Archive - May, 2015

End with Encouragement

ID-10087368As a Sunday school teacher, I have always ended the school year with mixed emotions: joy at seeing and remembering the grace and goodness of God, knowing that He was at work bringing about growth in teacher and students alike—some children even coming to genuine faith during the year; sadness as I reflect on how much I will miss this group of children I have grown to know and love; and a certain amount of relief as a crazy, busy year draws to an end.

But there may also be a kind of lingering, discouraging doubt…a feeling that your time in children’s ministry has not really been valuable or appreciated by parents or the larger church community. This is not to say that teachers and people who minister to children should be serving for the praise of parents and others! We should have a Colossians 3:23-24 attitude in all we do. However, expressing thanks is befitting the people of God and is a great encouragement for those who serve your children. Here are some practical ideas that have blessed me over the years.

Parents, you could help your children make a…

  • homemade card for your child’s teacher–a simple note of thanks goes a long way. I still have cards I’ve saved from years ago!
  • simple gift—over the years, I received cookies, candy, a beaded bracelet, potted plant, etc.

Parents, you could send a written note of appreciation on your behalf. Believe me, these notes are a great encouragement!

Ministry leaders you could…

  • host an appreciation event to express thanks to your children’s ministry workers
  • give a specially themed gift to your ministry teams (mug, t-shirt, pen, book, etc.)
  • write individual notes to each children’s worker

Whatever you do, big or small, it will be a great encouragement to those who have faithfully ministered to the children and youth of the church.

(Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Summer is for Wisdom

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In college, I knew a lot of really smart, knowledgeable people, but I didn’t come across many wise people. Personally, I’d rather my children and grandchildren have an ounce of biblical wisdom, rather than a ton of worldly knowledge. But then, let’s not set our goal so small…let’s strive to have our children gain a ton of biblical wisdom! How will that happen? Here is a recent post from John MacArthur:

Teaching children the gospel by no means exhausts the parents’ teaching responsibility. Also bound up in the principle of Deuteronomy 6:6–7 is the duty of teaching our children wisdom for life. The gospel is the necessary starting-point, because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10, emphasis added). No one is truly wise who rejects or disregards the gospel message.

But beyond the truths of the gospel are also many vital biblical lessons about character, integrity, justice, prudence, discernment, and all the practical issues of life. Parents are charged with the duty of carefully training their children with godly wisdom in all such matters.

The book of Proverbs is an inspired summary of practical wisdom. The sayings recorded there were assembled by Solomon for his son’s sake. Most of them were actually written by Solomon but some are others’ proverbs, collected by Solomon. The best wisdom of several ancient sages is thus compiled in Solomon’s Book of Proverbs with the seal of divine inspiration guaranteeing that these sayings are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Proverbs is therefore a fitting textbook for parents, and fathers in particular, to teach their children the kind of practical wisdom necessary for successful God-honoring life.

(“What are Your Children Learning from You?,” www.gty.org)

So, instead of simply letting our children enjoy the “lazy days of summer” (and yes, there is definitely a place for that!), consider spending some time going hard after wisdom. Here are three resources that could be used this summer to help you pursue biblical wisdom:

The Way of the Wise: A Study for Children on Wisdom and Foolishness

  • 28 Lessons
  • Targeted for 2nd– 5th grade, but adaptable as an intergenerational study
  • Consider using it over 2 summers–14 lessons one year, 14 the second year
  • Consider buying it now, use it as a personal study for yourself this summer, and then teach it beginning in the fall.

Wisdom Calls Aloud: An Evangelistic Study for Children on Wisdom and the Fear of the Lord

  • 5 Lessons structured to be used as a Backyard Bible Club or Vacation Bible School
  • Kindergarten-6th Grade

God’s Wisdom

  • 26 chapters written for elementary-aged children
  • Can easily be used as a family devotional
  • Each chapter includes practical application questions and activities

(Image courtesy of nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

A Place and Time to Remember the Cost

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Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota is truly a memorable place—row after row after row of identical white tomb stones of American veterans. My grandfather is buried there—a World War I veteran. My 92-year-old father will be buried there—World War 2 veteran. My son, if he chooses, could be buried there—a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan). My grandfather, father, and son all came home after the war, but many did not. I remember being a “Blue Star mom” while my son was in Afghanistan, and I grieved for those “Gold star moms”—those who had a son killed in the fighting. Those moms will always remember, every single day, the terrible cost their sons paid…and we should remember, too.

From the Revolutionary War to the present, more than 1,000,000 American soldiers have died in war. Today, even though the news doesn’t report it much anymore, U.S. soldiers are still fighting and still dying…the high price of freedom.

The following is from a very thoughtful post by Kevin DeYoung:

It is always tricky to know how the church should or shouldn’t celebrate patriotic holidays. Certainly, some churches blend church and state in such a way that the kingdom of God morphs into a doctrinally-thin, spiritually nebulous civil religion. But even with this danger, there are a number of good reasons why Christians should give thanks for Memorial Day.

Read his five reasons why Christians should give thanks here.

The Law, the Gospel, the Christian, and an Opportunity

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Unfortunately, the law of God seems to have fallen on hard times.  When some hear the words, “law” or “commands” the words, “legalism” and “moralism” immediately come to mind. Yes, we should be on guard as we teach our children. In the past several decades, children’s Sunday school curricula and other Bible resources tended to promote a kind of Gospel-less moralism. But God’s holy, righteous, and good law and commands were not to blame. Rather, it was a misunderstanding of these in the context of the whole counsel of God, and in light of the Gospel. When asked about the role of the law, the Gospel, and the Christian, R.C. Sproul gave this wonderful summation:

“O how I love your law!” (Ps 119:97). What a strange statement of affection. Why would anyone direct his love toward the law of God? The law limits our choices, restricts our freedom, torments our consciences, and pushes us down with a mighty weight that cannot be overcome, and yet the psalmist declares his affection for the law in passionate terms. He calls the law sweeter than honey to his mouth (Ps 119:3).

What is it about the law of God that can provoke such affection? In the first place, the law is not an abstract set of rules and regulations. The law reflects the will of the Lawgiver, and in that regard it is intensely personal. The law reflects to the creature the perfect will of the Creator and at the same time reveals the character of that Being whose law it is.

When the psalmist speaks of his affection for the law, he makes no division between the law of God and the Word of God. Just as the Christian loves the Word of God, so we ought to love the law of God, for the Word of God is indeed the law of God.

The second reason why the psalmist has such a positive view of the law is that the law, by revealing God’s character, exposes our fallenness. It is the mirror that reflects our own images—warts and all—and becomes the pedagogue, the schoolmaster that drives us to Christ. The law does not drive us out of the kingdom but rather ushers us into the kingdom by directing us to the One who alone is able to fulfill its demands.

The most wonderful function of the law, however, is that it shows us what is pleasing to God. The godly man is the one who meditates on the law day and night (Ps 1:2), and he does so because he finds his delight therein. By delighting in the precepts of God, he becomes like a tree planted by rivers of living water, bringing forth its fruit in its season (Ps 1:3). Our Lord said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15), but we cannot show that love for Him unless we know what the commandments are. A knowledge of the law of God gives to us the pattern of loving obedience. If we love the Lord, we must also love His law. To love God and despise His law is a contradiction that must never be the profile of the Christian.

God gives us His law not to take away our joy, but rather that our joy may be full. His law is never given in a context of meanness, but in the context of His love. We love the law of God because God loves His law and because that law is altogether lovely.

 (www.ligonier.org, “Getting the Gospel Right: Interview,” originally published in  Expositor magazine, a publication of OnePassion Ministries)

 

Here is an opportunity for your family this summer: Discover the above truths about God’s law through our interactive family devotional guide, The Righteous Shall Live by Faith. Find out more about this resource here.

(Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

 

 

Key Qualifications for Teaching Youth

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Have you ever felt a call or burden to teach the youth in your church? Have you been questioned as to your ability because of your age–too old to relate? Hear these words from Sally Michael in her recent seminar “Teaching Youth and Engaging their Hearts”:

The first year I taught junior high students in my church, someone who realized that I was going to teach youth said to me, “Do you think you can relate to youth?”

Now reading between the lines, I think what this person was saying in a kindly way was…do you realize that you are a beyond middle-aged woman…you don’t speak their language, you don’t know the jargon of youth…in other words, you are just not cool.

My reply was, “Yes, I can relate to them because at the core we are very much the same. We are both sinners…in need of grace. And I am very well qualified to talk about that. We have more in common than we have differences.”

What is your basis of relating to youth in your church? Is it being “hip and cool”—knowing the latest teen slang, being able to talk about their music, knowing the latest video games?

We miss the boat if we think that this is what it takes to relate to youth. We can relate because we all have the human dilemma—we need a sin-bearer so we can be right before a holy God; we need grace to daily crucify self and serve others; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and to walk in righteousness…we need the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Teens can easily intimidate teachers who feel they must entertain bored students or “relate” on their level. But the key to teaching youth is not to be intimidated by them, to realize the serious call to teach significant truth, to pray for your students, and to genuinely love your students.

Our confidence is not in the words we speak but in our common identification as sinners and in the message of hope, salvation, and grace that we bring to sinful men. Paul understood that and is a good model to us in how to bring that message to the youth in our churches:

1 Corinthians 2:1-5—And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

We all come to the task of teaching and mentoring youth in weakness…and sometimes “in fear and much trembling.” But the heart we bring to that ministry is what defines our ministry—do we bring hearts of dependence on the Holy Spirit; do we bring humble hearts not trusting in our cleverness but in the power of the Holy Spirit; do we bring hearts burdened that their faith would rest on the sufficiency of Christ? 

(Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

Parenting Thoughts from a Puritan

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“John Flavel” by James Hopwood, ca. 1752-1819, printmaker, Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection

Last week, Tim Challies posted “8 Items for Christian Parents to Ponder.” Here is his very intriguing introduction to the post:

The other day, the old Puritan John Flavel took me out back and slapped me around for a while (metaphorically, of course). I have been reading his classic work The Mystery of Providence and he dedicates the second chapter to an explanation of why we need to worship God for his kind providence in our childhood…

Along the way he includes a brief but powerful section in which he exhorts parents in the duties they have in raising their children. He wants you, the parent, to seriously consider the responsibility that God has entrusted to you for each one of your children.

Here is a very brief summary of the 8 items:

    1. Consider the intimacy of the relationship between you and your children, and, therefore, how much their happiness or misery is your concern.
    2. Consider that God has charged you to tend not only to their bodies, but also to their souls.
    3. Consider what could possibly comfort you at the time of your children’s death if, through your neglect, they die in a Christless condition.
    4. Consider this question: If you neglect to instruct your children in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness?
    5. Consider that if the years of your children’s youth are neglected, there is little probability of any good fruit afterwards.
    6. Consider that you are the instrumental cause of all your children’s spiritual misery, both by generation and imitation, by birth and by example.
    7. Consider that there is no one in the world more likely than you to be instruments of their eternal good.
    8. Consider the great day of judgment and be moved with pity for your children.

To put each of these considerations in the proper context and avoid any misunderstanding as to what Flavel is saying and not saying (i.e., he is not saying that parents are ultimate in their child’s belief or unbelief) read the ENTIRE article here.

 

 

Tell, Explain, Demonstrate, and Inspire

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Here is a great quote to ponder:

The mediocre teacher tells.

The good teacher explains.

The great teacher demonstrates.

The superior teacher inspires.

 William Arthur Ward

 

 

 

(Image courtesy of lobster20 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

A More Powerful Circuit

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A while back I read an article about embracing the use of technology in the preschool classroom at church. One idea related to the frightened, clingy child who doesn’t want to leave his parent and go into the classroom on Sunday morning. The high-tech solution for the teacher? Try pulling out your tablet (or smartphone) and show the preschooler a Bible-related app in order to woo the reluctant child away from the parents and into the classroom. Presto, the power of microcircuits to the rescue!

Well, I think I prefer the method that Mrs. Kanowitz used on my almost 2-year-old granddaughter last week. In a sense, it was high-tech, but the “circuitry” involved was much more powerful. Here is what happened:

As little Elizabeth was taken down the hallway toward her classroom, she did her “Take me home!” cry as she clung to daddy. At her room, after check-in, she wept and wailed some more as she was gently handed over to Mrs. Kanowitz, the nursery team leader. But Mrs. Kanowitz didn’t pull out a tablet or smartphone. Instead, she held Elizabeth in her arms and bowed her head and began, “Dear Jesus, I pray that…,” and then Elizabeth went into the classroom—and stayed the entire time. It was well with her soul.

Yes, there may be a place for technology in the preschool classroom. But Mrs. Kanowitz’ prayer on Elizabeth’s behalf did much more than any high-tech gadget could do. Prayer doesn’t simply distract a clingy, frightened preschooler. Rather, it calls on the almighty, sovereign, loving Creator of the universe to impact the very heart of that child.

(Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

The Power of Influence

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Quiz time for parents: Who exerts the greatest influence in your child’s life? How is that influence serving to shape your child’s life? Now read these important thoughts from John MacArthur from his article, “What Influence do You have on Your Children?”:

Christian parents today desperately need to own this simple principle. Before the throne of God we will be held accountable if we have turned our children over to other influences that shape their character in ungodly ways. God has placed in our hands the responsibility of bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and we will give account to God for our stewardship of this great gift. If others have more influence on our children than we, we are culpable, not excusable, on those grounds.

God has made parenting a full-time responsibility. There are no coffee breaks from our parental duties. This principle was even built into the law at Sinai. God prefaced His instructions to the Israelites with this solemn charge:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6:6–7)

That is God’s own definition of the parents’ task. It means parenting is a full-time assignment in every sense of the expression. No phase of life is exempt. Not one hour of the day is excluded. There is no time-out for the parent who wants to be faithful to this calling.

And lest you become discouraged by the enormity of this task, Dr. MacArthur ends his article with these words of encouragement:

You have a responsibility before God to use your influence with your children for His glory and their good. But the weight of their eternity is not on your shoulders—remember they’re not born morally neutral. God will use whatever means He chooses to draw His people to Himself. Pray He will use you in the lives of your children, and trust that He is faithful even through your failures.

Read the entire article here.

(Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

 

The Best Kind of Active Learning

ID-10022136One of the God-given means for influencing the heart and the will is to encourage students to be active participants in the learning process. Most people would agree that it is good for children to be involved in the learning process. Most of us could even give reasons why this is so:

  • Makes the lessons more interesting, and therefore helps child to pay attention (easy for their minds to wander if you are doing all the talking)—Students do not get bored if they are actively participating in the learning process.
  • Children will often remember the concepts longer if they have been involved in the learning process.
  • When children are involved in the discovery of knowledge themselves,  sometimes they can internalize truth better—discovering a Bible truth sometimes causes that truth to be embraced in the heart rather than just understood in the head

These are all true, but how to get children involved seems to be much more difficult to grasp. There is the total “hands on” approach where the child is actively involved in a learning activity, but often the result is that the child had a lot of fun, the experience was very time consuming, and while some of the subject matter was absorbed, very little real learning occurred. I think the problem is that we often confuse “activity” with “active learning”—by active learning, I mean, that the mind is active, not necessarily the body.

Please hear this correctly—I am not against children getting up and writing on the board, participating in role plays and demonstrations, putting together visuals—being active while they learn—in fact, we encourage that, especially in the younger ages but…

active learning goes beyond activity. Active learning involves children’s minds interacting with the subject matter; they are thinking—discovering, imagining, questioning, organizing, analyzing, evaluating, drawing conclusions, and applying the material.

If we just sit children down and tell them what to believe, they may not be comprehending, agreeing with, or internalizing the truth—and the same may be true if we ask them to act out a Bible story, retell a story, or recite a Bible verse

We want them to be able to look at a text in the Bible…carefully observe and rightly interpret the text; make real application of that truth to their own lives, and eventually respond in faith to that truth—embrace it, own it, live by it …and be willing to die for it.

When children are little, we must tell them much of what they need to learn—they are little sponges soaking up everything—but by fifth grade, when they can begin to think logically, we need to be dialoguing with children, asking questions, and expecting answers.

By leading children and youth logically through a series of questions designed to lead them to correct conclusions, we are encouraging them to discover what God actually says in His Word—our questions should teach them to observe, interpret, and apply the truth. The mind then becomes a conduit for the truth to reach the heart.

(Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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