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True Riches: Overcoming Poverty of Spirit

Early this year, I felt something significant changing in the way that God was calling me to pray for the school where I work as a teacher. When I joined staff last year, my prayer strategy focused on targeting some of the spiritual strongholds related to the school’s budget and using all of my curriculum to point to Jesus Christ.

But this year has been very different. In a time of COVID where people are literally dying away for lack of breath, our world’s need for the breath of the Holy Spirit has never been more obvious. I realized very quickly that heart change through the Holy Spirit would have to be won before the external fruit of that change could ever be manifest through our school’s financial wellbeing. This year, I made my goal to build relationships with students and staff, so that the Holy Spirit could ignite hunger for more of Jesus and more of the Holy Spirit. In order to defeat the Spirit of Poverty connected with the school’s finances, we would first have to deal with people’s Poverty of Spirit.

What is Poverty of Spirit?

God loves reversals. He loves to bless younger sons (Genesis 25:23, Matthew 1). He loves to rename the child called “Not my son” as “My Son” (Hosea 2:23, Romans 9:24-25). He loves to call the abandoned wife “Married” (Isaiah 62:4, Ruth 4). He loves to give the barren couple children (Isaiah 54, Luke 1:5-25). He loves to make those with weakened bodies healthy and strong (Matthew 15:31, Ezekiel 37:1-14).

In Matthew 5:3, Jesus utters a revolutionary phrase:

“Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

Matthew 5:3

Surrounded by the rest of the Beatitudes, Jesus’ call to the Poor in Spirit is an invitation to those who are in desperate need of his Holy Spirit. Jesus promises us that when we are full of his Holy Spirit, we will be transformed to reflect his love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Beyond just transformation, our spiritual inheritance is to live in the resurrection power of God and represent his Kingdom. According to Mark 16:17-18, Believers will be full of the Holy Spirit to work miracles on the Earth, “driv[ing] out demons; speak[ing] in new tongues; picking up snakes with their hands, being unaffected by any deadly poison, and laying their hands on the sick so they will be made well.”

While material wealth may not be guaranteed in this life, but God can choose to increase an individual or organization’s financial wellbeing as a manifestation that they are spiritually prosperous in him (Deuteronomy 28, 3 John 1:2, Haggai 2:8). It is possible that this spiritual inheritance can manifest as material wealth that they faithfully steward for the glory of God and his Kingdom (Luke 16:10, 2 Corinthians 8:7).

Either way, in order to be truly rich, we must start with the Spirit. If a person is spiritually bankrupt (as we all are without God’s direct intervention), there is no amount of external wealth that can make any difference to their deepest wellbeing. If a person has the Holy Spirit through their faith in Christ (Acts 2:38, John 14:26), they have become like a rich person and are forever defined by their spiritual inheritance, which they receive from God (Romans 8:17, John 14:23).

This inversion of values between material wealth and spiritual wealth is crucially connected. Part of this inversion happens at the identity level as individuals come to know that they have been given incredible riches through Christ. By realizing how rich they are, God gives them the capacity to be even more generous, which can increase individual’s or organizations’ financial favor as the Holy Spirit blesses their acts of generosity.

True Riches

The reality of our riches in God is not always evident in the life of the life of the Church. Over time and history, the church’s spiritual riches have often abounded paradoxically in times of financial hardship. For example, the Apostle Paul describes the sacrificial and generally uncomfortable ways he and others have radically spent themselves to pursue God (Matthew 6:19).

“Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships, and calamities; 5in beatings, imprisonments, and riots; in labor, sleepless nights, and hunger; 6in purity, knowledge, patience, and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7in truthful speech and in the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8through glory and dishonor, slander and praise; viewed as imposters, yet genuine; 9as unknown, yet well-known; dying, and yet we live on; punished, yet not killed; 10sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Paul doesn’t condemn wealth, but describes how ultimately he works to “make many rich”. Paul isn’t talking about financial prosperity. Instead, Paul is talking about the disciples tested capacity to release the riches of the Kingdom of God. While materially poor, Paul and the other disciples were incredibly rich in the Holy Spirit, and had enormous trust that God would provide. Paul’s view of material wealth challenges both the rich and the poor not to define their identities through their riches or poverty, but through their spiritual citizenship in God’s Kingdom. Paul tells Timothy,

Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be conceited and not to put their hope in the uncertainty of wealth, but in God, who richly provides all things for us to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, and to be generous and ready to share, treasuring up for themselves a firm foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

2 Timothy 6:17-19

In Revelation, Jesus challenges individuals and churches to be spiritually hungry and not deny their spiritual lack.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have grown wealthy and need nothing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, white garments so that you may be clothed and your shameful nakedness not exposed, and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent.

Revelation 2:17-19

A Blessing for Spiritual Hunger

While I continue to pray for the Holy Spirit to awaken the people’s hunger for more of Christ, I have begun to see a yearning in my students and a curiosity in members of staff to encounter the power of God. Would you join me in prayer?

Are you Poor in Spirit, and desperate for God to make you rich in Spirit? Check out this video to learn more about how Jesus’ birth and his offer of salvation can make you eternally rich.


The Hope of Christ and True Transformation

Read 1 John here

As Christians prepare to celebrate the Incarnation this Christmas, the book of 1 John offers concrete guidance for individuals navigating a dually Gnostic and Agnostic society. With a context long preceding the re-emergence of Modern Gnosticism through the New Age movement, John addresses the relational nature of knowing Christ as the path of true transformation.

Within our pluralistic society, the exceedingly bold declaration that Jesus is the Light is just as controversial as it would have been in John’s pluralistic first century context (5:1). Similarly, one can easily misquote John’s thesis that “God is love” (4:16-17)  by making God an impersonal, de-centralized life force, similar to the Buddhist concept of vijñāna. Is light an abstract term, or is Light a person? How do we define love? According to John, we can know God relationally through the person of Jesus (4:17). John asserts that the only true enlightenment is by God’s Holy Spirit, that “testifies that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (4:2). Instead of an ephemeral, vaguely spiritual Savior, we have a Savior who did not come by water only (baptism), but by water and blood (birth) (5:6). 

To his various audiences, John advocates complete transformation as the mark of our conversion: that “in this world we are like Jesus” (4:17). John use of language focuses on total internal change, as he asserts that “in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5), he will “purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:9), and “everyone born of God overcomes the world” (5:4). John recognizes that the incarnation is physical and spiritual, but advocates for transformation that starts in the spirit and outworks itself into the physical (1:9, 3:17-18). In the same way that God initiated the immaculate conception by the Spirit and it was outworked in the flesh, so we must let our spiritual transformation affect our desires and physical experience of life. 

1 John rebukes Gnosticism. Similar to the Gnostics, John agrees that transformation originates in the Spirit (1:9). John’s understanding of the incarnation conflicts with the Gnostic belief that the joining of the body and Spirit is corruption. While Gnostics believe that the abuse of the flesh can be a means of transforming the Spirit, John points to Gnostic’s lack of love and lack of Christian ethics as evidence of their lack of true transformation (3:4-10). 1 John rails against Christian Gnosticism, which breeds contempt for the material aspect of Christ’s body through its lack of stewardship of the physical needs of his Church (3:17-18). 

1 John also rebukes Agnosticism, which denies the need for a spiritual origin for the outworking of faith, claiming that human initiated moral ethics are sufficient for personal transformation. In this way, Agnosticism shows contempt for the Holy Spirit (3:24). Some modern groups have gone so far to denounce Gnosticism that they have developed Christian Agnosticism, denying Christianity as a spiritual religion and rejecting manifestations of the Holy Spirit. To deny the spiritual root of Christianity would be to deny half the incarnation and rid the gospel of its power to reveal Christ. John focuses on complete transformation because Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit will be transformed to powerfully love each other in a way that will convict others.

For my ministry context, 1 John leaves various questions. How are we rejecting the Third member of the Trinity and his power for transformation? How much is our definition of love rooted in our own cultural context instead of Christlikeness? And in what ways do we still despise the flesh in which Christ has deigned to dwell?

The Many Ways the Holy Spirit has made my Students Hungry for the Bible in 2021

During quarantine, many of us were hungry for anything that would make life satisfying. Both adults and children found themselves hungry and grieving for something that many of us struggle to articulate.

The bible says that the words of God are life. Similarly, the Holy Spirit he gives us is the water of life. In spite of the world’s beauty and even life’s futility, Jesus is the only one who satisfies.

From January of 2021 until today, both spontaneously and intentionally, my students have developed a radical hunger for God’s word in the Bible. They have encountered the truth of his story, been shocked by his contradictions, and been drawn to his mysteries.

Here are just some of the ways from January until today that the Lord has made my students hungry for the BIble.

Last School Year (2020-2021)

As some of you may know, my school had various times of hybrid in person instruction for groups of students last school year (yellow on the timeline). After months of Zoom classes, the majority of my students began to arrive for in person learning starting in late January. Gradually, more students joined us until 12 of my 15 Third graders learning inside the school building. While we have lost and gained some students, these students are now my current Fourth Graders.

Teaching the Bible with Comics over Lunch

As students returned to the building, we often talked about God’s story over lunch. As we sat and ate together, I would alternate between taking bites and explaining to them different stories on the projector. One of my students favorite characters’ to explore last year was Joseph of the Old Testament. By discussing Joseph’s story with bible comics and scripture, students became enamored with the story of redemption God worked in Joseph’s life. Students saw themselves reflected in Joseph’s traumas and found hope in how God redeemed his family.

She remembered the 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine, from Joseph’s vision

From day one of our current 2021-2022 school year, my students asked for a return to our “bible study lunch” routine. In August, this student in particular made it very clear that she was excited to learn more about God over lunch, just as she had in 3rd grade.

In response to: “What are you excited about this school year?”

Connecting the Bible to Students’ Inquiry Projects

Last year, I gave my students the freedom to study any topic of their choice in depth in the form of Inquiry Projects. While students were given ample freedom, they were required to connect the Bible or other aspect of their faith to their research topic. Students have connected God’s word to their love of animals, video games, the science of energy and batteries, and so many other domains. Check out more on how students’ have woven the word of God into their Inquiry Projects here.

When students are allowed to select their research interest and then go deep to identify ways that their topic intersects with God’s story, they see themselves reflected in God’s story. It has been a joy to see the word of God come to life through students’ interests!

Using Art and Lectio Divina Bible Study Reflection to Teach Social Studies

Last year, we also used a reflective style of bible study called Lectio Divina. It was my great joy to find opportunities to connect Lectio Divina style bible reflection to Social Studies. By introducing the conflict within the United Farm Worker’s movement through the lens of workers rights in the Old Testament, students were able to emotionally understand the conflict of this period of U.S. history. Based on the same theme but through the lens of Jean Francois Millet’s “The Gleaner’s” painting, students were able to learn both more about the biblical practice of gleaning crops and how God wants us to honor the poor. This allowed them to see more connections between the treatment of the farm workers in the United Farm Workers Movement, prompting them to imagine what fair workers’ rights might be like in the modern day for vulnerable populations.

Check out more on this unit below!

Preparation for this School Year

Feeding their Hunger: Enlisting Others’ Support

As students became noticeably more interested in the bible, I shared news of their interest with our Assistant Principal and Director of Religious Education. With my Assistant Principal’s support, we were able to purchase enough bibles for a classroom set (22). Our Director Religious Education applied for a grant through Saint Mary’s Press to get additional bibles for students who don’t have bibles at home. They students don’t know it yet, but many of them will offered a bible for Christmas, as we remember a time when Jesus as the Word of God came to be with us in the flesh.

A Note on Using the Bible for Religious Instruction

My approach towards teaching religion includes more direct instruction from the bible, an approach Protestantism has taken historically. At my current Roman Catholic School setting, there is a growing sense of favor for this approach. After the Second Vatican Council in 1962, Catholic leaders began to encourage a more active role in bible readership. Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has revised their position on bible reading to encourage individuals to read the bible.

“Such attitudinal changes [towards bible reading] bode well for [Roman] Catholics, especially when reading and praying with the Word of God leads to lessons learned, hearts inspired and lives profoundly moved for good.”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Changes in Catholic Attitudes Towards Bible Reading”, 2021

A Note on Navigating the Difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic Bibles

It is a little known fact that the Protestant and Roman Catholic bibles are actually different. In addition to the 66 books of the Protestant bible, the Roman Catholic bible contains 7 additional books commonly referred to as the “apocrypha”. These books are “Tobias, Judith, Baruch, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Macabees; also certain additions to Esther and Daniel.” Historically, Protestants have refrained from including these books in the bible because the books the timing of their authorship (between the Old and New Testaments) was dubious. While still viewing these books as important cultural artifacts that may have influenced to a 1st century Jewish worldview, most Protestants today would not consider them the inspired writing of the Holy Spirit.

The most honest and simple approach I have taken to diffusing this debate with my students is to explain to them that I am most likely to share with them the books of the bible that I am most familiar with. While I do not intentionally exclude the teaching of Catholic books of the bible, I feel that the response of humility in this case is to stick to what I know and ask for God’s grace to cover the rest.

A Note on the History of Protestant vs. Catholic Bible Debates

The fact that there is such support of bible reading in our classroom and that there is peace over the version of the bible we are using is extremely significant. For hundreds of years in the 19th-20th centuries, Protestants and Catholics waged a culture war over the translations of the bible that students would use in public schools. I feel that the balance that staff and I have been able to reach is a balm for that history.

For more information on the Protestant vs. Catholic Bible Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, check out Chapter 3 of James Fraser’s “Between Church and State”.

Check out our newly donated classroom bibles!

Most Important of All: Celebrating the Word of God

As students have returned in full to the classroom, it has been a joy to have a full set of bibles to greet them! I am grateful for the strategic support of my school community to make God’s word accessible to our children.

This Year (2021-2022)

Discussion: What do you know about God? How can the Bible help you learn more?

This year, I have relied on more open ended questioning to make students’ aware of their need for God, and his presence in the word of God. By teaching students to draw connections between their observations to things that could be true about God, my goal is to increase both their engagement and curiosity (so that our study is personally meaningful vs. stale). This style of inductive teaching is inspired by Romans 1:20, which says,

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Romans 1:20

This style of inductive theology is connected strongly with the work of Thomas Aquinas, who experienced various mystical experiences but whose leadership has since inspired many Christians to reconcile “faith and reason.”

Some open ended questions I have presented to students are:

  • How can we know God?
  • How can knowing God help us?
  • What will happen if you DO vs. DON’T have the Holy Spirit?

Unlike John Locke’s tabula rasa “blank slate” style approach, using open ended questions means that we are assuming that children are likely to have discerned some things about the character of God. After students’ have responded to a question, I have often shown them how different bible verses connect or mirror their ideas.

Based on students’ responses, I have shown them how scriptures connect to their ideas. In discussions, we have talked about how the bible is one crucial way to know what God is like.

Inductive Reasoning through open ended questions can open up conversations with people about the nature of God’s character. I imagine this approach would also work well in inter-religious dialogue, where individuals believe different things about their gods. In that case, it might be easiest to have conversations with individuals, pray for them to be hungry to know Jesus, and then invite them to explore more if they show interest (thus respecting their freedom to choose). In an evangelistic sense in my current ministry context, my goal is to challenge students to explore parts of God’s character they haven’t considered.

In order to stir this conversation on God’s character, I’ve been able to weave in some of A.W. Tozer’s famous list of attributes of God from his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy into our word of the day. We have gradually been working through the banner of Tozer’s 24 parts of God’s character, and will likely explore some of the obscure titles in the bible for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit once we are through.

Check out this poster set by “Little Church Ideas” here on Teachers Pay Teachers

Growing their Knowledge of Biblical Stories with the Bible App for Kids

While it is true that some of my students have a growing hunger for the bible and despite the fact that catechism (Sunday School) classes are offered by the parish, many of my students lack exposure to biblical stories. In the past, I’ve often worked with students who lack background information in other topics, and have found that giving them a chance to watch videos or read books in advance often benefits their comprehension before we discuss the concepts formally. In order to to expand my students’ background information of the bible to make our conversations more accessible to all, this year, we started using the Bible App for Kids as part of students’ weekly homework.

Here is a video of me showing kids and parents how to download and use the app.

Since making this decision, we will often be reading or watching videos related to our theme, and students will tell me that they watched or read a similar thing on the Bible App for Kids. Among the kids that attend aftercare, many of them have made a competition to see who could listen to the most stories to unlock other episodes. It’s been a win win.

As a side note, I like the design of this platform because it takes students’ chronologically from the Creation of the Universe (Genesis) to the Heavenly City (in Revelation).

Using Lectio Divina Bible Study Reflection as Morning Work

In addition to using Lectio Divina woven within subjects, students have been able to use Lectio Divina as morning work, often to flesh out concepts we will return to later in the day. I especially have grown to love this approach with shorter sections of the bible (approximately one paragraph), in order to challenge students to go deeper with the text. Once students get more comfortable making connections between concepts and verses they know, I hope to teach them about using the context of the book to understand unknown ideas.

Introducing the Structure of the Bible

My most intentional decision this year when it comes to biblical instruction was to teach students about the structure of the Old and New Testament. In giving them visual aids to understand the way scripture is grouped and then introducing the unique attributes of each category, we are able to explore genre’s in the biblical text that may not otherwise be clearly differentiated.

As someone who loves history, I made this short video to explain to students how each of these categories/genre’s interacts in the history of Human interactions with the Trinity. Check it out below!

Discussion Theology over Lunch with Superbook

In last year’s tradition of theology discussion lunches, students introduced me to the Superbook cartoon this year. Overall, the show is relatively historically accurate; its clear the producers had historians help design the character’s costumes and scenery. I also appreciate how most of the details in the way the characters speak often quote (and not just paraphrase) verses.

Spontaneously, my students have noticed that there is a lack of diversity in the main characters of the show, and an imbalance in the gender dynamics between the two main characters. I am considering how to challenge them to write a letter to the show’s producers’ to express their concern.

Making the Minecraft Bible available (for our Gamers)

In this current age, I have many students who are quite obsessed with video games. My personal approach is to helping students navigate this form of entertainment is to train them to discern which parts are like the Kingdom of God, and which parts are not. By drawing their attention to which aspects of games are similar or dissimilar to the teachings of Jesus, they tend to start to self select games that are less disturbing.

While there are Christians who automatically assume all games are ungodly, making blanket assumptions fails to engage with ways that video games can depict the gospel. For that reason, I love seeing students’ interest in “The Unofficial Holy Bible for Minecrafters.” After a student’s recommendation in the Spring, I was grateful to get a classroom copy of this bible in the classroom, which students read with approximately the same zeal as they would a graphic novel.

Check out the Minecraft bible

In the past, I’ve also had cohorts of students examine specific video games through the lens of the bible. Here is one example of how students have analyzed the video games they play through a biblical lens!

Sorry, just a picture instead of video for privacy reasons.

Check out more here:

Teaching them to Navigate the Bible

It has always been my goal to teach students how to navigate the bible to find their own verses. Organizationally, that was a challenge back in August. Coming back into the classroom from COVID-19, students had to navigate the classroom space, become more responsible for their materials, and learn how to socialize again. While I spent most of August and September helping students re-acclimate and giving them portions of scripture without using the classroom bibles, I finally had the opportunity in October and November to train them on how to navigate our new classroom bibles. Organizationally, this has taken a lot of brainpower on their part, in part because each classroom bible is approximately 1500 pages.

As should be expected, many students needed to practice using the table of contents to locate different books, find chapters, and then find verses. While students have been introduced to how to locate verses and use the index materials, we will have many chances to practice. My goal is that eventually, students will feel comfortable reading the bible during Independent Reading.


Years ago, I had a series of images while in prayer of giving birth to and nursing a book. When I see my students’ passion for the Bible, I am reminded of that image. I know that God wants to draw my students into such a deep, woven hunger for his living word and living water. I cannot wait to see where their love God’s word will take them!

Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Jesus, you have the words of eternal life.

Shhh…(it’s a secret!)

My students don’t know it yet, but thanks to the donation of bibles we got at the beginning of the year, each of them who doesn’t have a bible at home will receive their own bible for Christmas. As we celebrate Jesus’ birth at Christmas, we know that one of the names of Jesus is “the Word”.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Another one of Jesus’s names is “Emmanuel”, which means God with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

As we prepare to celebrate a time when God came to earth to be with us, I am excited for them to receive the word!

Are you Hungry for God’s word?

Do you hunger and thirst for the testimony of Jesus? The Holy Spirit wants to reveal Jesus to you, and will meet you as you study God’s word. Many of us who are spiritual mothers or fathers to our children know that when God opens a new door to us, he opens it to our entire spiritual family. Ask for God to give you more passion for his word! Ask him to ignite the hunger of your spiritual or biological children to encounter him through his story.

Creating Watercolored Area Models of our Church

On the morning of October 22nd, my flock of Fourth graders arrived early to mass. Clipboards in hand, they had come to answer a challenging question:

Using COVID guidelines for seating, how many students can sit in the pews at Sacred Heart Church?

In order to complete this task, students needed to be able to apply what they had been learning about patterns, multiplication, and area to describe the rows of pews and their organization as columns. Students would also need to be able to visually estimate about 3 feet of distance (1 yard).

Modeling the Space

Upon arrival, we acknowledged that in order to space students 3 feet apart in the pews, just 3 students could fit per double row.

For single rows, students reasoned that 2 people could fit, one sitting on either end.

Taking large steps to count each row, students divided into three groups. Students counted the left, central, and right pews, and we used our collective reasoning to develop a map. It looked somewhat like this:

Students then broke off into partners to sketch a section of the front church pews. Once we returned to the school, the sets of partners shared their drawings. By sharing the number of pews students had counted and whether they were double or single pews, students were able to represent the pews as rows. Students then drew circles to represent each student.

Exploring the Math

First, we calculated the number of students who could fit in the front pews. Based on their drawings, students were able to multiply the number of rows by a one digit number (either 2 or 3). This represented the number of pews times 2 or 3 occupants. Thus, each group multiplied to find the number of individuals who could sit in their section.

Once all groups had multiplied, verified their answers with their teammates, and shared, students had to add all of the sections together to find the total number of students who could fit in the front of the church.

I allowed students some minutes to wrestle with the addition, which required adding 5 numbers. This was a great opportunity to practice regrouping. After taking a list of possible answers, we used the algorithm to add the numbers together on the projector. Ultimately, we found that 158 students could fit at the front of the church, following COVID regulations.

Next, students multiplied to find the number of occupants who could sit at the back of church. This calculation was significantly easier than the first step, because unlike the front of the church, whose pews vary by section, in the back of the church there are a predictable 19 pews per column. Students only needed to multiply 19×3 for double rows, and 19×2 for single rows. We also acknowledged that it would be possible to represent the two double rows of 19×3 at the center by the equation:

19 x 3 x 2

Fourth grade’s answer for the number of students’ who could sit in the back of the church was just 95 students. If you carefully add the central double pews (19x3x2) with the two side single pews (19x2x2), you will find that the answer is 114 students. Though students did make a mistake with this calculation, I am glad that this challenge was right at the edge of their comfort zone.

Finally, students added the number of people in the front of the church (158) with the number of people in the back of the church (95) to find their estimate that 253 kids could fit in the church.


For the sake of beauty, students and I decided to have them watercolor their models. My instructions to them were simple:

“Paint a color that represents how you feel inside the church.”

As you may see, many students decided to use bright colors. I noticed that several students used a mixture of specific shades in layers. Students made their love of rainbows clear and many used cool colors.Several students’ work also had a sense of movement, with different areas of the church highlighted in different colors.

This students’ work made me think of the River of Living Water mentioned in Revelation 22:1

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb

Revelation 22:1

While the Revelation verse relates Christ’s throne room in Heaven, I think you could make the strong argument that wherever Christ’s followers see him seated on the throne (seeing him as King and Lord), they encounter the same kind of living water.

Students’ Reflections

Students were mostly able to explain how they used artistic elements to compose their paintings! They were able to explain how many colors and shapes represented things related to their faith and the models themselves.

This student might be smelling in the Spirit

Overall, this project was short, sweet, and meaningful. It’s versatile to various kinds of churches and buildings. Please let me know if you happen to try it with your students; I’d love to know how it goes!

Teaching Students Biblical Identity and Community

This past Spring, I met with my Instructional Coach for many weeks to discuss our school’s current Socio-Emotional Curriculum. Before and during our meetings, we’d watch videos, recording our own notes, and discussing our most important takeaways. As we reviewed more of the curriculum, I shared that I was growing concerned that aspects of the curriculum reflected present day United States culture and the New Age movement more than the biblical teachings of Jesus. We began to wonder what it could look like to develop a specifically “Kingdom of God” culture at our school, first by identifying core concepts to Christian community, then by giving students opportunities to reflect and practice these skills. By giving students access to Christ’s teachings directly, I believed that through they help of the Holy Spirit, they would ultimately internalize concepts better than with the Socio-Emotional Curriculum exemplars, teachings, and word choice.

This conviction led to a 6 week Religion Unit, proceeding from students’ prior knowledge about God, to “Identity”, to “Community”, and back to “God.” Students learned about Identity first, because without receiving God’s love for yourself, it is impossible to effectively love others. Based off of what students’ had learned about Identity, we bridged how knowing who we are in God helps us to reflect Jesus to our community. Finally, we tried to express what God was like, based on what we had learned.


Throughout our 3 weeks on Identity, we focused on a handful of themes. I intentionally structured the topics so that they would flow from encounter towards intimacy with God. Students were most familiar with “I am part of a family”, due to our Socio-emotional curriculum’s use of language. However, they most emotionally resonated with “I am seen”, through the Story of Hagar (and how God redeemed her mistreatment). I suspect that part of the reason that students resonated so deeply with Hagar is because many of them as individuals or through their family have experienced a high degree of mistreatment, rejection, and trauma. They saw themselves clearly in her story and how God was able to intervene.

These were our themes for Identity:

  • I am chosen (Jeremiah 1, Psalm 139:16)
  • I am understood (John 1:43-48)
  • I am part of a family (Ephesians 1:3-14)
  • I am seen (Genesis 16, Story of Hagar)
  • I am deeply loved (Isaiah 49)

Here were some of the instructional methods we used:

Lectio Divina

Written Reflection


In September, students received additional classroom technology and became more savvy in its use. We were able to experiment with various other instructional formats and highlight connections between Religion and Narrative writing.

Our goal in exploring Community was to relate it to how we should treat others, based on what we’ve experienced about God’s love for us. I structured these lessons based on the effect we should have on others, starting with blessing over cursing. I added concept of free will in order to allow students to skillfully care for all sorts of people they may encounter. While not taking revenge and forgiveness may seem closely related, we spent more time on forgiveness focused on God’s mercy (vs. trusting in God’s sovereignty/capacity to fight on our behalf). Compassion was the most accessible concept for them, due to their prior exposure from the Socio-emotional curriculum

These were our themes for Community:

  • We use words to bless and not curse (Ephesians 4:17-32)
  • We let other people make their own choices, and respect their freedom to choose free will (Matthew 19:16-30, Joshua 24:15)
  • We trust God instead of taking revenge (1 Samuel 24)
  • The Holy Spirit gives us compassion so we can help people (Phillipians 2:1-4, Matthew 9:35-38)
  • We forgive even the people who hurt us, because Jesus forgave us (Colossians 3:14, Matthew 18:21-35)

Thinking Routines

We used the Color Symbol Image Thinking Routine from Project Zero

Question of the Day

Writing Blessings over each other

Bible Study


Writing Dialogue, Apology Letters

Musical Worship

Assessments: Identity Art

As we finished our study of Identity and Community, my Instructional Coach and I decided to encourage students to do one artistic project and one written project. I decided that it would be more meaningful to have students demonstrate their conclusions about Identity using Art, to give them more time to reflect with the Lord.


Assessments: Community Narratives

I decided to have students share their insights on Community using Narrative writing, for the sake of dialogue, reflecting on how to tell a story with various characters and events, and how to focus on one theme.

Each student selected one theme (forgiveness, compassion, free will, blessing > cursing, or trusting God > revenge). They then planned their narrative around their theme.

I shared a Powerpoint with students based on writing concepts we had introduced, and encouraged them to use it as a reference during the writing block and Writing Center.

Students were also given a rubric in advance in order to consider how to weave these elements. Check out the free rubric we used here.

Overall, students’ deep understanding of the themes was clear! Many of my students’ chose to focus on forgiveness, given how much we had discussed it as a class.

Curating Student Work

My goal in this unit was to create an awareness in students for how our experience of God should guide us in how we treat others. Given that most of our thinking related to “Capturing the Heart and Forming Conclusions” , I wanted to make it clear in my presentation of student work how Identity and Community were sequentially (if not cyclically) connected. I decided to utilize QR codes , cut out student pictures, student’s Identity art, dialogue style reflections, and compassion thinking routines to highlight one main idea: “God’s compassion teaches us compassion for our community.”

What’s Next?

As we brought this unit to a close, I asked Third grade to explain what they had learned about God this quarter. Through conversation, they had many things to say! They were also able to point out several important paradoxes (ex: like a person/not a person, God as embodied/God as Spirit).

We created an anchor chart to use in the classroom to use for reflection throughout the day and coming months. The goal is that through discussion and reflection on behavior during recess, specials, and daily activities, we can continue to consider who is demonstrating these virtues and how we might support each other to become more like Christ. I had students add their own illustrations for the sake of joy.

As of this week, one way I’ve been able to use the anchor chart is to pray for students, after we’ve done a greeting. Upon arrival, students select a greeting at one door, drop off their supplies at their hook in the closet, and meet me at the other door to talk about Identity and Community. As we look at the poster together, I’ve started to ask them, “What is one thing about your Identity that you need reminded of today?” One student who struggles with developmental delays said that she need to be reminded that she is Chosen. Another who struggles with legalism said that she needed to be reminded that she is deeply loved. Another who is brilliant but somewhat out of place in his family said that he needed to be reminded that he is seen. In those moments, I ask students if it’s okay that I put my hand on their head or shoulder and pray for them (or pray from a distance). Then I pray very simply, “God, would you help _____ know that they are [insert word] today.” Then, students go to our emotions board, select an emotion, and do their morning work. The arrangement of the closet doors in this practice reminds me of Psalm 121:8:

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Psalm 121:8

Lastly, I have begun to introduce students to even more attributes of God using a banner I made from this poster set. I often find that students’ attention lingers on our banner throughout the day, and have finally gotten just the right opportunity (now that we are all back in person) to go deeper!


Overall, I’m extremely proud of the formation work my students’ have done this unit and the many opportunities we have to continue the conversation. As part of this unit, I redrafted my own set of expectations for myself, and had students help me create illustrations for what these things meant for them. I am excited to continue to explore more ways that I can invite them to connect with God, given that they demonstrated such thought this unit.

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