Monday, October 23, 2006

Teaching Is Not For Cowards

The Bible says in James 3;1, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

I so understand why James gave this warning. It takes courage to be a Bible teacher. As teachers, we have to be willing to be learners as well as teachers. We need to have the humility to ask, “Am I willing to make the life changes I’m expecting others to make in their lives? How can I grow in my walk with Christ in the specific area in which I’m teaching?” Then we have to have the determination and resolve to do it.

God has a way of challenging me about this specifically. Something will happen during the week, catching me on my blind side. Then I will start to study next week’s lesson. Suddenly, my life events and my lesson topic will connect like two giant puzzle pieces.

The high school Sunday School that I teach is studying the book of Psalms. Two weeks ago, we studied Psalm 139 that ends with “Search me O God, and know my heart . . .see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” These verses have always made me uncomfortable. I know that if I pray that prayer, that is one prayer the Lord will definitely answer. He surely will, in short order, show me my “offensive ways.”
And, God, I know you know me inside and out, but there’s some knowledge that I would just rather You keep to Yourself.

But I’m teaching these kids to pray this prayer. I would be a hypocrite if I wasn’t willing to pray it too. So last week, after Sunday School, I prayed the prayer.

Midweek, I had a misunderstanding with a contact. I couldn’t understand why she seemed reticent and confusing on some details she was giving me. I wrote an email to a mutual friend. In my email, I said I almost felt like I was being lied to and I was getting the run around. Guess what? Word got back to my contact of what I had said. She called me, flaming mad. She ought to have been. I had called her a liar. I deserved every single word she said to me. I had misjudged the situation terribly. She proceeded to give me details about the truth of the matter and my heart just broke. I had judged because I didn’t understand the situation. I didn’t need to know all the details she shared with me. I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. And, in my remorse, I realized that my hasty judgmental attitude is a weakness of mine.

Well if I can’t do it once, I’ve got to do it twice. Two days later, I had words with my husband. It boiled down to the same problem. I made hasty judgments about him without stopping to look at the entire situation. Now feeling a little bit beyond miserable, I turned to the next lesson in my curriculum. The topic? Ugh! Psalm 51, David’s famous Psalm where he repents of his sexual sin with Bathsheba. Does this mean I’ve got to repent too?

Because of my own failing that week, I was more open to catch the beautiful, deeper message of this Psalm which I had never realized before. David asked God not only for forgiveness. he also asked God to create a clean heart within him. It’s not enough to ask God for His forgiveness, then blithely go on our merry way. When we blow it, we have to be willing to look not just at the initial, one time sin, we have to be willing to evaluate the sin pattern. We then need to ask God to wipe out our bad attitudes, our “stinking thinking," that is causing us to keep on doing the same thing. We need to ask God for a heart transplant.

At least, that’s what I realized I needed to do before I could teach my high school students about repentance and forgiveness. In fact, I miserably concluded, I probably needed to tell them that I fail too and that I need God’s forgiveness just as much as they do. The good news is, God will forgive. He won’t just forgive either. He is there to help do better next time. We just have to ask. Like David, we'll feel better when we do, because a restored relationship with God Almighty is the very best of life.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Only God Can Do It

For the last two months, I have been teaching a high school Sunday School class and Children’s Church sessions. In September, I taught the preschool worship and currently, I am the teacher for our church’s worship service for 1st-6th graders. Also, for the last three months, I’ve been dealing with undiagnosed chronic pain that is only worsening. There have been so many times I’ve wanted to call someone and say, “I can’t teach today.” But we attend a small church. We had to revamp our Children’s Church program over the summer and start with a new team of workers. As the minister’s wife and a member of our Youth Ministry Committee, I felt it was my responsibility to share the teaching load and help train new teachers by letting them watch me teach. So I didn’t know who I could call to ask to substitute for me. Nor did I feel like I had a legitimate reason for bailing.

I’m a private person and I guess I suffer from the malady of pride. I don’t want to tell anyone why I hurt and I don’t want anyone to see me as weak.. It’s hard to ask for help. And I care passionately about teaching children. I get so frustrated when anything, like illness or pesky personnel problems get in the way of teaching our children about Jesus. I want to do my job well and I don’t want my physical pain to make me grouchy or distracted, or lessen my teaching in any way. Every Sunday, I’ve thought, “There’s no way I can muddle through this. I feel so bad. How can I possibly get through the next two hours of teaching?”

So I’ve turned to the Lord. Each Sunday, my prayer has been, “Please Lord, just get me through. Help me do nothing that would dishonor You because I don’t feel good.” Each Sunday, I’ve had to ask again. And again. I’ve asked my online accountability group to pray for me too. One Sunday I wondered if God ever got tired of “needy Karen begging for help once again.”

It is so reassuring to know God never tires of hearing us ask for help. I’m actually praying the prayer I should pray whether I hurt or not. The first of Jesus’ Beatitudes is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3). Poor in spirit means to be spiritually bankrupt, broke, utterly dependent on God’s resources because we have nothing left of ourselves and we recognize that we are nothing without Him. When we are willing to admit this, He gladly moves in so He can do marvelous things through us for His Kingdom.

Even through multiple visits to my primary care doctor, a battery of expensive tests and lots of research on the Mayo Clinic website, we still don’t know why I’m in pain; we’ve just eliminated the obvious. My pain is severe enough that I’ve been taking prescriptions doses of Advil and am now on a prescription pain pill to help me sleep at night. Yet, every Sunday, for the last six weeks, during the two hours I am teaching, I have been totally pain free. And I’m not just sitting down the whole time either, I’m jumping around, doing song motions, games, and striding across the room to solve disputes and retrieve forgotten supplies. It’s been totally amazing.

But should I be amazed? After all, we are talking about the Lord God who rules the universe, who has unlimited resources and ultimate power. Of course, He has the capacity to relieve a Children’s Church teacher of pain so she can teach His little ones. He has the power to do far more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20,21).!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The timing could not have been worse. It was my first Sunday of my monthly rotation for Children’s Church. All morning, a second grade boy tried to push my button. He interrupted the bible story to inform me I forgot to pass out name tags. He just couldn’t go on without his name tag. He couldn’t find his name tag. May he make another one right now? I finally, firmly said, “I think a Bible story lesson is far more important than you having a name tag at this moment. Can you wait until we’re done?” He meekly nodded yes.

He told me he didn’t like children’s church. He wanted to go to the preschool Worship. It’s boring here. He would get to play in preschool worship. Not when I’m the teacher, I thought.

Finally the worst moment came. We formed a prayer circle, holding hands. The kids were supposed to squeeze the hand of the child next to them if they did not want to pray. Suddenly my surly second grader launched into a high pitched howl. I tried to ignore it but finally had to pause the prayer. “He twisted my arm,” the child whined, pointing to the boy next to him. I took both children out of the circle, sat them in a corner, and told them to stay put until we were finished. Mercifully, they did. Two older children offered to help me distribute parent letters and help the rest of the children gather belongings while I dealt with the two offenders.

“What happened?” I asked. My still whimpering child repeated, “He twisted my arm!” I looked at the other child. “Did you?” He shrugged. “He twisted my arm so I twisted him back.” Now I had two problems. I turned back to the first child. “Did you?” “Well, just a little bit but . . .” “No just a little bit. Did you or did you not twist his arm?” He repeated, “Just a little bit.” He would not admit wrong doing. Finally I got both children to say they were sorry. Then I committed the ultimate crime. I asked them to say, “I forgive you.” Both clammed up tighter than a clam shell guarding a prize pearl.
They wanted to cherish their grudge.

Two days later, five Amish girls were gunned down in a one-room schoolhouse. The Amish immediately and graciously forgave the family of the killer, adding action to their words by setting up a financial fund to help the family. The world was astounded, dazzled, confused as much by the act of forgiveness as by the actual slaying.

Yet I wondered why the world should be so amazed? Shouldn’t any group of Christians have done the same? All too sadly, we forget to forgive. We hold grudges as tightly as those two little boys. My husband and I once served in a church where two families sat on opposite sides of the worship service, never speaking to each other for forty years. Hardly anyone could remember what the crime was. It certainly was not for murdering their innocent daughters.

I thought back to my two little boys in worship. I have to admit I was perturbed with them. How dare they let some stupid little thing like name tags and how someone squeezes your arm during prayer interrupt my lesson and my prayer time? Don’t they realize what’s important?

No they don’t. That’s why I’m there. I’m there to teach them about forgiveness. I’m there to teach them, lovingly and patiently, that bible lessons and prayer times are important. I need to keep saying, “You need to forgive. Forgiveness is important.” over and over again. I need to explain what forgiveness is so when they become a victim, it will also be “their way” to forgive. And I needed to forgive too. I wish I had said to both of them, “I forgive you for interrupting the prayer time.”

Jesus said in Matthew 6:14, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s my prayer this week that I will be able to teach my children the importance of forgiveness through both my words and my example so that the world will be dazzled when they are called upon to show their faith in God through forgiveness.

If you would like to make a donation to the Amish families or the family of Charles Roberts. click here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

We Need Strong Teachers

Recently I saw an interview on Fox News with Meg Meeker, author of the book, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.” In the interview, Dr. Meeker told how necessary it is for fathers to communicate to their daughters the “You can do it” concept. Moms fulfill the loving, caring part of parenting, but dads can instill confidence into their daughters in a way that enable them to have more successful careers and marriages.

In the interview, Dr. Meeker sited a touching personal vignette. One day, she overheard her father tell a colleague, “My daughter’s going into medical school!” This was after Dr. Meeker had been rejected by twenty different medical schools. Her father’s confidence in her gave her the courage to keep applying. She has now worked in the medical field for almost twenty years.

I fully, wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Meeker. American dads have been dealt a bad rap. Just look at the sitcoms that make fun of the modern dad. Even highly acclaimed shows like Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond paints the dad as a clueless goofball. If the moms on the shows were equally made to look foolish, Hollywood would hear an audible outcry. We need strong dads who are willing to be the hero in their children’s lives, who will look their kids straight in the face and say, “You can do it.”

But now, let’s look at reality. As I see the faces in my classes, I am aware of so many children whose fathers are absent or negligent. Without a strong father, are they doomed for failure? Where are they going to get that confidence boost? From me. And you. The Sunday School teacher. The coach. The youth worker. The caring teacher.

My dad left our family when I was two. My step-dad didn’t have the capacity to be a strong father. I wonder if the people in my church knew that my self esteem existed one toss away from the trash can. Regardless, these loving people took time out for me. They asked me about school. They listened to me. They validated my feelings. They bragged on my accomplishments. They invited me to go with them to football games and concerts. They encouraged me to try new things. They told me, “You can do it.” I am here today because there’s a line of faces in my memory bank of people who believed in me: Maxine, Katherine, Mrs. Burk, Mrs. Clark, Trudy, Gene, Grammy Jean, Steve and Melanie, and Ron and Evelyn.

As a teacher, I’ve had the chance to put my arms around fatherless kids and tell them they can do it. There’s Missy and Ricky, Jessica, Lelani, Samatha, April, and Ethan. I’ve tried to tell them of a God who won’t let them down, who will partner with them through life and take them home to His House when they die. I’ve told them they can do it because there’s a Big God who infinitely cares about them and has the power to help them do whatever dream He has placed in their hearts. Even though I don’t know how my words and hugs impacted their lives, I keep doing it because I know the difference it made in my life.

So, if you see a child whose doesn’t have the strong dad they deserve, don’t despair. God can use you to become the influential person in that student’s life that gives them the confidence to be a success. Most important, God can use you to give them the faith that they “can do it” because God can do it through them.