Posted in Crafts and activities

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches

In my last post, I mentioned that at Kids’ Club we played a game of matching different fruits to the branches and leaves of the plants or trees that they came from, and introduced the idea of bearing fruit. I explained to the children that the fruit we bear are the qualities we show, and that Jesus said people recognise what kind of “tree” we are when they see what kind of fruit we bear, because a good tree bears good fruit.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

Following up from that last session, we looked at how we bear good fruit. I recapitulated on the topic of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and explained that it’s rather difficult to constantly keep in mind all of the good qualities or the good fruit we want to be producing – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. So I showed the children a picture of a grape vine with grapes hanging from its branches, and reasoned that the fruits don’t actively think, “Hmm… I’m going to be grapes. I must grow, and I must grow to be grapes.” It all happens naturally as the grapes grow from the branches, just as the branches grow from the main vine. This is what Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.”

Some children thought it was a strange thing to say, so I asked them if they have ever seen hedges being cut. Living in this part of the country in our rural village, we often see tractors on the side of the roads cutting hedges, and the children can relate to that.

“What happens to the branches that are cut? Do they still grow?”

“No! They shrivel up and die!”

They all grasped the idea that we need to be connected to Jesus in order to grow and produce good fruit. A simple lesson, but one that can easily be remembered.

Our activity that followed hopefully reinforced what we talked about. I asked the children to colour in a bunch of grapes, then cut out the words of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and stick them on those grapes. Once completed, the children then brought their artwork to be put up on the big grape vine on the wall in exchange for a reward (it always focuses their efforts if there is promise of a reward!). If you would like to download a copy of the colouring page, please click here.

The attached photo  shows the finished product, and the kids were very proud to show it off to their parents when they came to pick them up at the end of the session!

KC vine and branches

Posted in Crafts and activities, Ramblings

What fruit tree are you?

Sitting here in the autumn sunshine, looking out at the glorious colours the leaves have turned, I realise that I had better share with you what we did at Kids’ Club near the beginning of the school term.  While summer was coming to an end and the leaves were starting to put on their autumnal colours, the children were gathering conkers from underneath the big tree on the corner of the school grounds. The inspiration for a Kids’ Club session came to me and I thought of what Jesus said in the Bible,

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bears good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” – Luke 6:43-45

There’s a lot to think about here, but with the current group of children at Kids’ Club, because of their younger age, it is necessary to keep things simple and to the point. I was trying to find a fun game to engage them. They could all relate to gathering conkers from the school playground, and have come across different fruit. So, in preparation for a quiz, I went foraging for conkers and some big leaves from the conker tree (horse chestnut) with the “help” of our new puppy (who’s occupying a lot of my time and hence the delay in writing posts!). I also went round to the other group leaders Arthur and Rita’s to ask for some twigs and fruit from their fruit trees – apples, pears, and tomatoes. From my own garden, as it’s so overgrown with weeds, I found plenty of brambles with blackberries! I also had some elderberries from the elderflower bush, some blueberries (shop-bought) and a small branch from my blueberry bush.

The game was to inspect the leaves and twigs, guessing what trees they came from and hence match the different fruits to them. When I showed the children the conker tree leaves, many of them immediately knew what tree they came from. Many of them also knew that the thorny bramble produced blackberries, and one girl knew what a tomato plant looked like. Then it became trickier with the apple and pear tree twigs as their leaves were quite similar. It became easier when I brought out the actual fruit and we matched up the rest of the fruit to the leaves or twigs.

The point of this game is to illustrate what Jesus said above, to show that sometimes we don’t know what a tree or plant is, even if we look at the leaves, but if we see the fruit with the plants, then we know whether they are good trees or bad.

Each tree is recognised by its own fruit.fruit of the spirit colouring page

This game led us to introduce the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. After a brief prayer, we moved onto the next activity, which was to colour in a sheet with fruits which represents these qualities. One can find a variety of colouring pages on the internet, but this is the one I used.

I find that the children easily lose focus if I just talked at them, and they’re not going to remember all 9 fruit of the Holy Spirit, but they absorb more information as they’re doing an activity. And because we’re usually blessed with a high adult to children ratio in our sessions, we sometimes have some meaningful conversations whilst the grown-ups help the kids with their activities. For example,

“What colour are you using for the kiwi fruit?”
“Greeny-brown then…”
“Ew! I don’t like kiwi fruit.”
“Cos the bits get in your teeth.”
“Well, that’s what it says here – you need patience to get the bits out!”

Let’s hope and pray that some of these truths sink in, take root and grow!

Look out for my next post, as the next Kids’ Club session build on this theme of bearing fruit…

Posted in Ramblings

What does the Ascension mean for us?

Last week at Kids’ Club, Arthur read to the kids from the Children’s Bible about Ascension Day – when Jesus went up to heaven 40 days after Easter Sunday. We usually ask the children to listen carefully because at the end of the story there would be questions, and if they answered correctly there would be a reward (usually involving sweets). You would have thought that the promise of rewards would help the kids concentrate and listen well, but where the enthusiasm was there and they all raised their hands to answer questions, the responses were often pure guess work. Needless to say, they received a lot of hints from the helpers – God forbid that anyone should miss out on a sweet!

This made me think that perhaps as grown-ups we are not any better. You see, when Jesus was with his disciples, he told them what was going to happen – that he was going to be killed and then raised to life, and that he was going away. Right up to the moment that all these things happened, and even a bit afterwards, the disciples hadn’t taken it in. If they heard what Jesus said, they hadn’t processed it. I imagine that the disciples loved being around their Teacher, and they can be forgiven in wanting Jesus to remain with them forever – life was going to be so good when the kingdom of heaven comes. After all, Jesus did teach about the coming kingdom an awful lot. Perhaps much like we dangle the carrot at Kids’ Club with the promise of sweets if correct answers are given, and the children know that they will be rewarded anyway. Who isn’t excited by that thought?

To me, the Ascension speaks of God being a loving and wise parent. Let me explain – Jesus always carried out God the Father’s plans, which reach far beyond the here and now. He wasn’t there only for his disciples whilst he walked on this earth, as he clearly stated that he had “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen”. (John 10:16) Jesus’ ascension meant that God could send the disciples the Holy Spirit, without whom they would not have been empowered to preach the gospel. Like a good parent, Jesus prepared ahead for the time when his followers would have to cope without him being around physically. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) But he also said, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) .

I admit, if I were one of his disciples listening to Jesus back then, his messages would seem a bit conflicting, and I wouldn’t have been able to understand what he was going on about! The penny hasn’t dropped, as one would say. As a parent myself, I often wish that my own kids would take on board what I have told them countless times, especially the more important life lessons. Sometimes one cannot tell whether they have or not, until the opportune time comes or a certain situation arises. I’d like to think that when I cannot be there for them, whatever their age, somewhere at the back of their minds will surface some useful advice their parents have given them!

You know, it is not a deliberate act of disrespect – they are good kids, just as the Kids’ Club children are good kids; just as the disciples and us followers of Christ are good people – sometimes it just isn’t the right time for us to grasp it yet. One day hopefully we will, but in the meantime, life isn’t all plain sailing, and there will be tough times ahead. It would be reassuring to have someone to guide and comfort us along the way, even to journey with us. This is what God did. Like a loving parent, God prepared a way for us all not to have to deal with it all on our own.

Our prayers are that God will comfort and heal, give us strength and hope, and walk amongst the broken-hearted.

In the account in Acts chapter 1, just after Jesus was taken up into heaven, two angels appeared next to the disciples and said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Perhaps it suddenly dawned on the disciples that they had to fend for themselves like bereft children, and perhaps the angels appeared in order to give them a helping hand and point them in the right direction. But I would also like to think that they were there to stand with them for a little while to give them moral support and to remind them of the hope they longed for. Jesus’ ascension isn’t the end. The Holy Spirit will come to comfort and guide them, to give them strength and to remind them of their hope.

This week’s atrocities in Manchester left many people shocked, bereft and deeply affected. However, there have been so many people from around the country and the world who offered support and prayers for the victims’ families, and many of us, like those two angels on Ascension Day, stand with the people of Manchester. Our prayers are that God will comfort and heal, give us strength and hope, and walk amongst the broken-hearted.

Posted in Crafts and activities, Ramblings

Kids eat dog food!

When I was thinking about what to do for the first Kids’ Club session after the Easter break, several stories in the Bible came to mind. I thought that what follows on from Jesus’ resurrection would be his appearance to his disciples, and I wanted to tell the children about doubting Thomas. As I was churning over in my mind how I might make the short passage in John’s gospel (Chapter 20) more memorable, somewhere in my subconscious surfaced this illustration, and whether it connected the dots for the kids or not, I was determined to use it. It went something like this:

“Hello kids! I’ve not been feeling that well lately, and I thought I should try something new for my diet.” I took out a tin of dog food from my bag and continued, “You know how they always advertise that these branded dog food would give your dog energy and make their coat look shiny and silky. It’s great tasting and full of vitamins… Well, I thought I could do with some of that.”

At this point I opened the tin by pulling on the ring-pull and started scooping up the contents into my mouth. The children gasped and made disgusted noises, even commented that it smelt vile.

“Does anyone want to try some? It’s really nice!” I said.

Rev James jumped at the opportunity and hogged the tin of dog food for a moment, while we distributed spoons amongst the children – they were willing to try some! We took turns to dip the spoon in and proceeded to eat the dog food. Some found it quite appealing, whereas others spat it out straightaway. The point was, they ALL tried it. They tried it not just because I said it was tasty (perhaps more so that Rev James said it was tasty – maybe he has more authority amongst these youngsters!), but they tried it for themselves before deciding whether they liked it or not.

Then I told the children that it isn’t real dog food they had been eating, but chocolate muffin set in orange jelly. It looked convincing enough! (This is how I prepared it: I opened a tin of baked beans from the bottom and substituted the beans with chunks of chocolate muffin set in orange jelly. After it had set in the fridge, I stuck the bottom of the tin back on with sticky tape. Then I carefully removed the dog food label from a tin of dog food and stuck it on the tin containing the chocolate muffin and orange jelly. I found that most brands of dog food had tins with rounded bottoms which normal tin openers fail to open, so it was easier to find a similar sized tin with a lip on the bottom and then exchange labels.)

Linking the dog food tasting to the Bible story, I explained that this is a bit like Thomas not believing that his friends had seen Jesus after he was raised to life. Thomas wasn’t in the room with them and so he said that unless he could see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his finger where the nails were, and put his hand into his side (where the spear had speared Jesus when he was dead), he would not believe. Thomas needed evidence; he needed to see for himself and not believe just because his friends told him so. A bit like the Kids’ Club children wanting to try the dog food for themselves. They were keen to do so, and there was a certain amount of excitement about it.

So I imagine that there would have been a certain amount of excitement and awe on that day when Jesus did appear again to his disciples and Thomas was there this time. That’s why he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” He saw for himself and could touch Jesus for himself. I often think that he was very hard done by being branded doubting Thomas. Wouldn’t you and I have the same reaction given the circumstances? The disciples saw with their own eyes that Jesus died on the cross, and the women amongst them saw with their own eyes that he was laid in a tomb. So the kids here this afternoon saw with their own eyes that I opened the tin with the dog food label on, and that I scooped out a spoonful from that tin into my mouth and ate it. I said it was good, so whether they believed me or not, they were willing to give it a go and experience it for themselves.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good.” – Psalm 34:8

OK, some of the kids did not like the chocolate muffin and orange jelly combo, even though we had it on good authority that it tasted great! Hang on a minute, you say. It is not advisable to try absolutely everything before we trust that what we’ve been told is true. For example, we wouldn’t want our children to try taking drugs before they find out for themselves that it’s dangerous, do we? For bad things, we’d like our kids to trust our judgements. But for good things? I hope that all of us would “taste and see that the Lord is good”. We don’t like to just take others’ words for it. I believe that if we are willing to give God a chance, He will come close to us and bless us. My prayer is for you and me to experience that awe and happiness which Thomas had when he encountered the risen Jesus.

Posted in Crafts and activities, Ramblings

Kids’ Club joins in new craze of Easter Egg Tree

Did you know that the Easter Tree is nothing new? I thought it’s a novel idea, but apparently  it’s a European tradition and our American cousins have had Easter Trees for a while. Anyway, that’s the activity Arthur had prepared for us on the last session of Kids’ Club before school broke up for the Easter holidays, but first of all we had to talk about the Easter story. The children were keen to show off their knowledge, so we had a Q&A time.

It turned out that a fair bit of prompting was needed, so we had a quick recap of Jesus’ death on the cross on Good Friday, and then how on the very first Easter Sunday, Jesus’ disciples and Mary Magdalene went to the tomb only to find his body gone. Two angels told them that Jesus was not there. He had risen from the dead! Much to Mary’s surprise, Jesus himself appeared to her in the garden where the tomb was, and her grief was turned to joy. Jesus also appeared to his disciples later, but that’s for another time. We wanted to focus on Easter Day in the session, and what it means to us.

Sprouted willow cuttingTo help with the explanation, Arthur had brought in a willow “tree” from his garden, or rather, a slender branch he had stuck in a pot of compost last year because it looked dead. He looked after it all winter, and a few weeks ago it showed signs of new life – fresh young green leaves sprouted from the twigs. So he thought it would be very apt to use it to illustrate the message of Easter – that of new life.

New Life

Talk of Easter to anyone and what excites them about it, and people think of Easter eggs, especially the children. So we asked our Kids’ Club children what the eggs have to do with Easter and with new life. At first they couldn’t move past the thought of chocolate eggs…

Easter Egg templatesArthur:   What has an egg got to do with new life?

Children:  Easter eggs!

Arthur:   Yes… what might be inside an egg?

Children:  Chocolate!!!

Arthur:   What new life would you get inside a real egg?

Children:  Chocolate!!!…Er… Chick?

Arthur:  Yes! Little chicks are the new life you get from eggs. The eggs might not look alive, but there can be new life forming inside them. It’s a bit like that on the first Easter Sunday. Everyone knew that Jesus was dead but he came back to life with a new kind of body.


Easter Egg Tree
Easter egg tree made by Kids’ Club

I remember taking my own children to local farms when they were little, and we always enjoyed seeing baby animals. We remember the excitement and joy of handling tiny chicks, bunnies and guinea pigs. There is definitely something to celebrate about new life.

So here at this Kids’ Club session, in order to celebrate new life, we made an Easter tree by hanging decorated Easter eggs (coloured-in cards by the children) on the branches of the willow “tree”. The idea was borrowed from an article that Arthur’s wife Rita read in the Woman Alive magazine with templates for the eggs.  The children coloured these in and wrote their names and perhaps a short prayer on the back of the eggs. Then we hung them on the branches using scarlet yarns.

The Easter Egg Tree has only just been catching on over here in the UK and apparently it’s taking over Instagram and Pinterest by storm. More and more shops are selling Easter trees, together with chocolate eggs and myriad food items and decorations. This is turning into Christmas!

And like Christmas, it’s great that everyone is celebrating this important Christian festival, but let’s not forget the real meaning of Easter – that sin, death and decay isn’t the end; that God gives new life – a different kind of life, which was displayed in Jesus when he rose from the dead.

We see this similar but perhaps less powerful life force at work everyday around us, especially in springtime – in the new growth in nature, in the waking up of animals from hibernation. So it stands to reason, perhaps, that the dead-end things in life, the ugly, shameful and, dare we say sinful, things in our lives don’t have to imprison us forever. If we turn these over to Jesus, he who defeated death on a cross, can surely produce new life in us, and bring something new to our situations.

As the children have shown us, just the mere talk of new life, of little chicks (and of course chocolate) and little bunnies, fill us with excitement and positive energy. Perhaps it’s time for us grown-ups to take a leap of faith. Let’s face it, what humans can create new life? We can help the process of growth along, just as gardeners take cuttings of seemingly dead twigs and put them in compost, but we can’t force any roots or shoots to appear by will. Parents help babies and children grow by caring for them, but we don’t understand entirely the mystery of how it all happens. Scientists for centuries have tried to create new life, but still haven’t found any definitive answers.

I say that God is the only one who truly creates new beginnings, new life, new answers to our dead and decaying world. Perhaps this Easter we can let Him do that in our lives. Then we would truly have something to celebrate about.

Have a Happy Easter!

Posted in Ramblings

Temptations in the Desert

I hope that we all had plenty of pancakes on Pancake Day, aka Shrove Tuesday, which was on Feb 28th this year. That, of course, was followed by Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent – the 40-day period leading up to Easter (not counting Sundays). I remember that when I was at school, all the girls were interrogating each other about what we’re giving up for Lent. The answer was usually chocolate or pudding, without really giving thought to why we’re giving up these yummy things. If truth be told, it was just an excuse to go on a diet to look more gorgeous, which isn’t really in the spirit of Lent.

So, what is the spirit of Lent? In order to try and explain that to our Kids’ Club kids, we take a look at Jesus:

Jesus in the desert

After being baptised in the river Jordan but before starting his public ministry of preaching and healing in Israel, Jesus goes into the desert to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. (Hmm… that is so drastic, but I guess that’s where the giving up of food during Lent comes from.) He needs to get away from the crowds and the distractions in order to find out exactly what God the Father wants him to do and say.

There is nothing to do out there in the desert, unless you’re David Attenborough with a camera crew. You’re alone with your thoughts, and you have no one to talk to but God. Perhaps we talk to ourselves, and argue with ourselves. At least there isn’t anyone else we can blame, and we’re forced to face our own demons.

1st Temptation

So, Jesus is pretty hungry and the Devil comes to tell him to turn stones into bread if he is the Son of God…

Resist the temptation to take the easy way out! Jesus doesn’t just think of his own tummy. He is sure of God the Father’s love and care for him. So what if he’s really hungry for a while? He understands that there’s more to life than consuming things. It’s important to feed your soul too, and he has been doing just that. He goes for the long haul, not just short term gratification. 

2nd Temptation

There it is again! The Devil’s having another go at Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down (from the highest point of the temple).”

If you’re not sure of who you are, you’d be trying to prove yourself, to prove that you’re worthy of something, of someone’s love and respect. If you’re feeling insecure, you might want to test your significant other’s love for you. Haven’t we all met someone who’s basically said, “If you love me, you’d do this or that”? Testing someone will actually sabotage your relationship with them. Or haven’t we seen a child wanting your attention by shouting the loudest or doing something naughty? You know that it’s easy to cave in, but in doing so you also know that it doesn’t help in the long run.

3rd Temptation

Well now, by this time the Devil knows better than to attack Jesus’ identity. So he’s offering Jesus all the power and kingdoms of the world, if he would bow down and worship him.

Maybe the Devil doesn’t yet know how it’s all going to end. I think it’s a bit like a con man trying to sell you your own piece of land – your family estate which you’ll eventually inherit, but saying that you can have it now and don’t have to wait till your parents die, if you sign on the dotted line with him! Surely we’d all slam the door in his face, which is exactly what Jesus does.

Spirit of Lent

So what does all this tell us about the spirit of Lent? Jesus here shows us that he knows who he is – the Son of God. He has the power to turn stones into bread. He can call on God and have angels sent to protect him and do his bidding. He shall rule over all the kingdoms of the earth. Yet he refrains from using any of his privileges. He doesn’t have to have everything now – he trusts God’s timing and bigger plan. He knows he is loved by God the Father, and so he loves him back by faithfully sticking up for Him.

And what about us? We don’t have special powers like Jesus (maybe that’s why he didn’t use his special privileges, in order to be just like us), but we can follow his example this Lent:

Don’t take the easy way out! Believe that God cares about us and loves us. It doesn’t mean life is easy, but it doesn’t mean God loves us less.

It’s not about me! Let’s not demand attention on ourselves, but let’s give our attention to others, and to God.

Be patient and loyal! Trust God with the bigger picture. Let’s not let anyone or anything undermine our relationships with our loved ones or our families.

Posted in Crafts and activities, Ramblings, Uncategorized

Light of the World

Having drawn a very rough picture of a house and a wiggly path leading up to it on a flip chart sheet and stuck it on the wall, we played a game of Pin-the-Arrow-on-the-Path (like Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey). The children thought it was hilarious being blindfolded, spun around, missing the picture entirely at first and then some sticking their arrow on a tree instead. However it’s surprising and lovely to see that they were all shouting helpful hints to each other during the game, so they were all winners!

Linking the game to our previous session on St Paul’s conversion, the kids remembered (hurray!) that Saul saw a bright light on the road to Damascus. Well, our conversation went a bit like this:

Me:   So… do you remember who spoke to Saul?
Child A:  Erm… is it… is it…
Child B (putting hand up but interrupting):  It’s Jesus!
Me:   Yes, well done! And do you remember what happened to Saul when he…?
Child C (shouting excitedly):  He was blinded!
Me: That’s right, he couldn’t see.
Child D: Saul changed his name to Paul.
Me: Yes he did… So he couldn’t see. It’s like when you were blindfolded just now.
Child A: She didn’t put her hand up.
Me:  I know. Put your hands up to answer… So what was it like to be blindfolded?
Child E (hand up): It’s dark!
Me: That’s a good answer. So when it’s dark, can you see where you’re going?
Children: No!
Me: Has anyone been out for a walk at night or in the dark?
Child B: My Mum has.
Me: So how can you see where you’re going or what you’re stepping in?
Child E: (hand up): You use a torch.
Me:  Good! So if you have some light, you can see in the dark. You know, Jesus said that he is the light of the world…
Me:  Remember Saul or Paul again? Who did he meet on the road, or who spoke to him in the light?
Child B: Jesus!
Child E: She shouted out!
Me: OK, no shouting out. And you know if you go into a room at night when all the curtains are drawn and there’s no light, is it easy to find what you want? What helps?
Child C (hand up): You turn on the light.
Child A: I don’t think God’s real. I don’t believe in him…
Rev James: That’s OK. I think it’s a good job God believes in you though.
Me: So… it helps you to see if you turn on the light. What happens to the dark when we turn on the light?
Child B (hand up): It disappears!
Me: OK! We’re going to make some light switch covers to put in our rooms, so each time you flip the switch, you can be reminded of Jesus being the light of the world and getting rid of the darkness.
Me: But just before we do that, can you all read this verse from the Bible?
Children (all keen to read):

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12

We then chose our light switch covers to colour in, and the kids took them home… (If you would like to download the light switch cover template, click here. This is for most standard British light switches, and you will need to choose Actual Size when printing.)

However, I was secretly glad that nobody asked me what being “the light of the world” or “having the light of life” means, because I’m not sure I could have given the kids an adequate answer – I’m no theologian, and I doubt they would have wanted a well thought out reply. But I did think that we can all relate to this: we all like light and warmth. Having spent a long miserable winter on the British Isles, we can all agree that the days are lengthening and spring is just round the corner. We all look forward to more sunshine and light – it gladdens the heart and gives us hope. We see new life appearing as spring bulbs come up from the ground and flower. The light isn’t just brightness – it gives energy and life.

And for those of us who’ve had little ones who were scared of the dark, who couldn’t go to sleep for fear of something or someone jumping out from the shadows, the gentle glow of the nightlight was a life-saver! That light, however dim, calms our fears (in the case of the child) and restores our sanity (in the case of the grown-up’s).

So perhaps Jesus is saying that he’s like all of that – he brings life and hope, calms our fears and souls, gladdens and warms our hearts, and energises yet calms our souls. May we all know something of this great Light.