Category Archives: Scripture

Gleanings from a Book: “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education’s Staff Assistant for Social Networking, Kristina Wenger, shares some of her side of the story behind the book which she co-authored with her friend Elissa Bjeletich, as well as a few gleanings from the book itself.

It began with an invitation from an online friend, Elissa Bjeletich, who I had met in person just weeks before the invitation came. The invitation went something like this: “I’m thinking about writing a daily meditation for families for Great Lent. Will you help me?”

I was tired. The previous twelve months had drained me. They included a failed business endeavor and the ensuing financial strains; the engagement and marriage of our daughter to our wonderful son-in-law; both kids moving out of our home; 3 trips to other parts of the country to help them get settled (one of them moved twice); additional responsibilities at work to be completed in the same amount of work time; and then an extended illness over Christmas. I felt that I had nothing left to give to the world when this invitation came.

But it came, and I was a little star-struck, to be honest. I had admired Elissa’s work from afar for years, and was tickled to have actually met her in person. And then she reached out and asked me to help her? Unthinkable, and yet there it was! So I stretched through my exhaustion and considered her invitation. How could I say no? Although I was depleted, I knew this project would be good for my soul and I wanted to work with Elissa. So, empty but honored, I accepted, and then the work began.

And it was work. In one month’s time, we chose a name, pitched to Ancient Faith Radio the idea of a podcast special for families, were granted approval, created a website, and wrote and recorded the first three weeks’ worth of daily Lenten meditations. For each episode, we brainstormed together, and shared the writing (Elissa did the bulk of it, thank God: she has more writing experience than I). Early on, we decided that it would be best to offer each meditation at two levels, one for older children and one for younger ones. We each recorded a level for the podcast: Elissa did the older children’s, and I, the younger.

We wrote each meditation with the desire to care for – and encourage – growth in the garden of our own hearts, praying that somehow God would bless our efforts and allow others to grow along with us. We resonate well with St. John Chrysostom’s exhortation, “Fasting is wonderful because it tramples our sins like a dirty weed, while it cultivates and raises truth like a flower.” We hope that our writing will help readers to embrace such an attitude about fasting (and Great Lent in general), so that truth can grow and bloom in their lives.

We continued to work away at the project throughout Lent of 2018, and by the time Holy Week rolled around, we had finally finished. We went from idea to completion in 2 and a half months (Pascha was only 83 days after Elissa extended the invitation to me!). By the grace of God, we were able to write and record fifty different meditations, each at two levels, in that time.

As Pascha approached, we did not feel that the project was finished. We had grown so much throughout the experience, and we really enjoy working together. We decided to continue our work with a weekly podcast, and Ancient Faith once again accepted our proposal. The continuing podcast is aimed at whole families, and we record it together each week. You can listen in at https://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/tendingthegarden if you are so inclined.

We thought that perhaps our Lenten meditations could become a book, so we approached Ancient Faith Publishing, proposing the idea. They accepted our proposal, so we began adapting and rewriting the older children’s version in a way that would work for entire families to read and discuss together. This book is the result.

“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” offers one meditation each day for every day of Great Lent and Holy Week, including a final meditation for Pascha. Each week is themed as follows: Forgiveness, Orthodoxy, Prayer, The Cross/Humility, The Ladder/Almsgiving, Fasting/St. Mary of Egypt, and Holy Week and Pascha. (We loosely based our themes on this calendar of lenten activities which I wrote several years ago: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/great_lent_and_holy_week_activity_calendar.pdf.) Beginning each Sunday, every day’s meditation relates in some way to the theme for the week. Some days feature a scripture and thoughts on that scripture. On other days, we learn from the life of a saint. Every meditation concludes with a few questions, then a discussion question that allows the readers to make the book their own by talking together about how to apply that day’s lesson.

The book concludes with a fairly extensive appendix of related ideas for each week’s theme. There are craft and activity suggestions that could be done every week, if the readers are so inclined. The appendix begins with suggestions of ways to count down to Pascha. These countdown ideas are intended to help solidify and mark the passage of time in a way that can help young children for whom time is rather nebulous. Following those suggestions are ideas centered around each theme. As we say in the book, some weeks the reader might want to (and have time to) do some of these things. Other times, they will not. Readers will know which (if any) of these ideas will help their family, and can use the appendix accordingly. At our website, there are a few printable pages and supplemental resources related to some of these ideas. They can be found at https://tending-the-garden.com/supplemental-resources-for-the-book-tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/.

I am so grateful to God for His mercy and strength that extends beyond our exhaustion. Perhaps it is when we are most depleted that we are best able to allow Him to work in and through our lives. Certainly it is then that we know His kindness, for He extends grace when we feel that we have nothing left to give. This book (and the project as a whole) is evidence of that, for me. The project was a lot of work, but for me personally, it has also been incredibly restorative and helpful. Glory to God!

I want to thank Elissa for inviting me on this journey with her. Together we invite you and your family to join us, and grow alongside us. It is our prayer that “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” will be a help to those families who read it throughout Great Lent.

Although the book is written for families to share and walk through together, we are sharing it with the Sunday Church School community for two reasons: 1. It would make a great (very early!) Pascha gift for your Sunday Church School students to share with their family. 2. If you as a Sunday Church School teacher read through the book, perhaps some of the meditations will inspire you. It could be that some of them could be used in Sunday Church School as part of a lesson.

Purchase your copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/tending-the-garden-of-our-hearts-daily-lenten-meditations-for-families/

Here are a few gleanings from the book:

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“Have you ever prayed for someone who was mean to you? God asks us to pray for our enemies, because mean people really need our prayers to help their hearts soften so they will repent, and also because when we pray for someone we begin to see them as God sees them. We begin to love them and to feel sad for them because they are so twisted up and mean and unhappy.” (p. 36, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“We Orthodox love to light candles at Pascha and throughout the year. They provide light for our services, but they also remind us of the fire of God. Our God is light and truth—and He comes to us as a fire that burns away sin but does not consume us. When we light candles, we are reminded who our God is.” (p. 65, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Imagine if you were to take a piece of clay and rub it in your warm hands. The clay begins hard and almost solid and impenetrable, like our hearts, but as we work it with our warm hands, the clay becomes soft and flexible. God’s warm presence does that for us; He transforms the hardness of our hearts into softness. And just like that clay, our hearts might just grow hard again if we stop praying for a while, but simply returning to prayer begins to warm us up again.” (p. 83, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Sometimes we expect healing to look a certain way, but in fact what God sends is different from our expectations and much better for us. Like Naaman, when we come to the Lord for healing, if we can humble ourselves we will find that God sends both spiritual and physical healing.” (pp. 119-120, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“When we have become non-possessive (meaning that we have stopped caring so much about owning things), we trust completely that God will send whatever we need, as we need it. Instead of trying to own everything we will ever need and holding it tight, we turn to God. We trust that if we need something, He will send it. We pray to God for our needs, but we don’t mention them to anyone else because of our complete faith that God will send what we need. And then when someone gives us what we need, we thank God and recognize that it was really God who sent it.” (p. 145, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“…It is never too late. No matter what kind of life we are living, we can truly repent, and God will help us. While some saints are simply saintly from their birth, others spend years of their lives in sin and do terrible things. But God loves the sinners too, and He will help us in our struggles if we repent.” (p. 174, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come—the Second Coming of Christ could happen today, or it may not happen for a long time. We just don’t know. But we do know that we have today. Today we can pray, today we can fast, today we can show love to the people around us, softening our hearts and building up that supply of oil. When the time comes, no one can give us soft hearts—we will have to work on our hearts now, by loving God and loving one another.” (p. 208, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

***

“On this Holy Thursday, may we all think about how Jesus gives Himself to us. We are not worthy of Him, and yet He comes to live in our hearts. May He live inside of us in Holy Communion, and may we follow His example of humble service and great love.” (p. 214, “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts: Daily Lenten Meditations for Families” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger)

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“Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” co-author Kristina Wenger shares three ideas of lenten countdowns which are featured in the book:

 

 

 

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Blogger and beautifully creative mom Sarah Gingrich created printable ornaments for each day’s meditation. They can be found in her review of the book, here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2019/02/25/lent-a-hand/

Gleanings From a Book: “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis

Reading through the Psalter is a beautiful discipline at any time, but especially during a lenten period. Sharing this experience with friends is even more lovely. Over the years, I’ve been part of several lenten Psalter groups. Alongside my sisters (and some brothers) in Christ in these groups, I have both struggled and enjoyed the process of reading twice through the Psalms during a particular lenten period. When I heard about Sylvia Leontaritis’ new book “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women,” I was excited to have this pretty-covered version of the Psalter to be my companion book as I pray.

What I did not expect was the chance to pray the Psalter while feeling that I was sharing the experience with a wise best friend. Both Sylvia’s heart for God and her desire to live a truly Orthodox life pour out through her words, simultaneously challenging and encouraging her readers in a way that is usually reserved for dear friends. The tone in which she writes welcomes the reader to embrace her observations, ponder them, and then consider how to implement the ideas for their own growth.

The book begins with a few introductory pages which offer some background and suggested ways to use it; an explanation of what a Psalter group is; and many quotes from Holy Fathers about the importance of reading/praying the Psalms. Prayers to pray before and after the reading are included next. After that, the book settles into a routine. Each kathisma (grouping of chapters from the book of Psalms)’s text is printed right in the book, in numerical order. Every kathisma is printed with a very wide margin, so that readers can make notes right there in the book, by particular verses, as desired. Following each kathisma, Sylvia has written a short meditation (2-3 pages) in which she focuses on a theme from that kathisma or on a particular verse found therein. These meditations are concise, but beautifully insightful and stimulating. Each meditation also includes a related quote from a saint or Church Father which enhances the meditation.

Following each meditation are a number of lined pages for journaling. These pages offer the reader space to make this book their own, as they “chew” on a particular portion of the kathisma or interact with Sylvia’s meditation. These pages are a place to record thoughts and learnings. Each journaling section is large enough that even if the reader is one who regularly joins Psalter groups, there’s plenty of space to write, even multiple times. Readers who jot notes and learnings every time they pray the kathismas will find the book to become a record of their own growth, as they read back over what (and how) they were learning at points along their journey.

The Psalms address a variety of problems/difficult circumstances common to humankind. Sylvia mentions in her introduction that St. Arsenios of Cappadocia considered the Psalms to be a Book of Needs. “Songs of Praise” closes with a topical index of Psalms, as gleaned from St. Arsenios. The index makes appropriate Psalms easy to find and read in an hour of need.

Orthodox Christian women who desire to grow in their journey with God will be grateful for this beautiful tool. “Songs of Praise” has the potential to greatly help any woman who will put some thought, time, and prayer into her study of the Psalter. All who set aside time to read it carefully, meditating on the words with pen in hand, will be blessed.

Sylvia writes in the introduction that her hope “is that this book will inspire women everywhere to make the art of praying the Psalter part of their daily routine. I pray it will encourage each of us to put down our devices, let go of the trivial and temporary connections they entice us with, and reach for something better that will connect us eternally. Make the following pages feel like home to you—highlight, scribble, circle, dog-ear, tape photos, and refer back to them whenever your heart needs a hug…. I’m so grateful to be walking hand in hand with you as we strive to learn God’s ways and offer up these songs of praise.” (pp. 6-7)

I am of the opinion that Sylvia’s book has accomplished her mission. It has, at least, for me. I have already been blessed through this first reading, and I look forward to reading it more carefully again (and again!) and gleaning even more wisdom and encouragement.

Find “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/songs-of-praise-a-psalter-devotional-for-orthodox-women/

Here are some gleanings from the book:

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“Even if I’m having a rough day—perhaps especially if I’m having a rough day—focusing my thoughts on all the good things in life always chases away the negative. It’s hard to be discontented when you’re counting your blessings.
Prayer journaling is a great way to remind yourself of all the ways God works in your life. It’s a creative way to express your thoughts and feelings to God. After all, isn’t that what the psalms were to David as he wrote them?”

(p. 26, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The world needs more women who are courageous enough to do what makes them holy—not happy. Women should be confident in their natural beauty… True beauty moves in stages, and we should trust God to continue transforming us into what He created us to be… Beside my bed, I have icons of some of my favorite Orthodox women… They are the women I look up to, the ones I want to be like ‘when I grow up.’ And I’ll tell you, I can’t imagine a single one of them fretting over gray hairs or crow’s feet.”

(pp 77-78. , “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“It hurts to be broken, but how we react to that pain is what determines whether it turns us into diamonds or destroys us. Pain can make us bitter and afraid, or it can make us strong and courageous so that we have nothing to fear when the hour of trial arrives yet again.”

(p. 96, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“I remember hearing that when a holy person enters a place, he or she can immediately sense its spiritual atmosphere. I have often wondered what our home feels like to a spiritual person.
As keepers of a home, we are largely responsible for that atmosphere. Not only should our homes be clean and welcoming, they should be spiritual.”

(p. 134, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Many times we read about saints, such as St. John the Baptist and St. Seraphim of Sarov, who left the world and went into the wilderness for a certain amount of time to reconnect with God. This wasn’t a concept for them alone; it is a call to every one of us. It is a call to remind us that every so often we need to take a time-out, leave our worldly cares behind, and seek Him in the wilderness.”

(p. 170, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Take control of the things you grant entrance into your heart. Be watchful of the things you pacify yourself with. Give thanks for the mundane and savor the simple. Most often, the most extraordinary things in our lives aren’t really things at all and are hidden away in the most ordinary of days.”

(p. 189, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As Orthodox Christians, we don’t go door to door preaching our faith; we live it in our own lives and trust God to do the rest. There’s a common misconception out there that Christians are supposed to be perfect. But you know what? There’s no such thing. A good Christian is not perfect. A good Christian is struggling. We do our best to follow the path of Christ, but we will fall a million times along the way. What makes us different is that we have the Church to help us up each and every time we fall, through the Mystery of Confession.”

(p. 226, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

***

“For us as busy women, it’s impossible not to multitask to some extent, but as Orthodox women, we have to remember the healing power of being still. It’s in those moments of stillness that the fog is wiped from our glasses and we see life for what it truly is—a beautiful mess. The days are long sometimes, but the years are much too short. I, for one, want to stop and breathe in every crazy-beautiful-messy moment I’m blessed to see.”

(p. 259, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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46523739_10215763335788148_6425190565654036480_n-001“Life is so much fuller when we set limitations on the virtual world. There’s more time to read or knit or take a walk or snuggle with our littles without distraction. Decide which life is really worth investing in—your spiritual life or your virtual one—and then fill it with the things that truly make your heart happy. If we struggle to fill our lives with good and spiritual things and constantly have prayer on our lips, there will be no room left for the unholy.”

(p. 314, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“As parents, our number one priority is to teach our children to live as true Orthodox Christians. Otherwise, the world will teach them not to.”

(p. 332, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“The lives of the saints are living examples of how to live a life dedicated to God in a fallen and sinful world. They teach us how to overcome our passions and grow spiritually. The saints are arrows in our spiritual quiver. Everything about their lives points the way to Him. Let us never doubt or underestimate the power of their speedy intercessions.

‘What does the daily invocation of the saints signify? It signifies that God’s saints live, and are near us, ever ready to help us, by the grace of God. we live together with them in the house of our Heavenly Father, only in different parts of it. We can converse with them, and they with us. God’s saints are near to the believing heart, and are ready in a moment to help those who call upon them with faith and love.’ ~ St. John of Kronstadt”

(pp. 350-351, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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“Even in our day and age, there are so many people in need of the most basic of life’s necessities. While we may not be able to make a difference for everyone, if we just make a difference for someone, that is enough.”

(p. 365, “Songs of Praise: A Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis)

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If “Songs of Praise: a Psalter Devotional for Orthodox Women” by Sylvia Leontaritis inspires you to do more journaling related to the scriptures, you may find some of the ideas in this blog post helpful:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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On Philippians 4:13: “I Can Do All Things Through Christ, Who Strengthens Me”

Note: This week’s post features the theme for the 2019 Creative Arts Festival of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese. Philippians 4:13 graces the archway to the Antiochian Village Camp, a place where children, adults, and clergy meet together to play, hang out, worship, and be transformed together. This verse is an excellent scripture for all of us to live by and to learn, whether or not we have been to the Antiochian Village!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

This verse shows up time and again in Christian circles, usually implying that whatever we do, Christ will give us the strength to do it. It is true: He does! But perhaps this verse is about more than us getting the power from Christ that we need to accomplish/succeed in the things that we want to do. Could it mean more than just that?

It is helpful to study Bible footnotes to get additional information about specific passages, so we went to our Orthodox Study Bible (OSB) and looked up Philippians 4:13. The OSB offers a footnote on the verse. To be more precise, the footnote is about this verse as well as the two before it. The footnote on p. 1616 reads, “Here is the secret of contentment.” And that’s all it says!

At first glance, this seems a diminished notation of what is, in some Christian circles at least, one of the most popular verses in the Bible. But this little footnote forces us to actually look at those preceding verses. When we read them, not only does the footnote make sense, but we also can begin to understand verse 13 in its intended context. When we do that, we see that the footnote is spot on.

Philippians 4:11-13 reads, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The passage speaks to success and accomplishment, yes, but it also is talking about emptiness and need. And St. Paul says, “I can do all things” (both success/accomplishment and emptiness/need) “through Christ who strengthens me.” In context, the verse is so much more than we thought it to be!

Now that we know the context, we can understand why Philippians 4:13 is such an appropriate verse to have on the arch at the gateway to the Antiochian Village Camp. It reminds all who enter the camp that our whole life is powered by Christ. Time at the Antiochian Village Camp offers the opportunity to connect with Christ and His Church in a special way, which “recharges” all who pass through that arch. At the same time, the verse reminds all who leave there that, regardless of what they face away from that place, Christ is with them to give them strength. And those who have studied the context of the verse know that it is also a nod to choosing contentment in whatever state we find ourselves.

Children participating in the Antiochian Archdiocese’s Creative Arts festival this year will have their choice of subject matter, ranging from the Antiochian Village to how camp has changed them to how God strengthens us to asking God to help us. And of course, thanks to that little footnote, they can also focus their project on choosing contentment in all circumstances!

Here are some ideas of ways to help your students learn about Philippians 4:13 and the Creative Arts Festival as a whole:

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Find a lesson for grades 1-3, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20CF%20Lesson%20Plan%20Grades%201-3.pdf

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Find a lesson for grades 4-6, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20CF%20lesson%20plan%20Grades%204-6.pdf

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Find a lesson for middle and high school students, focusing on the Creative Arts Festival theme, here: https://antiochianprodsa.blob.core.windows.net/websiteattachments/2019%20MS%20HS%20Creative%20Festival%20Lesson%20Plan%20Final.pdf

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This science experiment/object lesson demonstrates Philippians 4:13 using some twine, a straw, some tape, and a balloon (and a bit of explanation!). https://www.christianitycove.com/try-this-balloon-experiment-to-show-how-god-helps-direct-our-spiritual-energy-0907/1030/

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Find additional ideas that you can add to a lesson on Philippians 4: 13 and/or the Creative Arts Festival in general, here (we especially like the 10-finger prayer method of learning the verse!): http://ww1.antiochian.org/festivals/cf/using-the-theme-2019

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On this page, there are a beautiful variety of printable coloring pages featuring Philippians 4:13: http://www.widewallpapers.org/philippians-4-13-coloring-page/

This version includes the verses immediately before, and thereby offers some context for the verse: https://coloringpagesbymradron.blogspot.com/2018/01/philippians-413-print-and-color-page-i.html

And this version has a “camp-y” feel to it.

Learning from the Saints: St. Peter (June 29)

As we prepare for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, let us take time to learn more about each of these saints, and help our children to do the same. This post will focus on St. Peter.

St. Peter was born in Bethsaida, in Galilee, to a man named Jonas. His given name was Simon. He lived a simple, uneducated life. Simon earned his living by catching and selling fish, along with his brother Andrew.

 

Our Lord Jesus Christ called Andrew, Simon’s brother, to follow Him first. Andrew invited Simon to follow Jesus as well. Immediately after Christ’s call, the brothers left their fishing nets and followed Him (Matt. 4:18-20). Simon was married, but left his home to follow Christ. One of the times that Christ visited Simon’s home, he healed Simon’s mother in law, who had been sick. (Matt. 8:14)

 

Simon followed Jesus zealously after that, and would not leave His side. He proved his trust in Christ by walking to the Lord on the water when Christ was walking towards the disciples on a boat during a storm. (Matt. 14: 22-32) It was Simon who was the first disciple to recognize that Christ was the Son of God. (Matt. 16:13-20). When Jesus heard that, He said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.” (John 1:42) “Cephas,” translated, is “Peter,” and so that is what we now call him.

 

Peter was one of only three disciples who were invited to go to Mt. Tabor with Christ when He was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-9). It seems that Peter wanted to know all that he could about Christ’s teachings. He asked a lot of questions, like: “Explain this parable to us!” (Matt. 15:15); “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matt. 18:21); “Lord, do You speak this parable only to us, or to all people?” (Luke 12:41) and “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” (Matt. 19:27)

 

Peter later promised to follow Christ “no matter what” at the Last Supper, and Christ told him that he would deny Him three times before the very next morning’s rooster crows. Simon went with Christ and two other disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, but could not stay awake to pray as Christ urged the three to do. When the soldiers and others came to the garden to arrest Christ, Peter cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear in defense of Christ. Later that night, he faltered and swore he didn’t know Christ, not just once, but three times, during the night of Our Lord’s trials and beatings; and then the rooster crowed. We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

We do not know where Peter was when Christ died. But he was right with the other disciples when the word came that something had happened to Christ’s body! Peter ran to the tomb with John when Mary Magdalene brought the news that Jesus’ tomb was empty. John arrived first, but it was Peter who had the courage to go into the tomb first and see the folded, empty grave clothes. (John 20:1-10)

 

Peter was in the upper room with the rest both times when Christ appeared to all of the disciples. One evening a few days later, Peter decided to go out fishing, and many of the others went with him. They caught nothing. When a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, they caught many fish (even though the time for catching fish that day was long past). When this happened, Peter realized that it was Christ who was on the shore, and he dove into the water in order to swim to Him! Peter got to eat a fish breakfast with Jesus and his friends that day. He had a second (and third) chance to reaffirm his love for Christ when our Lord asked him three times, “Peter, do you love me?” and finally continued, “Feed my sheep!” (John 21:1-19)

 

Peter was right there watching as Christ ascended into heaven. After the ascension, the disciples stayed in the upper room, praying and waiting for the helper that Christ had promised. Peter was faithfully praying with the others, ten days later, when the Holy Spirit descended on them. At this point, Peter became a mighty preacher! The first sermon that he gave was on the day of Pentecost, and 3,000 people converted after that sermon! (Acts 2:14-41)

 

Peter healed a lame beggar in the name of Christ (Acts 3). God also used Peter to heal a bedridden, paralyzed man and bring to back life a much-loved community member named Dorcas (Acts 9:32-42). He helped to establish the Church in Antioch.

 

It was Peter that first converted and baptized Gentiles, with clear guidance through visions from God (Acts 10). Soon after this, Herod the King started persecuting the Church. One of the first things he did was to throw Peter in jail. God used an angel to free Peter, who went to the house where other Christians were praying for him. The servant girl was so excited to see him when she answered Peter’s knock at the door that she ran back into the room to tell everyone that he was at the door, but she forgot to open the door and let him come inside! Later she left him in and he was able to tell them about the miracle of his release before escaping to another city (Acts 12:1-17).

 

Peter went on to continue to preach the Gospel to Jews and Gentile converts all over Asia Minor. He helped to establish churches along the way. When these churches were being persecuted, he sent them a letter: today we call it 1 Peter, and it encourages its readers to remember to rejoice in sharing in Christ’s sufferings. 2 Peter was written to remind its readers to always seek true knowledge, and to beware of false knowledge. Both of these books were written while Peter was in Rome. (It is also believed that he was the main source of information for St. Mark’s Gospel.)

 

Peter died in Rome, at the orders of Emperor Nero. When Peter saw the cross on which he was to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside down. He did not feel worthy to die in the same way that his Lord had died.

First-enthroned of the apostles,
teachers of the universe:
Entreat the Master of all
to grant peace to the world,
and to our souls great mercy!

Today Christ the Rock glorifies with highest honor
The rock of Faith and leader of the Apostles,
Together with Paul and the company of the twelve,
Whose memory we celebrate with eagerness of faith,
Giving glory to the one who gave glory to them!

 

St. Peter, Apostle of Christ, intercede for our salvation!

 

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn about St. Peter:

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Find some fun activities that you can use with your Sunday Church School class to help them better understand some of St. Peter’s experiences here: http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-activities-saint-peter-6932743.html

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Younger children may enjoy this printable color-by-number of the animal that reminded St. Peter of his denial of Christ: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/i-dont-know.php

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Older children will enjoy the challenge of this printable activity puzzle featuring St. Peter walking on water: http://biblewise.com/kids/fun/peter-walks.php

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Here’s a tiny printable crossword puzzle about St. Peter’s experience in jail: http://biblewise.com/kids/images/fun/peter_in_prison.pdf

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Print and color these drawings of St. Peter:

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This Catholic blog offers ideas of things to do with children to help them learn about St. Peter. For example, play “Saint Peter’s Fishers of Men” game! (Note: just remember that this is a Catholic site, so not all of it will work for Orthodox children, but there is a lot that would work!) http://showerofroses.blogspot.ca/2011/06/saintly-summer-fun-saints-peter-and.html

 

Bible Story Grab Bags: New Testament

Author’s note: As we conclude the weeks of summer break from Sunday Church School, it is time that we finish our preparations for the forthcoming year. Pulling together items that remind you of Bible stories and putting them in a “Bible Story Grab Bag” can be one way to do so. Bible story grab bags can be used throughout the Church School year as part of a lesson, as an attention-getter, as a “something-to-do-during-snack-after-liturgy-before-our-official-lesson,” or as a lesson extender if you finish your usual lesson before class time is over. (It can also be revisited at the end of the year. To review, just have each student pull an item out of the grab bag and tell something they remember about that story.)

Here are selections from the New Testament which could be told, along with suggestions of items that could represent each selection in an Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

The Annunciation (Luke 1) – toothpick “spindle” of red yarn or sign that says “YES”

The angel visits Joseph (Matt 1) – angel from Christmas decor

Mary visits Elizabeth (Luke 1) – jump rope (St. John “leaped” in St. Elizabeth’s womb)

The birth of John (Luke 1) – slate with “His name is John” written in white marker

The birth of Jesus (Luke 2) – small nativity, manger, or star ornament

The wise men (Matt 2) – small bag with gold rocks, incense, sm. bottle of oil for “myrrh”

Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) – hourglass (representing how long they waited for Christ)

The escape to Egypt (Matt 2) – replica of the pyramids

Jesus comes to the temple (Luke 2) – slate and chalk (he taught the temple teachers)

The baptism of Jesus (Matt 3, John 1) – bottle of water or a dove

Jesus and His disciples (Luke 5) – a bit of fishing net

The wedding in Cana (John 2) – small wine glass

Jesus and the storm (Mark 4) – toy ship or a storm cloud photo

Jesus and the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5) – toy tiara

The Sermon on the Mount teachings:

Love your enemies (Matt 5) – stuffed monster

The Lord Teaches the Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6) – copy of the Lord’s Prayer

The parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matt 7) –  jar of sand and a rock

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10) – bandages

The lost sheep (Luke 15) – toy lamb

The prodigal son (Luke 15) – fancy ring

Jesus feeds five thousand people (Matt 14) – 5 crackers and 2 candy fish in a baggie

Jesus walks on water (Matt 14) – small pair of water shoes

God shows who Jesus is (Matt 17) – glow stick flashlight w/ marker face “Jesus”

The Good Shepherd (John 10) – “shepherd’s crook”/brown tape-covered candy cane

Jesus comes to Zacchaeus (Luke 19) – tiny toy guy and a big toy tree

Lazarus (John 11) – toy person wrapped in a length of white crepe paper streamer

Mary anoints Jesus (John 12) – small bottle of perfume

The entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Mark 11) – palm branch

Jesus drives the merchants out of the temple (Mark 11) – toy dove in cage or dollhouse-sized table and coins

Jesus celebrates Passover with His Disciples (Mark 14) – small dish (for identifying Judas)

Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (John 13) – small bowl “basin” and washcloth “towel”

Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14) – praying hands picture

Jesus dies on the cross (Mark 15) – small wooden cross

The burial of Jesus (Mark 15, John 19) – piece of white cloth “shroud”

The Resurrection of Jesus (Luke 24) – large stone “seal for the tomb”

Jesus ascends into Heaven (Luke 24, Acts 1) – stuffed cloud or handful of fiberfill

Pentecost (Acts 2) – lighter (for when “the tongues of fire” came down)

Saul On the Road to Damascus (Acts 9) – spotlight or bright flashlight

Sts. Paul and Silas Sing in Jail (Acts 16) – piece of broken chain

St. Paul Writes Letters (1 Corinth 12, 1 John 4) – pile of letters tied together

Here are some helpful links that can help you prepare your New Testament Bible Story Grab Bag. We also shared these when we posted this (https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/bible-story-grab-bags-old-testament/) but are re-sharing in case you missed them :

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Create a simple drawstring bag to be your “New Testament Bible Story Grab Bag.” Here’s a very basic pattern that you could use to make the bag: http://www.diaryofaquilter.com/2013/06/easy-fat-quarter-drawstring-bag-tutorial.html

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Here are several other suggestions for storage for your storytelling “grab bag” (box? tube?): Decorate an empty wet-wipes container (see http://momstown.ca/2013/10/23/how-make-treasure-box-diaper-wipe-container/); a covered oatmeal tube or coffee can (see http://modpodgerocksblog.com/2009/09/delightful-toy-containers-made-from.html); or a paper-covered shoebox (this one suggests using maps, but any pretty paper would work: http://inmyownstyle.com/2013/09/map-covered-shelf-organizing-boxes.html) and store your story-starters in there instead of in a bag!
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Make story stones like this to include as your “story-starters” for the grab bag. To make your own, consider using an all-purpose glue (like modge podge) to adhere related pictures (hand drawn, photographs, or cut from magazines) onto smooth stones. You can then set the stones upright in sand in scenery, or in a timeline, etc, as you tell the story. http://www.poppitscupboard.com/p/home.html

*
Gather actual items that represent the stories you want to tell to your class. These items will be your “story starters” which you will keep in the grab bag. They can be plastic or wooden miniatures, pictures or icons, or any significant item that shows up in a Bible story that will jog your (and your students’) memory. (You may also want to include a master list of every item, complete with its story and/or the scripture to which it belongs.) Here is an example: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/00/b9/7100b98b14a9ac8423d9ca6dcda5d3e4.jpg

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Here’s a related Bible storytelling tip: Tell a story using several bags, each containing one item that helps to tell the story. (For example, this storyteller gives ideas for using multiple items and bags to tell the story of Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-Nu01DP_IQ.) Here are 12 Bible stories, already thought through for a similar project/presentation: http://curbsproject.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Bible-Story-Bags.pdf

 

On Tattooing God’s Word on Your Heart

Not long ago, I was privileged to participate with my fellow parishioners in the Divine Liturgy for the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul. A newly ordained priest was serving our community for that liturgy, and it was an evening that I will never forget. I will remember this liturgy not because it took place during his first week as a priest (and yes, he served it well, if you were wondering), but because of the homily that he gave during the course of the liturgy. Fr. David’s words have planted a concept into my mind that I will ever remember and work to attain.

The priest, Fr. David Jacobs, worked for years at the Antiochian Village Camp. My children loved having (then Deacon) David and his sweet family at camp every summer. Our whole family was blessed to spend time with them during our times at family camp at the Village, as well. We were all very grateful for the Jacobs family’s example to the AV community.

Fr. David referred to those years at camp at the beginning of his homily. He said that sometimes the children attending the camp would ask him questions. These questions gave him the opportunity to talk about a variety of subjects, and thus offer to the campers an Orthodox perspective on the topics at hand. One subject that he said often came up was tattoos.

Fr. David said in his homily that he always told the kids at camp that there is one tattoo that every Orthodox Christian should have. (Trust me, if there had been anyone in the congregation that night that wasn’t listening to the homily before, they were listening now!) The tattoo of which he spoke is not a visible tattoo; it is not even a physical one. Even though no one can see it, everyone will know that it is there because of the evidence it leaves behind. Fr. David said that this “tattoo” that we should all have is the permanent imprint of God’s Word on our hearts. He simply said, “Tattoo God’s Word on your heart.”

He went on to encourage us to do all that we can to steep ourselves in the Holy Scriptures. Read the Scriptures, meditate on them, ponder them, memorize them. Each of these actions will help us to permanently etch the Holy Scriptures into our hearts. With God’s Word permanently and irrevocably marked in our hearts, we will live a more godly life. This godly living will, in turn, forever change our life, our community, and the whole world for the better.

He suggested that we begin with one specific scripture, actually a verse of the Epistle reading for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. 2 Corinthians 12:9 quotes our Lord Himself, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Fr. David repeated the verse that had just been read to us during the Epistle reading. Then he went on to expound on it, allowing us a chance to meditate on it and ponder its meaning. He also had us recite the verse back to him several times, helping us to begin to memorize it. Essentially, he led us by example through the process of beginning to tattoo this scripture on our hearts. Mind you, it is an excellent scripture to permanently implant there: every single one of us needs this verse in our lives!

God willing, this will not be the only scripture tattooed on my heart. By the grace of God, as the years pass, my new goal is for my heart to be completely “inked up” with the scriptures. I have never had a tattoo, but I understand that the after-effect of all those needles is somewhat painful. I have a feeling that my new determination to “tattoo God’s Words on my heart” will also be painful at times. Minimally, I hope it produces a tenderness in my spirit that wasn’t there before. God willing, the final result will make my heart more beautiful and worth every dot of effort. And, by God’s grace, may God’s words inked on my heart be as evident to all around me as if I had them etched in my skin.

“I have always discouraged the use of the human body as a canvas. For me, being an artist and a Christian there was always a clear line as to how one treats the body and how one treats a canvas. A canvas is an object. The body is a holy temple. So when a Christian asks me if it is okay to get a tattoo I say to them “You are asking the wrong question.” You should be asking “How should a Christian care for their body?” This is a question that isn’t asked very often in our culture. If it is asked, unfortunately the answer is more often than not the wrong one. St. Paul tells us our body is a holy temple and that it doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to Christ. It is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This is the perspective that has shaped the teaching that we should devote our energy to tattooing our hearts with the Word of God and shine with the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than inking our flesh as one does with paper and canvas. Treating our bodies as objects will do little for us and those around us. Recognizing our bodies for what they truly are made to be (vessels of the Holy Spirit) will not only change us but (by God’s grace) also those around us.” ~ Fr. David Jacobs

For ideas of ways to “tattoo” the scriptures on your heart and on the hearts of your Sunday Church School students, check out these links:

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Need a place to start? Check out these scripture verses for memorization inspiration: http://www.feelslikehomeblog.com/2015/01/50-bible-verses-every-christian-should-memorize/

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In case you missed it, you can read our previous blog post about Scripture memorization here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/on-scripture-memorization-part-1/

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Find suggestions for making Scripture learning accessible and fun for kids, check out this post: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/on-scripture-memorization-part-2/

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This tutorial leads you through a simple craft project that can help you and your family “ink up” your hearts with Scripture: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/verse-of-the-week-box-tutorial/

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Here is a blog about an art project that can help you and your students “tattoo your hearts” with Scriptures: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2016/02/05/on-learning-the-scriptures-by-creating-a-scripture-journal/

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Have your students carry their “tattoo” project with them everywhere they go! Consider one of these ideas: invite the students to copy a verse you are memorizing on a slip of paper and keep it in their pocket. Or have them use permanent marker to write it on a blank wristband (turn a printed wristband or a produce rubber band inside out if you don’t have a wristband) and wear the verse-covered band. However they choose to carry the Scripture verse with them, every time they see it (or feel  it in their pocket), the student should repeat the verse to him/herself. Challenge them to have it memorized before they lose the paper or the verse wears off of the wristband.

 

Bible Story Grab Bags: Old Testament

Author’s note: The weeks of summer break from Sunday Church School can afford us time to prepare for the forthcoming year. Pulling together items that remind you of Bible stories and putting them in a “Bible Story Grab Bag” can be one way to prepare for the year. Bible story grab bags can be used throughout the Church School year as part of a lesson, as an attention-getter, as a “something-to-do-during-snack-after-liturgy-before-our-official-lesson,” or as a lesson extender if you finish your usual lesson before class time is over. (It can also be revisited at the end of the year. To review, just have each student pull an item out of the grab bag and tell something they remember about that story.)

Here are selections from the Old Testament which could be told, along with suggestions of items that could represent each selection in an Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

Creation (Gen. 1-2) – a tiny globe

Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:7-25) – toy man and toy woman (ie: Playmobil or Lego people)

The Fall of Man (Gen. 3) – a rubber or stuffed snake

Noah (Gen. 6-9) – a toy boat, a pair of toy animals, or a rainbow

Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 12-21) – small icon of the Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah or a tiny jar of sand and/or small stars

Isaac (Gen. 21-27) – tiny baby with gray-haired parents or a plastic ram

Jacob (Gen. 25-33) – pair of “twin” toy men (glue fake fur on one’s arms!) or a spotted toy goat

Joseph (Gen. 35-43) – scrap of rainbow-colored cloth or a dreamcatcher

Moses (Exodus) – toy baby in a basket, or toy man with walking stick or a pair of toy men’s sandals (like for an action figure or Ken doll)

The Plagues and Passover (Ex. 7-14) – anything representing one of the plagues, like a cup of “red water,” toy flies, a paintbrush with red “blood” dried on it, etc.

The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20) – small “stone tablets” with the commandments

The Tabernacle (Ex. 25-31, 35-40) – tiny tent or model of the ark of the covenant

Joshua/the Promised Land (Joshua 1-6) – crumbled piece of brick/stone wall

Samson (Judges 13-16) – long lock of hair or the jawbone of an animal

Ruth/Naomi (Ruth) – toy sheaf of wheat

Hannah’s Prayer/Samuel (1 Samuel 1-4) – a toy ear (he heard God’s voice call him)

King David (1 Samuel 16- 2 Samuel 5) – toy sheep or slingshot

The Psalms of David (Psalms) – a toy book with music notes on its pages or a small plaque of Ps. 23

King Solomon (1 Kings 3-10) – a magnetic question mark (he asked God for wisdom)

Proverbs (Proverbs) – a plaque or magnet containing a Proverb such as 16:3 “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.”

Elijah/Elias (1 Kings 16-18) – small bottle of oil or toy flames and buckets of “water”

Isaiah (Isaiah) – recording of Handel’s “Messiah” or a Christmas ornament containing one of Isaiah’s prophecies (ie: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”)

Jonah (Jonah) – a big toy fish or a small plastic worm

Three Hebrew Youths (Daniel 3) – toy flames or miniature “burning building”

Daniel (Daniel 1-7) – toy lion

Queen Esther (Esther) – toy tiara

Micah (Micah) – toy sign that reads “Bethlehem” (He prophesied Christ’s birth there)

Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra, Nehemiah) – a “back” button/left-facing arrow symbol (so much in these books is going “back:” back to Jerusalem, back to rebuilding the temple, back to rebuilding the wall, returning back from captivity, and returning to God)
Here are some helpful links that can help you prepare your Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag:

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Create a simple drawstring bag to be your “Old Testament Bible Story Grab Bag.” Here’s a very basic pattern that you could use to make the bag: http://www.diaryofaquilter.com/2013/06/easy-fat-quarter-drawstring-bag-tutorial.html

 

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Here are several other suggestions for storage for your storytelling “grab bag” (box? tube?): Decorate an empty wet-wipes container (see http://momstown.ca/2013/10/23/how-make-treasure-box-diaper-wipe-container/); a covered oatmeal tube or coffee can (see http://modpodgerocksblog.com/2009/09/delightful-toy-containers-made-from.html); or a paper-covered shoebox (this one suggests using maps, but any pretty paper would work: http://inmyownstyle.com/2013/09/map-covered-shelf-organizing-boxes.html) and store your story-starters in there instead of in a bag!
*

Make story stones like this to include as your “story-starters” for the grab bag. To make your own, consider using an all-purpose glue (like modge podge) to adhere related pictures (hand drawn, photographs, or cut from magazines) onto smooth stones. You can then set the stones upright in sand in scenery, or in a timeline, etc, as you tell the story. http://www.poppitscupboard.com/p/home.html

*
Gather actual items that represent the stories you want to tell to your class. These items will be your “story starters” which you will keep in the grab bag. They can be plastic or wooden miniatures, pictures or icons, or any significant item that shows up in a Bible story that will jog your (and your students’) memory. (You may also want to include a master list of every item, complete with its story and/or the scripture to which it belongs.) Here is an example: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/71/00/b9/7100b98b14a9ac8423d9ca6dcda5d3e4.jpg

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Here’s a related Bible storytelling tip: Tell a story using several bags, each containing one item that helps to tell the story. (For example, this storyteller gives ideas for using multiple items and bags to tell the story of Creation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-Nu01DP_IQ.) Here are 12 Bible stories, already thought through for a similar project/presentation: http://curbsproject.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Bible-Story-Bags.pdf