5th Graders speak: “Who Is Jesus?”

5th grade students in the Sunday school class I’m co-teaching this semester contributed to this four minute audio podcast on the theme, “Who Is Jesus?” Some of these recordings were made during our Sunday school class last week using Audacity and an external microphone, but most were made by students and teachers from home using their phones and the free Gabcast service.

Lots of online discussions!

Our 5th grade Sunday School class is using Group Publishing’s “Grapple” curriculum this fall, which includes an online “walled-garden” social networking environment for students. This is a screenshot of student and teacher postings in the discussion board to date. (We just finished our sixth week.)

Lots of Grapple Discussions!

If I’m doing my math correctly, we’ve had 34 total posts and replies in the first 3 church-related categories, and 121 posts and replies in the “Let’s Talk” category which is open for students to appropriately discuss whatever they want. We’ve had lots of polls about school, favorite singers, TV shows, and other topics. These formative results show the importance of providing an open forum for students in a distance learning or distributed learning context.

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Podcast6: Grapple Digital Curriculum and Technology Integration with 5th Grade Sunday School Students

This podcast is a mid-semester review of the “Grapple” digital curriculum package from Group Publishing which we are using to co-teach 5th grade Sunday School in fall 2007 at my church in Edmond, Oklahoma. In addition to reviewing the elements of Grapple I address different ways I am integrating technology into our weekly Sunday school lessons, and discuss in detail the different elements of the online social networking and discussion board area provided by Group Publishing as part of the Grapple curriculum.

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FPC Edmond Sermons online

This past weekend I worked to format and publish about 15 sermons from mid-April through the present from our church in Edmond, Oklahoma, as podcast recordings in a new podcast channel submitted (and now approved) by iTunes. Anyone who is interested can either download sermon podcasts as mp3 files separately, or subscribe to the sermon podcast channel in iTunes.

Sermons from First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, Oklahoma

Many of these sermons are fantastic, and I commend them all to you. David Leard’s treatment of the often challenging verses from Ephesians 6 in his July 22nd message, “Everything in Its Place” was particularly good. (Those are very challenging verses to preach on and about.) I also really enjoyed John Gruel’s message on June 24th titled “Twelfth Man.” (Even though I’m not a big fan of Texas A&M!)

It is WONDERFUL, from a personal standpoint, to now have asynchronous access to audio recordings of these these inspired words from our pastors. This past weekend after I published these and our family was driving back from Lubbock to Edmond, my wife and I were able to listen to two of the sermons she had missed this summer because she had been taking care of children’s ministries needs and missed worship.

We are VERY blessed to have four gifted pastors at our church, and I’m thrilled their weekly messages are now available as a globally accessible podcast channel. Listening to a sermon at church (or somewhere else) is certainly just PART of the experiences and the community into which we are called as Christians to live each week, but it can be an important part– especially if it inspires us to change our thinking and our behavior in positive ways in the week that follows! 🙂

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Compatibility between science and faith

I attended a wonderful Christian men’s conference at Mo-Ranch in south Texas this weekend, and emerged from the weekend with 22 pages of handwritten notes! To begin the work I need to do in processing and reflecting on many of the ideas shared at the conference, I recorded a 30 minute Gcast podcast this evening with my cell phone, which was automatically posted to the web.

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The Sunday School lessons of Dr. Dan Foster, who was our conference keynote speaker, are available online.

Podcast5: Reflections on our 40 Day Evening Technology Use Fast and Digital Discipline

In this podcast, Shelly and Wesley Fryer share the genesis, goals, and results of our 40 day evening technology use fast that we completed together in the closing weeks of 2006. This was a very positive experience which drew us closer together as a couple and a family, and made us more aware of our abiding need to have digital discipline as we intentionally decide how to spend our time in the evenings together.

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Great questions about God

My now 9 year old son asked some great questions last night in the car to my wife and I as we drove home from his “celebration” birthday dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Oklahoma City. We had actually spent quite a bit of time together yesterday, going to a Boy Scout Troop sponsored event in the morning to help cub scouts design and cut out their Pinewood Derby cars. In addition to getting his car designed and cut out (with a very nice band saw and power sander, the likes of which we do NOT own or have access to) we purchased some paint and a small hand saw we were able to use to cut out the back part of his car and make some “fins.” We were able to apply two coats of paint, and have his car well on its way to being completed in advance of “the big race” which will happen at an upcoming pack meeting in the spring.

I am struck by how questions like these seem to follow more QUANTITY time that is spent together rather than QUALITY time. I agree with those who observe “quality time” only comes when you spend “quantity time” with someone else, whether that person is a child or a spouse. The idea of “quality time” is a myth, whose source I’m not sure of, that says you can squeeze in equally valuable amounts of time needed to raise children between an overwhelming array of diverse demands and commitments. That may happen infrequently but I don’t think it happens regularly. When you spend quantity time together, however, quality time seems to happen more often.

Here are some of the questions Alexander posed to Shelly and I last night, which I think reflect some remarkably deep thinking for a 9 year old:

  1. Why doesn’t God speak to us in our dreams like he did in the Bible?
  2. When Jesus comes back to earth, is he going to be born again in a stable like he was the first time?
  3. Is there going to be a “Bible 2” when Jesus comes back and chooses new disciples?
  4. Do angels have to get permission to come down to earth and do things? Can they see us from up in heaven?
  5. Is heaven like a second world? Is God on other planets in other worlds?
  6. What is the purpose of life: Why are we here? (This last one was actually my question I had posed to Alexander a few days back, that we discussed some more.)

No doubt these ARE tough questions, and in trying to answer them last night in the car as we drove home, I was glad Shelly was there to help me attempt some answers. As I’ve written and noted before I don’t think either of us have “all the answers” when it comes to Biblical truth, but I do think and believe that God has the answers and He continues to reveal His truths to us as we read His word and seek Him in prayer, fellowship, and study. So these are some of the answers we shared with Alexander (and his listening younger sisters) last night in paraphrased form.

Why doesn’t God speak to us in our dreams like he did in the Bible?
God DOES speak to us today through the Holy Spirit. God sent his Holy Spirit down to earth at Pentecost after Jesus had gone back to heaven to be with God, and the Holy Spirit speaks to us as we seek God and pray to Him for guidance and direction. Most of the Bible (all of the Old Testament and all of the NT before Pentecost in the book of Acts) was written about times before the Holy Spirit came down to earth. God spoke to his people, often his leaders, through dreams and visions. God still speaks to us and calls us to live out our individual and unique calling– our “mission” on the earth. God sometimes still speaks to us in our dreams, and this is his Holy Spirit speaking to use. [I DIDN’T SAY THIS AT THE TIME BUT AM ADDING IT NOW: WE HAVE TO HAVE A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND KNOW HIM TO BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE HIS VOICE. WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO DISCERN OUR OWN VOICE, ASKING FOR ITS OWN DESIRES, AS WELL AS OTHER VOICES WHICH TEMPT US OR CHALLENGE US TO ACT IN WAYS CONTRARY TO GOD’S WILL. GOD DOES SPEAK TO US, BUT WE HAVE TO WORK EACH DAY ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM TO KNOW HIM AND KNOW HIS VOICE.]

When Jesus comes back to earth, is he going to be born again in a stable like he was the first time?
The Revelation of John, which is the last book in the New Testament, tells that when Jesus comes back to earth He will come riding in the clouds and come to judge the nations. Jesus won’t be born again in a stable like He was the first time, when he comes back to the earth physically He’ll come back in power. This is one reason why it is so important for us to tell others about Jesus and about the Good News that he offers to every one of us. When Jesus comes back he will take those people who know Him and call Him their Savior up to heaven to live with Him forever. This is one of the most difficult things to remember and understand: God made us all to live forever. We are all spiritual beings living in our bodies right now, but our spirits will live forever. What we do in life is a preparation for eternity. We need to remember also that we don’t know the day and time when Jesus will return. Some people claim they know when Jesus will come back, but the Bible reminds us that no one knows. We should always be ready. As Christians, we can have confidence that no matter what happens– whether some tragedy strikes us and one of our family members is killed, or anything else bad happens– wars, or crazy times– we know that in everything God is in control. God will provide for us and take care of us no matter what happens.

Is there going to be a “Bible 2” when Jesus comes back and chooses new disciples?
I am not certain, but I don’t think so. Most Christian and Biblical scholars today believe that the era of Biblical revelation is over, when the books of the Bible were written and shared with God’s people, although God DOES continue to communicate and speak to his people through his Word, prayer, and his Holy Spirit. As we read the Bible, we see that Jesus rarely did things like miracles in the same way more than once. When Jesus healed blind people and gave them sight, he did it each time with a different method. The Bible says that Jesus will return to judge the nations, not to lead another life of teaching and ministry. It is our job now to tell others about Jesus and share his his love. [I DIDN’T SAY THIS BUT WILL ADD IT NOW BECAUSE I’M THINKING OF IT: JESUS CAME TO EARTH AND PAID FOR ALL OUR SINS BY DYING ON THE CROSS. JESUS DID THIS FOR US ALL ONE TIME, ONCE AND FOR ALL. IT IS DONE, AND IT IS FINISHED. JESUS WILL NOT RETURN TO LIVE A REPEAT OF HIS EARTHLY LIFE, BECAUSE HE HAS ALREADY DONE THAT– SHARED HIS TEACHINGS, AND GIVEN UP HIS LIFE, AND THAT PRICE FOR OUR SINS HAS BEEN PAID IN FULL.]

Do angels have to get permission to come down to earth and do things? Can they see us from up in heaven?
Again I will admit that I don’t know the answer to this for sure, but we do know that angels are real and are the messengers of God. I think that angels are the servants of God, and do what God tells and asks them to do. If we think about the angel Gabriel going to Mary to tell her that she was going to have a baby, and he was going to be the Savior of the world, we see that God told the angel to do that. The angel Gabriel didn’t decide on his own to go to Mary and tell her something. I think that one of the main things which differentiates us as humans from the angels is that we have “free will,” we can choose what we want to do: whether to do good or evil. Some people will say that we really don’t have free will because God knows everything and has already decided for us (God is omniscient.) I do believe God is omniscient and omnipotent, but I believe we still maintain free will amidst that reality, based on what I have read in the Bible and in my own spiritual walk of faith. Yes God knows my choices before I make them, but that does not change the fact that he lets me choose. So to answer the question, Yes: I think angels do have to get permission for everything they do here on earth. I think angels are God’s servants and messengers on earth, and they do what God commands. Perhaps angels can and do look down on us from heaven. I think that everything they do, however, is something that is within God’s will. Angels don’t have free will.

Is heaven like a second world? Is God on other planets in other worlds?
I think we have to remember that heaven is a place and a concept that we really can’t fully understand and grasp with our limited human minds. As humans we live in time, which moves one direction (forwards) and has a starting point and an ending point. God is not like this, and neither is heaven. We know from the Bible that God has always existed: He had no beginning and will have no end. God is infinite. Our minds can say “infinity” but we can’t really comprehend what it means. So I am not sure about a lot of things when it comes to heaven. We know that heaven exists, that God lives there, and that we will all go one day to live with God if we claim Jesus as our Savior. Maybe there are parallel universes in the world, like we’ve discussed in talking about physics and the universe. Yes, we believe God is the God of the entire universe, not just our world here on planet earth. I believe there are other worlds, and yes– God is the God of those worlds too. The universe is an enormously huge place, and we are barely able to comprehend and understand its enormous size. There is a lot we don’t know about the universe, but we do know that God is the creator and ruler of all of it.

What is the purpose of life: Why are we here?
When I asked this question to my son again last night (yes we did have a lot of lighthearted conversation at dinner, but this was one of the more serious moments) he responded as probably many people in our culture would and do today: “To be happy?” In responding to his ideas, I was reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” that is part of his speech and sermon series I purchased on iTunes about a year ago and am listening to again. In that letter, he reminds us that our purpose here in life is not to merely be happy and seek to satisfy our own desires and needs: Our purpose is to understand and do the will of God. God wants us to be happy, but there are times in our lives when we will not be happy. There are things which are worth struggling and even fighting for that will not bring us earthly happiness, but rather may bring us earthly suffering. Ultimately, we are called as God’s people to do God’s will on earth, and that is our purpose. We are here to worship and glorify God, and do His will.

That was a lot of heavy conversation for a late Friday night! I was amazed by the depth and thoughtfulness of Alexander’s questions about God, and was also thrilled to have him asking us (his parents) questions like these that he is working through. As we prayed together last night when he went to bed, I thanked God for Alexander’s inquiring mind and the questions he is seeking answers to. I prayed that God will continue to bless him in his life, and provide answers to these questions as He continues to reveal himself to Alexander.

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