Monday, March 15, 2010

Lent 5

Isaiah 43:16-21 (NIRV)

The passage starts revisiting a story - not just a story but a story from Israel's past. He reminds them that Israel's enemy was "blown out like a dimly burning flame" - an image that's easy to show children. Then God says, "Forget the things that happened in the past. Do not keep on thinking about them. I am about to do something new. " Sometimes, even children need to hear that.

The imagery is wonderful. The desert. The need for water. God's lavish promise of water. The animals. God's desire for us to sing His praises. It probably requires an appreciation for dry sandy desert places and a deep appreciation for water. (Most of us take water seriously for granted.) What can you do with your kids to recreate that need? Children were part of the community of faith that experienced God's blessing and God's wrath, the oppression of His enemies and God's deliverance and the emotional environment there. Children were there.

Psalm 126 (NIRV)

Again, a reference to a story in Israel's past that children would have experienced - an unpleasant memory, if you will. But they came home. God brought them back home. Not even sure the grown-ups or children were part of a generation to remember "home" but they were part of a community that God promised to deliver and there were children there to experience His promise fullfilled. An emotional experience. And other nations saw what God did.

Lots of emotion in this psalm. Planting with tears. Reaping with joy. A promise of success when you don't think it's possible. There's water in this Psalm, too. The water cycle. Rain is good! In a desert culture the fact that water is critically necessary for survival is "in your face" so to speak. The kids were there to experience all of this. They experienced the desert every day. They were there in that emotional environment, too. Why do you suppose people cry when they plant their gardens in a hot dry land? Where does the rain come from? How does the rain make them feel?

Philippians 3:4b-14 (NIRV)

Paul lists all the ways he has to trust in himself. Most of us could write a list like that: credentials, experience, skills, strengths, gifts, education, who we know...the list goes on. Paul's credentials made him especially well equipped for the job God gave him even apart from God's call on his life. Plus he seems to be one of those "perfect" people. But because of Christ Jesus he calls all of this "nothing". Some translations refer to it as "dung". I do believe that's the word they use in the original but I'm not a Hebrew scholar. I have friends who could give you more contemporary graphic language for that. And yes, as used here, it's that strong - appropriately so. You can go back to the original and look but I believe that's the context of "nothing" and "garbage" here.

Paul says I would trade all of my credentials and qualifications - all that's good about me- to know Jesus better. He talks about "being right with God" having to do with constantly trying to get to know Christ better. We use the word "faith." We use it all the time. We try to explain it or give it meaning but I'm not sure how much real meaning it has for kids (or anyone) until they experience "faith" and they experience interacting with God - getting to know Him better. Some people of faith balk at talk of experience and emotion but here it appears that the focus is on faith meaning "always wanting to get to know God better". Can't kids relate to that? If Christianity is relational - not a religion- can you have a relationship without experience and emotion? We believe without seeing. To believe without seeing, without experience, without emotion, is great faith. Paul saw, he experienced, and I do believe he was a very emotional man.

Paul was a champion even as he was writing Philippians but his attitude was that he wasn't there yet. He had to keep pressing on to know God better. After all that Paul had walked through, it still wasn't yet within the Apostle Paul's grasp. Verse 13-14 (I actually like other translations better for this passage) "Brothers and sisters, I don't consider that I have taken hold of it yet. But here is the one thing I do. I forget what is behind me. [again, forgetting the past] I push hard toward what is ahead of me. I move on toward the goal to win the prize. God has appointed me to win it. The heavenly prize is Christ Jesus himself. " For kids who are heavy into sports, that's the imagery here. Playing to win. There is a time to remember the past and it's stories in order to know God better and a time to let it all go in order to know God better.

John 12:1-8

Here is the story of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus' feet. You could just tell the story or act it out. There are characters (people) in this story from other familiar-to-children stories in the Gospels. Did you ever try presenting a series of stories (over a 6-8 wk period) that focus on the same character(s)? All the stories about Mary, Martha, Lazarus. All the stories about Judas - especially for older kids who feel like they've heard that story "a million times". If we hear all the stories about that person what can we learn about them? What can we learn about God- Jesus? Father? Holy Spirit?

So here they are eating dinner together. It might help to understand the customs that the people in the story would have been familiar with. Why not take a tiny "expensive" bottle of perfume and pour it on someone's feet. See what happens. See what insights you'd gain doing it that you wouldn't get just listening to the story. I'd bet money that your kids will remember. Every time they walk into your room and they can still smell that smell, they'll remember. You can act it out. You can use a huge basket of play money and think about what it could buy for you. How much money does the average person in your church earn in a year? What can they buy with that much money? What could it buy for someone poor? Trade all of it for a tiny bottle of smelly perfume to pour on Jesus' feet. Act out the story and see where it takes you. Not to downplay the girl characters and stories of scripture but did you ever stop and think that there are lots of "guy stories" in the scriptures? Lots of parts, lots of roles for boys. Lots of roles for strong women, too. The scriptures have lots to teach us about lots of things.

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