On the Ninth Day of Christmas…

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On the ninth day of Christmas ——– I turn into a child.

It’s around this time each year that I get incredibly excited over putting the ornaments on the tree, being with family, reading the Christmas story, going to the Christmas Eve service, and driving around to look at lights. I even like the fruitcake cookies that seem to show up at every Christmas church potluck. I especially love opening up my ornament from my mom for this Christmas and placing it on the tree.

(Sidenote: Parents – my mom started an ornament series when I was born and gives me one each year. It was such a cool piece of my childhood to now put on my tree at my house! Do this for your kids. Start a series or choose an ornament that signifies something about them for that year and write the year on it! It’s never too late to begin.)

Most of all, I love blaming my excitement over Christmas for what has become one of my favorite traditions: helping the wise men move east. I would guess that my mom probably doesn’t love this tradition as much as I do, since it means that the wise men from her beloved nativity scene end up all over the house – in drawers, on counters, in closets, on the top ledge of the shower, on the floor marching through the dining room.

Guys, it took the wise men a LOOONNNG time to get to Jesus. Most scholars think He was a few months old when the wise men came to Him. It is only fitting that they make a LOOONNG journey throughout the house toward Jesus. Every morning I move them and wait for others to find them. It’s almost like Elf on a Shelf, but way better because you don’t have to clean up the mess that you made while the kids were sleeping and it gives you another opportunity to talk about Jesus! As the wise men travel through your house, remind kids that the wise men traveled hundreds of miles to see Jesus because they knew that He was God’s Son and that He had come to save the world. The wise men may not have made it to the manger, but they still traveled a long way to Jesus’ house to worship Him!

What is your favorite tradition that your family does during the Christmas season?

On the Eighth Day of Christmas …

VanCleave - new (1)On the eighth day of Christmas I’m thinking about traditions. Well, at least what have become traditions when Christmas is different every year.

My husband is a pastor and our traditions have had to be very flexible so we could work around church events. As our kids were growing up, Christmas time also meant an eight to ten hour trip back to Tennessee to visit grandparents. We tried to “choose” our Christmas day rather than letting the calendar demand that it was December 25. Sometimes Christmas and church times were too close to make the Tennessee trip until after Christmas. That was when our son and daughter began their own tradition of staying up all night to watch the 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.” They tell very different stories about who would finally fall asleep first. But for two very different siblings who were almost five years apart, it is still a memory that bonds them.

One tradition we began was called “The Feast.” My son describes it as a meal where, “we eat things we wouldn’t ordinarily eat at a meal.” Even that makes me laugh. It’s basically “name your very favorite things” and, no matter what it is, we’ll put it in the feast. Combined with laughter, family time, and a Christmas movie, it is something we still do even though they are both grown with homes of their own.

And then we have “The Snowman.” It began as a joke between my husband and me. He used to grumble about “plastic things to set out in the yard during Christmas.” I started picking up every $1 giant plastic thing I could find at yard sales. “The Snowman” was the first. We had quite a collection after about 15 years. When we moved back to Tennessee, it was hard to give up “the collection,” but “The Snowman” was part of the family! Even years when sad things have happened at Christmas, including the year we didn’t even manage to get a tree up, “The Snowman” glowed near our front door.

I came home late a couple of weeks ago and there was Mr. Snowman glowing in the front yard. I started to grin. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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Why We Need to Train Our Kids to Defend Their Faith: A Dad’s Perspective

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We are excited to have Dr. Micah Carter join our blog today to tell us why he believes teaching kids to defend their faith is important. Micah is teaching pastor at Redemption City Church in Franklin, TN, and also serves as the HCSB Translation Spokesman for B&H Publishing Group. 

I have the joy of being the dad of two sons, a ten year old and a seven year old. Among the many things I’m passing along to them is a love for Ole Miss football (which is often a heart-breaking reality!).

A couple years ago my oldest son was ashamed to cheer for Ole Miss because they weren’t very good and lost more games than they won. When his peers would say something negative, he’d be quick to shove Ole Miss into the shadows and act like he wasn’t a fan at all.

My concern as a dad is that when pressure or questions or criticisms about why my son is a believer in Jesus arise, he’d be tempted to shove Him to the shadows as well – especially because he might not be confident about how to defend his faith or articulate a sound response.

Of course, the stakes are much greater for a child’s defense of his or her faith than rooting for a sports team. For this reason, it’s vitally important that we work hard to train our kids to defend their faith. Let me offer two major reasons why:

First, let’s train our kids to defend their faith because the gospel is for all. It’s likely that some children need to overcome certain barriers in order to follow Jesus. It could be that if our believing children demonstrate, and defend, their faith in Jesus with confidence, other children might be in a better position to trust Jesus for themselves, too, once those barriers are removed.

Peer pressure can work both ways, so maybe helping our kids dispel some of the negativity toward Christianity or following Jesus might actually lead to evangelistic opportunities among those with questions, doubts, or objections. Since the gospel is for all, including children, let’s train up our kids to be confident, compassionate ambassadors of God’s Son and His gospel.

Second, let’s train our kids to defend their faith because truth matters. Our kids are consistently given contrasting worldviews to weigh and evaluate, whether directly or indirectly. Through media, friends, church, and family, our kids are receiving a mixture of secular and religious claims about human identity/dignity, the existence of God, the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus alone, the nature and value of the Bible as God’s Word, and more.

God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). Are we equipping our kids well enough to understand and to present a coherent, consistent Christian worldview based on the truths we find in God’s Word? There’s no doubt that challenges will come, so let’s train up our kids in the truth, so that they have the tools and weapons needed for a confident, effective defense of their faith.

When Ole Miss got a new coach, recruited well, started winning some big games, no amount of criticism from his peers mattered to my son. He was now in a position to defend why he cheers for Ole Miss. I want to foster a similar confidence (but a stronger confidence) for my son to be in a position to defend why he loves Jesus and follows Him, because the gospel is for all and truth matters.

 

Agency D3 Worship Rally Live Stream

Friends, we have some exciting news.  You can be among the first to preview the all-new Agency D3 Worship Rally videos!  On Tuesday, November 12 at 1:00PM CST, we will live stream all of the videos for the 2014 Worship Rally.  Be sure to save the date, bookmark this page, and share your thoughts with us on Twitter using hashtag #AgencyD3 while you watch!

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Unpacking the Jump Start Kit!

The Agency D3 Jump Start Kit is now shipping! Want to know what all the fuss is about? You came to the right place. Today, we’re going to unpack the kit to show you everything that is included and why it is a must-have for VBS directors.

You’ll remember from this post that Starter Kits have now replaced samplers. The Jump Start Kit is designed to give VBS directors a jump start in planning, promoting, choosing dates, and enlisting volunteers.

The Agency D3 Jump Start Kit includes an Administrative Guide for Directors, a copy of Decorating Made Easy, Music for Kids CD, a sample of the Kids Evidence Kit for Grades 1-6, Special Agent Carabiner, Special Agent Rearview Sunglasses, Catalog, Jump Start Poster, Promotional DVD, a master of the new Takin’ It Home CD, and an exclusive Director’s Badge, all packaged in an official Agency D3 metal attache case.

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Let’s take a look at each piece:

  • Administrative Guide for Directors- This guide contains everything a VBS director needs to plan, conduct, evaluate, and follow up on VBS. You’ll find schedules, organizational charts, reproducible items, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and more!
  •  Decorating Made Easy – This guide gives step-by-step instructions for creating both large and small scale decorations and it includes a CD full of colorful clip art.
  • Music for Kids CD – Be one of the first to hear the Agency D3 music for kids!
  • Kids Evidence Kit – The number one item each kid needs! It includes everything kids need to collect and examine the evidence presented in Bible Study: an Evidence Log, D3 Decoder, five Daily Evidence Cards, one Special Agent ID card, one invisible ink pen.
  • Special Agent Carabiner and Special Agent Rearview Sunglasses- Here are two fun accessories that kids of all ages will want! The Special Agent Carabiner is a clip, flashlight and pen in one. The Special Agent Rearview Glasses have a mirror on the edge of the lens that allows agents to catch action from all angles!
  • Jump Start Poster – Help promote your VBS with the double-sided Agency D3 poster.
  • Promotional DVD – This Agency D3 Promotional CD is filled with promotional clips to use for teacher training, promoting VBS, and recruiting leaders.
  • Takin’ It Home CD – The all-new Takin’ it Home CD. Each day when kids leave your VBS, place the CD in their hands with instructions to play it in the car. It helps kids follow-up on what they just learned and helps engage families in spiritual conversations. The CD included in your Jump Start Kit can be reproduced as many times as you need! It can also be customized to be specific to your church.
  • Director’s Badge – Your very own Agency D3 Director’s Badge!

So there you have the Agency D3 Jump Start Kit! You can pick one up at any LifeWay Store or order here today!

A Letter of Appreciation to My Pastor

wooley1 2013Dear Pastor,

I didn’t want Pastor Appreciation Month to pass without taking a moment to express my thankfulness for the many ways you shepherd us, encourage us, love us, and challenges us throughout the year, but especially through the ministry of Vacation Bible School.

Thank you for voicing your conviction that VBS remains one of the very best ways to reach unchurched boys and girls, and their families, with the Gospel.

Thank you for reminding the congregation that VBS is the biggest evangelistic ministry we will conduct all year and that VBS is an all-church ministry, not just a children’s ministry.

Thank you for making VBS a priority not only on the church calendar, but your personal calendar as well.

Thank you for insisting VBS be adequately funded through the evangelism and outreach portion of the church budget.

Thank you for leading the way by not only being the first person to volunteer, but for saying, “just tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”

And when I asked you to lead in the Worship Rally by climbing a 40-foot mountain created from construction scaffolding, staying curled up for 20 minutes in a preschool-size tent, or swinging on a cable above the heads of the kids, you didn’t for one minute respond hesitantly or suggest that I had lost my mind. Thank you for leading by example.

Thank you for visiting every classroom, for spending time with the kids during snacks and recreation, and being on the parking lot to meet parents and thank them for bringing the kids.

Most of all, thank you for being our biggest cheerleader! When we thought we couldn’t do it, you assured us we could. When frustration and anxiety might have ruled the day, you brought calm. When exhaustion started robbing our joy, your words of encouragement renewed our strength and resolve to not give up.

Thank you for being a VBS Pastor!

 

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 How does your Pastor participate in VBS? Don’t forget to say thank you!

Where in the World is Rocket Pack Jack?

brown2Hey guys. If you’re like me, you still like to get what I call “fun mail”. It’s snail mail but not bills or junk mail just the cool stuff like handwritten notes from friends, cool postcards, magazines, etc…

This coming year, you might receive some fun mail from Rocket Pack Jack! Inside you’ll find a “flat” Rocket Pack Jack along with the following informative note:

My name is Rocket Pack Jack. I’m traveling the country getting people excited about VBS 2014. Are you ready to join our special agents as we trace the facts back to who Jesus really is? 

Here’s how you can help us get others excited about discovering, deciding, and defending the truth about Jesus! 

• Take a picture with me and post it to facebook.com/lifewayvbs 

• Sign the back of me with your name and location. 

• Mail me to the next person you know that loves VBS! 

Have questions? My friends at LifeWay would love to help. Contact them at lifewayvbs@lifeway.com.   

There’ve been a couple sightings here in TN already!

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RPJ lands in Andy Duke’s office

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Jack_Capital2RPJ flies over TN’s State Capital – stopped long enough for a quick snap shot!

So if the package comes your way, take a couple creative shots of RPJ and send him on his way! Where in the world will RPJ land next?

Calling all VBS Geeks!

Those of us on the VBS team eat, sleep, and breathe VBS all year long! We love getting to work on a product that reaches so many people and we want it to be the best that it can be. And we know that there are those of you out there who also love VBS as much as we do! We are looking for you! We want to hear your stories. You spend hours organizing, planning, decorating, building sets, and so much more to make this a meaningful event for your church. Leave a comment with a name or nominate yourself to be one of our VBS Geeks of the Week. We will share the stories and send them a cool T-shirt!

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Random Tip 1401 – The Official VBS Clock

wooley1 2013While planning for my first year (yes, VBS is a year-round event) of VBS at Park Place Baptist Church in Houston, I was introduced to the official – not to be taken for granted – VBS CLOCK!

There it was – round, off-white face, black rim -  like so many other clocks in the building. Just doing its best to stay relevant. There was nothing spectacular about this clock, yet it was very, very special! This clock had been designated by the VBS Director as THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK!

At first I thought it a silly idea and a little too bureaucratic for my taste.  Why bother? Every room was equipped with a clock, and the last time I noticed everyone who had volunteered so far typically wore a watch. What we were in desperate need of was more time, not more time keepers!

But then my friend and VBS Director, Dava Donaho, patiently explained that the time on every clock and watch was just a few seconds off from the next. Typically not a problem, but seconds turn into minutes, and when dealing with a schedule that was already too tight to allow for more than five minutes between each rotation, lost minutes could turn rotation into a disaster. The light came on and THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK made perfect sense!

During worker training the glory and importance of the official VBS clock was highlighted. Workers were reminded to make a daily check to be sure their watches and the clocks in the rooms matched the official time. THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK saved the day – or in this case the week! We were able to rotate 500 kids as easily and in the same amount of time as we could rotate 5.

As a well-known TV hostess might say, “The OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK – It’s a good thing!”

Over the next few weeks I am going to use this space to share some of my favorite VBS tips. I’ll just say up front that none of them will be original. For some of you the information will be new and for others just a reminder of what you already know and do. I have asked several friends to add their ideas, and now I’m inviting you to share your tips as well. Just hit reply and wow us with your VBS wisdom! By the way, if I haven’t told you lately, I sure do appreciate what you do as you go about connecting people to the Gospel through the fantastic ministry of VBS!