Keeping Jesus in Easter

We have had family devotions that have worked. And then we have had many more that have ended up in disaster. I could tell you more stories about the times that our expectations were too high, times we were too tired, and times when we ended up just plain lecturing. One memorable night we even had popcorn flying, people crying, and parents repenting. Not the kind of sweet family together time you’ve always dreamed of.

But then there’s Easter.

Easter is my favorite holiday. It truly is a holy day, the most holiest. Without Easter, there would be no purpose for Christmas. There would be no real thanks in Thanksgiving. All the other days in between would be meaningless and hopeless.

Some years back when our children were very small we started a very simple Easter tradition during Holy Week. It went something like this. On Palm Sunday we would come home from church and act out Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Doug would be the donkey, and the kids would take turns pretending to be Jesus and ride on his back. We would lay our coats on the floor, wave paper palm branches, and shout “Hosanna!”

Later in the week on Maundy Thursday, we would spread a picnic blanket on the floor of our living room and each a supper of bread, cheese, nuts, and fruits. We would talk about how Jesus shared the cup of wine with his disciples and told them it was his blood. He broke the bread and declared that it was his body. Our family would eat french baguettes together and drink grape juice as we remembered this special supper Jesus had with his friends. Then, according to the John 13 account, we would have a family foot washing ceremony and even sing a song to end the night.

The next day we would celebrate Good Friday. Growing up, I remember meaningful Good Friday services in my little Lutheran church. The churches we have gone to as a married couple have sadly never had a Good Friday service, so we had our own at home. Doug would find two pieces of scrap wood to form a cross. Then, on little scraps of paper, we would write the names of sins we were struggling with or simply the word “SIN,” and then we would take turns nailing the papers to the cross. These papers would magically disappear on Easter morning.

One of my favorite traditions at Easter has been telling the Easter story with homemade Resurrection Eggs. While you can buy a beautiful set in the store, you can make an even cheaper and more meaningful set at home with an empty egg carton, leftover plastic Easter eggs, and simple objects like a nail, a piece of cloth, and a tiny stone. These little treasures inside each egg have helped my children to retell the story of Easter over and over and over again.

Thankfully, Easter has been a time of sweet memories, and it has also been a time to recommit to discipling our children. While we’ll continue these Holy Week traditions, I’m also considering adding something new to our Easter memories. Here’s some Easter ideas I’ve found on the web:

  • Noel Piper has a Lenten devotional using candles called “Lenten Lights.
  • Ann Voskamp has directions to create a beautiful Easter passion tree here.
  • An article from Focus on the Family shared many of the same Holy Week activities I mentioned above and more.

So, how do you keep Jesus in Easter?

Hey, What’s the Big Idea? (Part 3)

Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tales, makes meaning of the mess that he found himself in when the company he founded, Big Idea, landed in bankruptcy court. He talks about this in his book, Me, Myself, & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables. And I talked about him here. And here.

So what’s the big idea? Vischer draws some significant conclusions about the dreams, desires or goals that we have in life. This was my big “take away” from the book. He recalls learning from a pastor who preached from a passage in 2 Kings 4 about a Shunammite woman. He quotes the pastor’s conclusions:

“If God gives you a dream, and the dream comes to life and God shows up in it, and then the dream dies, it may be that God wants to see what is more important to you–the dream or him. And once he see’s that, you may get your dream back. Or you may not, and you may live the rest of your life without it. But that will be okay, because you’ll have God.”

Vischer goes on to question why God would want him to let go of his dream and finally realizes that anything he is unwilling to let go of is an idol and leads to sin. He describes how our “good” works become a “god” and start to define us, drive us, and destroy our relationship with God and others.

He says that he finally learned that the Christian life is not about doing great things for God and making a big impact, but walking with God in faith and obedience. He ends by recalling a speech that he nervously gave at a commencement ceremony. It was at a large Christian university, and his admonishment to this graduating class was unique. It was to take their dreams and aspirations and let them go. To kill them and find their peace in walking with God. It was a speech that flowed out of a past of failure and hard lessons learned, but yet out of the story that God had written for him before the beginning of time. A story that only he, a gifted storyteller, could tell as he finally surrendered to the Greatest Storyteller of all.

So there it is. Phil Vischer created Veggie Tales. He watched his company fall apart. And God has brought redemption and restoration, too. It’s a beautiful story. But then again, He’s a Great Storyteller.

Hey, What’s the Big Idea (Part 2)

Phil Vischer is a creative storyteller. Have I already said that? So, after reading the first half of his book, Me, Myself & Bob, I’ve learned a few more things.

1-Vischer is from Muscatine, Iowa. That’s a fun word to say in itself: Muscatine. But do you know where it is? It’s in IOWA! How about that? Creativity flowing from the land of tall corn. And tomatoes and cucumbers, among others things.
2-He grew up in a pretty fundamental, conservative religious home. Maybe that doesn’t shock you, but considering the fact that going to movies was on his family’s list of “deadly sins”, it’s a little amazing that he had the courage to use his God-given gifts to redeem the world of entertainment, of all places.
3-He dropped out of Bible college. Seems like he almost got kicked out, truthfully. Something he’s probably not too proud of, but he doesn’t seem to have a lot of shame about it either. Those days were full of fun and creativity and relationships, and God used it all.
4-He wanted to create the next “Christian Disney.” He had big plans and big hopes and big dreams. Walt Disney was, in fact, one of his heroes. I have to admit I got a tear in my eye as I read the final chapters where he shares what he learned from the relationship that young Walt had with his older brother, Roy. Okay, I was sobbing.
5-Visher’s big business boomed and then had a big bang in bankruptcy court. Fascinating to hear the details. Big Idea today is not the same as Visher’s original Big Idea, but God had a bigger, better story for him. It just took learning a few lessons first.

Hey, What’s the Big Idea? (Part 1)

And…what happened to Big Idea?

I was a little shocked and slightly embarrassed (sorry, couldn’t resist) that I had NO IDEA what had happened to Big Idea. Let me explain.

I can’t say that I was/am a huge VeggieTales fan. I mean, my kids are no longer preschoolers and have graduated from watching these cute cartoon Bible stories, but I did have the thought the other day that my youngest has possibly seen more Harry Potter movies with her older brothers than PBS shows, and I just kind of skipped the whole “VeggieTales” stage with her. Oh, regrets!

Then, I stumbled upon a new project of Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales. While getting super excited about his new What’s In the Bible series, I discovered Vischer’s website. Low and behold, I realized that something BIG had happened to Big Idea Productions. These sweet veggies had been through the steamer in recent days (okay, so almost ten years ago now) and just barely survived. Now, I know that I am somewhat of an ostrich with my head in the ground and have missed a LOT of newsworthy events during this past decade of parenting, but for some reason, I was surprised. As I started to skim his first installment of “What Happened to Big Idea?“, I realized a few things:

1-Phil Vischer is a gifted storyteller and communicator. Really.
2-His real life stories have as much drama as his fictional tales. They leave you in suspense and on the verge of both laughter and tears. Really.
3-It’s fascinating to read how a ministry turns into a media empire turns into a mess. That God can redeem. Really.

So after reading Vischer’s posts about the rise and fall of Big Idea, I was hooked. And I learned there was more. So this month I am reading Me, Myself & Bob: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables by Phil Vischer.

I guess you can say that I needed some lighthearted reading after finishing last month’s book club selection, Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

Remembering Truth

Sometimes it takes my kids to remind me of truth. At least this morning I had a good reminder while doing a new Bible study with my boys. We haven’t always done well in this subject. I’ve just kind of randomly started the day with a verse or prayer or short devotion…or more often we’ve just jumped into math while I’ve breathed a silent prayer that God would order our day. But lately I’ve felt convicted that I’d like to spend more time actually opening up the Bible with my kiddos. So this January we have started a new inductive Bible study just for children. It’s a study on the book of James, and it’s entitled “Boy, Have I Got Problems!” I thought this would be a great first formal study to do with the kids because, well, we’ve got lots of our own problems–so we can relate. It also has cute cartoons, fun applications, and most importantly life-giving truth from God’s word, so I was hoping they would enjoy it. So far, after Day 3, they have.

Today, they learned about cross-referencing. As we read from Isaiah 14:24, I was once again reminded of how God has a meaning for everything in our lives. As someone wise once said, “Nothing is wasted.” God takes everything and redeems it for His plans and purposes. NOTHING is wasted.

Isaiah 14: 24 reads, “I have planned so it has happened, and just as I have purposed so it will stand.”

How comforting to be reminded once again that God created everything, is in control of everything, and has purpose for EVERYTHING that happens in my life and in your life. How often I forget this and faithlessly wonder what went wrong when I can’t imagine that this part of my life could really be God’s plan for me. But it’s not only a plan, it is also a purpose, which give all of my life experiences meaning and value.

So today, I will “consider it all joy” again as I remember the truth of God’s word. Thanks, kids!