Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Can the Bible Be Trusted?

Monday night, I attended a forum at a local Christian college on the inerrancy of the Bible. One speaker at the forum took the position that the Bible has errors of history and science because it was written by men who wrote from oral traditions and wrote in the context of their own lack of knowledge about history and science. For example, the gospels are contradictory because some of the writers had their facts wrong. Thus, the Bible is not historically or scientifically accurate but, as a literary book, its teachings are true and from God.

I can’t agree with this man’s teaching. Scripture, according to 2 Timothy 3:16 is God-breathed. God partnered with men to divinely orchestrate this book we call the Bible. God is the author of truth. If God is inaccurate in the area of science and history, then how can I trust Him on matters of theology? If I find errors in the Bible, must I immediately conclude that God has made a mistake? Or is it just a wee bit possible that I don’t understand all there is to understand? As the other speaker said, “Hermeneutics (study of biblical interpretation) is hard work.” If something in the Bible doesn’t make sense to us, we need to study and research so we do understand. As Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”

To the secular ear, biblical accounts sound fantastical and impossible. There’s no way a world could be created in six 24-hour days. It’s not humanly possible for a virgin to have a baby. We all know how babies are made! But that’s just the point. It’s not humanly possible. It is God-possible.

So what does this have to do with teaching children? A popular trend in Christian education for the last thirty years has been to emphasize life application – making the stories of the Bible applicable and relevant to modern, everyday life. This has been a good trend. Children – and adults - can see that the Bible is not just some ancient book of laws; it has meaning for my life. Yet I think we’ve overdone it. In our eagerness to jump to the teaching within the story, we lose the drama and power behind those magnificent Bible stories. Perhaps our jump to life application reveals a bit of this prevailing belief about the Bible – the stories are good jumping off points to teach me how I can live an upright life. But am I really confident that the stories are true? When we jump too quickly to the life lesson, we are in danger of treating the Bible stories like Aesop’s fables: fictional stories created to teach a moral lesson.

It’s a temptation for all children’s workers to treat the biblical accounts as just stories. And one of my greatest fears as a teacher is that the children won’t catch that these stories aren’t just stories. They really, really did happen.

How can I communicate the historical accuracy and infallibility of the Bible to children? Even to the youngest age group, we need to emphasize that these are stories of history, not fictional stories. We can do this by holding the Bible in our lap and emphasizing that the story is from the Bible, God’s Word. It really happened. Even though it might sound like a fable or fairy tale, it did happen because our God is a powerful God and He can do things like this. As children grow older, we need to retell the stories in more detail and set the stories in a historical context for them. We need to continue teaching that God’s word is God-breathed and it, all of it, can be accepted as truth. After all, Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life,” and John 17:17 say, “ . . .your word is truth.”

When we don’t express our confidence that the Bible is historically, scientifically and theologically true, then we short-change our God. Psalm 28:2 tells us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” How God’s heart must break when He hears his children saying they believe the teachings of the Bible are true but the historical details are debatable. If we instill in our children that God’s word can be trusted for truth even though some things seem confusing or even contrary, perhaps they won’t buy into the mindset I heard at last night’s forum.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Poster Board Perfection

I am artistically challenged. I can’t even draw a straight line. How does anyone draw a straight line without using a ruler to connect two marked points? Do they just visualize two points on their paper, and whoosh, the line is perfectly formed? I bet those kind of people can eyeball perfect circles too. They probably look at those templates printed in teacher’s lesson books and draw free hand enlargements of the printed pattern. How else do they do it? I look at those patterns and have absolutely no clue of how to move them from the lesson book to my poster board.

I could blame my artistic ineptitude on my poor vision, but I’d rather sound like those people who claim a lack of giftedness for why they don’t join the choir or speak in public. Nearer the truth is a lack of experience and exposure to art skills. I’ll be honest. I have a mental block. I’m just certain I can’t. For years, I avoided art projects like packaged spinach infected with e-coli. But sometimes, the higher goal of teaching insists that I look my inability in the face and do it anyway.

This past week, I was to teach my preschoolers how God created the sun, moon and stars on the fourth day of creation. My lesson book told me to cut out a large circle from yellow poster board that would represent the sun in a game we were to play. The eyes of an artistically gifted person would probably light up as she exclaims, “No problem!” and whips out her trusty-dusty scissors to cut a perfectly formed circle without so much as a single drawn line. Me? Not a chance.

“How do I cut out a big circle?” I asked my family. My equally inartistic daughter whose negligent mother failed to teach her the finer art of art, suggested I use a round dinner platter as a guide. “Too small,” I answered. “Use a string and pencil,” my husband called from the other room. That sounds strange, I thought. Ignoring him, I said, “The trash can lid would be the right size but it’s dirty and would get my poster messy.” “String and pencil with a straight pin to hold it down,” my husband expanded. “What about my big Tupperware lid? No still too small.” “String and pencil,” my ever patient husband repeated. Curiosity made me cave. “Okay, how do you use a string and pencil to draw a circle?”

His explanation left me more confused. Where do we keep a ball of string? How would I find the center of the poster board? And how do you keep the string equally taut an you maneuver the pencil to draw the circle? This was sounding too complicated!

“I know!” I said. I went to our sun porch, returning with the round wicker footstool in hand. I turned it upside down on the poster. Perfect size! But as I drew my circle, I realized I forgot one thing. The edge of the footstool wasn’t straight; it was scalloped. My circle was a series of ragged squiggles. I cut through the squiggles, facing my artistic failure once again.

Then reality set in. What was the purpose for this circle anyway? It was for a game, a game that would last all of five minutes. When I led the game, the children hardly looked at my big yellow sun-circle. much less noticed the ragged edges. They were having too hard of a time trying to figure out how to walk in a circle! After the game, my squiggled, imperfect sun, needed just for that five minute game, found a home under the round trash can lid.

Sometimes, the pursuit of perfection isn’t worth our time and effort. In fact, trying to be perfect can actually derail us from our main goal. My purpose was to teach the children that God made our world just right. We need the sun during the day for our daily activities and we need night time so we have a chance to rest. In pursuing perfection, I would have focused more on how to make a perfect circle than contemplating how God perfectly orchestrated our world – just for us. Instead of expending so much effort on how to draw a circle for a temporary object lesson, I needed to focus on how to perfect my communication of this awesome truth to my preschoolers.

“Besides, Mom,” my daughter reminded me. “The real sun isn’t perfectly round anyway.”

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fruit Loops and Four Year Olds

It’s been a long time since I have taught preschoolers. Actually, I never enjoyed teaching preschoolers until I had my own children. These little beings a third of my size who couldn’t read, couldn’t tie their own shoes and needed help in the bathroom intimidated me! I was so uptight when I was with them. I fretted over how I could possibly keep up with these 40 pound bundles of energy that would collectively fuel a space shuttle. I was exhausted by their need to change activities every three to five minutes and I had the constant feeling I was half an activity away from losing complete control over my classroom.

My own children taught me to relax and “go with the moment,” Instead of expecting preschoolers to cram into my structured lesson plan, I learned to grab the teachable moment, to look for chances to slip in God’s truths or God’s stories. As we strung Fruit Loops on sewing thread to make Christmas tree garlands, we talked about the need to share and take turns. We talked about the colors of the Fruit Loops, how many Fruit Loops I have on my string compared to yours, and how do you spell the word “red?”. We sang songs about Baby Jesus and planned ways we could do something special for Baby Jesus this Christmas.

As my own children grew older, my husband and I found ourselves often telling them, “You do a job not because you like it or because it’s easy. You do it because it needs to be done and you just do the best you can even though your best may not be as good as someone else’s best.” My girls have taken those words to heart and have risen to new levels of competence because they were willing to try things that, at first, seemed difficult.

Now it’s time for me to eat my own words. Guess where I spent last Sunday? Teaching preschoolers in our church’s Wee Worship program. Did I enjoy it? Well, there were moments that were more pleasurable than others. Was I uptight? Yes, but not as much as I used to be. I’ve realized I’ve learned how to relax and enjoy the journey and listen to the children so I can keep learning. More on that in my next blog.

So why did I go back to teaching preschool? I needed to train some new recruits for our preschool worship program and the best way for me to teach them was to be a model teacher. Already, my first helper promises to become a far better preschool teacher than I am. She has a rapport with that age of children, she’s organized and creative. She doesn’t mind spending hours cutting up visuals and decorations, stuff that I abhor. She’ll make a good teacher. She just needed guidance on what to teach and how to teach from a lesson plan, to know the routine we expected in our Children’s church program, and to observe how to work God-talk into everything we did. I could teach her these things, because I learned to do the job that needed to be done and, in spite of my own weaknesses, to do my best. Sure, teaching preschoolers is exhausting and humbling. But the true pleasure comes from knowing, I’m planting in those little minds seeds of faith in a powerful and loving God who will never let them down.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Inside My Heart

For a number of years, I've written Sunday School, Children's Church, and Vacation Bible School curriculum for several companies. It's quite a challenge to choose activities to suggest to a teacher that will effectively communicate the Bible story, cater to all the different learning styles of the students, and fit the teacher's budget, time limitations and available resources.

I love the challenge! It's a great sense of satisfaction to see a lesson come together. I enjoy the challenge of being able to communicate the simple truths of God's Word in as many creative activities, games, songs, and even snacks as my allotted number of pages will allow. My poor family! When I greet them at the door with "Guess what I came up with today?" or "You wanna hear my latest Bible skit?" it's an automatic cue for them to put their heads in their hands and maon, "Oh, no!"

But let's face it. A lesson plan in a teacher's guide is sterile. It doesn't accurately reflect what really happens Inside The Classroom. It isn't supposed to. Even the best curriculum cannot possibly meet the unique needs of that particular group of children. Nor can it predict how the children will react. It can't anticipate Jeff who asks questions just to get the teacher off track, or Justin who dumps a wastebasket over Jason's head just to prove he isn't the sweet, adorable little boy Teacher thinks he is. That lesson plan doesn't allow time for spilled paint the very day the teenage helper decides to go sit with her boyfriend in church or for the second grader who stubbornly wants to stay with her sister in your preschool class instead of going to her own class because Dad just left Mom that week and the little girl wants the security of the familiar.

That's what I want to share in this blog. I've been teaching my own children and other parents' children for over twenty five years. I know as well as anyone that teaching children does not happen by the book. More often than not, they teach me more than I think I have taught them.
Jesus told his followers that unless we become like little children, we cannot enter the Kingdom of God. Over the years, children have taught me to have a wide eyed wonder at the world, an exuberant, unquestioning faith, and a forgiving, unconditional acceptance of others. They have taught me to look at God's Word simply, to make His Word personal, and that it's ok to laugh and cry.

This blog, posted weekly, will share my stories of life as a parent, teacher, and curriculum writer and the lessons I've learned from the kids.