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.