Saturday, December 29, 2007

Teacher Training

Today I conducted teacher training for new teachers for our preschool worship program. After I finished my agenda, I asked if there were any questions. One lady said, “I’m just afraid I won’t be a good enough teacher.”

The vulnerability I showed in my answer surprised me, yet my words were heartfelt, true and echoed by the other veteran teacher in the room. Here’s in part what I said.

Every week, I walk away from teaching, feeling intimidated and like a failure. I wonder if the kids got anything out of what I said. Were they listening? They didn’t seem to be, the way they ran around or wiggled while I was trying to teach.

Two months ago a member of our church brought her grandchildren to preschool worship and stayed with them so they would comfortable. I especially felt nervous with her in the room. One of her grandchildren stared at me the entire time. The other ran around and acted like he was totally out of touch with what was happening. Yet, just last week, the grandmother told me, “I’ve meant to tell you this for some time. That week I stayed with my grandchildren in Wee Worship, I was so impressed with what an excellent teacher you are. You had my grandchildren spellbound. When they came home, they repeated the entire story.” This came from a lady whose husband taught for years, one daughter is now a grade school teacher, and another daughter is an assistant principal. She knew what she was talking about and I was touched by her comment.

Another child has been a problem child for all of us. She always wants to play with the toys. She resists whatever I tell her to do. Yet, early in December, I was working with a community group to sponsor a “Breakfast With Santa” at a local restaurant. This child came in with her mother, spotted me and called in a loud voice, finger pointing in my direction, “There’s my teacher!”

They do listen. They do remember. And more important than the stories, they will remember you. “The best thing you can do for these children,” I told my fledgling recruit, “is to love them.”

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's a New Year

Have you ever watched two children having an argument? You want to step in and settle the fight for them, but before you get a chance, the two kids are back playing together as if nothing happened!

Watching that scene always humbles me. I think of how, as adults, weall too often carry grievances into the next day, the next year, never letting them go. Would that we could become like those kids who so easily forget the sharp words spoken only moments before.

I’m so thankful our heavenly Father purposely has a short term memory when it comes to my failings. No matter what I’ve done to Him today, His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). If I repent of my wrong doing and recommit myself to trying again, He gives me a clean slate. Every morning. Another chance to try again. Because of His compassion for us, we are not consumed by His just wrath – like we deserve (Lamentations 3:22).

As you look toward the new year, look at the children in your life, the people in your life, for that matter, who have rubbed you the wrong way. Follow in Jesus’ footsteps, by giving them the gift of compassion. Give them a second chance to be the best they can be. Even as your Heavenly Father lifts you up and gives you new mercies every morning, extend your hand down to those in your life who need a touch of His grace. When you show the children in your life that you believe in them, they will be better equipped to believe in themselves.

Like Paul in Philippians 3:13,14, let’s forget what was behind and strain forward to what is ahead, pushing forward - and helping others push forward - to receive the prize of eternal life.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Waiting For Christmas

One of my favorite childhood poems was “Jest ‘Fore Christmas” by Eugene Fields. This was one little boy who had his year planned out! “Most all the time the whole year round/There ain’t no flies on me/But jest ‘fore Christmas, I’m as good as I kin be!" Throughout the year, this little guy acted like any normal ornery boy. But, in anticipation of Christmas, he put on his best behavior because he knew what was coming.

Do you remember how, as a child, you waited for Christmas? Did it seem like Christmas would never come? Are the students in your class or in your home getting antsy and hyper with anticipation? As adults, we’re waiting too. Most of us are waiting for Christmas to be over!

There are two adults in the Bible who waited for Christmas. They waited longer than any child of today has waited. They probably waited with more anticipation yet more patience. Not wanting to miss a moment of the coming event, Simeon and Anna frequented the Temple. When the moment finally arrived, the moment Jesus’ parents brought him into the Temple, there was no big let down, only great joy and peace. Simeon took the baby in his arms and proclaimed, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised/you now dismiss your servant in peace/for my eyes have seen your salvation/which you have prepared in the sight of all people/ a light for revelation to the Gentiles/and for glory to your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).” Anna met the event with praise to God and told everyone she met that the Event had happened.

When Christmas Day comes, will your children feel let down that it’s over? Will you praise God by saying, “Thank God that’s over. Now we can get back to normal life!”? If our eyes are focused on God’s gift that He has already given instead of what we might get, like Eugene Field’s ornery boy of his poem, or on what we have to give others out of obligation, if we wait in anticipation of the celebration of God’s greatest gift, then we also will celebrate on that Day with joy and peace.

Instead of trying to tamp down your children’s hyperactive anticipation of Christmas, this year, channel their enthusiasm toward the celebration of God’s gift to us, His promised Son, Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Children's Christmas Craft

Three years ago, I had eye muscle surgery to correct a lifelong eye disorder. As I was packing my overnight bag, my younger daughter came into my bedroom, holding her favorite stuffed animal, a Clifford, the big red dog. puppet. “It’s time I let go of this,” she said, “And I figure you need him more this week than I do.”

I had to turn my head so she wouldn’t see my face crumple. Clifford had been her life long bed buddy. Clifford went everywhere with us. We even backtracked ten miles on a vacation because Clifford had been left behind at a motel.

Why was Christine willing to give up her favorite stuffed animal for me? I suppose because Clifford was so precious to her. It was the best she could give me to show her deep love and concern for me.

That’s what Christmas is all about. God loved us all so much, He gave the best He could give us – the irreplaceable life of His one and only Son, Jesus. If our Christmas celebrations end at the manger, we’ve missed the point of Christmas. Christmas is about a baby who grew to be a man who threw his life across the beams of a rough hewn cross. Jesus gave his best – and his all – for us. As you wrap your gifts for those you love and unwrap the gifts you receive, may you remember the gift of a baby and worship Him as the King of Kings, your Savior and your Lord.

Here’s a Christmas tree ornament craft to remind you and your students inside the classroom of the meaning behind this holiday season:

3 inch Styrofoam balls
Straight pins with colored ball heads
¼ inch ribbon.

Stick the pins in the pattern of a cross, keeping the pins close together. Cut a 4-6 inch length of ribbon and attach the ends to the top of the ball with a straight pin, looping the ends together so you make a loop with the ribbon that will hang on a tree.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Christmas Crafts for Children

Here’s an easy, fun Christmas craft you can use Inside the Classroom.

Plain colored glass ball ornaments
Fingernail polish or acrylic paint
Lots of newspaper
Cups of water for cleaning brushes

Your kids can paint designs and Christmas motifs on the balls with the fingernail polish or use paintbrushes to apply acryllic paint. Show children how to carefully hold the ball with one hand while painting with the other. Devise a place to set the balls or hang the balls so they can dry without getting smudged.

This is a great project that lends itself well to all ages, individual creativity and is non threatening for the artistically challenged. If a child does nothing more than paint silver dots all over a blue ball, it will look beautiful. I’ve also seen teenagers paint intricate nativity scenes or Christmas trees. With patience, you can also write words but keep it simple. Our church made these ornaments last year to give to the elderly in the provided fruit basket, so on many of the ornaments, we simply painted the initials of the church.

Either acrylic paint or fingernail polish work well – each give a different effect. You can involve the adults of your congregation or the parents of your children by asking for donations of ready to discard bottles of fingernail polish. Believe me, you’ll be overwhelmed with unwanted colors!

Here’s some ideas of what to do with your ornaments:
Decorate a class or church Christmas tree
Give to shut ins, nursing home residents or the elderly in your church.
Give as a thank you gift to teachers and church leaders.

What’s a simple craft for children you’ve discovered? Leave a comment below or email me your idea at I may be able to include your idea in a future post.

Have fun!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Christmas: Children's Service Project

Visiting nursing homes with your class of children is always a much needed appreciated service project. This year, add an extra touch by making homemade Christmas cards.

We did this yesterday at our church. Instead of letting the children make up their own ideas, I designed two sample cards for them to copy. This way, we kept cards consistent in their message, I had more control over what art supplies were used, we were able to put a specific message in each card that proclaimed Jesus as the reason for the season, yet the cards allowed for some individual creativity. We had 96 cards to make. That’s a lot for a small youth group so we had to have something was fairly easy for the children to put together.

Here’s what we did:
1. For the high school class, I had them cut out a snowflake from a folded 4 inch square of white paper. They folded a blue piece of construction in half, glued a four inch piece of red tissue on the front, then glued the snowflake, slightly tilted on top of the red tissue. They used glitter glue pens to decorate the snowflake. On the inside, they wrote, “May Jesus give you a beautiful Christmas. (signed, name of church.)

2. For the elementary class, I had precut 2 inch wide piece of green paper that fit eon the front of a folded red piece of paper to look like ribbon on a package. I allowed children to put a tuff of tissue paper in the center. On the inside, they cut and glued small squares of construction paper to look like presents. They glued small loops of yarn on top of the presents. They wrote, “Jesus is the best gift of all. Merry Christmas. (Signed. Name of church.)

Why didn’t I let the younger kids use the glitter? Years of teaching experience have taught me glitter, glue and young children are a toxic mix, especially when you don’t have much time! Yet the high schoolers loved it and added some creative touches I didn’t expect.

Why glitter glue pens? I adapted this idea from a craft idea on a website that suggested mixing glue, glitter and water together, then paint the mixture onto the snowflake. In my sample card, I found out very quickly – this doesn’t work.

Why the sample cards? As a curriculum writer, I know how easy it is to suggest activities that you haven’t actually tried out. Unless you have experienced making a craft a certain way before, always, always, make a sample of the craft project. Some children do best by looking at what you want them to make. Also if it is an idea that just won’t work, you find it out in the middle of the week, not in the middle of the class session.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas: Classroom Decorations

Yesterday, a friend sent me an email quoted from the weekly email newsletter, “The Focus” published by Dennis Wheeler that put a new spin on the celebration of Christmas for me. Throughout the month of December, we’ll see houses, malls, churches, streets, and classrooms all decorated for Christmas. Is it too much, Wheeler poses? When we decorate, are we commercializing the season, a holiday that is steeped as much in pagan as religious traditions? Is it going overboard to strings lights on our rooflines, pin teddy bears ornaments on our Christmas trees, or layer our mantelpieces with plastic evergreen garland?

Then Dennis Wheeler quotes Jack Hayford and, with Mr. Wheeler’s permission, I take liberty to quote him as well:
"If God commissioned angels to roll back the night and fill it with blazing light.
If God provided a mighty celestial choir to serenade a few startled shepherds.
If God graced the heavens with a miracle star.
If God arranged such a memorable entry point as a feeding trough in a stable.
If God went to all this trouble to open our eyes to His entry into our world...
Then we needn't apologize for festooning our home with a few seasonal reminders."

If you were going to celebrate your child’s birthday, wouldn’t you buy gifts, make a special cake and use decorations of some kind to commemorate their special day? Think of the work, hours and expense families go into to celebrate the special milestones of life: an 80th birthday, a high school graduation, a wedding reception complete with catered dinner, live music, and dancing that will last into the wee hours, a 25th, 40th, or 50th wedding anniversary. Bring out the balloons. Buy fresh flowers! Where’s the streamers and the kazoos? Spend thousands on a catered meal. Let’s celebrate!

The greatest event of human history happened when Jesus took on flesh to become our Savior. That deserves our greatest celebration. We can celebrate with abandon and we can teach our children to celebrate inside and outside the classroom in many ways that all honor our Lord’s special day. We can worship in holy reverent praise in Christmas candlelight services and reenactments of the nativity scene. We can feast as we do at Thanksgiving in honor of Him. We can also use visual reminders such as garland, wreathes, lights, snowmen, and nativity scenes to remind us, hey, there’s a celebration happening here! As we involve our children in the decorating process, we can use that teachable moment to tell again the wondrous story.

I like what Dennis Wheeler said at the end of his devotional:

“So, run on out to the store and purchase a few more strands of Christmas lights and present your decorating and decorations to the Lord as a tribute to Him!

Pray before you decorate.
Worship as you decorate.
Give thanks after you decorate."

"Whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through Him to God the Father." -Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

Amen! Now, how can I decorate my church classrooms this week?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Christmas Inside The Classroom: Jesse Tree

If you teach children or are a parent of young children, here’s an idea to emphasize the gospel message to your kids throughout the holiday season. This year, make a Jesse tree.
This is a super idea that can help your kids connect Old Testament stories with the birth of Christ.

A Jesse Tree is a small Christmas tree that holds ornaments symbolizing Old Testament stories, particularly those stories, characters or prophecies that speak of the coming Messiah. Unlike our modern Christmas trees with their lights, garland and ornaments that rarely have anything to do with the Christ Child, a Jesse tree contains Christian symbols that all point to the coming Savior. Basically, a Jesse Tree is a family tree about Jesus.

This is a great project for a Sunday School class, a Christian private school classroom, a homeschooling family or an activity for your family to create together if you want a different twist on the celebration of Advent. Consider suggesting this idea to your Messianic Jewish friends or use it as a gospel tool for your Jewish friends.

The Jesse tree is not my idea. Nor is it a modern idea. It actually dates back to the 13th century. It is also based on the 11th chapter of Isaiah, remembering the chapter that talks about the branch springing forth from the root of Jesse? Look it up!

Use your creativity to create the symbols. They can be pictures of bible story symbols downloaded from the Internet. Or you can make your own symbols out of paper or other material. Some ideas of stories and their corresponding symbols are:
Creation: Dove
Adam and Eve: Apple
Noah: rainbow
David: crown
Baby Jesus: Manger scene
Jesus: cross or a chi-rho symbol

Here are some websites where you can find more information about Jesse Trees:

I was one of those teenagers that questioned everything. One day, I asked my preacher, “If our Christmas celebrations come from so many pagan traditions, why do we celebrate it?” I have quoted his answer over and over again, “Use every available opportunity to proclaim Christ as Lord.” As Christmas becomes more commercialized, we have to work harder to find ways to proclaim the life giving message we have to share. But it’s worth it. After all, Christmas is the greatest event of human history – when the divine Son of God chose to take on human flesh in order to bring mankind back to the Father. Using a Jesse Tree in your classroom or home gives you one more opportunity to proclaim Jesus as Lord.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving: Ideas of How to Say Thanks

Have you noticed? It’s everywhere. Stores, malls, restaurants and radio stations all have it. And it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. What is it? Christmas music. It’s been permeating our air waves for the last two weeks. Moreover, tv stations are already showing Christmas movies. C’mon guys, it’s November sweeps month. Aren’t there enough top-the-chart movies to show without digging into the Christmas batch?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not the Grinch. I love Christmas music. I even like Christmas movies. But as I wrote in an article that appeared in the November 18, 2001 issue of the
Lookout, Thanksgiving is slowly being squeezed out of existence by those seeking to extend the Christmas consumer shopping season.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s one of the few unscathed by religious controversy. Who can argue with a holiday centered on giving thanks? Yet I fear we’re going to lose this holiday, not from commercialism or controversy, but from neglect.

While Christmas music and decorations surround you as soon as you walk out the door of your home, you don’t have to let the Christmas frenzy (or even a football game – whoops, different soapbox) squeeze the thanks out of your Thanksgiving holiday. It’s your responsibility and mine to keep the tradition of Thanksgiving alive for our children so the next generation continues to give thanks where thanks is due. Here are some tips I gave in that article to keep the thanks in Thanksgiving:

*Make it a holiday for friends. We often think of the holiday as a time for family. Yet the Pilgrims and the Indians feasted together to share their thankfulness. Start thinking of how you could encourage your church or community group to hold a thanksgiving dinner and service the weekend before the Big Day so you can worship and thank God with other believers.

*Have a family time of worship. Sing praise songs, have younger children perform vocal or instrumental solos of praise songs. Have each family member share how they have seen God work in the past year, than praise God together for His wonderful works.

*Place several kernels of popcorn by each person’s plate. Have each person name a blessing for each kernel they receive.

*While the Bird is cooking, put your feet up, grab a cup of your favorite hot beverage and write a thank-you note to someone whom God has used in your life recently.

What am I going to do? I’ve already started to gather my favorite praise CD’s that I’m going to play as I prepare our family feast.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May God continue to shower His richest blessings on you.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving: What an Abundance!

Each week, in the preschool worship class I teach, I lead the children in prayer before their snack. I pray a line, then they repeat it after me. We get very specific. “Thank you God, for Kool-Aid. Thank you God, for cheese crackers. Thank you God for Jesus. Amen!”

Teaching children has taught me to be thankful for the smallest of details. So many times, when I sit down to a meal and I look at the splendid variety in front of me, I’m just overwhelmed with how much God has blessed me. I subscribe to the magazine and email newsletter posted by the Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian group who helps and champions the cause of persecuted Christians. My heart wrenches in pain when I read of the sacrifices these people make for the sake of their faith. Usually, persecution begins with social rejection leading to poverty. They are poor partly because of the country they live in. They then become the poorest of the poor because they are not allowed to get jobs or the provider of the family is in jail.

So when I sit down to my meal of plenty, I am so humbled that God blesses me with fresh fruits and vegetables, more meat than I really ought to have, and a meal that is different than the meal that I had the night before. Even with our simple meal yesterday afternoon of homemade Minestrone soup and herb flavored crackers, I shook my head in wonder at all the ingredients I could afford to put in my soup. I also felt thankful that I had the time and the talent to make homemade nutritious soup for my family.

Thanksgiving is coming, the day we thank God for our simplest of blessings. Like the Pilgrims, we’ll thank God for the blessings of home, hearth, family and food. Like any skill, proficiency at gratefulness needs practice. Get ready for Thanksgiving next week by taking a second look at the meal in front of you and saying thank you to the Lord for each part of that meal. Then, when next Thursday rolls around and your table groans in protest from the weight of the blessings of abundance, you’ll be ready to humbly thank God for the food He has given you and so much more.

What I’m thankful for this week:

1. My good friend Marilyn who has been such an encouragement this week in my newest writing project. Thanks, Marilyn, for our breakfast breaks!

2. A free week from teaching this coming Sunday. I love to teach, but I need my spiritual batteries recharged. It just so happened (yeah, right) that I’m “off” for both Sunday School and preschool worship.

3. A clean kitchen! I had a late night meeting last night and my daughter not only loaded the dishwashers, she washed the rest of the dishes that wouldn’t fit and cleaned the counters. What a beautiful sight to come home to!

4. Beautiful weather. Tuesday afternoon in northeast Ohio was beyond beautiful. I think God sprinkles in days like that in the midst of winter just to help us keep going in the colder months and to remind us winter won’t last forever.

5. Food sales the week before Thanksgiving. Need I say more??

Monday, November 12, 2007

Organization in the Classroom: Making My List and Checking It Twice

Since I teach a high school Sunday School class and a preschool worship class each Sunday, I’ve learned it pays to be organized. Yesterday proved however, that organization is not always a guarantee of success!

This past week, I beat the record books on organization. I studied my lessons on Monday. I bought supplies, and prepared the craft project on Tuesday. I wrote out my lesson plans on Wednesday. On Thursday I gathered the supplies I had purchased for a snack activity in one bag, making sure I had extra plastic knives and napkins. Since we have a dog that has a nose for food and thinks she owns the couch, the couch was not a safe place to leave my bag of snacks for preschool worship. So I decided to put that bag in the car. That way, I wouldn’t forget it and the dog wouldn’t have a belly ache from OD’ing on graham crackers.

Sunday morning, I decided to do a double check on all my supplies. Fifteen minutes before we were to leave for the church, I went out to the car to make sure my snack bag was in the back seat where I had put it. I almost didn’t check, knowing I had put it there. Yet, I checked anyway because I’m so paranoid about forgetting anything. It wasn’t there! For the next twenty minutes, my husband, older daughter and I searched both cars, inside and out. We searched upstairs, downstairs, the sun porch, the carport, the cupboards, the closets. My snack bag was not to be found. We realized we had taken two kids to camp Friday evening and my husband must have rearranged things in the car. Knowing I was walking around the land mines of my minister husband’s already normally high Sunday morning stress level, I delicately tried to get him to reconstruct what he must have done with the contents of the car over the last few days. He couldn’t remember. He came close to swearing he had never seen such a bag. I insisted he wouldn’t have missed it. It had a huge package of napkins poking out the top. We agreed it could have migrated to the church although we didn’t know how. I wanted to check the trash cans but my husband said that would be overkill; no way would we have put it in the trash.

We got to the church. He checked his office. I checked the kitchen and classrooms. No snack bag. At this point, time had run out. I had to decide to ditch the snack activity. I would have to punt. I had more kids than usual in preschool worship, church ran longer than usual because of a congregational meeting and the snacks left in the room from the previous week were skimpy to say the least. I could have used that snack bag. Yet, in the scheme of things, it worked out and the children were none the wiser and a whole lot healthier for not having made the snack of my plans.

Sunday evening: Jack got a glint in his eye. “I want to look one last place for your snack bag,” he said. He came back from somewhere in the bowels of the church building triumphantly if not a bit sheepishly holding the missing bag. When I asked him where he had found it, he at first said, “I’m not telling!” Then the truth came out. He had brought his wastebasket from his office to empty in our garbage can at home, then returned the empty wastebasket to the car trunk. In his haste to make room for camp luggage, he had stashed my bag in his trash can, thinking both were going back to the church anyway. Absent mindedly, he had carried his trash can into his office and set it in the usual spot in a corner of his office. Yep, my snack bag did end up in the trash, just not in the trash can we expected!!

Organization can prevent many a disaster inside the classroom. But you can’t plan for every contingency. That’s why teachers need to develop a strong sense of flexibility. You have to be able to surf confidently over the unexpected complications. Besides, teaching sessions are just like weddings. If everything went smoothly, according to plan, it would be boring. Worse yet, you wouldn’t have any stories to tell.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Halloween: Should We Celebrate It?

Halloween is a week behind us. Those of us who have children or work with children’s ministry may be going through a time of self doubt about our level of participation in Halloween or lack thereof in my case.

I used to have the “weaker brother” attitude toward Halloween. As long as it didn’t lure me or my brother or sister in Christ to do things violated our consciences, it was all right to do. After all, several holidays are based on the dates of pagan holidays such as Christmas and Easter. As the Church conquered lands in the early centuries, in their efforts to change the hearts of new believers, they shrouded pagan holidays with a veneer of religion. Thus Halloween, or all Hallow’s Eve celebrated the lives of the Saints as it led into All Saints Day, November 1st. Isn’t this about as “pagan” as the situation the first century church faced in the dilemma of whether to eat meat offered to idols? (1 Corinthians 8)

Yet several things this year have swayed me toward a more cautious stance toward Halloween. Christmas and Easter actually celebrate the birth, life and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Those are true historical events and very much worth celebrating. Yet Halloween is basically a holiday of death, so contrary to my Christian beliefs. In our society, the seemingly innocent traditions of distributing candy and dressing in costumes, easily lure our children into more gruesome and despotic celebrations. One cannot even turn on the television the week before October 31st without needing to do a fast switch on the remote past the horror flicks. Children turn into teens who become enamored with dabbles into the occult and witchcraft oriented groups. I’m horrified to hear from my college age daughter of some of the practices at her campus. She literally hides in her room on Halloween night to avoid the ghoulish or lust invoking characters that walk her halls or the promiscuous orgies that take place on other parts of the campus.

The Bible tells us to avoid even the hint of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22). It also tells us to have nothing to do with the occult or witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:10). Behind the surface of Halloween, these things abound. How can I as a Christian, as one who celebrates the hope and life giving love of my Savior, how can I indulge in a holiday that celebrates death and the darkness of the spirit world, and encourages greed and self indulgence?

Yet, I know as a parent that it’s awfully hard to fight these things, especially when all the others kids are doing it, even the ones at church. Too often the church has been guilty of wagging our finger of condemnation in the face of those who do participate in questionable activities without providing alternatives. Giving an alternative will teach our children how they can live their lives differently than how the world suggests. We can use alternative programs to reach out other children. In a time when it’s becoming more and more unsafe to let children roam the neighborhoods collecting candy, the church can provide children a safe and spiritually healthy haven on Halloween night.

While I’ve come to the conclusion that Halloween is a holiday I don’t want to celebrate, I also believe that God is in the business of making redemptive use of bad things and so should we. I’d like to suggest a few alternatives, programs I’ve seen done and some I’ve tried myself. In making these suggestions I want to give two caveats. One is the weaker brother rule. If your activity will lure someone to violate their conscience, don’t do it. The other is check and double check your motives. Are you doing your activity to redeem this evil night or are you doing it to compromise and conform to the world? If it’s the former reason, go for it.

1. Elkhorn Valley Christian Camp holds a reality walk each year, a walk through the woods that presents tableaus on a subject. This year’s theme was “Sin: It’s deadly.”

2. A church in North Carolina held a “Tract and Treat” where kids went door to door to pass out tracts about the church.

3. A church in Colorado had their children dress in non-scary costumes then took bananas to distribute to the residents of the nursing home. “No trick just a treat” was their slogan. The residents loved see the children.

4. One year, I held a church camp reunion for the children who attended the week of camp my husband and I were deans for. The theme of camp had been Fully Rely On God or Frog It. So we had a frog party. Every one was invited to dress in bible costumes or something green (no scary costumes) and bring a snack that had to do with frogs. We had cupcakes with gummy frogs, lily pad cookies, and rice krispie cookies decorated with plastic flies. My children still talk about that party.

5. Another year two other families joined us for a fun night. We played “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and broke a piƱata in the backyard. We had parents work with their children to create masks of their favorite book character out of paper bags and art supplies. Then one of the fathers gave a devotion on the masks human beings wear to hide who they really are, but God sees us on the inside and loves us anyway.

6. When my children were teenagers, we invited their friends for a pumpkin carving party, providing patterns of goofy faces and famous characters with their choice of music. I still have fond memories of girls dancing in my kitchen to the music of Billy Joel, holding wooden spoons as microphones.

7. Pantano Christian Church in Tucson, Arizona has held for years a “Pumpkin Patch” carnival with booths, games, foods and fun activities. Before the event begins, volunteers “pray the premises,” praying for God’s protection and presence, that all that is done and said might be to His glory. It’s one of the church’s major yearly outreaches to children.

How can you redeem this holiday and provide a God-glorifying alternative? Share your idea in the comment link below.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Thanksgiving: Prerequistes to Gratitude

It’s that time of year where we turn our hearts toward contemplation of our blessings. We ask our children what they are thankful for. We fret whether we are teaching them to merely mouth the words, “Thank you” or whether their response is from the heart.

In my last post, I talked about the need for adults to model gratitude to the children we impact. Yet, this can’t be phony either. Our kids need to see us truly thankful for what we have, for what God has given us and for the people God has enriched our lives with. Before we can be thankful, we need to learn contentment. In order for the lesson of gratitude to be authentic, we need to teach our kids to be content as well.

That’s a tough order in our possession oriented society. Temptations of all the things we could have if we wanted them abound on the tv, billboards, in other kids’ lunchboxes and on the Internet. Millions of dollars are spent each year on marketing alone to try to convince us that even though last year’s item still works just fine, we just have to have the latest model, style or upgrade.

Hebrews 13:5 says “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.’” If our children are to learn the lesson of contentment, we need to model this for them. We need to be careful not to go overboard in buying the toys heavily advertised for this year’s Christmas. As parents we need to be cautious in buying the latest upgrade too quickly, even saying to our children, “the old version still works for us. We’ve going to wait awhile.” We need to zip our lips when we’re tempted to gripe in front of our children about how slow our computer program is, the faults we find in the caror house we just bought, or the increased price of milk. As teachers, we need to model contentment about the supplies we have in the classroom, the snacks someone donated to us, or the antiquated video equipment that doesn’t work when we want it to.

We can teach contentment by showing kids that it’s fun to make do with what we have. My family calls meal leftovers, abundance meals, and so they are! Teachers can show kids how to “make do” by making a creative craft out of the materials on hand instead of saying, “We could do this craft project if only we had. . . .”

Someone gave me a poster when I was in college that read, “Happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want.” If we’re always aiming toward having what we want, we’ll never feel content, because there will always be something more that we could have. This week, pray that you can find a way to model contentment to the children you encounter. Then thank God together for the blessings that you have.

Hebrews 13:5 gives us the reason why we can be content. God will never let us down. He will always provide us with what we need and many times, blesses us beyond what we need.

What I’m thankful for this week:

1. My 15 year old Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook that still works just fine and has helped me make many a loaf of bread for family and friends.

2. My favorite gray hoodie that keeps me warm around the house so I can turn the thermostat down to save energy.

3. My Welsh Corgi who is always glad to see me when I come home and gives me Corgi kisses on the tip of my nose.

4. A new computer program that magnifies my computer screen. Better yet, it also inverts colors so I can change the font to white on black, cutting down on painful light glare.

5. A car and money to buy gas so we could go see our daughter at college this weekend whom we miss very much.

6. Two new adult classes at our church and teachers to teach them. The adult classes brought in children to our Sunday School classes. I didn’t have any seats left in my high school class yesterday. Praise God.

What are you content with this week? Share it in a comment below.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thanksgiving: What's In Your Wallet?

During the month of November, those of us who live with and work with children will be emphasizing the need to be thankful. It stands to reason that if I’m going to tell children they need to be thankful, that I need to do the same as well. When I’m thankful for all that God is given me, I’ll be better able to model an “attitude of gratitude” and my children will learn best from my example.

So, to help me be more grateful this month, I’m sharing a list of things and people that I’m thankful for this month. Share some from your list in the Comments feature at the bottom of this post:

Who I’m thankful for this week:

1. The clerk who ran out into a cold parking lot without a coat on to bring me my forgotten bag of purchases.

2. The manager at this great restaurant who made me a made to order milkshake including the half size I requested.

3. This kind, caring optometrist who worked with me for an hour to get a glasses prescription just right. He’s prescribing some prescription sunglasses and some glasses just for use at the computer, a first for me. May God bless him richly.

4. My husband who greets me on the telephone with “Hey Beautiful.”

5. An elder at our church who suggested we start a new class for young adults and who volunteered to teach it.

6. My older daughter at college who prefers to spend her time walking to and from classes talking to Mom and Dad on her cell phone.

7. My younger daughter who actually likes to read and talk about my writing.

8. My wonderful sister who is willing to keep working at snags in our relationship.

9. Our church secretary who never gets frazzled no matter how much work is thrown at her.

10. The pharmacist at our drug store who is willing to call my doctor’s office for me to make sure the directions on a prescription are correct.

Do you remember the Capital One commercials that end with “What’s in your wallet?” Well, now it’s your turn. I’ve got a wad of thanks sticking in my wallet of life. What’s in your wallet?

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Out of the Mouths of Babes . . ."

There are parts of teaching preschoolers that I just love! I’ve been teaching the Wee Worship class at my church for the last three Sundays and every Sunday, I tell stories of the cute things the kids say. Yesterday was no exception.

My lesson was on Gideon and how he learned to trust God. Trusting is believing that someone can do what he says he can do. When we trust God, this leads us to worship Him and praise Him for the powerful things He can do. So I talked to the children about how we worship God. I asked them what special words they would like to tell God because He is so powerful, so powerful that He could make dew appear on the wool fleece but not on the ground as we learned in our story.

There were the typical answers of “Thank you God,” “You are great,” and “I love you God.” I was surprised and pleased that the kids responded that much. Then it was Tori’s turn. She said, “I like you, God, a lot. You’re the best God of all.”

When Tori’s mother, who was the junior church teacher that morning, came to pick Tori up, I said, “I have to tell you what Tori said.” The mother said, “Oh no, what now?” I said, “No it’s good.” Then I told her what had happened. I told her it was so neat to hear kids say things in new refreshing ways, it showed they were internalizing what they were learning. Mom was pleased and delighted. I repeated Tori’s words, “You’re the best God of all.”

Then big sister, Allysa, interrupted. “He’s the only God,” she said. At first, some may think it sounded like big sister was being typical big sister in correcting her little sister’s theology. But Mom quickly smiled and said, “That’s right. That’s what we learned about today too, that He is the only God.”

Good for you, Allysa. That’s an important distinction. I’m glad you learned that now and I hope that sticks with you the rest of your life. There is only one God, there is none other. I hope you remember that when you are confronted by other world religions and someone tries to tell you that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe, that all religions lead to the same end. Nope! There is only one God, there is none other. The fact that Allysa could connect it to what her sister said shows she was internalizing and applying what she learned too.

And don’t worry, big sister. Little sister will “get it” later too. For right now, in her five year old brain, it’s pretty cool that God is the best God of all. You’re right, Tori. He is a mighty awesome God.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Whole Being Worship

In the introduction of her new book, “Ping Pong Words: And 30 More Children’s Sermons” Marti Suddarth says, “Preschoolers and early elementary-aged children often listen with more than just their ears. They stand while doing art projects, dance while listening to music, and wiggle and laugh while anticipating favorite parts of stories. In short, young children listen with their ears, their eyes, their voices and their whole bodies.” When I commented on this except to Marti, she told me how children in her first grade class will stand beside their desk as they contemplate a problem, concentrating so hard, they are unaware they have stood up.

This made me think of multiple verses in the Bible that talk about David’s reaction to God. He says, “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart (Psalm 9:1), “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name (Psalm103:1), “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands (Psalm 119:10), and “Give me understanding and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart (Psalm 119:34). [italics mine]

The New Testament builds on this concept of whole being surrender to God. Jesus told his followers to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Paul tells his readers, “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58).

As I watch the children I teach, I realize that God wants me to put my whole being into my worship of Him. How do I do this? Five year old Peyton reminded me how last Sunday. Four year old Tori told me solemnly that God is always with us. “But he’s invisible; we can’t see him,” she said. “One day, we’ll go to Heaven; then we’ll see Jesus and be with Him forever,” I told her. Hearing that, Peyton jumped out of her chair with a grin that lit up her face and clapped enthusiastically.

My worship should be exuberant. My service and obedience should be with whole hearted passion. When I am reminded of my spiritual blessings, I should burst out of my chair like Peyton. When I obey the Lord, it should be with such concentration that I’m not even aware of how I’m throwing my whole being into my obedience.

“Become like little children,” Jesus told us. This week I want to do some whole-being worship, some full blown service. How about you?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ping Pong Words

How come children can’t sit still in church? “My children did, why can’t today’s children do the same?’

I hear that often from the older generation. And I smile inside wondering just how still their children did sit and what the parents did do to keep their children quiet and occupied.

We’re learned a lot about children since the 1950’s when children were expected to sit still. We’ve finally admitted that for some preschool children, sitting still for thirty minutes is no more possible than for it to snow when it’s 90 degrees outside. Forget it. It’s not going to happen.

There’s another reason children easily get bored in church. As Marti Suddarth describes in her new boo, “
Ping Pong Words and 30 More Children’s Sermons,” children often listen with more than their ears. They learn with their whole body. They want to see, to touch, to taste, to move, often so deep in concentration, they aren’t even aware that they are standing or dancing as they learn.

If we’re going to reach our children effectively, we need to include all five senses in our teaching material. Marti has done this in her children’s sermon book. Marti presents time honored Bible concepts in a fun, visual format that will make kids stand up, move around and listen. From using ping pong balls to teach how our words can hurt others to potatoes to teach different ways to serve God, Marti includes an assortment of props to teach God’s truths.

Children’s sermons are a great idea and can be used anywhere you have a group of kids. They’re useful for the small church who doesn’t have the volunteers necessary to staff a children’s church to include in the adult worship. Who knows? The adults might wake up and learn something too! They also can be used in the children’s church setting as well as VBS, midweek youth meetings, even in your home schooling.

Hurrah for Marti for reminding us to use every available resource to reach the children we serve. If you would like a copy of Marti’s book, you can order “Ping Pong Words”

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ministry Of Interruptions

My last two weeks have been crazy! Every time I sat down to work on a project, I got interrupted. It seemed I could never focus on anything for more than a few minutes and by the time I got back to that project, it took time just to find out where I was! At one point, I thought, “This is about as bad as when I had preschoolers!”

Remember those days? Preschoolers have an attention span of five minutes unless Barney the Dinosaur is on television. Even then, thirty minutes was barely enough time to madly get some housework done much less get involved in anything serious. Whatever did I do back then?

Moms aren’t the only ones who get interrupted. Teachers inside the classroom are constantly having to stray from the lesson book to mend a torn book or a torn knee, settle a fist fight or review a math concept or memory verse five more times than anticipated before the children “get it.” If you work outside the home, especially in an office with a front desk and a telephone, you know about interruptions. My husband had a job at our seminary as the library’s media director. His day was constantly filled with walk-ins and telephone calls. One day, in exasperation, he complained to his boss how he couldn’t finish his work because of all the interruptions. Wise Mr. Davis had this advice. “Consider that God has given you the ministry of interruptions,” he told Jack.

This reminded me of what I learned in college in my internship as a home economist with the Cooperative Extension Service. My supervising home economist told me to leave one-third of my time unscheduled. That gave me the flexibility to meet the demands of the unexpected while still allowing time to get my other work done.

So how do we handle interruptions, whether they are from children, coworkers or the public we serve? Stay flexible. View your work in two parts: the planned and the unplanned. See the unplanned as divine opportunities for you to serve others. And pray that God will give you the discernment to see the difference between divine opportunities and distractions from the Evil One meant to get you off course from the important. Pray for boldness to say no to the distractions. And while you need to leave one third of your time unscheduled, you still need to plan for the other two thirds. Don’t allow the interruptions to rule your life.

Finally, memorize the words of Proverbs 16:3: "Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed." At the beginning of your day, surrender your Day-Timer to the Lord, asking Him to be in charge of your day. Watch Him smooth your path and accept the interruptions as His plans for you.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Two Is Enough

“You’re wasting your time.” The woman’s words caught me so much by surprise, I didn’t have time to respond before she plunged ahead. “You don’t need to be teaching children’s church. Those kids are old enough to sit upstairs in church. What grade are they anyway? How many did you have last week?”

“Um, two fourth graders.” I meekly said.

“Two?” she sputtered. “You ARE wasting your time.”

I tried to gently disagree with her. “Two children are important. No matter whether there are two or twenty, we need to teach them about Jesus.”

“Let them sit with their parents. You should be back in the choir where you can be using the talent God gave you.”

I sadly shook my head when I hung up. My well meaning encourager didn’t know the children. The girl could have sat with her parents, but the boy? He comes with his 83-year--old grandma, is in perpetual motion and has a self esteem as low as the belly of an earthworm. The two girls who came the week before? They came with one girl’s mother’s live-in boyfriend. They would have had no one to guide them through an adult worship service. The boyfriend needed to concentrate on the worship service for himself without the distraction of two girls. And they were learning far more in my class than they would get out of an adult worship services.

Before I allowed her comments to bother me unnecessarily, I had to realize where they were coming from. She meant well, but she was ignorant. She was also a pawn in the hands of the devil who DOES know that I can be easily discouraged, and who will use anything, even misdirected comments, to halt the work of proclaiming the gospel. It took a few days of praying and mulling before I realized that she was wrong. Just two children are important and are worth teaching.

Jesus liked small numbers too. He spent most of his time with just twelve men. His closest circle included just three. Several times, he had classes of one: the Samaritan woman, the rich young ruler, and the late night session with Nicodemus.

What were we teaching those two children on those two Sundays? We were giving them tools to be able to read the Bible on their own. How to read a Bible reference. How to find a Bible verse in the Bible. The difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. On both Sundays, we did a service projects by making little crafts that we distributed to the adults after church, reminding them to read their Bible every day. And I leave it to your imagination the personal conversations I had with them as we worked, conversations that built relationships and allowed me to show interest in them, conversations I couldn’t have had if I had had twenty children instead of two.

Two is enough. One is enough. 1 Peter 4:10 starts with, “Each one should use whatever gift he has to serve others faithfully. . .” Faithfully means I’m going to stick with it. My job is to teach, no matter how many or how few students I have. I’m going to do the best teaching job I can with whatever – and whoever God gives me.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Crops and Classrooms

The newsletter for my alma mater came in the mail today. The first page is usually a brag sheet of the latest accomplishments of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona. This time, I was impressed. UofA’s College of Agriculture, so the newsletter reports, is ranked first in the nation for their agronomy and crop science programs for research universities, second in entomology, and tenth in nutritional science.

But when I shared this exciting news with my husband, he laughed. “How perverse!” he said. "Of all the colleges in the US that are surrounded by rich farmland, who is ranked first in the nation for crop science? A school out in the middle of the desert!”

It made sense to me in a quirky way. We do research to find out more about a subject, to discover new ways to accomplish tasks, and to overcome the challenges of, at first turn of the dirt, an unsolvable problem. Rich farm land in Illinois provides no challenge for the scientist – unless they need to study ways to get rid of weeds and bugs and extra water. In the days before Arizona was flooded with exponential population growth, farming was a major industry. Arizona farmers built their reputation on their success with irrigation and other methods. In spite of the harsh conditions, Pima cotton is highly valued, the peaches in Wilcox are like none other, and don’t even get me started on the pleasures of Arizona citrus. The arid conditions have provided a challenge for farmer and scientist alike and they have excelled.

“Ah,” my husband said when I explained all of this. “The struggle makes us strong.” You got it, buddy.

That’s true of your students as well. As you look at the children inside your classroom, you may see some who come from harsh and arid home situations. You may see some children overwhelmed by the flood waters of abuse, addiction and bad relationships surrounding them on all sides. Your heart may break over children who are bugged by disabilities and intellectual roadblocks. You may be tempted to think, “Just think of what they could accomplish if they didn’t have all of this to overcome.” Nope. Just think of what they can become and how sweet the accomplishment will be when they do succeed. As a teacher, you can give them the tools and resources to help them discover how to excel over the challenges they face.

The struggle will make them strong.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Secret of Success Inside The Classroom

The word is official. My younger daughter has been selected as a National Merit Scholar semi-finalist. National Merit scholars are chosen based on their scores on the PSAT test, taken their junior year of high school. It’s not only as test of how well you do, but how well you do compared to everyone else who takes the test that year.

My daughter is rather overwhelmed by this success. Her test results are a surprise to her. She says she doesn’t consider herself that smart. It’s made us pause to consider who gets the credit for her honor.

The populace first credits her. Yet we’ve always taught our children that intelligence is a gift from the Creator. We cannot take credit or be arrogant about how smart we are. It’s how we choose to develop what we have that counts. When I think of the obstacles she has overcome, it makes the award all the more precious. She was born legally blind with the same eye disorder as I have. Because of the vision problem, she was labeled “developmentally delayed” for the first five years of her life. She developed a speech impediment that plagued her and put her in speech therapy for the next six years. In the middle of that, her school consolidated with the school of the next nearest town, then we moved three times. Between third and seventh grade, she attended six different schools, in three different states. It’s not been easy, yet she excelled. Her success as a semi-finalist can be credited as much to her persistence as her intelligence.

People have told us we deserve a lot of credit as her parents. I shake my head and say, “We didn’t do anything special.” Yet I look at the little things we did, those things schools encourage parents to do in those parenting newsletters the schools end home and statistical surveys say guarantee success. We read to our girls every night, even after they learned to read. We ate dinner together as a family. We asked about their homework and discussed projects with them. We took them to museums and made learning opportunities wherever we went. When people asked me if I homeschooled, I felt like saying, “Yes. I homeschool from three to eight every afternoon. The rest of the day I send them to public school.” We created a safe environment in which to learn. I guess that was important to do.

Yet I know full well, I cannot take all the credit either. There is a host of teachers and support staff that have cheered my daughter on and taught her what I could not. It started with Debbie, a home teacher for the Special Education Infants and Toddlers program in Colorado. She gave us direction and hope as she worked with our one year old baby. There's the two eye surgeons and wonderful optometrists who have worked with her to restore her vision to a current 20/40 visual acuity. Then there’s Brenda, the teacher of the special preschool in Kansas, and Judy, the occupational therapist, who worked so patiently with her and gave us zounds of ideas to do at home to develop her fine motor skills. There is Mrs. L., her second grade teacher who bought her a disposable camera and gave her the assignment to keep a journal when we had to take a week off of school to travel to Arizona to say goodbye to my dying grandmother. There’s Mr. S. in fourth grade, who championed her and helped her through the difficult transition to a large multi-cultural school. There’s Mr. R., the most fantastic guidance counselor who has worked beyond his job description to get the special materials she needs for standardized test. I owe my child’s success to these precious dedicated people and so many more.

What makes a child succeed? Intelligence is only a tiny fraction of success. Persistence, a willingness to work, and a sense of purpose are key ingredients too. Moreover supportive parents and encouraging, creative teachers can truly make a turnaround difference. This award belongs to everyone who has had a part in sculpting her life. I’d like to change the words Hillary Clinton once quoted when she said, “It takes a village to raise a child” to “It takes a GOOD village to raise a child.” We’ve been blessed by a village spawning several states and our daughter’s current academic success is the result.

Where do we grow from here? We’ve told our daughter this award is a stepping stone. It’s a gift from God that He can use to bring her into where He wants her to be. It will increase her chance for some nice scholarships that will free her to pursue her studies without the distraction of a part time job. It will move her into special academic opportunities that will prepare her to reach even higher levels in her chosen career. And each step allows her to be in a unique place where she can shine for Jesus. With her compassionate heart and her passion for evangelism, I have no doubt she’ll use whatever opportunities God presents to her.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part Three

How do you model forgiveness to a child? I remember when I first started teaching, I was so uptight about the D word – discipline! Could I keep my class under control? I was so consumed with making sure kids towed the line, I forgot to model forgiveness.

Kids will act out Inside The Classroom for a variety of reasons. Home life might be in the septic tank so they act out at school. They may not have had enough sleep. They may lack social skills and not know how to handle relationships with other kids. They, in their youthful inexperience, just may not know any better. That’s called foolishness. Many childhood mistakes are foolish, not sinful. And then there’s the Big One.- Rebellion.

The first step in modeling forgiveness to a child is to determine the why behind the action. If it’s fatigue or “acting out,” you may need to work and pray to find the core issue; in the meantime, forbear and patiently teach that child that there’s a better way to live and some behaviors are unacceptable, regardless of the reasons. If it’s foolishness, you have the opportunity to teach a better way. After all, that’s what you are there for – to teach! If it’s rebellion, a blatant breaking of the rules, you have an opportunity to model forgiveness.

If the child has actually disobeyed, the next step is to state to the child what the rule is, how he or she has broken it, and what the consequences will be. This needs to be done in a calm but firm voice. If you are angry and your anger is threatening to show, you need a time out! (Sometimes when I was angry at my children, I would tell them, “I’m taking a time out in my bedroom. When I calm down, I’ll deal with you then.” They told me later that put more fear into them than anything because they knew they must have really blown it to make Mom mad!) Tell the child what punishment you have chosen. Ask, “Why am I doing this?” Try to get them to tell you why they are being punished, what they have done wrong.

At this point, you may choose to ask the child if they are sorry for what they did. . I believe in asking the child in this process, “What you did was wrong. You broke the rules. Are you sorry you did that?’ If the error is an altercation between two children, try encouraging them to say they are sorry to each other. Don’t push this however. Don’t force them to say the words or stand them in corners until they are “ready to say you’re sorry.” Kids have a way of patching up misunderstandings and playing with each other sooner than teachers expect!

True repentance is a change of direction. To help your child with this step, ask, “What are you going to do next time (someone hits you or you get angry and need to express your anger)?”

After you have determined the necessary punishment (or consequences as I like to call them), now is your opportunity to model forgiveness. If it’s your own child, pull that kid into your lap for a hug and a reassurance of your unconditional love. If it’s a child in your classroom, try getting down to the child’s level, put a hand on their shoulder, and in language they can understand, tell them you forgive them and you still like them and you are interested in helping them become the best they can be. Then find an activity for them to do, perhaps help you erase the blackboard, pass out napkins for snack or get involved in a new project. Redirect their energy into something positive. When the child is doing something good or positive, look for a chance to give praise or say something kind.

By now you are saying, “I don’t have time for all these multiple steps! While all of this is ideal, take what you can do. Send up arrow prayers as situations arise, asking God to help you know the best tactic to take and specific ways you can show forgiveness to the child after the altercation. Pray for your kids. Pray that the Lord will help you say or do something kind for each child sometime within the class period. Your thoughtfulness, regardless of how they have acted or treated you is the stuff they will remember the rest of their lives.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part Two

“B- - , you don’t hit people.”

“He hit me first.”

“You don’t hit back. That doesn’t make it right for you to hit.”

“Yes it does.”

While this is a real conversation I heard yesterday between a fellow Sunday School teacher and a fourth grade boy, I’ve heard this same conversation so many times. Same song, second verse. Major case of deja’ blue. Blue, because I and all the other Sunday School teachers feel so sad and frustrated that our kids haven’t caught the idea behind forgiveness. It’s easy to go home, wondering why I bother spending hours teaching when the message doesn’t seem to connect.

As I noted in my last post, forgiveness is a tough, abstract concept that is even difficult for adults. Yet I think there are ways we can teach forgiveness that will be more effective than just saying, “You ought to forgive.” Before a child can understand forgiveness, there’s some groundwork teachers would be wise to lay. Here are some ides for you.

1. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them to be others’ focused. It takes awhile for children to lose their self absorption. Piaget, the child development guru, talked about parallel play and cooperative play, that children won’t start to be aware of other children and enter into cooperative play until about age four or five. As children start elementary school, they are ready to get involved in service projects and to enjoy deeper friendships.

We can guide their development by involving them as helpers, rewarding them when they do show kindness to others, and lead them in helping the hurting. This is teaching them to do good and to be kind, but we’re also setting the stage for building the compassion they need in order to forgive, for forgiveness requires that they are able to look beyond themselves and their own hurt.

2. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what sin is and the consequences of sin. We often teach children as young as three years ol what it means to obey God. The rest of the lesson is that all of us have failed to obey God at some point. In our culture that is bloated on entitlements, it’s hard for people to accept personal responsibility for their own actions, much less to assume responsibility for others’ actions through forgiveness. While teaching children about their willingness to admit personal sin is a prerequisite for salvation, it again sets the stage for them to learn to forgive. And that leads me to my third point.

3. We can help children learn to forgive by teaching them what it’s like to have done something wrong and to be forgiven themselves. It is easier for me to forgive when I realize that I too have done wrong and caused harm to others. We can help our kids grasp forgiveness by modeling forgiveness when they do wrong or disobey us. I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

4. Finally, we can help children learn to forgive by giving them a sense of God’s ability to work beyond evil; that God is still in control of our lives and one small slight from another human being can’t get in the way of God’s overall plan for us. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God. God is far more powerful than the evil of men. Therefore, we can endure the price we must pay to forgive because we are confident God can overcome those consequences.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part One

Teaching children Inside the Classroom has taught me to think about great theological concepts in simple terms and with concrete examples. When we teach children, we often use object lessons, illustrations, and bible stories to teach these great biblical truths. I find that when I’m outside the classroom, my mind still tends to think in those terms.

Take forgiveness for example. Forgiveness is one of those virtues, let’s face it, that even the most mature of Christians still struggles to understand and emulate. What is forgiveness? How do I know when I have been successful in forgiving someone who has wronged me?

I use Site Meter to track how many of you visit my site. Site Meter also tells me what searches people used to bring them to my site. Lately I’ve noticed a number of people looking for information on how to teach forgiveness to children. I’ve pondered this a lot in the last two weeks How do we teach this incredibly important yet difficult subject to kids? How do we teach what we ourselves have trouble grasping, much less getting a grip on? Learning to put the concept of forgiveness in the concrete terms a child could understand has helped me in my ability to forgive.

Suppose you buy two pounds of bulk candy and the store only gives you one pound, still charging you for two pounds? What are you going to do? You’ve been cheated out of that one pound of candy! You have three choices: You can insist that you get the candy or your money back, you can forgive and forget, or you can inwardly resent that you never got your candy and hold the candy store responsible in your mind for cheating you out of your candy.

Let’s say you try to get your candy or your money back, and the store refuses to make it right. Or even though the store is sorry for the mistake, they don’t have the money or candy to give to you. You are left with two choices. Resentment only hurts you so you are left with the choice to forgive and let it go. That’s fine, but there is one problem. You still don’t have your candy and you are still out the money you paid for it. Who is going to pay for that candy?

Forgiveness is being willing to pay the price. In Jesus’ story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the servant owed far more than he could possibly pay. So his master forgave the debt. There’s one problem. Who paid the debt. The master was stilled owed all that money. We can assume that the master paid the debt. That means the master was out millions of dollars. He had to pay the debt.

In any wrong, there is a debt to be paid whether it’s for a pound of candy we didn’t get, a life that we must live without, or a fracture in a relationship that has caused us hurt and inconvenience. Who’s going to pay the debt? Are you going to insist the other person pay and make it right? If so, what action will satisfy your desire to balance the books of justice?

Forgiveness costs. It’s too easy to mouth the words, “I forgive you,” without realizing the cost we are agreeing to pay in order to forgive. True forgiveness is willingness to endure the harm caused without seeking revenge or insisting on doling out punishment to the other person.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the prerequisites of forgiveness; what we need to teach children before we can teach them to forgive.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Fugitive of Childhood

The lessons I learn from the children I teach most of6ten happen inside the classroom walls of my own home. As my last child enters her final year of high school, those classroom doors, inch by inch, are starting to swing shut. In many ways, she acts and talks and thinks like an adult. She understands the cynicism behind a Murphy’s law daily calendar entry, and scarier yet, when I comment on the cynicism, she understands the definition of the word “cynicism.”

With a surge of longing, I grasp at her childhood, trying to draw it back to me. “Don’t grow up,” I implore her for about the thousandth time of her childhood. She stops packing her purse with contact solution and make-up. “What made you say that?” she asks.

“Don’t go to school today,” I say as I hug her. “Let’s stay home and make mud pies and play with dollies.”

Still incredulous at her mother’s insane babble, the adult pragmatic side of her nature takes over. “We don’t have any mud.”

“Oh yeah,” I relinquish. “Well, there’s still doll babies. And we can make tea and crumpets and have a tea party with the dolls.”

“I have to go to school, Mommy,” she counters, holding the fleeting sunbeam of childhood in her hand in the length of the single word endearment of “Mommy.”

“Tuesday (the dog) can help you eat the crumpets,” my husband offers.

“But she can’t drink tea,” I pout. “Stay home and we’ll play with dolls and build towers with blocks and knock them down.”

“We don’t have any blocks either,” she says. Cruel child. Must she remind me that the toys of yesterday have left with her childhood? Fortunately, she has forgotten that the dolls are gone too, all except the sit-pretties that stay behind glass so they won’t get dirty and they can last forever.

My children have taught me how to play. And now that I have finally learned the lesson of play, they have entered the same busy, frenetic world that I am trying to escape. Perhaps that is why mothers long to have grandchildren so we can catch the sunbeams of childhood again and play with the sit-pretty dollies we kept under glass too long and let the dog join us for tea and crumpets.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sunday School and Mission Fields

Sunday, I will have a new student in my high school Sunday School class. One of our church members is taking in a foreign exchange student from China. Under the foreign exchange program, they must participate in all family activities, including church. I’m excited! I’m also a little nervous.

When my younger daughter who is in the class, heard the news, she said, “Ho boy. That’s going to change the dynamics of the class!” She is so right. My group of kids isn’t normally very talkative anyway. I’ve just reached the point of getting them to crack a smile once in awhile. With a new student, especially one from a different culture, they’re sure to clam up again.

We’re also in the middle of a study of Galatians – which is a tough book in my estimation. I may need to tailor what I say, not being so hard hitting in the deeper Christian living area and yet, I think what a wonderful opportunity to talk about authentic Christianity. This guy does speak English, but I wonder about the balancing act between simplifying my words for his sake without leaving him in the dust of the other students’ boredom.

At one time in my life, I wanted to be a missionary. I even headed off for seminary with that goal in mind. Meeting Mr. Wonderful and doing a reality check on my motives caused me to change my studies to Christian education, but I’ve still always had a heart for the mission field. Now, the mission field has come to me. Funny how life can come full circle.

How will I handle the changes that will come to our class? The first thing I’m going to do – which I’ve learned so many times before in my teaching – is to pray for God’s guidance. Pray and pray and pray some more. I’m going to pray for wisdom, to know what I should say and how I should say it. I’m going to pray for my other students, that they will be accepting and that actually they will open up even more – contrary to what I expect will happen. And I’ll pray for this young man, that he may see the authentic Christ living in us.

If you have ever had a student from another culture in your class, I’d like to hear the challenges you faced and how you fine tuned your teaching to meet the needs of that students. You can share your thoughts by clicking on the link below that says “Comments.”

Yep. I think I’m excited.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Praying for Our Kids

As I mention on my profile, I am a writer as well as a Christian educator. I’m excited about two articles that are coming out this month.

“In The Meantime: Making The Most of Your Time in God’s Waiting Room” appears in the September/October issue of Pray! Magazine. How do you cope during the space between your prayer and God’s answer? I hope some of my insights from Scripture might help readers endure and even delight in the time they spend waiting with the Lord. Pray! Magazine is a fantastic periodical that calls Christians to a deeper prayer life, a deeper walk with God.

Christian Leader, a magazine published by the US Conference of Mennonite Brethren, will carry my article on how to pray for a college student. Keep checking back on this link for the September 2007 online issue.

As you can tell, I’m not only passionate about teaching children, I’m also passionate about prayer. Prayer defines our relationship with God. Our ability to pray deeply and specifically measures the depth of our faith in God’s ability to work and intervene in our lives and our world today. God’s answer may not always come as soon as we like or we may never see His full answer. Yet we can trust that He is indeed working and He cares about His presence in the world, in our lives and in the lives of those we love far more than we do.

This includes our children. As a mother of one college student and another about to fly the nest of high school, I know it takes tremendous trust to let them go, hoping, oh so hard, that I’ve done enough to prepare them for the complicated world they must now face on their own. If your child attends a public or secular university, they will face as hodge-podge of worldviews and lifestyles. They will meet the challenge of “living in this world but not being of it” – a tough balancing act, as parents and mature adults know all too well. I hope my article will be a starting point for you to pray for the college student in your life. If this leads you to think of other issues students face that are important to pray for, share your thoughts with the rest of us in a Comment.

All our children need prayer. They need prayer that God will guide them and protect them, that He will bring them up to a strong faith that is their own. Choose a child you know today and bring their name before the throne of God. Intercede for that child. God will be faithful!

If you don’t have access to these magazines, will you join me in praying during this month that these two articles will have an impact on those who do read them, that Christians will be spurred to pray for Christian college students and that they will learn patience and they will grow in their relationship with their Heavenly Father as they wait for the revealing of His answers? Thanks.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Loving the Unlovely

A week ago, I attended a “high tea,” a program two ladies of our church put together for our ladies’ group at my church. It was an exquisite evening. The meal portion of the tea was served in three courses, each course served with several different kinds of tea. As we ate and drank, JoAnne, one of the hostesses, explained the history and etiquette behind the tea ceremony.

Afterwards, JoAnne explained the source of her interest and expertise in the tea ceremony. JoAnne taught high school English for twenty years before retiring. As part of her curriculum on British and colonial literature, she would hold a tea ceremony each year. She bought a set of plain white china plates and tea cups and brought in her British grandmother’s antique china tea pot. Before the scheduled class, she locked the door and put a shade over the class window so no one could see the transformation of the classroom. She set a paper doily, a china plate and tea cup on each desk. As the class went through the ceremony, she served the dainty food and several blends of tea.

Sound a little frumpy for high school kids? Not at all. After kids had experienced it in her class, they would come to her the next year. “Are you doing that tea thing again? Can I help?” they would ask. Years later, her students still remembered the tea ceremony.

“You know who appreciated the tea ceremony the most?” she asked us. “It was the worst kids in my classes. They were so surprised that anyone would do something that nice for them.”

As a fellow teacher, I was inspired in my own teaching. It made me think of something that happened a month ago in junior church. One of my worst kids was being his normally worst self. An elder came down to serve Communion to me and any other baptized children as is our custom. I wondered how I could get this child to stand still long enough to be respectfully quiet. I called him to stand beside me and put my arm around him, expecting him to squirm away. Instead, he nestled into the crook of my arm and stayed there quietly, pressing his little head against my side. Was he surprised that someone would hug him?

Our human nature wants to lash out to these worst kids. We find ourselves instinctively raising our voices, adding a hard edge to our tone, rationalizing that that’s all they understand. They’re the hardest ones of all to show love and kindness to. Yet, when we do, those are the ones who will appreciate it the most. Why? Because they need it the most.

It makes me think of Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:38-43). Why did Jesus say this? Because Jesus knew. The ones who are the worst are the ones who need the love the most and they’re not going to get it from anywhere else. The light of love shines most brightly in the greatest darkness.

Who needs the light of Christ’s love this week in your life? What special kindness can you do that will surprise them that someone would do something that nice for them?

Friday, August 24, 2007

What's On Your Reading List?

As a teacher, my goal is to teach and influence the children I serve. I don’t know how much I have accomplished over the years in influencing the lives of my students, but I know that they have influenced and taught me perhaps far more than I have ever given to them. Just in the area of good literature, my own two children have spurred me to go far beyond what I normally would read.

Recently my reading habits have been reduced to email, internet blurbs, and the occasional John Grisham novel. Yet this summer, my younger daughter had to read three books of classic literature to prepare for her senior AP English class. We agreed we would read several of the books together so she would have someone to talk to about them. So this summer, I have read, “Pride and Prejudice: by Jane Austin, “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and “Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw. My, oh my! For someone used to writing and reading tight, fast paced articles, the long descriptions and introspective morality and social climate discussions have been quite a stretch. I thought I would get bored or have trouble focusing on the page long paragraphs that, according to modern publishing circles, didn’t move the plot along. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed this slower pace of literature. It’s literature you want to ponder, not rush through to see “who done it?” It poses great thoughts. And best of all, it shows that human nature and society of yesterday and today are still very similar. It’s been a stretching experience and I wouldn’t have done it without the challenge of my daughter. I will admit, I’m very glad someone made a musical out of “Pygmalion.” Much improved!

The influence of their reading habits is nothing new. When they were in elementary school, I was introduced to the whimsy of “Good Night Moon” and “The Very Quiet Caterpillar.” We read together the Little House on the Prairie books, the Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, and Tom Sawyer. Their middle school had a Battle of the Books program with quiz bowl type teams who answered questions on twelve different books. They brought home lists of some of the top Newberry and Caldecott book winners. And so I was introduced to “Holes,” “Bogart,” and “The Midwife’s Apprentice.”

One of their reading habits has pricked my conscience over and over, and inspired me to get back on track. Both of them read their Bibles daily. While we’ve emphasized the importance of Bible study in our house, I’m not sure they got this habit from me. I used to read my Bible shortly after they left for school, so they never really saw me establishing a devotional time of my own. I admit, I’ve let it slip over the years. Too often, my devotional time ends up as studying for a Sunday School lesson. As we started the new school year, I got up the first morning to find my high school senior daughter had not changed. Her light was on and she was quietly reading. I’m inspired to follow her lead and this final year of school, make Bible reading an everyday part of my day.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Ingredients for a Successful VBS

As I mentioned in my last post, our church is holding VBS this week. In my role as storyteller, I’ve been impressed with the behavior of the children this year. In previous years, I went home discouraged and dismayed. Children talked while I was talking. They would punch each other, play with each other, act inattentive, stare at me and do nothing if I asked them a question or asked them to do something. There’s been hardly any of that this year. Why?

We’ve done some things differently this year and my suspicions say that this is why we are having such an attentive group of children. Here’s what I see.

1. Organization. The organization and structure this year is tight. Our directors have been holding meetings for two months. Every worker knows what they are supposed to be doing and when they are supposed to be doing it. I think children sense when the adults are insecure about what they are doing and the kids subconsciously act out because they are pushing the boundaries and the boundaries move. If you want well behaved kids, know what you are doing and make sure all your helpers know what you are doing as well.

2. Vision. Our directors took time to teach every worker, even the “snack ladies” about the theme, the major point for each day and the songs. We were encouraged to make sure that everything we did reflected the theme of the day. Every single worker was encouraged to keep emphasizing the theme throughout each evning. During this week, I’ve heard workers doing that, even the snack ladies.

3. Volunteers. I’ve noticed a wide variety of staff workers this year. In years past, we’ve had a lot of teenagers take key positions. This year, there are more adults. If teens are doing a key leadership role, there are plenty of adults around to support them. We’ve also had more men around. Several men are just “drifting through” helping when necessary and interacting with the kids. While I totally believe in helping our teens gain leadership skills by working in VBS, we need to remember that they are still inexperienced and they need support and training. We can’t back off and let them do all by themselves. In today’s society, our kids need male figures in their lives. I think the presence of both men and women have made this group of kids feel secure.

4. An engaging program. Our curriculum this year has been wonderful. The entire church has been turned into a water park with blue tarps, wading pools, beach towels and ice chests strewn around the church. As soon as the children walk into the auditorium, the power point projector is showing a slide show of pictures from the previous day. This is engaging their attention and drawing them into the program as soon as they arrive. They don’t have time to get bored!

5. The Power of God. We can do all we can do, but we still have to rely on God’s Holy Spirit to make sure His message connects with these precious children. I know people have been praying. A great prayer to pray during VBS is that children will listen and that they will not distract others from listening as well. Now our task is to pray that the message we’ve proclaimed this week will take root in these young lives and they will remember the God of Power they’ve met this week.


My next column will appear two weeks from now since my family will head to some quiet countryside for a long needed break. In the meantime, may the Lord bless your work with children, so that they will continue to grow in the knowledge, wisdom and grace of God.

Need Some Help?

Thank you so much for the good feedback I’ve been receiving from some of you, both in the comments section and at my private email. Some time back, a friend wrote in response to my blog entry on seeking help in the classroom. She wrote, “I really, really agree that it's nice to have people helping each other in different tasks, rather than one person taking the whole load on themselves. Most of the time, that's why I say "no" to doing things, because I'd have to be doing "whatever" all by myself, and it just seems too much. So I turn it down. Whereas if I could be working with someone, it would make all the difference. Even just "presence" and "moral support" can help.”

Many children’s ministry leaders would groan at Rhonda’s comments. It’s hard enough finding one teacher for a class, much less two for every class. Some teachers would rebel at having a helper. They feel threatened and intimidated by someone else in the room, especially if it’s another adult. Having a helper is too much work because you can’t fly by the seat of your pants if you have a helper. Instead of throwing a lesson together Sunday morning, you have to plan and provide ways for the helper to actually be a helper. And some people don’t like being helpers, especially if the very competent teacher has nothing for them to do. Why should they be standing around doing nothing?

Our church is holding VBS this week. I am the storyteller in our site rotation styled VBS. I have three different age groups of children coming through my door. For each group, I’ve had to prepare an introduction activity, a story, an application activity and a challenge. Basically three lesson plans for five nights in a row. I knew there was not way I could all this, but everyone, from the directors down, told me I was so good at storytelling, that I was the best one for the job. I still knew there was no way I could do it. I might be a great storyteller but my health is not good enough to handle that kind of punishing schedule.

I made it clear to the planning committee that I was no artist and there was no way I could begin to create the “environment” and backdrops for the story. No problem, they said. We’ll find others to do that. A man volunteered and we discovered Dale had undiscovered artistic ability

My next step was organizing the lessons. Each group travels with “park guides,” volunteers who take the children from station to station. So I got them involved. I gave them copies of the lesson plans and asked them to gather and prepare any materials needed for each of the activities. I gave them the option of leading some of the activities. I also found other people to help me do the dramatic storytelling. Sometimes they performed the skit; other times they pantomimed actions while I told the story. During the sessions, I’ve been the bridge from activity to story to activity.

At one point, I apologized to one of the park guides for “taking over” and asked her if she wanted to lead the next day’s beginning activity. “Are you kidding?” she said. “You do such a good job. You are the one to do it.” I told her that I’m not a good detail person and there was a lot to keep track of, so it meant a great deal to me for her to collect and prepare the materials. She dismissed my praise with a wave of her hand. “And that is absolutely fine with me,” she said.

It took a lot of coordination on my part to involve these different groups of people. But I’m so glad I did. They have relieved me to do what I do best and I know this week has been so smooth because I’ve had that cadre of helpers.

In America, we tend to think independently and give the wrong idea that everything is on our shoulders. I understand in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world, people have a different mindset. They tend to think as a collective, that it’s not one person making the work happen, but the entire team. Perhaps when it comes to children’s ministry, we need to have more of that collective mindset. It might take more work initially, but when we follow the biblical example of working as a cooperative team, we’ll find our children’s programs become far more effective.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Your Kids and Evolution

I’ve continued to receive interesting feedback on some of my columns recently. I want to comment on those to keep up the dialogue and I will do so in my next post later this week. After that, my family and I will be on a much needed vacation for ten days.

My latest “read” is Chuck Colson’s, “How Now Shall We Live?” an apologetic book that shows how Christians can stand up against opposing worldviews. In one of the early chapters, Colson uses a fictional story to tell how a daughter of church going parents has strayed from God, particularly because her head has been filled in school with the philosophy of naturalism, that the earth just happened, that nature has always been around and that humans are relegated to the level of animals because of evolutionary processes. Colson points out that this belief in evolution is all around us and begins its indoctrination process to even our smallest of children through displays at Disney World, science museums, movies, children’s books, and of course, the public school classroom starting, in my children’s experience, in third grade.

As I’m reading this chapter, my daughters are both at our church building preparing for their major roles in Vacation Bible School this week. They are young ladies who not only believe in Christ but contend for their faith. When they got home, I asked them to read this particular chapter, then I asked, “You’ve been exposed to this stuff too. What made you come out on the other side?” I guess I was fishing for, “What else besides your parents blowing gaskets on a regular basis about telltale lines in “Land Before Time” and in children’s museums influenced you to stick with a Christian worldview?”

One daughter’s answer hit me hard with its powerful message. “Before we were ever exposed to teaching about evolution, we were taught thoroughly that God and His creation are absolutely true.”

Her comment made me think of something I’d read years ago about how Christian parents in Communist Russia had to thoroughly ground their children in the foundations of Christianity before they ever hit first grade so that they could survive the indoctrination of the Communist run public schools. This is the tactic that we now must use in our postmodern society that espouses a hostile worldview to Christianity.

(Forgive me, I’m about to get strong here!) This is exactly why it is so utterly important for us to not lag in our Christian preschool programs. Preschool programs are not a babysitting time. We also need to be careful to not overbalance the life application section of the lesson as is the current trend. It’s not a waste to spend our teaching time telling children those bible stories over and over again about “God made the world” and “Jesus loves you.” When we do this we are laying down that critical foundation of truth that our kids will need to have before they are ever exposed to evolution thought in the elementary school.

And it can’t happen just in the Sunday School classroom once a week. Parents need to tell those bible stories over and over. Why? Not because they are stories of faith only. It is because they are truth and they establish God as the author of absolute truth.