Saturday, November 12, 2011

A season of gratitude

We started Sunday in church by looking up some Scriptures on thankfulness: (Psalm 107:1, Psalm 31:19, Psalm 145:7, 1 Chronicles 29:11-13, Psalm 100 and Psalm 95:1-6). We pulled out the things in those verses we have to be thankful for---God's faithfulness, He is our Refuge, etc.

The night before we went out and gather some branches and put them in a vase with river pebbles.  I  cut out circle and feather shaped tags and punched holes in them.  We used these pieces to write out our praises and thanksgivings and then we hung them on our tree.  We started with barren branches and finished with a harvest of thanksgiving. 

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For prayer time, we gave out 5 kernels of candy corn and did circle prayers of thanksgiving for each kernel.  Even our littlest one participated. 


Kernel 1- God loves us.

Kernel 2- God provides for our needs

Kernel 3- Thankful for the friends God has given us.

Kernel 4- Thankful for the people God has given us who love us.

Kernel 5- God hears our prayers and answers us.

This is a wonderful idea for extending thanksgiving from only a single day into a season of gratitude. We even had friends over and invited them to join us by adding their words of praise and thanksgiving.  Our tree is brimming over and a constant reminder of what our response to Him should be. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9-11

Today we spent our time together remembering this tragic event in our nation's history. Our children had little understanding and so we spent some time recounting our personal experiences. I was caring for our first child who was 11 months old at the time. I had her at an auto repair shop in Kansas City, MO at the time and remembered watching the planes hit while watching FOX News in the shop's waiting room. My wife was teaching school at the time and saw the events unfold on the television there. We explained what happened and how followers of Islam could be led into such terrible acts. Then we all watched a montage of the FOX News coverage that day to remind the adults and help the kids experience what it was like to see it all firsthand. After that we listened to one of the episodes of "A Nation Remembers" produced by Focus on The Family. This was a collection of interviews with various individuals who were emergency personnel or actual victims from the towers. We left it off after the first episode because the following ones were a little too graphic for the kids. These are amazing interviews by survivors of the towers. One of them survived 27 hours buried under the collapsed building before being rescued. Absolutely heart rending!
One of the most important lessons that I was reminded of was the importance of being real in your faith. Our God should not be toyed with and we need to keep our faith real and our hearts closely gaurded as we walk with Christ. During a crisis or tragedy there is no time to "get right with God", that is the time to rely on our faith to get ourselves and others through the crisis. I was reminded of this truth as one office worker led a co-worker to faith in Christ in the midst of their escaping the smoke and ash of the burning buildings.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No We Haven't Disappeared...

We decided to try out a Bible Study book that I had sitting around. I picked it up years ago on a clearance table in a bookstore. After looking at it, we thought it would make a pretty good study guide and have been going through it since Easter. No we haven't lapsed into a traditional Sunday School class mode or anything. We took it and "simple churched" it! We used some of the object lessons but basically avoided most of the outline discussion guides. We did refer to the book if we needed some help with discussion starters when things got quiet or the conversation wandered but this was not usually necessary.
It's amazing what can happen when you simply let the scripture speak to each person. Even my eight year old finds some pretty profound truth to share (though he often takes a bit more prompting).
This Book went through some pretty basic understanding of relationships that most of us deal with throughout our lives. Using scriptures that tell the story of Jesus and his disciples, David and Jonathan or Paul and Mark, we discussed how Christians are to deal with various areas in the realm of friendships. We talked about what it means to have different degrees of intimacy with friends, what to do if relationships are threatened or are difficult to maintain, and how the Bible tells us to resolve conflict.
We had everyone try to build a house with playing cards (which is surprisingly difficult!) and then talk about how hard it is to build up relationships and how easy it is to tear them down. Another week we played the game "Sorry" and had everyone exaggerate apologies when they sent someone back to start. Then we discussed the importance of repentance and sincere communication with our friends. All in all it was a good framework for our Bible studies and discussions.
It never ceases to amaze me how, even a publication obviously meant for a traditional/institutional Church environment, describes degrees of intimacy that are rarely, if ever, obtained in that setting. After pastoring for five years and then working for a billion dollar manufacturing company, I have seen what similarities exist between the two. They share the corporate model for growth and therefore foster "business" types of relationships. These end up being relationships based on power, manipulation, secrets, and especially, material success in both the traditional church world and corporate world. When we were in a traditional church environment it was always the building that extended to wherever we were. If we visited another member's home, it was as if the building (the organization) followed us there and it overshadowed each and every relationship.We see simple church as a vehicle to develop the kind of intimacy that can foster real discipling and real building up of the Body of Christ. I am watching my family develop relationships in settings where real people live, our home, homeschooling groups, get-togethers at the homes of others and settings out in our community (restaurants, parks, museums, festivals, etc.).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Good Friday Tenebrae

During our years as traditional church pastors we loved any kind of service that was out of the ordinary and experiential. I suppose that is why we love Simple Church so much...every gathering is experiential! Good Friday, however, is one of those moments that is difficult to grasp. We so often carry our children and other family members either right from the brightness of Palm Sunday into a shiny and glorious Easter morning with bright colors and new clothes (not to mention eating enough food and junk to get sick on). We so often skip the darkness of the crucifixion and burial and forget that between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb there stood a cross on which our Lord was nailed and died and carried the weight of the sins of all time.

Tenebrae is one of the most intense and effective ways we have found to help us recapture the need to remember the cross and meaning of Good Friday. We start by marking out passages of scripture into eight parts and light eight candles (one of them being the Christ candle which we indicate by using a large white pillar candle). We also use a candle snuffer to extinguish them one at a time during the reading.

The readings from Matthew and order of extinguishing candles are as follows:


First candle extinguished


Second candle


Third candle


Fourth candle


Fifth candle


Sixth candle


Seventh candle


Christ candle is hidden

*this can be done by using some kind of shield like a foam board cut out that stands up in front of the candle or for this occasion we simply walked the candle out of the room and placed it on a bookshelf (be careful of flammable materials!)

*a song (we once used Were You There and stopped at the verse "Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?") on another occasion we just used a loud drum hit several times with a mallet to dramatize the time of Christ in the tomb.

Isaiah 53:4-9

(Song of the Suffering Servant)

Christ Candle is returned

Dismissal Blessing:

Go in Peace. May Jesus Christ who for our sake became obedient unto death, even death on the cross, keep you and strengthen you this night and forever more. Amen.

After this we moved silently out into the living room leaving the Christ candle burning on the dining room table. Then we quietly discussed how, though we usually have open discussion and questions during our regular meeting times, this time was a period of reflection and listening. We explained that sometimes we need to simply let the Holy Spirit speak to us through the scriptures and not interrupt. It was a little harder with a wiry two year old and an eight year old bursting with questions. But it really turned out neat and we look forward to doing it again with some minor changes. Perhaps a new stand to cover the Christ candle with (we lost the one we used at one time) and maybe a song or two throughout the reading.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday Activities

Palm Sunday was always a big day for us in the traditional church and we are still trying to find ways to make it meaningful in a house church setting. We started out with singing and let the kids have some palm branches and their favorite instruments (drums and shakers) with JP on the guitar.

Our songs included:
Blessed Be The Name (Charles Wesley)
Hosanna (Carl Tuttle)
Blessed Be Your Name (Chris Tomlin)
Blessed the Name of the Lord (Don Moen)

After that we read our Scripture reading from a Nazarene Hymnal (Sing To The Lord #216) We also looked at Mark 11:1-10. The roller coaster ride the disciples went on starting here must have been a doozy. They were looking for a different kind of messiah than the one Jesus turned out to be. They wanted freedom from the tyranny of Rome as well as wanting to see Israel become a mighty world power. They watched as Jesus did the miracles, confounded the religious leaders, and fed the multitudes with little or nothing. Then they saw him ride into Jerusalem, the place he predicted he would die, as a conquering hero. The people swearing alliegance to him with palm branches and their garments covering the roads as he rode in on a donkey (a common mount for kings in that time). They probably cheered as he cleared out the Temple courtyard of the greedy money changers and merchants. After all if he conquered the city and the Temple, then Rome would surely be next. Then comes the Last Supper and Jesus, the conqueror, puts on a slave's garment and starts washing feet! He prays in apparent anguish at the Garden of Gethsemane and is then arrested. Imagine the soaring emotions of going from the thrill, glory and adoration of a King to the arrest, trial and prosecution of a criminal!

Following our discussion of the Triumphal Entry we did an activity that symbolized the "roller-coaster ride" of emotions. We took the palm branches that the children waved in our singing and used them to weave crosses and a crown of thorns. (This turned out to be a bit tricky since our palms were not the long branches that the on-line demonstrators used. So we had to trim our branches and staple the short pieces together to make one long strand. The little branches and stems also made it hard to do the crown of thorns but it still came out fairly well.)

Trying to figure out how to weave palm crosses and crowns while expaining it to others at the same time!

Our palm table full of the wrong type of fronds for weaving (though not bad for waving but hey, what are fronds for? yuk yuk!) BTW notice the cool inflatable palm tree?

Our finished projects on a display board.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Birthday Jesus!

During our service yesterday, we did something I've wanted to do for a long time--a Happy Birthday, Jesus cake with all the symbolism that goes with each decorations. There are so many ways to do one so I mixed and matched from several different sources.

You start by baking two- two layer cake mixes (1 white (half colored red/half colored green) and 1 chocolate). You use three of the layers to make your cake. Frost with white icing. Decorate with heart candies and yellow decorations including a star on top.

We talked about each symbol and read the Scripture references that coincided with the symbol.

Symbols and Scriptures:

Cake is round to represent the world
John 3:16
Icing white to show Jesus' purity covers our sins
1 John 1:7
Psalm 51:7
Star led the wise man to baby Jesus
Matthew 2:9-10
Red candies show God's love for us
John 3:16
Candle represents Jesus is the light of the world
John 8:12
Ephesians 5:8
Chocolate layer represents the sins of the world
Romans 3:23
Genesis 6:5
Red layer reminds us Jesus' blood shed for us
Ephesians 1:7
Green layer represents eternal life
Isaiah 9:6
John 3:36

There are different variations on this like putting an angel on top as the first bearer of the Good News (Luke 2:10-11). Some make the entire cake chocolate and use red candles to represent the blood Jesus shed and surround the cake with evergreen for everlasting life. I would suggest doing a 2 layer cake if you have a smaller gathering because this makes a whole lot of cake. The kids especially enjoyed this edible "object lesson" of the season. Happy Birthday, Jesus! May our gift to you this year be our undying devotion to worship and serve You!