Love You Most

Yesterday, as I walked away from my house, I heard the front door open and a small voice call out, almost defiantly and decidedly victoriously, “I love YOU most!” As the door slammed shut, I couldn’t help by laugh at my little boy’s unwillingness to allow me to have the last word and shake my head at his sweet sentiment that warmed my heart. As I kept walking, I heard another Voice speak to me. This one was quiet, heard deep within my heart, gentle but firm, reminding me, “I love you most.”

And He does. The love that God has, not only for me, but for all of humanity is MOST. It’s more than anything this world has to offer. It’s greater than any natural love we can muster up. It’s deeper than any emotion we can experience and any relationship we can engage.

It is MOST. easterlove

It is that love that compels us, as His Church, as members of His body, to love others and to serve those He loves, namely… everyone.

You see, that voice that whispers, “I love you most” doesn’t just whisper it to me. He whispers it to every single person who has ever lived, is living now, and will live. His love is so great, so limitless, that it can be MOST to every person.

Just in case the word “every” is leaving room for any confusion, “every” means “all.” It means the complete expanse of mankind, young to old, all of humanity.

Which is why my heart breaks each time I hear rhetoric that targets certain members of the human race and speaks words of disrespect, dishonor and dismay. Words that insult and abuse and words that say exactly the opposite of “I love you most” but instead say, “You are not worthy of love.”

But what breaks my heart even more, what confuses me beyond belief, what causes me to toss and turn at night, is when these words are spoken by those who claim to be Christians, and are cheered and lauded in places that label themselves as places of worship, and are shared on social media by those who would see themselves as God-followers. By ministers of the gospel, which at its heart is “I love you most.”

By church-goers. By parents. By children.

Children.

In my heart of hearts, I believe this is bigger than politics. This is not about taxes and policies, laws and legislature. This is not even about social issues or economic issues.

It’s about decency. It’s about humanity. It’s about Love. 

If as Christians, we aren’t the ones opening the door and shouting, “God loves you most” to EVERY single person, regardless of anything, then who will be?!?

If our children aren’t hearing love in our words about and to others, then what are we teaching them?  

If we claim to be God-followers and speak, cheer, repeat, tweet, applaud, and affirm words of insult, injury, ignorance and hate…what are we teaching about God’s unconditional love?

That it’s not true. That it can’t be trusted. That perhaps they are not good enough to receive love either.

And in the meantime, God is still calling, “I love you most.”

Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.  

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!  If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both (1 Jn. 4 The Message)

If we hear His Voice, relentlessly calling to us that He loves us most, we must speak that truth to others and live lives that say it in what we do, how we act, and who we love. To do less means we ourselves have not truly experienced His love and that is the saddest thing of all. We owe it to our children to really consider if His love is our love.

Because, at the end of it all, He really does love us MOST.

For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

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Too Many Bible Stories?

What’s your story?

If I were to ask you that, what comes to mind?  For many of us, we begin to construct a short biography in our head. Where we come from, what our history is, how we got to where we are, what is happening in our life, what we think the future might hold.  An overview of our life, an overarching narrative or succinct summation.

I doubt very much what you would share first would be the memory of your first bicycle ride or that time you fell out of your desk in middle school or the day you got promoted at your new job or when you got an A on your final exam. Those were all momentous occasions and probably formational in making you…you.

But those aren’t your story. Those stories are part of your story.

As I get to know you, I’d probably hear about all those other important moments. But if I were introducing you to another friend, I probably wouldn’t include any of them in my introduction.

So why do we do that with God?

We are masters at telling children stories about God. We love to tell them all kinds of wonderful Bible stories like David and Goliath, Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the Whale and Jesus and the 5,000. These stories make up the bulk of our Christian children’s books and Sunday school curriculum. It’s not unusual for children’s ministers to ask, “What are the key stories children need to know before they move into youth group?”

And those stories are PART of His story.

Important parts. Formational parts. Necessary parts. 

But those stories get their meaning, find their place, and add the most value when they are told in the context of The Story, what theologian N.T. Wright calls “the metanarrative of Scripture.”

In their book, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen share that individual experiences make sense and acquire meaning within the context of some story we believe to be the true story of the world. We need a large background story to ground us because when “people don’t know the whole story so they get the parts wrong”  (Dr. Catherine Stonehouse).

Everyone has a metanarrative.child-945422_1920
For Christians, Scripture is the metanarrative. 

The Story tells us WHO God is. It tells us our place in The Story. It takes the disjointed stories of Scripture and weaves them into a beautiful seamless tale of perfect love created, thwarted, rescued and realized. It is God’s story as Creator, Father, Savior, Son, Friend and Spirit.

To tell the stories apart from The Story can leave us with moments rather than perspective. These powerful moments are essential to rounding out The Story and helping us know God better, but without the context of The Story, we can reduce God to a God of moments rather than the God of Eternity.

Written into each of the moments is the bigger story of God’s love calling us back to a perfect love relationship with him. Even the moments we don’t write into curriculum like David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira, and Jacob and Tamar, we can see a bigger picture of sin, redemption and God’s unchanging nature of love and justice. In context, the stories matter because they are more than moments; they are parts of a greater whole. 

Recently a friend of mine shared with me that her grandfather, 85 years old, had begun to question his faith. After a stroke had left him in a place of needing care from others, he had time to really critically think about what he had heard in church his whole life. As she visited with him, he explained his frustration over the disjointed and seemingly discontinuous nature of the Bible stories he’d heard over and over again and how they had no relevance to his life.

One day it dawned on her; even though he’d been in church his whole life, he’d never heard The Story. So one afternoon she and her sister sat down with him and for the very first time, her grandfather heard The Story of God’s perfect creation, our separation because of sin, the reconciliation of the cross, and the invitation to us to join The Story for all eternity.

It changed everything for this 85-year-old man. For the first time, he understood the context. He saw what joined it all together.

He heard The Story of God…and it changed everything.

I believe it can…no, it will, do that for all of us too!

There are some really great resources out there that share some of the familiar Bible Stories in the context of The Story.

What other favorite resources or ways do you have that help you tell The Story?


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Does Our Time Serving Children At Church Even Matter?

If you keep up with trends in children’s ministry, you know that one of the major concerns facing those of us who serve in the church is the decline of regular attendance at Sunday morning worship times. Some studies indicate that a regularly attending child could be present up to four times a month but may only be in church once  or twice a month. Other studies remind us that in the 168 hours in a week, only one of those will be in church . Additionally, there is a rising recognition that the home is the primary place of spiritual formation and that the parents are the greatest influence of faith in their children.

When considering these facts, it can begin to feel as though the church is becoming…well, inconsequential. Pointless. I mean, if our time with the children is so minuscule and our influence so secondary, why do we pour so much time, effort, and love into what we do?

 Does our time serving the children at church even matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes!  A thousand times…Yes!

You see, right from the start, God intended the faith community to be an integral part of the spiritual growth of children. When Moses shared with parents that they should talk about their faith when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, and when they rise and before they sleep, he did so in the presence of the entire Israelite community (Deut. 4:10). All of Israel was there. All of Israel heard the commands. They all understood that the responsibility to nurture the following generations. They all understood that if things were going to go well for them and if they would increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey then THEY ALL needed to pass on their faith to their “children and their children after them” (Deut. 6:1).

The parents were never supposed to do it alone.

They were supposed to pass on their faith at home in the midst of a faith community who joined them in their discipleship and supported them in their work of faith formation.

That’s what the church is supposed to be doing today!  As a faith community, the church is the place where parents find nurture, support, and equipping for the work they are called to do. And we, as those who minister to families and children, whether paid or volunteer, have the unique privilege to be the hands and feet of that partnership.

sunday-school-kids

And that’s why that hour or two, that short period of time each week, is so important.

In 1976, developmentalist John Westerhoff wrote a book entitled Will our Children have Faith? and concluded with this answer: “that depends on whether or not they are embraced and formed within a faith community.” In other words, yes, even though parents have the greatest influence, his studies found that how children are engaged in the church has profound effects on how their faith grows.

 Children need the formative influence of the faith community. They need relationships with each other, with the youth in church and with the adults in church (Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, 2016).

What we do with that time then becomes crucially important!

It is worth our time, our effort, and our love.

What happens in that hour or two can create for a child a deep sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning within a community that coincides with the values and teachings of their parents and creates relationships that can last long into the future.

Can I encourage you to embrace whatever short time you have with the children of your church with as much enthusiasm and commitment as you can muster?

Seek for ways to nurture, support, and equip their parents.

Create intentional space for intergenerational relationships to be created and fostered.

Find times for children to join the faith community in worship, in serving, in sharing the story of faith.

Just as they were present to hear Moses speak of their future, their Promised Land, find ways to engage the children in their legacy, the legacy of our faith.

My mom often told me in regard to parenting that the days are long but the years are short. When it comes to our ministry to children in church, the hours may feel short, but the legacy lasts long. Use the hours wisely and know that you are ministering far beyond that hour – you are passing a legacy of faith to the children and their children that are to come!


 

For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Book Review: Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony

So often in parenting, there is an emphasis on raising “good” well-behaved kids who follow God. You feel that pressure, right? To make sure your kids behave in church, don’t act up in public, and show “proper” respect to elders. Because so often it feels like these outward behaviors reflect back on you and how good of a parent you are or how “Christian” you are, or so it seems.

Michelle Anthony turns that whole concept around with her book Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today’s Families. Instead of addressing behavioral techniques or teaching parents how to mitigate ongoing discipline issues, she uses this book to encourage parenting that emphasizes raising God-followers first, whose lives produce good fruit and godly behavior as a result.

spiritualparentingIn the book, Michelle takes the reader on a journey through a series of “environments” that parents will raise their kids in and through and offers down to earth practical tips on how parents can help children grow spiritually through nurture, discipline, and discipleship.The first three environments (storytelling, identity and faith community) focus on big-picture identity and God’s big plan while the next several focus on the actions taken from that foundation (such as service, responsibility, love and respect, course correction). The final two environments of knowing and modeling encourage parents to help their children to find their own faith.

The spiritual life and formation of the parent is central to everything she shares. Throughout the book, Michelle gives so much encouragement to parents to make sure that they are growing and deepening their own faith as they lead their children in spiritual matters.

Of all the books I’ve read on parenting, this one has been the most useful in understanding how to incorporate faith into the nitty-gritty everyday moments of life within the home and family.

Michelle shares multiple stories from her own experiences, both of success and failure, and uses them to demonstrate how to parent from a spiritual focus. There were so many great moments in the book, tidbits I tucked back for my own parenting future, and there’s no way I can cover all the stories she shares. But if you, like me, are looking for “real-life” scenarios, like your teenager throwing party when you are out of town or your son being the only one to stand up and not smoke pot at school or your family living into their faith by serving each other and their community…the regular and real stuff, then this book will be just the encouragement you need.

And the best news is…the Kindle version is on sale right now for .99 (click here). You will not regret this purchase. I’d love to hear what stood out to you once you’ve read it – feel free to comment below and share your insights!


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

 

Worshiping with Children: What’s the expectation?

“I think whenever you start including children in worship, you should expect a certain amount of cynicism.”

Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t. I really don’t.

I don’t think we should ever expect cynicism in any context when it comes to welcoming people into our worship settings. Because, our churches are not ours. They are God’s. And from what I’ve read about Him, He was pretty cool about accepting pretty much everyone into His presence. Well, admittedly, He wasn’t thrilled with hanging around the religious folks, but He sure seemed drawn to the young, the sick, the needy, the hurting, the ordinary, the lame, the lonely, the humble.

Expecting that the church will react with cynicism is not how I choose to approach ministry to children within the larger church context.

Expecting the worst often brings about the worst. And I don’t want that. Neither do you.  And, I believe, neither does the Church.  The church is the body of Christ. His Spirit indwells their midst. So my expectation is that the Church will react to and welcome children just as Jesus did, just as He showed us and demonstrated while among us. 

The experience many have had when trying to re-introduce children into congregational worship has not coincided with my expectation, and I understand that. But we don’t have to look far to see that play out in Scripture too. The disciples were the first to turn children away, with seeming good intention, but apparent lack of insight and understanding of Christ’s heart.

And how did Jesus handle that moment?

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”Then he took the children in his arms and placed his hands on their heads and blessed them. – Mark 10:13-15

That word “angry” is sometimes translated “indignant” or “very displeased.”  It’s the same word used to describe how the Pharisees felt when the children were calling out “Hosanna to the Son of David” during the Triumphal Entry (those kids…causing trouble all over the place!) and when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. The disciples felt that way when Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and “wasted” it and when James and John’s mom asked if they could sit next to Jesus in heaven. It’s overall…not a good feeling. It indicates a general unhappiness with a person or situation.

But then, notice what Jesus does.

He doesn’t just get angry. He gets angry but then explains why.

He explains that the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

He explains that the disciples needed to accept the kingdom like these children if they ever wanted to truly enter in.

Then He showed them what to do. He took the children IN HIS ARMS (oh my, what a beautiful picture) and placed his hand on their heads and blessed them.  In front of the disciples. Demonstrating before their eyes exactly how He wanted them to treat children.

welcomejesusisexpecting

I’m willing to bet that in the future, the disciples  made sure that the children were never turned away. They had seen Jesus and they understood. I picture in my head a future time where not only was Jesus holding children and blessing them, but the disciples were too. I imagine that in their churches after Jesus had left, children were in their midst, blessing and being blessed. In fact, I can assume that children were there, considering that Paul writes specifically to them in letters that were read aloud to the congregation.

Some of you have tried.

You’ve asked your pastor if children can come and worship with the congregation and been turned away.

You’ve presented ideas for a Family Worship Service or an intergenerational gathering and been dismissed.

You’ve shared your heart with parents and ministers about the importance of allowing children to see faith modeled, to participate in liturgy, to be active members of the congregation and have faced… cynicism.

And you may even be angry, indignant, or very displeased.

Please don’t stop there.

The children still need you. And the Church still needs you.

Take the children in your arms. Bless them. Every chance you have, demonstrate the heart of welcome and the love of Jesus to them.

Because your actions speak volumes. Your testimony shines brightly. The disciples turned the children away because they didn’t understand. They didn’t know. But Jesus showed them, just as He has shown us. Let’s expect the best just as He did.

I’m not a huge sports fan (let’s be honest, I’m not any kind of sports fan) but I do like this quote by Michael Jordan: If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome.”  Let’s not accept that the expectation is cynicism; let’s expect to find Jesus. 

Wanna read about a “real-life” scenario regarding kids and worship and expectations?  Check out this article: What my Pastor did About the Rowdy Kids at our Church


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.

Detoured? So Were They

Happy Epiphany friends! I find that this day a great time to reflect on where we seek Jesus and how He still leads us today. I’ve become more appreciative of the wisemen’s journey of faith as I’ve grown in my own. There are detours, but ultimately leading to the best destination. If you’ve ever wondered how you “ended up” somewhere when you thought God was leading you somewhere else, perhaps you will find some encouragement here! Blessings!

r e F o c u s

“Where did the star lead them?”

This question was asked yesterday during our Epiphany Sunday service.  A young voice from the back of the room yelled out what we were all thinking. “Bethlehem!” he exclaimed as a chuckle when through the congregation. “Actually,” the pastor responded, “Jerusalem. The star led them first to Jerusalem where they spoke with Herod.” (check it out at Matthew 2:2).wisemen

I’d never considered this part of the story before.

You might say, I had an epiphany.

You see, the wise men saw an unusual star rise in the East and felt it had enough significance to warrant a costly and timely journey towards its location.  We naturally skip to the end of the story, but in doing so we miss a significant middle portion.

The first place the star led them was not the Messiah.

As a matter of fact, it led them…

View original post 857 more words

What do you want to be when you grow up?

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

A policeman. An artist. A teacher. A fireman. An astronaut. A scientist. A writer. A superhero.

In our home, each of these identities have been used to answer the question we all like to ask. Some of us are still figuring out what we want to be when we grow up (says the 37 yr old graduate student). This question isn’t an unfamiliar one. It gets asked at school. It gets asked at home. It gets asked on children’s television programming. And the answers are often really fun to hear.

But, I was struck yesterday as I was reading a book for one of my classes and it stated, “Traditionally, children have been valued for what they would become…[but] clearly, all of Jesus’ words and actions in relation to children indicate that he saw in children their intrinsic value…regardless of what they become, they have value in the here and now, simply for who they are.”

boy-633014_1920In other words, there is a tendency in society to view children as “pre-adults.” Childhood is just preparation for “real life” otherwise known as adulthood. Or as the author put it, “We are brought up in a culture that values outcomes: if you can measure it, then it has value. Looking at and valuing children simply for who they are is rarely done.

Now that’s not to say we don’t love our children as they are, because clearly we do.

And that’s not to say we don’t want the best for our children in the here and now, because that’s what we work for. I can’t think of one parent I know that doesn’t want their child to know that they are loved and valued right now.

I wonder if perhaps we are short-changing our children. Jesus seems to indicate that we have much to learn about faith from kids, while they are still quite young.

Do we feel that children are actually contributors to society?

Do we feel that they have a unique role to fulfill in our home or in our church that is equally valuable to the roles that adults play?

And if so, what is it that we can learn from them? What do they have to give?

Or do we feel like those things need to wait until they “grow up”?

There is something infinitely precious and real about children, especially when it comes to matters of faith. While they have much to learn in terms of head knowledge, they have much to teach in terms of heart knowledge. Even Jesus says that we adults can learn from children what it is to be great in God’s kingdom and how to experience the kingdom of heaven. But what if we can’t “hear” them because they aren’t old enough yet for us to take seriously?  What if we can’t “see” them because they are too small?

Here are a few simple ideas that might help us see and hear children in a new light and help us experience God’s kingdom as Jesus promised.

  1. “Coffee” Date – What do you do when you want to get to know another adult or hang out with a friend?  You go out for coffee. Well, kids don’t really like coffee, but they love milkshakes!  Why not take your child on a date and then, just as you would an adult, ask some questions, like, “What do you think God looks like?” and “If God had a voice, what would it sound like?” and “If God could tell you anything right now, what do you think He’d say?
  2. “Wine” & Canvas – Okay, again, kids and wine don’t really mix but I have it on good authority that they love juice. You know those great Paint Nights where you head out with friends to paint a masterpiece and have fun with your friends?  Why not do that with your child?  Grab a couple of canvases and together paint your favorite Bible verse, or a great memory, or what God’s love looks like?  Listen with your eyes to their world.
  3. Testimony Sunday – What would it look like if the kids led church on Sunday?  If they were given the stage to share what God has put on their hearts and sing the songs that are meaningful to them?  I know of some churches that have done this and never once have I ever heard a negative word; rather, I hear from all members of the congregation how blessed and encouraged they were to hear the word of God from the mouths of babes. Rather reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the temple as a young man, teaching the teachers about His Father.

Children have something valuable to give us now, even before they “grow up.” But it will take some intentional listening on our part. Kids are more than just adults in preparation mode; they are unique individuals created in God’s image to participate in community and in the body of Christ.

To recap, we have before us a child created in the image of God, a deeply spiritual being, gifted by God with qualities of openness, awareness, sensitivity, joy, trust, imagination, and honesty. However, children are not consciously aware that these are unique qualities with which they have been gifted. They are simply living life day by day as it comes to them in the ways they know best. – Kathryn Copsey (From the Ground Up: Understanding the Spiritual World of the Child)

I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me. – Jesus (Mt. 18:2-5)


For more information about

Check out to ReFocus Ministry or “like” our Facebook page. Join our conversation at theReFocus Family and Intergen Ministry group on Facebook. 

About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at www.refocusministry.org and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and ChildrensMinistryBlog.com.