, don't they have to end up in our hearts? I think my emotional memories are stronger than anything intellectual. I think that people who work with children have to tread lightly and carefully when they access a child's heart. But once you're there...

Last night (in the middle of the night, because I had to wake up sleep-deprived) I found a show on PBS about reading. Scientist/Educators are finding ways to enable autistic children to connect emotionally with the words that they can already read mechanically. They can read the words correctly but it doesn't mean anything to them. It's the emotional connection that enables them to actually comprehend what they're reading. The emotional understanding is more critical to comprehension than intellectual understanding. Interesting? I guess it was even more interesting because I'm reading a book about animals and autism Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. If I understand it right, physical need for food and emotional need for food are different brain circuits. Physical, mental, emotional- independent yet inter-related. (She also wrote Thinking in Pictures and The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships.)

We manipulate and take advantage of emotional connections to sell our products, to further our agendas. We guard our hearts if we happen to find ourselves unwilling captives on the receiving end. Is it easier to guard our hearts or our minds?

Getting back to hearts and stories ... Sometimes God the Father is the hero, and sometimes He's made His Son the hero. But I've not thought about every story (and perhaps teaching and sharing the Word in general) as a place where Jesus leaves the Holy Spirit to be the hero touching and changing our hearts. Of course, He always points us to Jesus who points us to the Father. And sometimes He heals our bodies, and sometimes He changes our thinking, but He's still a hero. And I think, among the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is God's story heart-hero.