Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Answering God's Call: Part Two

In my last post, I shared how God fulfilled my dream of serving on the foreign mission field by leading me to write children's ministry curriculum. God has not been absent in using me to promote the gospel on the foreign mission field. As I quoted in my earlier post, His ways are not our ways. He sculpts His call to us in the way that will best use our gifts - and weaknesses - that will benefit and accentuate His Kingdom work.

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

Answering God's Call

Over this past weekend, God gave me another glimpse into understanding His character. He has a way of crumbling my preconceived ideas about Him that reminds me all too well of the verse from Isaiah 55:8: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." The next verse reminds me that His ways are higher, better and more magnificent than mine. If He orchestrated life my way, my life would be so two-dimensional, so flat line. Instead, He adds a fullness and a depth to my life that I never dreamed could possibly happen.

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

Rescuing Children At Risk

As I've worked Inside The Classroom in children's ministry, there have been certain children who have tried my patience to the point of wanting to quit. Rebellious, uncooperative, inattentive, disruptive, violent, insecure, underachieving. I admit, I've wanted to take them by the shoulders and shake the bad behavior out of them, saying, "What's wrong with you? Snap out of it!"

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

Book Review: The Creation

When my two daughters were anticipating their first year of public school, Reader's Digest asked Barbara Bush, a supporter of national literacy, how parents could best help their children learn to read and to love reading. Mrs.' Bush's answer? "Read, read, read."

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,

Teaching Children About Death

The two most difficult topics for parents and teachers to discuss with children are sex and death. For some odd reason, the church often steers away from these two crucial life topics. letting parents or schools handle the tough questions. As Craig Groeschell notes about sex in his book Weird: When Normal Isn't Working, we turn the topic of death over to complete strangers where children will find lots of misinformation. The church is the best place to teach children the truth about death.

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.