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Isaiah 61

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.”

We want kids to know what an incredible God they serve. Every day Krista and I try to plant seeds of faith in our girls in hopes that those seeds will sprout into something that will one day produce fruit.  As this verse from Isaiah 61 indicates, soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow.

It’s a strange coincidence (our senior minister would say a coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous) that I stumbled on this verse during a bit of a crisis in my life.  I actually turned to the passage after it was referenced in a meeting with another one of our ministers.  The beginning of Isaiah 61 starts of with a proclamation of good news for the downtrodden.  It talks of trading ashes for crowns and spirits of despair for garments of praise.  At a time when I was looking for hope, this passage revealed to me where my hope needs to come from. The answer comes all the way at the end.

It is the Lord that makes righteousness. He is the one that makes praise.  We search and search for things to give us hope and we try our hardest to live rightly.  Our recent attempts at gardening have proven that though we can plant, weed and water, the veggies will take an act of God to produce the fruit he intends.  What a relief it is knowing that though we may be brokenhearted, captive and prisoner, God is the one that will create praise and righteousness for us.  He is the one who will give a crown of beauty instead of ashes and oil of joy instead of mourning.

Isaiah 61

The Year of the LORD’s Favor

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
5 Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
6 And you will be called priests of the LORD,
you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
and in their riches you will boast.

7 Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.

8 “For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the LORD has blessed.”

10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness
and praise spring up before all nations.

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Is VBS Broken – Pt. 2 “Outreach Oriented”

What does a VBS program that is Outreach Oriented look like? To invest the time, volunteers and financial resources into an event and not be intentional about reaching out is poor stewardship. When discussing reaching the community, I am not talking about people that dont go to our church. I’m talking about people that dont go to ANY church – but more importanty people who would not even acknowledge the name of Jesus. What does outreach look like for THESE people. How do we have to tweak the events we do – not just VBS – if our hope is to have a voice among the noise in their lives? In the grand scheme of things, I know that inviting people into anything happening in our building is not the best way to reach the lost. The Field of Dreams whisper “If you build it, they will come” does not make for a good evangelism slogan. But if we plan a event, we ought to think about how it is going to be perceived/received by the community.

So how do we ensure that we are doing our best to be Outreach Oriented?

1.Is it Original?
Unless a non-christian has already begun their search for Jesus, an invitation to go to school for vacation and study the Bible is not going to be very appealing. I pass by nearly 20 churches on my way to work (that’s Nashville for you). Nearly all of them do a VBS and half of them put out signs. Would it catch your eye if after passing 10 banners for VBS a church had something catchy in ther lawn advertizing an event called something else? What if the event had a theme that could not be identified on any other banner in town?

This does not mean the curriculum has to be written in house. I know that some of the major publishing companies come up some pretty “original” stuff. Who ever heard of using a crocodile and a dock to teach kids about Jesus. But an original idea in the hands of a dozen churches in the same town doesn’t raise eyebrows. Find or write your own curriculum that is not being used by anyone else in town!

1.Is it General?
If people without faith walk into our “fruits of the Spirit” themed VBS, is it going to make sense to them. Do they know who the Spirit is? Sometimes to be able to have a voice in people’s lives, we need to talk less specifics and more broadly to meet them where they are at. I have taught some really great lessons that assumed the kids already knew parts of the Bible and that they would be able to get it even though I was using “churchy” words.

1.Is it Familiar?
Think music and atmosphere on this one. When people walk in, are they going to feel at home? Much of the music written for VBS program has a style that would ONLY be heard at a VBS. Is is possible to use music that sounds a bit more like stuff they were listening to on the radio? When they walk in the doors, is the place decorated like a museum they would visit on the weekend or a Bible Times Marketplace that they would never normally set foot in. Bible Times Marketplaces are great for adding cultural background for people who are already bought into the message of the Bible. For people who question it’s authority, the atmosphere needs to look more familiar.

I certainly do not have all this figured out. Simply working through some of this openly with this community. I appreciate your thoughts. Blessings.

~Josh

Is VBS Broken?

The very first VBS I directed was the summer of 2007. I had just been hired to my first ministry job in May and the day of my hire the only thing that had been planned were the dates – June 24th-27th. In six short weeks me and the incredible team of volunteers put together an under-water themed Vacation Bible School experience called “Splash Down” complete with a life-sized giant squid hanging from the ceiling and 60 foot inflatable whale. The kids could actually go inside the whale and meet Jonah face to face for a close encounter with the living Word. The following year we kicked it up a notch and did an authentic Jerusalem Marketplace. Only this year we decided that kids did not want to go to school during the summer so we changed it to “Vacation Bible Experience.” By the third year of “VBX” there were enough people calling it Vacation Bible Experience that people actually knew what we were talking about. The Jerusalem Marketplace was another huge hit. Thanks to a decision to renovate beginning just days after VBX ended, we were able to have a live camel INSIDE THE FELLOWSHIP hall. “Humphrey” brought his friends with him – a few miniature horses, goats and even chickens.
VBX was the main event but was it really effective? Entering children’s ministry I was told over and over that VBS was a major deal and that we go all out. They certainly did and I have never experienced a VBS program like the ones put together my first 3 years of ministry but all along, usually the week before when most VBS directors are experiencing burnout, I questioned just what we were accomplishing each summer. Without even considering the number of children participating I came to a few conclusions which I noticed in a number of churches. 1) VBS was considered a sacred cow in most churches. What this usually means is that there are a number of people who would like to slaughter it, but the event is too precious. Phrases like, “But we have always done it…” and others geared at making one feel like going forward during the altar call were used to try and keep it alive. 2) What one church offered for a week each summer was just one entrée item at the Vacation Bible School Buffet. Drive down any street in Nashville for more than 10 minutes in June and you will have more VBS options than a Chinese buffet has scary looking chicken dishes. And possibly the worst conclusion 3) VBS offered another chance for kids to go and learn exciting Bible lessons in creative ways without leading to significant life change or engagement within the family.
Because of these conclusions, I decided to spend some time thinking about what a Vacation Bible School program needed to look like. Each church has it’s own approach to Vacation Bible School and each approach will fit right in line with what it’s vision is for the children’s ministry. As Children’s Minister for my church, I cannot justify investing the financial, volunteer and time resources to an event like VBS unless it meets three very specific criteria. It MUST be: 1) Outreach Oriented, 2) Family Focused & 3) Designed for Decisions. I will spend some time blogging about each of these separately over the next few days. This summer will be the first one that we actually try to live these out in our events. I would say there are some serious growing pains as we try to be true to them.

~JK

Blessed as a Children’s Minister

Thinking today about just how blessed I am as a children’s minister. I have many reasons to feel this way. I am part of a team of people that are genuinely invested in my success. We have a 70+ year old prayer minister that desires to pour into me each week. A senior leadership that will praise what is happening in the children’s ministry in front of other people. A youth minister that views my role as an integral part of his ministry strategy. A team of shepherds that desire spiritual growth so they can better serve the needs of our congregation. Yup, I have plenty of reasons to feel blessed as a children’s minister.

But today I have been focusing on another reason. My wife.

I have a hard time thinking of another reason I am so blessed as a children’s minister than that I have Krista as my wife. I pass by people at church all the time and get stopped just so they can tell me what a rockstar she is. Seriously. This happened twice in one week last month. And they both used the word “Rockstar.”
This past weekend we had out of town guests staying with us. Lots of them. We actually had two families that didn’t know each other end up spending the weekend with us. Between us and them, here were seven kids under the age of 6 and five of them were still in diapers. When I went to work yesterday, the office staff asked me how Krista was handling all the guests and I got another opportunity to brag on her. She lived up to her reputation as rockstar mom as she was both hospitable and entertaining for our friends.
Her ability to deal with people with grace and gentility is something I admire and I know that as a children’s minister she is my biggest fan, my strongest advocate, my gentlest critic, and my sweet respite.

Yup, I have plenty of reasons to feel blessed as a children’s minister.

Become What You Believe

 My devotional this morning took me to Job 3:25

“What I feared has come upon me. What I dreaded has happened to me.” 

This verse comes in the context of Job cursing the day of his birth.  His misery is so great that he is regretting even being born.  I can gratefully say I have never been there but I think Job relates something that all of us have felt or experienced to a degree.  Fear feeds on itself.  It is so easy to let our fears and worries get the best of us.  It really has a way of validating itself. 

If fear were a person in your life, it would often make comments like, “See, I told you you would never be able to do that.” “Didn’t I tell you that you shouldn’t have tried that.”  Fear’s number one attack is “I told you so.”  I think the best response in situations like these is to just have a conversation with it. Fear would love nothing more than for you to let it have the last word. Instead of simply saying, “Yeah, Fear, you are probably right,” respond with, “I see things differently because ________.” It is easy to talk yourself into a better reality when you consider the alternatives.  Often the better reality after a conversation with fear turns out to have more potential than if fear hadn’t reared its ugly head.  Such was the case with Job.  Job 42:12 says that God blessed the latter part of his life more than the former part.

How do we stifle God’s desire to bless things even more because of our fears?  We hold back on pursuing God sized visions because we fear we cannot accomplish it on our own.  Isn’t this the whole idea behind a God-sized vision – that we CANT accomplish it on our own?  Why would we even want that?  If we were to decide that we were not going to attempt anything unless we knew it could NOT be accomplished without God’s divine intervention, what would change about our ministries?  When we limit ourselves to doing only what we can accomplish, and we fail, we will find ourselves saying, “See. I knew this would happen. What I feared has come upon me. What I dreaded has happened to me.” But when we attempt to join God in a journey where only he can provide success, failure becomes a better teacher. It strengthens our trust rather than crippling our self-confidence. This seems to be a much better alternative than allowing fear to feed on itself. 

Jesus said in Matthew 9:29, “Become what you believe” (The Message).  Allow what God can do through you to dictate what is possible. His power is greater than all your fears.
~JK

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