Helping kids worship

People are gathering again in person at Trinity CRC. We’re doing our best to make our facilities and procedures as safe as possible to prevent the spread of germs. I must say it’s wonderful to sing, pray, listen, and talk together again irl (in real life)!

As more families begin attending services again, it’s a good time to consider how to help our children engage in worship. Standing to sing songs or sitting still to listen to the Bible reading and message might be a bit harder after getting used to watching the services from the comfort of home. These ideas from the CRC’s Faith Formation Ministries might be helpful for your family as they have been for mine.

1. Be positive.
Instead of saying, “We have to go to church,” say “We get to go to worship.” Worship isn’t a place we go, it’s something we do with God’s family, and when we’re not there, God’s family isn’t complete. You can create patterns to help you and your family anticipate going to worship such as choosing clothes the night before and setting the alarm a little earlier so that you can arrive at worship in a peaceful state of mind. As you get ready, play worship music and maybe even sing together.

2. Take along worship tools.
Worship tools available from jane.comBring along tools that will involve your children in worship rather than simply keep them busy. Some ideas: a storybook Bible or a Bible geared for teens, a small notebook, and colored pencils or pens for drawing or writing quotes, questions, impressions, and prayers. Older kids may like to decorate a blank journal to use as their own weekly worship journal.

3. Let kids choose the seats.
With four people in our family, we sometimes have four different preferences for where to sit on Sunday! Parents with young children often feel most comfortable sitting toward the back of the worship space, but children might prefer the front so they can see, hear, and participate better. Can a different family member choose each week where to sit?

4. Be a “church whisperer.”
Help kids stay engaged during worship by discretely asking questions and making observations. During a song, whisper, “My favorite verse of this song is the third one. Which part do you like the best?” As Scripture is read, ask your child how it would feel to be living in that story or what they think the pastor will focus on in the message.

5. Talk about worship on the way home.
Ask kids about what they saw and heard in worship. Affirm their insights and encourage them to learn more. Ask if they wonder about anything that was said. As you talk, use words you heard in the worship service to build your family’s biblical vocabulary.

I put this together for last week’s Rock Valley Bee.
A similar article will also appear in the next issue of
News & Views
at Trinity CRC. You can purchase the Kids Bible Study Journal
pictured above at
jane.com.

While Children Watched Their Flocks by Night

If you use Google to look up pictures of “shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks,” you find a lot of bearded fellows with long staffs. Some look like they could be grandparents.

Christmas carol graphic found at SermonCentral

To this day, you will still find shepherds in the vicinity of Bethlehem and historians believe that not much has changed in the shepherding profession in the past 2,000 years. Something I heard Ray Vander Laan once say about these shepherds (and I understand he repeats it here) fascinates me: Many of them are children, often young girls.

That means some? most? all? of the people who receive the angel’s message that first Christmas are children. So then it’s children who make their way to the manger to find the newborn Messiah. And it’s children who “spread the word” about the Christ child and go about “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”

I’ve known for a long time that the Holy Spirit is no respecter of age: He can use and work through anyone regardless of how old they are. So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the first evangelists telling others about Jesus are very likely young girls and maybe some boys, too.

This is a great time of year for children. Monica and I are looking forward to watching our children open their presents this evening after we enjoy a fun meal together. But children need not only be recipients of Christmas joy: They can join their adult sisters and brothers in Christ in spreading the Good News of Jesus’ arrival and the difference He makes in our lives and in our world.

No one is too young, immature, or inexperienced to be blessed by and to bless others with the joy of the season this Christmas. Not even you regardless of your age!

Praying for our children

Monica and I have been praying for our two children since before they were born. As spiritual or saintly as that may sound, the truth is a lot of those prayers were quick and generic. (Thankfully God still listens to those kinds of prayers, too!) Over time, we came across resources to help parents pray various specific things for their children over the course of a month. Each had parts we liked so we decided to custom make our own prayer calendar with our favorite pieces from the ones we had found.

Every day has a different prayer request ranging from their walk with Christ to their health to their relationships with others. There’s a bit of a pattern: Sundays tend to be about worship, Mondays about wise decision making, Tuesdays and Thursdays about growing in the fruit of the Spirit and other virtues, Saturdays about relationships, and Wednesdays and Fridays about a potpourri of things.

We laminated a copy and hung it up in our bathroom. Two decorative clothespins indicate the day we’re at (the photo below shows we’re on Wednesday in the third week). At breakfast each morning, we use that day’s idea in praying for and with our kids. Most are good prayer starters for Monica and I, too!

Prayers for Our Children calendar that hangs on our wall

We have found it helpful. If you’re interested in hanging up your own somewhere in your house or maybe putting it in your Bible, I created one with a “clipart family” you can download here. Feel free to glue a photo of your kids over top of the graphic I found!

I’d love for you to leave a comment if you download it and plan to use it… Let me know what you think and maybe what you would add in your prayers for your children!

Psalm 100 by a 4th grader

Girl writing graphic found via Google


My daughter’s 4th grade class at Rock Valley Christian School recently worked at expressing the messages in various psalms using their own words. Here is how my daughter interprets Psalm 100

Sing with joy to the Lord, all of His world.
Praise Him with happiness,
come in front of Him with happy songs.
Know that my Lord is my God and He made me.
I’m His.
I’m one of the rubber bands
in the bracelet of His children.
Come through the church doors
with a thankful smile on your face
and a tune of praise in your heart.
Thank Him with a song of praise.
My God is good,
He will love me forever.
He has been faithful to my family.

Invited (part 2)

Talking about inviting children to the Lord’s table, people sometimes turn to the apostle Paul’s commands to the church in Corinth and ask, Can children “examine themselves” while “discerning the body of Christ?” If not, will they be partaking “in an unworthy manner” andGraphic from A Place at the Table by Thea Leunk “eating and drinking judgment on themselves?”

Thorough explanations of the context and meaning of 1 Corinthians 11 include one by Calvin Seminary’s Professor of New Testament, Jeffrey A.D. Weima, in The Forum (scroll down to the Spring 2007 edition). All I’ll highlight for now are two things (both from the Faith Formation Committee’s report in the CRC’s Agenda for Synod 2011, pp. 582ff): 1. Like all of God’s directives, these commands are not meant to be a source of anxiety and legalism; instead these commands are meant to be life-giving! Obeying them brings joy, integrity, and justice. 2. The context of Paul’s commands in 1 Corinthians 11 reveals how rich members of the Corinthian church were celebrating the supper in a way that excluded and humiliated their poorer fellow believers. Paul’s instruction to “eat together” – or to “wait for one another” (v. 33, NRSV) – still encourages us today to wait for, welcome, and receive fellow members of “the body of Christ” (v. 29) so we can all celebrate together around the table.

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians prompts us to ask how well we discern the body today. As in Paul’s time, barriers between believers continue to persist based on economic factors: Many sisters and brothers in Christ who struggle with poverty sadly find a warmer reception at a soup kitchen than a worship service. Other members of God’s family who sometimes feel isolated on the margins include adult singles, persons with disabilities or mental illness, people who have gone through divorce, ex-offenders, and many others. Perhaps children can be added to list: Do they feel like second-class citizens when, despite being told they are covenant children of God, they only get a whiff of the aroma of bread and juice while the nearby adults fully “taste and see” that God is good? Is this a life-giving way for the body of Christ to embrace and obey these commands?

Still, we must not neglect the call to examine ourselves and the warning not to partake in an unworthy manner. Can children do this? In thinking about this, I find the Heidelberg Catechism helpful at Lord’s Day 30 (which is grounded in 1 Corinthians 11):

Q. Who should come to the Lord’s table?
A. Those who are displeased with themselves because of their sins, but who nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their remaining weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and who also desire more and more to strengthen their faith and to lead a better life. Hypocrites and those who are unrepentant, however, eat and drink judgment on themselves.
(Q&A 81)

If there’s one thing we cannot accuse children of, it’s being hypocritical! Young children don’t do pretense; generally speaking, they are without guile. Just ask the embarrassed parent whose child said, “Daddy & Mommy like to sleep in on Sundays” after the minister commented on not seeing the family for a few weeks! It’s not until we’re older that we become skilled at hiding the discrepancies between what we say and do. In sum, we should sign up children if we’re looking for role models on being un-hypocritical.

Thinking about not being unrepentant, one of the first things parents teach children (especially when they have siblings) is to say “Sorry.” And often within minutes of the apology, the behavior has been corrected and they’re off playing again. If only I was as quick at offering apologies and then not stewing over the situation for a long time afterwards! And because they’re at a stage where they typically mean what they say, when they ask God to forgive their sins and help to do good things, I cannot help but trust they are being completely sincere. If only I was as childlike at examining myself and receiving God’s grace! Again, children can also serve as role models for not being unrepentant.

The catechism further says that those who “trust that their sins are pardoned … by the death of Christ” are welcomed to the Lord’s table. We speak of childlike faith, of childlike trust. When I invite my child to jump into my arms, they do not pause to consider whether I’ll actually catch them or I’m just playing a cruel joke. They just jump, whether it’s into my arms or into accepting the reality that Jesus died for them. So, again, I see children serving us as role models what it means to truly trust in God without fear or second guessing His grace.

Jesus welcomed children and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” I don’t know whether Jesus specifically had the sacraments in mind when He said this, but we nevertheless often quote this when we baptize infants. In the same spirit, I apply Jesus’ posture and words to the Lord’s Supper, too. Not only do children belong at the table, but adults can even learn from children as the children learn from the adults.

Graphic from the cover of A Place at the Table by Thea Leunk.

Invited

Like all good fathers, our heavenly Father seeks to nourish His children. He feeds us with His Word and feeds us with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In the Reformed tradition, both the Word and the sacraments remind our brains and prove to our senses (hearing, seeing, tasting) that God is gracious.

This is a reminder and a proof that all God’s children regularly need, which is why I’m personally thrilled the Christian Reformed Church has begun welcoming all baptized members (including children) to the Lord’s table. One could argue that excluding God’s younger children from the Kids feet (picture found via Google)table is akin to excluding family members from Thanksgiving dinner based on their age.

By welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper, I see us correcting two unfortunate double standards that have become part of our tradition. The first is rooted in a faulty division between the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We invite parents to bring their children forward to be baptized not because the children understand or deserve it, but because God has graciously made them part of His covenant family. I love these lines our baptism liturgy:

For you Jesus Christ came into the world;
for you He died; and for you He conquered death.
All this He did for you, little one,
though you know nothing of it as yet.
We love because God first loved us.

It seems inconsistent, then, that we demand a particular level of theological understanding for these same children to partake of the Lord’s Supper – a level they cannot achieve until they are older. Does this not fuel the belief that one ought to be smart enough or worthy enough to partake – a fallacy that those who are in Christ ought to vehemently reject? We all gather around the table on the same basis that we gather around the baptismal font – that, out of sheer grace, our loving heavenly Father includes us in His family and cares for our wellbeing and growth. We gather around the table not because we are worthy, but because we are in Christ, who alone is worthy!

In short, I am sympathetic with the assertion that we’ve either got stop baptizing children or we’ve got to start welcoming them to the table. If our children are part of the family, then let’s make sure they (and we) know it at the table.

The second double standard I see corrected by welcoming children to the Lord’s Supper is rooted in a faulty perception that Word and sacrament are fundamentally different. As I mentioned, God uses both the Word and sacraments to communicate His grace to us. We have no trouble inviting (expecting, even) children to be present at the reading and preaching of the Word, despite the reality that a lot of what is said goes right over their heads. Yet we do not fear any judgment they may face by being listeners but not doers of the Word. We do not wait until children are old enough to hear the words of Jesus and put them into practice like adults can before we expose them to the Word. If we welcome our covenant children to hear the Word and receive God’s grace through it, why would we prevent them from approaching the table to receive another means of grace? On the contrary, it is biblical and logical to invite children to be fed by the living Word – not only via the Bible but also Jesus Himself, the Word made flesh, at His table.

Yes, there is indeed something very special about the Lord’s Supper that we cannot lose sight of: Among numerous things, it is a memorial of Christ, evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit, a symbol of the unity of the church in all times and places, and a preview of God’s coming Kingdom. But there is also something very ordinary about the Lord’s Supper – we eat and we drink, something we do every day. It’s just as ordinary as listening to the Word. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say: It’s just as extraordinary as listening to the Word. And both are for all God’s covenant children.

I found a couple messages by Pastor Art Verboon of Maranatha CRC Edmonton to be very insightful and helpful in thinking about all this. You can access them here – just scroll down to June 2012 and listen to “This is the Blood of the Covenant” based on Exodus 24 and “Trouble at the Table” based on 1 Corinthians 11.

Explaining eternity

Last week I was met with the challenge of being asked by my son – a preschooler – how long eternity is.  The boy barely understands the concept of five minutes and here I am trying to wax eloquent on time immortal!

The same day I happened to be reading Jesus’ high priestly prayer in which He offers this definition: “Now this is eternal life: That [people] know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.”

Jesus does not define eternity chronologically, but relationally!  I guess that when we know God and especially when we see Jesus face to face, our need for clocks and wristwatches disappears.

eternity

(Graphic found online here.)

Worship is like orange juice

orange juiceA few weeks ago, Curt Gesch – a member of the Telkwa CRC family – led a children’s message where he used a can of orange juice concentrate to explain the significance of Sunday worship.  Yes, Curt acknowledged, all of life is worship.  Yet our Sunday worship is like the concentrate in the can that we can stir into and use to influence the rest of our week as we live to worship God from Monday to Saturday.  I think it’s a great analogy.  And the children enjoyed a cool glass of orange juice partway through the service!

For a limited time online, you can read Curt’s children’s message in its entirety plus some additional reflections in his column published in the most recent edition of Christian Courier.

Happy parents, happy children

An article in The Globe and Mail last month got Monica and I talking.  In it, writer Sarah Hampson posits that parents are only as happy as our least happy child.  Quoting paediatrician and author Dr. Meg Meeker, Ms. Hampson affirms that “we have come to this point where we measure our success as parents on the happiness of our children.”

While I wonder how healthy that might always be, Monica and I certainly relate: When another student is unkind to our daughter at school, we get upset, too; when our son gets an owie, we empathize with his pain.  Indeed, St. Paul’s directive to “rejoice with those who rejoice [and] mourn with those who mourn” applies not only to people “out there” somewhere, but within our own homes, too.

Thinking about this article, Monica and I wondered whether the corollary is also true: Are children only as happy as their least happy parent?

Yes, I know that everyone has to “own” and take responsibility for their emotions.  And consistently faking happiness so as not to inconvenience another person can’t be healthy.  But if I’m a generally grumpy, discontent person, how much of that disposition infects my children?  Will they learn to be generally familyunhappy and dissatisfied because it is precisely what I am modelling?  That makes sense to me.

On the other hand, if I remember and live by another directive of St. Paul – to “rejoice in the Lord always” – wouldn’t that positively impact my children?  I would think so.  My joy – something deeper than happiness because it is connected to my relationship with God and not with changing circumstances – is contagious.  That leads me to hope and pray that my children learn by my example and my teaching to live daily in the joy of the Lord.  That will ultimately give them more happiness than I ever can.

En route entertainment

Monica and I broke down and did something on our trip to Abbotsford that we said we’d never do: We let the kids watch some movies en route.

By choice our van does not come equipped with a DVD player.  I’ve been known to say, “When I was a kid, the window was our DVD player!”  We didn’t need to watch a screen; we viewed the passing towns and scenery.

But it’s a long drive to Grandpa & Grandma’s house!  We borrowed a portable DVD player and headphones from some friends, and our two children were quietly entertained by Thomas as well as Leo, June, Annie, and Quincy.  Travelling from our house to my parents’ house took about 14 hours, including meal and bathroom stops.  Of those 14 hours, the kids watched DVDs for about 2 hours (and not all at once).  It was about the same for trip back home.

We’ve since returned the DVD player, thankful for having it on our trip.  We’re also thankful for the blessing that our children are consistently very good travellers – whether it’s by car, plane, boat, or train.  Finally, I’m personally also thankful for my amazing and creative wife who ensured that both our children had a variety of things to keep them occupied en route in addition to the DVDs:
:: favourite blanket and stuffed animal for both
:: favourite toy for both
:: new colouring book for both (and crayons, of course)
:: new book to look at and read for both, plus several favourite books
:: homemade treasure bottles made with juice containers and rice
:: counting activities (e.g. How many waterfalls can we see? How many
— :: tunnels are in the Fraser Canyon?)
:: games (e.g. “I spy with my little eye…”)
:: munching on snacks, most of them healthy
:: planned stops at kid-friendly places

I suspect that if we owned the portable DVD player, we’d use it more often, just because it’s there.  Without it, we’re motivated to be creative, and – for better and (when they or we are cranky) for worse – we also get a lot more interaction time with both children.

Car companies, however, are not fostering parental creativity nor parent-child interaction for long trips.  …Or short trips, for that matter, as you can pop in a DVD for the run to the grocery store.  Higher-end minivans and cars no 2011 Volvo S60 seatback DVD screenslonger feature a single screen that drops down from the ceiling, but integrate a screen into the headrest of each seat ahead.  I don’t know whether you can play a different movie on each screen; if you can’t at this point, that feature will doubtlessly come soon.

The implicit message is that while you might be stuck in a vehicle all together, you can at least pretend you aren’t!  Each individual (aside from the lonely driver) can stick in their earbuds and escape to their own private world despite the confines of the vehicle.

A more peaceful way to travel?  Perhaps.  The four of us enjoyed having the option during our holidays.

But I also think it’s less human as it does nothing to build the relationships between the travellers.

Photo credit:
Interior view of the 2011 Volvo S60 from
Family Car Review.

Note:
No, I’m not oblivious to the brouhaha over the world allegedly ending tomorrow (21 May).  I just don’t have much more to add than what Andrew Holt, Matthew Paul Turner and Randy Alcorn have written about it in a very sensible, Biblical way.