Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Ten days ago, my husband went in for outpatient surgery. Today, he is still in the hospital. He came home twice, only to return due to multiple complications. We've felt like we have been in a whirlpool of quicksand that has threatned to suck us under. As a minister, he has been so frustrated because he feels he has left his congregation dangling. My writing files have remained unopened on the computer. There have been days I've done well to do little more than keep my eyes open and my head on straight. Our faith has been tried; our marriage vows to love "for better, for worse" have been tested. So many people have ministered to us and carried us through this difficult time. I've wanted to represent Jesus well but have despaired at times, thinking I've let him down terribly. Right now, neither Jack or I are doing the work we feel God has called us to do.
Today, I stepped over to the church to take our secretary a video file for tomorrow's community Thanksgiving service. I found her and the youth minister discussing their inability to call a mom about a child with an earache. Impulsively, I said, "Let me take care of her. I'll find a couch for her to lie down on and I'll play Mom until the session ends." So I did. We got her to lie on her side, we talked about school, about books, about her. Pretty soon, she said she felt better and ran to join her small group.
It's the little things that count.
I walked over to a volunteer who was talking with a parent. The parent told us how her little boy was learning so much about the Bible. One day, the father, a carpenter, was griping about how difficult and unimportant his job was. The child said, "Well, Dad, I think carpenter do amazing things. After all, look what Noah did!"
You never know what children are picking up, how they are processing what we are teaching them. Our ministry is not just to children - it's to the parents as well.
As I prepared to leave, I grasped her hand. "Tell Mia," I said, "to tell her dad that Jesus was a carpenter too." Her "Ah ha" smile and the light in her eyes was reward enough. In spite of my own overwhelming burdens that siphoned my energy and held captive my time, in spite of my failure to be at my best during a difficult time, God still chose to use me in the small moments.
Proverbs 16:9 says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps."
Monday, November 07, 2011
In case you missed the comment section, here's one reader's reaction:
"My best introduction to children's books was at the university when I took a class on children's literature. It gave me an overview of what was out there and which authors won awards. But that was 30 years ago. I wonder what that book list would look like today. As a Christian teacher and a parent I would be on the lookout for content in books, new and old. I guard younger children from topics which have values that I don't agree with. I read books myself first. Then with older children I would read and discuss books that presented different values. But the challenge is to find a good quantity of books that promote good values and are good literature."
She gives some wise, practical advice and makes several good points. If less books are available for children, parents and teachers will need to become more diligent in supervising what their children do read. How do you do that?
Read the book first.
Value content above visual impact.
Be discerning about the values the book is teaching.
Shield younger children from questionable values; be willing to discuss those values with older children.
Don't shield older children from books with different values but strive to provide a balance of books with the values you want your children to have.
How do you help your children become discerning of good literature?
My reader continues:"When I was home schooling I learned that reading and copying good writers would help develop the students own reading and writing skills. So, an exercise we did was to have them copy a sentence or two each day from a classic author. This was also good to do with the Bible."
Cream will always rise to the top. That is true of music and books. The best will last so look for books for your kids that have stood the test of time.
Finally, my reader concludes with a commitment that is a worthy challenge for all of us. Pray for those who write children's books. Pray that they will remember who they are writing for, that they will present God's truths and God's ways with excellence and appeal. Pray that the Lord smooth their path to publication so that quality, truth and faith-based books can once again dominate the market.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Every year, I struggle with how to approach Halloween. Should I treat it as just an innocent holiday of fun or, because others use it for evil, should I have nothing to do with it? For several years, I’ve chosen flight over fight to avoid having to take a stand as I head out for dinner and shopping while kids roam my neighborhood so I don’t have to make a choice. More recently, as I’ve heard how Satan worshipers and others consider October 31st as a high holy day, I’ve swung more to the side of wanting nothing to do with the holiday so I can avoid the appearance of evil altogether.
Jesse Craig, minister at the Valley Christian Church, preached a sermon about Halloween this last Sunday that was the best explanation of how a Christian ought to approach Halloween that I’ve ever heard. With Mr. Craig’s permission, I’d like to share the outline of his sermon.
He based his thoughts on the Scripture text from 1 Corinthians 10:14-33. His thesis was this: we are all one body. How we treat others is what is important. “Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial (v. 23).
Instead of asking, “Is this all right for me to do this?” we should ask, “How will this bring glory to God?” and “Am I going to cause someone else to stumble in their faith by participating in this?” Instead of focusing on our own pleasure, focus on God and on others. Sounds like a recipe for life. It applies to our approach to Halloween as well.
His four-point outline taken from 1 Corinthians is this:
1. Don’t do anything that would make your brother - or a child – stumble
2. We are free in Christ. You are fee to make your own choices. So are others. Avoid the temptation of criticizing others for how they choose to handle this difficult situation. Whatever you do, don’t be nasty about others’ choices. See Romans 14:1,2
3. Love other people. Love them in spite of the choices they make, in spite of their stand on Halloween. Use Halloween as an opportunity, not to fear the darkness, not to tolerate the darkness, but to shine brightly in the darkness.
4. Halloween is a great chance to shine for Jesus. Look for opportunities to offer safe and wholesome alternatives. Give your kids options that will enable them to steer them away from the world.
Matthew 5:16 – How are we going to let our light shine? Here are some practical ideas on how we can shine for Jesus at Halloween:
1. Distribute information about your church along with candy.
2. Trick or treating is the one time your kids are allowed to ring doorbells! Have your kids pass out invitations to your church. (I love this one!)
3. Give nickels and dimes to kids instead of candy. (You will probably spend less money!)
4. Play Christian music in the background.
5. Dress up as a bible character as you distribute candy.
6. Have your kids dress up as Bible Characters. Make sure they know who they are so they can tell people who ask and that they can tell a short story about the Bible character.
7. Carve a cross on a pumpkin instead of a scary face. Put a candle in it and tell kids that Jesus is the light of the world.
8. Whether or not you participate in Halloween, pray for the kids who will be on the streets.
(I would like to add to this one. Pray for college kids as well. Often students on secular campuses use Halloween as an excuse to push the envelope in participating in orgies, drunkenness and demonic activities. My daughters who attend a secular university have told me stories of how they hide out in their dorm rooms Halloween weekends so they don't have to be exposed to the lewd behavior. Pray for Christian students to have strength to resist temptation.)
Remember: Halloween offers the Christian yet another opportunity to love others as Christ loves us.
“Be very careful then how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” – Ephesians 5:15,16.
Start planning NOW how you will intentionally shine for Jesus on Halloween, 2012.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
I had heard the story of the mother who wanted to go to the foreign mission field but couldn't. At the end of her life, she felt like she had let her Lord down. Yet it was pointed out to her that all four of her children were serving on the mission field. She had not failed. She had instilled God's word and God's passion for the lost in the hearts of her children.
What a sweet story! But is it real? As I began my own journey into motherhood, I knew the odds of raising four missionaries was slim. So many worldly influences swirl around my children. I am only one of many voices calling them, pulling at them from so many directions.
Then I met Inie McDade.
Inie lived in rural Ohio. After raising her four children "in the fear and knowledge of the Lord," she took in foster kids. She and her husband adopted one of their last foster kids, a special needs child who would never mature past a second grade level. Inie was one of the best grandmas I have ever met. She and Walt had a reputation for being at every sports event, school play and music event in which their grandchildren participated. That was quite an accomplishment considering they had nine grandkids, all close in age. She always took them out for lunch on their birthdays. They would call Inie, sometimes even before they would call their mothers, if they were in trouble. Inie wasn't afraid to tell her grandkids she loved them, she prayed for them and why weren't they in church?
She faithfully took care of their adapted son to the day she died. She and Walt placed him in an independent living home to provide for the day they could no longer care for him but still oversaw his care and brought him home for every family gathering.
None of Inie's children or grandchildren became ministers much less missionaries. Some of them are active in church; some of them are not. Yet Inie poured herself and her faith into the next generation. She was faithful to God's call to pass along her beliefs and values.
As children's ministry workers, our task is not just to tell Bible stories to children. It's not just to teach children to believe in Jesus or to instill a moral code in the hearts of children so they are good citizens and faithful church attenders. Our job is to teach them well enough so they can teach others. Our job is to fill them with a passion to relay the gospel message to those who will be eternally separated from God if they don't hear.
You may work with children in a small church setting. You may have a class of dysfunctional, emotionally wounded children. You may have only two or three children each session. You may have only a couple of grandchildren whom you don't see very often. Like one woman in our current congregation, your job may be to care for one severally challenged special needs child in the public school system. Work with what you have.
Pour everything you've got into those kids. Pray for them. Pray that God will use your efforts to raise up laborers for His fields that are ripe for harvest (John 4:35). It may take years, but God will be faithful. He has a way of taking our small, seemingly unimportant efforts and bringing about great results.
Let Him use you.
Monday, October 17, 2011
That happened this weekend.
When I was 21, I committed my life to the foreign mission field. I figured the first step in reaching foreign soil was to attain Bible college training through the graduate school of Cincinnati Christian University. After one year, I met my future husband who had absolutely no interest in foreign missions and who persuaded me that America was a plenty big mission field. After much soul searching, I realized I was pursuing missions with wrong motivations. So I said yes to Jack's proposal of marriage.
I thought I had misunderstood God's calling. Maybe He was testing my willingness to go wherever He wanted me to go. Maybe foreign missions was just the bait to head my stubborn will in the right direction. Jack was right. My life as a minister's wife and as a children's ministry worker has certainly been full and rewarding. Still, an inner part of me longed for the foreign mission field. In some ways, I felt like I had let God down.
This weekend, I discovered God had never let go of the idea of my involvement with foreign missions. When I answered His call, He basically said. "All right. Let's get you ready. You ARE fit for the mission field. I've got a very special job for you that will utilize your unique gifts. It's going to take awhile so let's start developing those gifts."
Soon after we were married, God opened the door for me to write children's curriculum, something I had dreamed of doing for years. I just wanted to write Sunday School material for Standard Publishing; twenty years later, my resume documented Sunday School, VBS and Jr. Church materials. In 2004, the Salvation Army asked me to write several books of curriculum designed to reach inner-city kids who knew nothing about Jesus, material stripped of middle class American culture references, and, because it was targeted to inner-city kids, material that would require a minimum of supplies. How they chose me to write this material makes me still shake my head with disbelief.
In the spring of 2012, Rainbow Publishing will produce my three books in their Five Minute Sunday School Activities line. These books devote two pages to each of 42 lessons; one, a simple lesson plan, the second page, a simple activity that again, uses a minimum of preparation and supplies.
Fast forward to this past weekend when our church held its annual Faith Promise rally. As I sat at lunch with our two visiting missionary couples, one man said, "Karen, tell us what books you have written." As I explained about my work with the Salvation Army and Rainbow Publishing, they leaned forward. "This is exactly what we've been looking for," both exclaimed. They explained how they have longed for children's curriculum that didn't use a lot of specialized supplies unavailable in their countries, easy for missionaries to teach and translate for indigenous workers and material stripped of American culture jargon. I spent an hour the next day, explaining the philosophy and scope of the two different curriculums. They left loaded with author's copies, website addresses and publishing information.
See what God has done? My curriculum material is headed for Sri Lanka and the Philippines! Placed in the hands of local workers, my curriculum will reach far more children than I could ever reach had I personally gone to either Sri Lanka or the Philippines. God is using my gifts of teaching and writing to reach the world with the gospel story - without ever leaving my desk.
When we say yes to God's leading, we must be willing to let Him use us as He deems best. We need to let Him draw the road map of how we get from where we are to where we want to be. He knows us so much better than we know ourselves. It's true not just in answering the call to foreign missions or the ministry. No matter what job you accept in His kingdom, God takes the raw materials of who you are and does totally awesome things for the glory of His Kingdom in ways that are beyond our awareness or comprehension.
We just have to be willing. We just have to say yes. Then we just have to hang on for the ride and watch what He can do with us.
I hope to share yet another dimension to this story in a future post.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Then I hear tales of their home life and the hard core of resentment melts like paraffin on a warm summer day. No wonder they act like they do! Ornery troublemakers move on to become rebellious teenagers who then turn into angry, dysfunctional adults who bequeath their dysfunction to the next generation. Can the cycle ever be broken? Can we turn around kids who are neglected, abused orphans through the choice of their parents?
Yes we can! I had the privilege to interview three separate faith based children's homes who told me countless stories of turnaround. Not only have a large majority of children in these homes found faith in Christ; they've moved on to become productive members of society, raising solid and secure families of their own.
This week, check out my article, "Rescuing Children At Risk" in the Christian Standard to find out more on how these work with the government to rescue the neediest members of society and how your church can reach out as well.
In the meantime, don't give up on those most difficult children. We are called as children's ministry workers to proclaim the gospel to the lost and hurting. These are the very children we are supposed to reach with the gospel message. The children who always behave, who always have the right answers, who are the first to volunteer - they remind me of what Jesus said in Matthew 9:12: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." The emotionally hurting child desperately needs the message of hope you have to share.
This week, choose a disruptive child in your class. Pray for strength and wisdom. Then determine to love that child to Jesus. When you do, that child will discover there is another way to live.
Thursday, October 06, 2011
It was great advice. Yet, as a parent, I found it a struggle to find new books that presented the values I wanted my children to possess. Where were today's version of the Arch books and the Happy Day books of my childhood? As years went by and as my freelance writing business grew, I noticed the availability of books for young readers diminishing.
Granted, it is costly to produce a full color book. Still, we need books for children. We need good books. We need books that tell in fresh ways the captivating stories of the Bible, of history makers, books that promote appreciation for God's world and biblical values that will guide their lives. We need books that families can read together, talk about together and books that will provide a stepping stone to building family togetherness.
That's what I like about Janice Green's book, "The Creation." Janice retells the creation story in a simple yet accurate way. At the end of each daily account, she uses questions that draw the child into the story. Finally, the best part, she provides a family activity I don't think I've ever seen suggested in a book for children. Yet it is a terrific idea, one that can involve Mom, Grandma, aunts, sisters and grandma-friends. I'm not telling you what it is - you'll have to read the book yourself! You can find "The Creation" on Amazon.
Yes, getting a children's book published is next to impossible. I still believe we need more children's books. If you are interested in writing value-packed books for children, hone your skills, make your book idea the very very best it can be, don't settle for anything less than excellence, have the humility to ask for feedback and advice (and follow it - egos don't survive well in the publishing industry), read LOTS of what is already out there, be creative, innovative and original, pray, and finally,
As parents and children's ministry workers, let's have the courage to talk to our kids about death. In fact, let's not wait until someone close dies before we give them the information they need to cope. Here are some ways you can equip the children in your life to face death with courage and peace.
1. Have animals in your home and inside the classroom. Pets teach children so many lessons about birth, life, sickness, relationships and death. While children see death on tv and in their video games, it becomes surreal. Our society has created a sterile environment, shrouding death in a coded language. Few of us have actually seen someone die. There's nothing like having a small gerbil die in their hands or seeing a goldfish float belly up in a murky fish bowl that teaches a child, yes, death is real. It's a hard lesson but one that will take away their view of invincible life.
2. Take your children to a funeral of someone they don't know well. When my husband was a minister to an older congregation in rural Kansas, we had lots of funerals so I realized it was important to prepare my girls for the time a church friend might pass away. The church building setup was perfect. The nursery with a built in intercom had a glass window that looked out onto the sanctuary. The girls could play with freedom but would frequently press their noses to the window and ask questions about the funeral. I told them what was happening but didn't insist they keep watching or that they be quiet. When my older daughter's school bus driver died, my daughter knew what to expect and how to behave at his funeral.
3. At an appropriate time, when your child is ready or if you foresee your family may have to deal with this issue sooner rather than later, arrange to have a private viewing of the body of someone they don't know. Let your children take the lead. Don't press them to touch the body but don't exclude them from it either. Give them the freedom to ask questions; answer honestly at their age level.
4. Use the death of church members as an opportunity to teach about service to others. Have younger children draw pictures and make cards; involve older children in setting up chairs and tables for a funeral dinner. If a funeral is not on a school day, you can involve children as young as sixth grade in helping to serve at a funeral dinner. Your family can work together to bake cookies to take to a bereaved family.
5. Teach the truth. To me, Easter is a crucial Sunday. No way do I want to cancel children's church that Sunday! What a prime opportunity to share with children the hope we have through Jesus Christ. This is a platinum opportunity to talk about the reality of heaven and what Jesus had to do to make eternity with God possible. Use Easter - and every other chance where a lesson lends itself to this topic - to drive home the truth that, for the Christian, there is a hope of heaven for those who believe in Christ Jesus and we don't have to be afraid of death anymore.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Today is "See You At the Pole" Day, a student oriented movement to motivate students, teachers, parents and community members to pray for our public and private schools and the children who attend them.
We need to pray for our kids. If you missed a "See You At The Pole" event this morning, or want to continue praying for the schools and children within your sphere of influence or concern, here are some prayer points you can use:
Thank God for schools, opportunity for education and all the resources we have available.
Help kids use opportunities wisely.
Pray for protection - physical, emotional and spiritual.
Pray for protection against school bullies.
Pray that the Lord help students:
Make new friends and strengthen old friendships
Choose friends wisely.
Stand up for truth, shine for Jesus
Tell the difference between & wrong- give strength to do right.
Be kind to teachers and classmates.
Be "good helpers."
Know they can turn to God for help any time, anywhere.
Help teachers, parents, and administrators:
Make wise decisions in what and how they teach.
Have wisdom and Creativity in administering both discipline and compassion.
Shine for Jesus so even without a word, they will proclaim Christ.
It's tough being a kid in today's culture. May the Lord help all of us support our kids by showing interest in their school activities, strengthening their faith, and listening to them in their struggles.
For more information on the See You At The Pole movement, check out www.syatp.org.
Monday, September 19, 2011
How to Comfort a Bereaved Child
Next week, I'll share some more ideas on how you can help a child deal with death and funerals before they occur.
Deep down, I understand how tough it is to be a kid trapped in a restaurant booth. You can't run around. You are trapped between your mom and a wall. The food doesn't taste like Mom's and somehow, you aren't sure how, the rules changed and you're liable to break one without knowing. You act out to get attention and to test to see if the rules still apply and you're confused as to why everyone thinks you're cute - except mom and dad.
So I guess I'm not really upset at the kids even when the two year old across the aisle yells intermittently just to hear herself yell or when the three year old boy bounces on the seat behind me making my already tired head spin and my pre-arthritic joints ache. I get most upset at the parents and their disciplining efforts - or lack thereof. I wonder why Dad doesn't do anything about the screaming two year old or what the four year old boy did so wrong that Mom threatens to take away his toys when they get home, a threat I'd be willing to bet dessert on that she doesn't keep.
"Why can't you behave?" she finally demands.
Um, ma'am, have you defined for him what "behave" means?
I do feel compassion for the parents. They are probably eating out because they are tired and don't want to cook. I remember my days as a parent of little ones. I had these pipe dreams of so longing for a nice evening out with the family. I felt so pinned in with my kids at times that I just wanted one evening away from the house where everyone was happy - then wondered why nobody was happy.
Still, I hear moms making threats they fail to carry out and don't hear dads take an active role so often that I began to despair about the parents of today. Does anyone know parenting skills anymore? What is this generation coming to anyway? Are we going to raise an entire generation of out of control hoodlums? My, my. I am turning into a cranky old biddy.
Then I sat at a table with a young family at our church's midweek meal and my faith in the parents of today returned. While Mom held the baby, Dad took charge of the four year old. He initiated getting the boy to take bites of his salad. He cut up a boy size helping of lasagna into small bites. He praised the boy for trying the new food and wasn't overbearing when the boy wiggled on his chair.
As the boy's attention wandered, dad redirected him back to his plate. Dad was consistent, even handed, calm and attentive. It was a pleasant time for all of us at the table because Dad was willing to get involved.
I so want to find that dad and tell him, "Good job. You are doing a great job, Dad. You are acting like the head of the household ought to act. You're involved with your kids. You're taking the initiative to make sure that little boy does what is right but you're keeping in mind what he is able to do at his age level and not expecting too much out of him. Keep up the good work, Dad."
It's tough to be a parent in today's world. All of us who have been parents know all too well that none of us were perfect in our parenting. We do the best we can and pray hard that our mistakes didn't cause too much lasting damage or that too many people were watching. A little bit of praise and encouragement sure did help us lift our shoulder higher and try again.
Do you know any parents who could use a pat on the back? I think I found mine.
Monday, September 12, 2011
The goal of every pastor and church leader is to equip church members to be able to do this important work! As I've expressed often in this blog, my guiding verse is 2 Timothy 2:2: "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." You can lead a child to Christ. Here's how:
When I talk to a child about salvation, I use a combination of what is known as "The Four Spiritual Laws" and "The Five Finger Exercise." Kids are great at spitting back what they've heard all their lives. It's important that you get beneath the surface with them, that you discover their motives for wanting to accept Christ and that they believe with their heart that Jesus is the Son of God. So, after I've explained each step, I ask the child, "Are you ready for this?" It's amazing to me that, if children aren't ready, they will at one point back down, and say, "No I'm not ready."
Let's go through the steps.
1) Believe. I ask the child, "Who is Jesus? What did he come to do? Why did Jesus die? How do you know this?" I explain that belief means we accept these facts are true. I cover the first three steps of the Four Spiritual Laws:
- God has a wonderful plan for your life.
- Man turned against God by his sin.
- God loved man so much he was willing to sacrifice His Son so He could regain a relationship with man.
All this is in termsthe child can understand. Then I ask, "Do you believe that Jesus is God's Son and He died for you so you could go to Heaven?" If the answer is "yes," we move on.
2) Repent. I define repentance by walking one way then turning around and walking the other way. Repentance means we are willing to admit we have done wrong, we are willing to stop doing wrong, and we are willing to start obeying God and living life His way.
I ask the child, "What have you done wrong? Are you sorry you did those things? Do you do things that God doesn't like?" This is a hard but crucial step. Some children have a hard time admitting they have done anything wrong. If they can't admit they have sinned, it's best not to press them and wait until they are ready. You haven't failed. You are planting seeds that show them what is needed. The Holy Spirit will begin to do His job of convicting them of their sin.
3) Confess. Confessing is not just telling a church congregation you want to accept Christ. Confession means you are willing to show other people you believe in Christ, that you will stand up for Christ, that you can admit to others that you are a Christian, even when it may be unpopular to do so.
I ask, "Would you be willing to tell your friends and other people that you love Jesus? Who would you like to tell? Are you willing to show you believe in Jesus by doing what He says?" Again, the answer to this question is crucial. If the child says yes, go to step 4.
4) Be baptized. I realize baptism by immersion is controversial. Baptism as a crucial part of salvation is not merely my opinion. I go by what Scripture says. I invite you to check out such passages as Acts 2:38, Romans 6:4, I Peter 3:21 and the stories of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 and the Philippians jailer in Acts 16.
I explain that baptism is a symbol of what is happening inside us. When we are baptized, we show other people that we are willing to "die" to the old way we used to live and become a new person, a person who loves God and wants to commit the rest of our lives to following what God says. At this point, we show the child the baptistry, and explain how someone is baptized. We ask if the child has any questions about baptism and how it's done. Finally we ask, "Are you ready to be baptized?" If the child says no, we assure them that they can tell us when they are ready at any time.
5) Live the Christian life by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is more a point of reassurance. I tell the child that sometimes it will be hard to do what Jesus wants them to do. But God has provided a helper called the Holy Spirit. Any time, they don't know what to do or they find it hard to obey God, they can ask for God's help. When they become a Christian, I tell them, God will always be with them and He will show them how to live the way He wants them to live.
Sharing Jesus becomes addictive. Once you've experienced the thrill of leading a child or anyone for that matter to an acceptance of the transformational gift Christ offers, you will want to do it again and again and again. I can't wait to hear your stories!