Have you ever noticed how Old Testament books always seem to end, well, on a bit of a downer?
Take Ezra-Nehemiah, for example. I have been reading through this cracking Old Testament account of the exiles who returned home from their exile in Babylon. It’s a great book: how Ezra and Nehemiah set about restoring the temple and the city walls and, more importantly, restoring the identity of the people back to being the faithful people of God.
Sure, their are trials and struggles along the way. Yet, Ezra-Nehemiah comes to a crescendo in Nehemiah 12:27 with the dedication of the city walls and a great celebration of joy by the people of God! Huzzah!
…only, it doesn’t end there.
There’s just a handful of days before Good Friday and the Easter weekend. For many parents with school-aged children, we’re often all geared up for the Easter celebrations in our churches and yet have little or no idea what to do to mark the the great news of Easter in our own families.
If that’s you, then here are three ideas to help make Easter a special time of remembrance and celebration in your family.
#1 Easter Story Egg Hunt
Families with preschool and primary school-aged children. Can also be adapted to be a church/children’s group activity (I have also run this as a community/Gospel opportunity event as well).
The big idea…
To have an Easter egg hunt that includes an opportunity to remember and celebrate the Easter story from the Bible.
- 10 plastic eggs.
- Some mini chocolate eggs (enough for a few per child, etc).
- Either 10 small Easter story items or 10 Easter story pictures (on small pieces of card).
- A full-text translation of the Bible (ie, not a children’s Bible).
Number the plastic eggs from 1 to 10. Put one Easter story item/picture in each of the plastic eggs, as per the list below. If you are using actual items, then you will need to find toys or items that will fit in the plastic eggs. Otherwise, you can download this sheet of Easter story images that I have made.
Here are the items/images you will need, plus the Bible reference to include on a slip of paper inside each egg as well…
- A donkey (Mark 11:1-10)
- Some silver coins (Matthew 26:14-16)
- A piece of bread (Mark 14:22-24)
- A farmyard rooster (Mark 14:66-72)
- A thorn/crown of thorns (Mark 15:16-20)
- A nail/some nails (Mark 15:25)
- Dice (John 19:23-24)
- A wooden cross (John 19:28-30)
- Nothing / an empty tomb (Luke 24:1-8)
- A piece of cloth/folded linen (John 20:1-8)
Hide the chocolate eggs and the plastic eggs around your garden (or house, if it is wet weather).
On Easter Sunday, invite your children to hunt for the eggs. When done, share out the chocolate eggs and collect in the plastic eggs. Take turns opening up each plastic egg in number order and use the item/picture in each egg to tell the Easter story as you read the Bible passage (you can get older siblings to find and read the Bible passages) and retell the events in your own words.
#2 Not-quite Empty Eggs
Families with children of any age.
The big idea…
To highlight the main point of Easter Sunday, that Jesus had risen from the dead.
- Hollow chocolate Easter eggs, one per child (and a few spare, just in case they break!).
- Slips of paper with the words of Luke 24:5-7 written/printed out.
- Strips of white material (I used a bandage cut up into strips).
Carefully unwrap each chocolate egg (I’d suggest trying to unwrap them to their barest minimum to get the egg out, as this will help later on when you re-wrap them).
Using a thin knife, carefully cut/prise the eggs into two halves along the join/seam. Make sure you have some spare eggs, because chances are that at least one of them will crack, split or break! Besides, it means you have something to eat when you’re finished…!
Place the slip of paper with the Bible verse on it and a strip of white material inside the egg.
Gently heat a non-stick frying pan on a low heat. Carefully place the other half of the egg edge-down in the pan for a few seconds to begin melting the edge of the egg, then quickly place back on-top of the other half of the egg with the paper and material tucked in it. Smooth down any melted chocolate sticking out to ensure a good seal.
Hold in place until the chocolate has cooled in place, and then re-wrap the egg in its foil wrapping.
On Easter Sunday, as you give out the eggs to your family, ask them if Easter eggs are usually empty. Assuming they answer along the lines of ‘because the tomb was empty’, ask them if that is true – was it completely empty? Help your children to see that the tomb was not completely empty, as the burial cloths were still there. Before they open their egg, ask them this question: ‘So, if Easter eggs are a way to help us remember the Easter story, what should they have inside them?’ (cloth, etc).
Read John 20:1-9, and help your children to see that, for the Apostle John, it was only when he saw the burial linen without Jesus’ body laying there that he believed Jesus was the Son of God who gives us eternal life through faith in him (John 20:30-31).
#3 A simple Easter one-to-one
Families with junior school aged children and/or teenagers (and even adult-age children!).
The big idea…
Read the events of Easter from the Bible and think about how crucially important the first Easter day is in the good news of Jesus.
- Bibles, one each.
- Somewhere special to go (eg, a coffee shop, favourite cafe, etc).
While Easter story egg hunts and the like are an enjoyable and creative way to retell the Easter story, nothing beats simply sitting down with an open Bible, reading it together and talking through what it says, why it is important and what difference it should make to us now.
This is especially true for teenagers, who might need reminding of the certainty and facts of Easter or perhaps would benefit from a chance to air their questions or doubts.
So, on Easter Sunday or Bank Holiday Monday, plan to go somewhere special where you can sit down with your child/children and simply read the Bible together. John’s account of Jesus’ death and resurrection and appearances in John 19:28-20:31 is great for seeing the bigger picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection in terms of who Jesus is and what he has done (John makes this clear in John 20:30-31, which really hits home the application of the Easter story: believe Jesus is who he says he is and receive eternal life through faith in him!).
Easter is a memorial and a celebration
Whatever you do, make sure that you take time as a family to remember Easter and it’s significance for us as followers of Jesus, and take time to celebrate it.
It is extremely good news, after all!
The Word of God that brings life
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
Do we crave the Word of God?
Peter speaks of the Word of God as something to be craved, like a newborn baby craves milk. A baby cries because they are desperate for milk, and the milk is life to them. “Give me this, or I die!” is the message of the baby’s cry.
Do we have this attitude?
Do we need to be persuaded of this, once again?
1 Peter 1:22 and 2:1 contains two overlapping commands that lead up to speaking of the word of God as milk that brings life:
- Love one another deeply from the heart (1:22).
- Rid yourself of all that is unloving (2:1).
How can we do this when we are wearied and burdened by our ministry? The answer is in 1 Peter 1:23… ‘for, you have been born again… through the word of God’.
Nothing in this world endures… nothing lasts… and yet we chase after that which is perishing. Everything – and everyone – turns to dust, because dust is the curse from the fall of mankind because of our sin.
Yet the word of God is not perishable. It is imperishable. It cannot perish, spoil or fade. It is the Word of God that gives us the promise of our imperishable inheritance, kept or us in Christ. It is the imperishable Word of God in Christ that purchases us by his blood and redeems us to be imperishable through faith in Him.
In Genesis, God gives life by speaking. This is still true today. God gives new eternal life by speaking.
God’s word carries the power to do what it commands.
If we a God’s people by faith, it is because God spoke new life into us. The only hope for those in our churches and youth groups is found in the Word of God, and we have that word of God written in the Bible.
There is nothing else that can give life to those under our care and in our ministries. Therefore, there is nothing more vital to our families, churches and ministries than to speak the Word of God which, for us, means preaching and teaching from the Bible.
The Word of God brings life… and the Word of God endures. It will last forever.
So endure in your faith and your ministry. Crave the pure spiritual milk of God’s Word, crying from our hearts ‘give me this or I die’.
Earthly weakness, Gospel glory
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Tents are temporary and vulnerable… which is why the Apostle Paul uses tents to describe our earthly body. Our bodies are weak, vulnerable and definitely not long lasting. Paul, when he was known as Saul, would have looked physically impressive as a Pharisee. Yet now, his physical appearance would have born the marks and scars of Gospel suffering. Which is why his opponents in Corinth were mocking him and his Gospel, linking his physical weakness with their view of the ‘weakness’ of Paul’s Gospel.
Yet, Paul draws strength from the sequence of Christ’s life and his Gospel. Christ’s physical life was birth, life, death… then resurrection life. The Gospel story line is creation, fall redemption… and eternal restoration.
Our Christian Gospel hope is not in our physical life. It is our restored, resurrected, eternal life in Christ, according to Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, our life now is one of giving, pouring out, of suffering, ultimately death… knowing that our life and bodies will be resurrected and restored to eternal glory in the Son.
Paul had confidence that his life will result in eternal glory and peace and life. He uses three metaphors:
- Our imperfect tent of our earthly bodies will be resurrected as a perfect body.
- Our imperfect building of our earthy life will be restored to a perfect building.
- Our imperfect clothes of our earthly deeds will be redeemed to be perfect clothing.
If we do not teach young people and those in our churches about the reality of earthly suffering and weakness… but also the wonder of our resurrected glory, then we will not be setting before the the true, certain and eternal hope that is found in Jesus and his Gospel.
To that end, Jesus has given us a guarantee in the Spirit of God given to every believer. We are away from the LORD in the Son but we are not without the LORD because of the Spirit. It is the Spirit’s job to guarantee what we currently know and see by faith will one day be seen and known by sight.
This means that our hope is so certain – but also so vital – that it is guaranteed by a member of the Trinity, one of the eternal glorious Godhead.
This hope translates to a sure and certain goal: to live for Christ, knowing that we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Yet, as we stand before the judgment seat of Christ we will see in his physical body scars… the scars of our sin and condemnation that we born by him on the cross (1 Peter 2:24).
Youth ministry in an age of identity politics
The Christians in Rome might have been wondering why Paul had not come to visit them. Was it that Paul’s Gospel lacked something when preached among Greek-minded nations? Might it not work, somehow, in a place like Rome?
Paul is clear that he is keen to visit them but has not been able to do so. He is keen so that there may be a ‘harvest among them’, for that is what the Gospel does, to both Greeks and non-Greeks alike.
For 21st century UK, a similar people group might be those among the LGBT+ community. We might find ourselves wondering how the Gospel is going to ‘work’ in that community.
Culture has changed in the following ways over the last decade or so…
- Our moral intuitions have changed
The factors upon which we make moral judgments and decisions have shifted. In terms of morality, we no longer ask ‘is it right or wrong?’ but ‘is it harmful?’ or ‘is it fair?’
- Our views of minorities have changed
We now value minority and discriminated people groups, giving them a far greater voice in culture and exponentially more credibility. ‘Harm’ has been redefined in terms of disagreement (eg, something is harmful if it is going to disagree with me).
- Our views of sexuality and marriage have changed
Sex is no longer about procreation but rather recreation. Marriage is no longer a covenant but an expression of a relationship at the present time.
Because of this, Christianity is now regarded as outdated, and dangerous.
What does this mean for how we engage people in these sorts of people groups with the Gospel?
We are to be intentional about building a relationship, beginning with passively challenging preconceptions and establishing an interest in the other person and their life. This means asking questions, seeking to listen and understand other people, and showing that we love and care for people, even if we disagree with them.
As we respond to people we need to…
- Show them that the Gospel is the same for them as it is for us. It is good news, always. Show them that Jesus and the Gospel treats people the same.
- Show them the positives of Jesus and the Gospel, not just the negatives. Whenever the Bible gives us a prohibition, what is the good thing that God is trying to protect us for and direct us to?
When engaging with lost people in ‘difficult’ people groups, we do not need to ‘hold the line’ against them. Rather, like Paul, we need to be looking for a harvest among the lost, as Jesus saves people from sin to righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:11-15
Christ died so we can live for God
The present reality of knowing God, as well as the future certain hope of eternal life, that drives Paul in his life and ministry and service of God.
Paul gives us two things that makes sure we stay faithful to Jesus rather than give in to the culture around us…
#1 We know what it is to fear the LORD
What we are is plain to God (v11), and so we are totally vulnerable to him and exposed… and so we fear him.
We must understand God as one who is to be feared. Yet, we also must understand what sort of fear we have. We fear the LORD not as people out of relationship with him (for that would be fear that is terror), but rather as people who know him as LORD and so fear him (fear that is expressed in love, respect, honour and obedience).
We must teach young people the fear of the LORD. Terrifying fear of the LORD for those who do not know him, but right and humble and penitent fear of the LORD as people who truly know who he is and who are known by him at the redeemed-heart level (v12).
This also gives us a right way of assessing ministry. The Corinthians were being taken in by impressive externals of the false religious teachers. Yet a right way of assessing ministry is not by measuring or comparing external things. Assessing ministry is a factor of the heart, and the best way of assessing the heart is humble and lowly fear of the LORD expressed in godly Christ-like character.
Youth group numbers, building size and facilities, historic youth group success is not a valid measurement of youth ministry success. Young people who fear the LORD and live for him is the only measurement we have… and that is so hard (practically impossible) to measure!
#2 We know what it is to be loved by Christ and live for God
It is the powerful cross-love of Jesus that compels Paul (and us) to continue in ministry. Our energy, strength, skills, merits ware all exhaustible. The love of Christ is not… and it is this blood-bought love that spurs us on and simply compels us to keep going.
If the love of Christ means that Christ died for us, then we have died. We no longer live for self but for God. We cannot drive a wedge between these two things. If Christ died for us, then we live not for self but for God.
Therefore, the greatest threat to our own ministries is our own love for self that leads us to live for self.
We must teach and spur young people on to see that the love of Christ means that Christ died for us. But we must not stop there, for we must also teach and spur young people on to see that if Christ died for us then we have died and live for God.
A new way of thinking about identity
Why this is needed
Our culture links our sexuality with our identity. Therefore, if we disagree with someone’s sexuality then (to them and to many in our culture) we are rejecting them as a person.
The problem with this is where do you draw the line? If a man can identify as a woman, why can’t someone identify as an animal? What if I identify as a billionaire? Does that mean people must owe me money?
Our identity only makes sense in terms of our purpose, and that can only be determined by listening to our creator.
What a new way of thinking consists of
One of the key starting points is that we are physical beings. Our physical body is not just a blank canvas determined randomly by natural processes that we can manipulate as we like. Our physical body is created and has a creator. Our physical bodies have a design and therefore a purpose. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. This is evidenced in the way that we determine ‘kinds’ of physical things (species of animals and plants, for example).
We are also gender beings. Each species has two different genders (even asexual animals have a distinction between their male parts and female parts). This is critical because our gender is part of our eternal identity. This is not true of our sexual attractions. Our sexual attractions are not part of our eternal identity (this is seen in Jesus teaching on the absence of marriage in the New Creation).
Marriage is the bookends of the Bible. The marriage of Adam to Eve is the foreshadowing of the ‘marriage’ between Christ and his church. Human marriage serves to illustrate the Gospel marriage, not vice versa. Therefore, you cannot redefine human marriage without altering the Gospel.
Equally, in terms of singleness, human marriage is not the ultimate expression of being human. Human marriage is a signpost to Gospel marriage, and that signpost will not be needed in the New Creation. Those who are single are no less of an expression of humanity and human fulfilment than those who are married.
Why this is good
This new way of thinking leads to compassion. We care about people and we can understand and identify with people, their struggles and their lack of fulfilment (because of sin).
But it doesn’t stop there. This compassion and understanding leads to liberation as we point people to Jesus, the one who defines but also restores true human identity in those who love him.
2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2
Stop thinking like a Corinthian, start thinking like a Christian
Parenthood changes us. When our nature changes from person to parent, our perspective on life changes, too. It becomes totally different. This same change in perspective happens in us when we are made new creations in Christ.
The Corinthians church has been breathing in the Corinthian air for too long. They have been assessing Paul, his ministry and the Gospel by the world’s standards. But, because they are now new creations, their perspective needs to change.
Our perspective is that we are new creations in Christ (5:16-17)
The key here is ‘in Christ’. Whatever is true of Christ is true of us, by imputation through faith.
Becoming a Christian is a foundational, nature-of-being level change. It is not that part of us is different, but that we are changed, new people with a new nature, a new identity, and a new heart.
We are not saved to one day live in a shadow of our present reality, but that we are saved to live in the present reality as a shadow of that future reality.
So, now we do not regard people as the world does. Instead, for us, we are now regard people by whether or not they are ‘in Christ’. This is not a factor of their religious obedience, but one of their nature and heart allegiance. We should not be considered by what we do but whether we do them for the right reasons.
Our perspective is that we are reconciled in Christ (5:18-21)
Everything in creation is shouting to us that we are expelled enemies form God: sickness, suffering, evil, death.
But now, Christ has made it so that our sins are not counted against us and we are now reconciled with God. Our relationship with God has been repaired, re-established and renewed.
How can this be? The key is that Christ became sin for us. Our sin has been imputed to him. His righteousness has been imputed to us (v21). Jesus had no sin, died having been made sin for us, died for us in our place, and so makes us the righteousness of God.
Our perspective is that we are ambassadors in the Church (5:20-6:2)
We go into the mess of life and the church as Christ’s ambassadors, offering out this gift of being anew creation and reconciliation with your almighty God.
A new way of thinking about intimacy
We often think of marriage and singleness as marriage or loneliness. Singleness can be lonely, but it doesn’t need to be.
In Matthew 19:3-12, Jesus makes it clear that to the pharisees that if we want to understand divorce we must understand marriage and so he explains to his disciples that if we want to understand singleness we need to understand marriage in the same way.
As people get to grips with following Jesus and dealing with same-sex attraction, we will have to do one of three things:
- Reject the words of Jesus in the Bible.
- Accept the words of Jesus and change our lifestyle.
- Accept the words of Jesus and pursue celibacy.
If we pursue celibacy, does that mean that we won’t ever enjoy intimacy?
Intimacy in our culture
Our culture has virtually collapsed sex and intimacy into one another. But intimacy and sex are not linked in this way. It is possible to have lots of sex but never to have intimacy. The opposite is also true: we can enjoy deep intimacy without engaging in sex.
Intimacy in the Bible
We need to recover what the Bible means by friendship…
Friendship is vital (Proverbs 18:24)
Friendship is a key dynamic in human relationships. For instance, a marriage without friendship will struggle and most likely fail.
Friendship is deep (Proverbs 27:9)
The word and idea of friendship is one of a deep, heartfelt relationship with someone who knows the ‘real’ you.
Jesus on friendship (John 15:15)
Jesus considered his disciples as friends, for he shared his business – his life purpose and eternal mission – with them.
We also need to recover what the Bible means by family…
Following Jesus is worth giving up our families for (Mark 10:28-30)
Family is the ultimate expression of human relationships… but even our earthly families (and, therefore, any and all human relationships) are worth giving up to follow Jesus. It is worth giving up these things (relationships, intimacy, marriage, sex) because Jesus will replace all these things in kind, and multiplied greatly.
We must provide true intimacy in the church but ultimately in Christ
This promise of Jesus is quite unique because requires us to fulfil it. We must fulfil it by being ready to give up these things but also (and more importantly) we must fulfil it by providing a depth of friendship, intimacy and love that is greater than the world has to offer.
For example, families should involve others in family life so that others share in your family dynamic of intimacy and love… and so that the idol of family is broken and so that the people we share life with and our children get to experience and enjoy the widest breath of human relationships at a deep and meaningful level.
There is another dimension to family life: the spiritual family. Titus (and Timothy, and others) was a legitimate begotten son of Paul (Titus 1:4). Single people can enjoy spiritual parenthood, and should regard those they have fathered or mothered in the Gospel as their children, and enjoy that sort of intimate human relationship with them.
But we need to know that the only thing that can truly provide this degree of relationship, intimacy and love is a knowledge and walk with Jesus, the friend closer than a brother who will one day we will be united with as his heavenly bride.
This is a brief response to a recent article on the Desiring God website that, while clearly written to challenge wrong thinking, may inadvertently have quite a detrimental impact on tender souls who are struggling under the weight of big questions about themselves and their God.
The Star is a Christmas film that was released on 24th November in the UK (17th November in the US) and (I fear) will probably be largely overlooked by cinema-goers this festive season. If it does go by unnoticed then this would a real shame as it is both an enjoyable film but more-so a useful opportunity for people to share Jesus with friends and family this Christmas.
Another year of Trick-or-Treaters. Or, as I like to call them, ‘little extortionists’.
As Christians, we have three options when the doorbell chimes and a bunch of skeleton-clad individuals are standing on our doorsteps waiting to threaten us with some trickery if we don’t immediately bestow sweet goods upon them. We can Reject, Receive or Redeem.
Over the the last year and one month, I have spent an hour or so of each and every Monday working my way through the Bible book of Jeremiah. This morning, I am on the last chapter and it feels like I’m coming to the end of a long road trip with a good friend, or like saying goodbye to your favourite teacher on the last day of school. I felt a teeny pang of sadness when I read the phrase, ‘the words of Jeremiah end here.’
So long, Jezza, it’s been fun. See you in the New Creation!