VBS Redoux….

vbs_4828cLast week I was a part of an amazing group of volunteers at our church that put on VBS (Vacation Bible School). I was the storyteller. The theme was Standing Strong. Each evening I told a different Bible story that emphasized an element of that theme.I had two helpers, together the three of us, interacted with over 80 children. We were animated. We were dramatic. We had a lot of fun.

However as I reflect back on the week I think I taught some bad theology and it’s making me really nervous and a little sick to the stomach.

Monday we reflected on the fact that God’s love helps us stand strong. Tuesday we learnt that family and friends help us stand strong. Queen Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, illustrated that particular truth. On Wednesday evening I dressed up in a wig and a moustache, pretending to be Nehemiah, whose life story still teaches that prayer helps us stand strong. The story of the death and resurrection of Jesus reinforced that trust in God helps us stand strong. And finally on Friday the eight year old king of ancient times, Josiah, showed us that the Word of God helps us stand strong.

But I don’t think it’s true.

All my life I’ve been told I need to be strong. I need to be ok. I need to muster my courage, bolster my energies and take on the world. All in God’s strength. Along the way I learned that I wasn’t really very strong but on days like that I quickly learned to fake it. I forced a bravery. I swallowed my limitations and I pretended. Imaginary strength, that I did not feel, allowed me to go through the motions, paste a smile over my grimace and do what needed to be done. On the inside I might have been wasting away, yet on the outside I looked like I was being renewed day by day.

That doesn’t sound right. How is that Standing Strong?

Children know their limitations. If they don’t know how to tie their shoes they admit it. If soccer isn’t their thing they seem to know it. If they can read really well but can’t seem to do math they understand that. How dare I stand in front of them and begin the bad brain washing? Of all the nerve, that I would put my hands on my hips, and say with a dramatic swagger that we’re to stand strong.

Here’s the truth…. we don’t need to be strong. In fact, Jesus invites the weak, the broken, the wounded. There is power in admitting our humanity. When we claim strength, we deceive ourselves. We break, we bruise, we burst. And it’s ok to not be ok. (I’m learning this slowly…)

I don’t want to be complicit in teaching the next generation that standing strong is the ticket. I want my children and their cohorts to understand, perhaps for the first time in all history, that our humanity is what draws Jesus to us. He created us! He’s crazy about us. It is so okay to be human. And being human means being weak and limited, bruised, battered, fragile and forlorn.

I want to redo VBS… I want us to get back to the Very Basic Stuff that makes the good news oh so good. I wish I could do it over again. I would tell those eager children that God’s love helps us admit our weaknesses and push into His strength. I would emphasize that we were created to live in community. Family and friends help each other. We can admit our needs and receive help and care from each other. There is strength in that! If I could do it all over again I’d still put on the goofy wig and the sticky moustache but I’d accentuate that the gift of prayer helps us push into our friendship with God, it gives us a safe place to be honest with what we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, how tired we are. We can “come to (him)….(when we are) weary and carry heavy burdens, and (he) will give us rest”.

I’d tell them that trusting in God strengthens our faith. We can trust him with our burdens because he deeply cares for us.  And finally I’d tell them God’s words do bring life and courage and joy. They do give direction and something beyond ourselves to think on. God is strong. We are weak. We learn that when we reflect on what God says.

The week since VBS ended has been a difficult one. I have felt battered and beat down. My weakness rises like bile in the back of my throat. It’s been hard to swallow. What relief there is in knowing that I don’t have to be strong.

This Very Basic Stuff is what Vacation Bible School should be about. You’re never too old to learn that you can take off your mask. You can bravely live debilitated and feeble. Vulnerability invites grace and grace smiles at fragility and whispers, “Come”!

24 thoughts on “VBS Redoux….

  1. Thank you for this timely post. It is especially meaningful since I am dealing with a situation that makes me realize how unprepared and ill equipped I am. Thanks for making me aware of my humanity and God’s comfort and grace. At times we all face situations that we like or need to do over. Petra


  2. Just a couple of weeks ago I volunteered to help in VBS. Most of the workers were young mothers, some teenagers, and believe it or not, two seniors. We, the seniors are in our 80’s and we worked with very active preschoolers. In addition to living with some medical problems I developed a terrible allergy that put me at some discomfort. Nevertheless, I determined that with God’s help I would finish the week. As I began each day my first words were, “Thank you dear God for this day and all it promises to be and all Your promises to me.” God knows our weaknesses, our fears (yes, I had fears). He knows we need Him to stand strong. Gratitude for His promises enables us to carry on with inner strength regardless of how we might feel. There is no hypocrisy in allowing His strength to hide our feelings from others. Some of these children had fears and insecurities of their own. They needed my love and attention. By God’s grace and with His unfailing strength I finished well. Since VBS ended I have run into one shy little girl who had to be gently coaxed into participating in the VBS activities. When we meet, her eyes light up, she gives me a big smile and hugs me around my waist. I like to believe that God’s strength flowed through me to her, giving her courage and strength to stand stronger because of her VBS experience.


  3. My name is Bronwynn I’m Robynn Bliss’s daughter and I very much appreciate this post. As I get ready to go to camp more fears of being away from home haunt me. As I fear I remember what VBS thought me. But somehow by reading this post I feel okay I feel not afraid knowing I don’t have to stand strong alone. Knowing that it’s okay to cry while I try to sleep in the cabin assigned to me. I don’t have to be ashamed when I don’t feel very strong inside. Instead not feeling strong just pushes us closer to god. Thank you for sharing this post with us


    1. Bronwynn – I know your mom…. We were at Murree together and we write together for this blog. Your comment made me cry. I love what you wrote and you’re a great writer. I read an article recently called “Do it Afraid”. The point of it was acknowledging that sometimes our fear doesn’t go away, we just move forward and ‘do it afraid’. As you head to camp I am thinking of you “doing it afraid”. Much love to you and thank you for making me cry in the best way possible!


    2. Thank you my sweet Bronwynn! I was surprised to see you comment here. But you are exactly right! You don’t have to be ashamed to be weak…that does push us closer to God. I surely love you! I know you are going to have the week of your life!


  4. Maybe what we need to do is reframe what “stand strong” actually means. Perhaps standing strong is “standing on the promises.” It doesn’t mean we won’t be subject to life’s travails: Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God. (Monday)

    Perhaps standing strong means “standing together” in the faith community so we can be a witness to the world God’s grace in our own lives – (of course, first we need to be able to admit we live with circumstances that require grace. Even Esther questioned the wisdom of going to the king, but with the encouragement and prayer and fasting of the community, the people were saved. (Well, some of them, but that’s another story.)

    Could be standing strong in prayer has something to do with admitting we are in need prayer in our lives. This made me think of “It’s me, it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer!”

    Thanks Robynn . . . you’ve made me rethink children’s sermons in an important way.


    1. I think you’re right…perhaps we just need to redefine the terms. Standing strong has to mean Leaning on God (which certainly includes resting in his promises, standing in community and recognizing our need for continual prayer)…. or perhaps it means being strengthened in our faith…Maybe my emotional response to the curriculum was really a response to the idea that we cannot be weak. I still think that’s wrong….I still respond passionately against that. True strength is weakness when Jesus is invited into it! Thanks for your comments Leslianne! You got me thinking on it again!


  5. We are getting ready to teach this exact same VBS material in a few weeks, so I read what you wrote with great interest. The thing is, God commanded us to “stand strong” many times throughout Scripture. It is vital to stand strong, to actually put out real effort against temptation, our own sin nature and trials. Followers of Christ are told to “stand firm against the devil” as well as to “come to (Jesus)” who will give them rest. God didn’t command powerful warriors to stand strong, but the weak, (which means all of us). The biblical principle is correct, I think we have just twisted it to mean that standing strong is the same as having a stiff upper lip and never admitting that we are at the end of our rope. To stand strong means to never give up on God, even if we are curled up in a fetal position on the floor, crying out to the One who loves me, but who does a whole lot of things that don’t seem to make sense at the time. To not stand strong means to give up on God, to say that His way is too hard so it is easier to stop believing. I haven’t look closely at the VBS book yet, though, so maybe it is not belief they emphasize, but simply outward actions. I’ll forward this to the folks who are teaching at our VBS and maybe it will give them food for thought.


    1. And yet it can’t possibly mean that we are to do it in our strength! Even bringing our “real effort against temptation” surely doesn’t mean that we fight it off on our own. We can’t! We don’t have what it takes. I would argue (gently, of course) that each time scripture commands that we stand strong it really means that we are to stand in God, lean into Him. I think true strength is really weakness that Jesus has been invited into.
      I think I disagree with you where you write, “To not stand strong means to give up on God”. I think, and I need to think this through some more, that not standing strong really means giving up to God. Letting him be in control. Letting him be the strength. I finally admit that I am weak. I think it’s so completely counter-cultural to acknowledge our frailty and to admit God’s strength.
      Thanks for joining in the conversation. You made me think some more.


      1. I agree with what you said about standing strong in God and with God, but we have been commanded over and over to not simply know something, but to do something (stand strong). If we are foolish enough to think that we can do it without God’s power, (like I sometimes do), then we will fail, but that doesn’t mean that God does all the work and I have been given no resposibility. I think of the times in the Bible where people were commanded to stand strong and what it looked like when they didn’t. The Israelites didn’t believe that God was big enough to help them defeat the Canaanites, they had no faith, and that generation lost the privilege to enter the Promised Land. I can think of cases of people I know who didn’t stand strong against temptation and know have completely abandoned their belief in God. These are deep issues, and I don’t know how much can be covered with young children in VBS, but at least we are thinking about them as opposed to just parroting what we are supposed to teach.


      2. I absolutely agree with you that we can’t do it alone and should never teach children that. These lessons should also be taught with instruction about the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and our inability to do anything outside God’s help. When I said that to not stand strong means to give up on God, I was thinking of my friends who used to say they believed in Christ and now claim to be non-Christians or even atheists. Some say that the lifestyle is too hard and it isn’t worth it. Others don’t believe any more. We often think of standing strong simply against temptation to DO something wrong, but Satan tempts us to doubt as often as he tempts us to sin outwardly.


  6. And I quote (you!!) : “Monday we reflected on the fact that God’s love helps us stand strong”. If this is what you truly taught on Monday, then the rest of the week, I’m betting the kids generalized that God’s LOVE and their trust in Him is what made Esther, Nehemiah and Josiah strong and what made them show courage at the time it was needed. Only because of God’s love and presence is Joshua able to “Be strong and courageous!” (Josh. 1:5,6,7,9). Only because of God’s constant love and presence is David able to say (after Absalom’s betrayal) “But as for me, I will trust in You.” Ps 55:23b. You are correct that we need to teach that it’s important to admit our weaknesses and with that teach to teach 2 Cor 12:10. …” For when I am weak, then I am strong”.


  7. Thanks, Robynn, for this reminder as I prepare to teach VBS starting Monday. Have realized, with regret, that I sometimes even came across to my own children (30, 27, 23, 13,and 11) with platitudes instead of unmasked reality infused with the strong Rock that we can trust and rely on.


  8. Thanks for this, Robynn! You wrote it so beautifully, and I love your honest heart… so good to be reminded of the truth that we don’t have to have it altogether and in those moments His grace covers us fully.


    1. Thanks for reading today Amy and for taking the time to comment. You and Chris have blessed me deeply today! You understood me….we don’t have to have it altogether! And that certainly describes me most every day…I don’t have it altogether and I’m slowly learning that that really is okay!


  9. I agree with Lois, and I feel your pain, Robynn! You can come and teach the truth at our VBS if it makes you feel better! I really hate moments like that when I feel as though–unknowingly and with NO desire to mislead–I have mishandled the truth. These are the moments when I think God has the greatest opportunity to correct me and set me on the right course, but I hate that it has to be paired with regret. I do think he is quite prepared to guide those we’ve influenced into all truth, and may very well have used you mightily in that capacity, even in your weakness. “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor. 12:9 I’ve wrestled with this one for the better part of a decade, and I’m making progress. It’s good, but so hard!!


    1. Tracy, you’re right! The kids had one take away..and I had another! I learned big deep truths this week as I reflected on the Very Basic Stuff of redemption and sweet grace. Thanks for pointing me toward that wonderful old reference in Second Corinthians. You blessed me.


  10. So this was an important post. I am not sure if it is Friday’s with Robyn, or if it is you Marilyn, but thank-you for sharing it.


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