Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bible Teaching: The Power of the Holy Spirit

Recently, a church member called me with a question about the Bible. "Where is the story about Elijah on Mt Carmel?" she asked. I gave her the reference from 1 Kings 18. Then she explained the reason for her question. Her sixteen-year-old grandson, Johnny, had asked his mom where the story was, for he wanted to read the story for himself. Her curiosity piqued, his mom asked him if he had heard the story recently. No, Johnny explained, he recalled hearing the Bible story many years before, wondered where it was in the Bible, and now wanted to read the story for himself.

I love to hear stories like this! It's a perfect example of how the Holy Spirit works. Jesus told his disciples, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26)." What a tremendous help the Holy Spirit became as he enabled these men to inscribe on paper the words that would become the New Testament. The Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts and minds of believers, reminding them of what they had heard. It's a promise that gives me, a lowly Sunday School teacher, hope that, even though it doesn't seem like my students are listening to me on a particular day, the Holy Spirit will bring to their memory the words of Scripture they have heard through my teaching days, months, even years later.

That's not all. Isaiah 55:10,11 says, "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." One of our highest goals as teachers should be to motivate our students to study God's Word for themselves. Be assured that God's Word will work within the minds of our students, even years later to convict them of sin and righteousness, to convince them, like Johnnie, of the power of God and to challenge them to seek Him and know Him for themselves.

On my most discouraging days, when I feel like I'm speaking into the haze of too little sleep and the hyperactivity of a high sugar breakfast, when it seems my kids care more about what's for snacks than about my awesome memory verse game, I can be confident that God through His Spirit is more powerful than I am and He will make sure His word reaches into the recesses of my students' souls where it needs to reach. "The word of God is living and active," says the writer of Hebrews. "Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thought and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

So let's be bold about presenting the word of God! Let's give God's Holy Spirit something to work with! As teachers, let's promise ourselves we will never shy away from proclaiming God's truth, quoting His word, being prepared "in season and out of season" like Paul admonished Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2). Even though we may never know the end results, even though we may never hear that our students picked up a Bible years later to find for themselves where that story was located in the Bible, let's give it all we've got.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grabbing the Teachable Moment

On Mary 5, 2010, a California high school assistant principal sent five students home for wearing t-shirts bearing an emblem of the American flag because they provoked the school's Hispanic population of students by wearing the shirts on the Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo..

I liked a Fox News commentator's take on the fiasco. Mary Katherine Ham noted on the "O'Reilly Factor" that this would have been a prime opportunity for teachers and administrators to teach the lessons of tolerance. Tolerance and diversity are big buzz words on high school and college campuses so why couldn't teachers sit students down and explain that while they respect the students' zeal and exuberance in displaying their cultural heritage, this is a time to respect, tolerate and celebrate other people's uniqueness and differences as well. Ham was expressing the concept of "the teachable moment."

Quite often on this forum, I have supported the philosophy that everything we do in the classroom needs to be directed toward the goals we have for that day. Snacks, bulletin boards, the music you play, the coloring pages you distribute should all focus on your specific content for that day. If you are teaching a story about Joseph forgiving his brothers,, you don't pass out coloring pages of baby Moses or let the kids watch a Veggie Tales video about Jonah and the whale. The lesson you present is like a well coordinated wrapped package, a tastefully decorated room or the perfect accessorized outfit; everything fits the lesson schematic. Children's ministry workers don't have the luxury of time for a mix n-match approach to Bible learning.

But there are exceptions to every rule. Some days, your kids may not be ready to hear about forgiveness. Because of what is happening in their lives, they may need to be reassured of the love of God or the need to stand firm against the temptations of the world they encounter "out there." You may need to drop your well laid plans to grab a teachable moment.

Jesus did this quite often. An argument among his disciples precipitated a lesson on humility (Mk 9:33-41). The disruption of mothers bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus turned into a moment to teach about faith and attitudes toward the Kingdom of God (Mk 10:13-16). A hungry group of disciples too impatient to wait for lunch turned into a lesson for the Pharisees about the true meaning of Sabbath rest (Mt 12:1-8).

Plan your lesson so that each part fits into the whole, yet have the flexibility to pause your lesson plans to grab those teachable moments. A tornado warning could be the perfect time to teach about God's power as shown through creation and how that same power can protect us from harm. A disruptive student may be an opportunity to teach about forbearance, grace and forgiveness. A class conflict, such as the California Cinco de Mayo misunderstanding, can be a time to teach about how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, each unique yet each special to God. Spilled paint may be the perfect moment to teach about grace by holding a child close and saying calmly. "It's ok. Let's clean up this mess together."

You won't need to deviate much from your plans. Sometimes all it takes is one or two wise sentences, a quoted reminder from the Bible or a simple hug of forgiveness from you. As a preacher at my home church when I was a teenager said to me, "Use every opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord." That includes even the disruptive moments.