Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Little Things

Sometimes - many times - it's the little things that matter.

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

Selecting Quality Literature for Children

Several posts back, I reviewed the children's book, "The Creation," by Janice Green. In my review, I spoke about the need for more quality children's books.

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

Children's Ministry Response to Halloween

By now, many of you have already celebrated Halloween or a Halloween alternative in your children's ministry, or you have taken your child trick or treating. Our church hosted over fifty children at a “Neewollah” (Halloween spelled backwards) celebration, a fall festival with a “Trunk and Treat,” a bounce house, a putt putt golf course, face painting and lots of food and oh, yes, candy. As you clean up the decorations and wonder what you’ll do with your leftover candy or as you reflect on the children who passed by your darkened house, perhaps you are asking yourself once again, “What should A Christian’s response be to Halloween?”

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.