Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grace Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about teaching children the concept of grace (see May 29th, 2009). Today, a very shortened version of that story appears in the daily devotional guide, The Upper Room. The editorial staff of the Upper Room kindly invited me to write the blog entry to accompany my devotional. In "Growing in Grace," I tell the story of another teacher who gave me the theological backdrop I needed to intellectually understand grace.

Here is the rest of the rest of the story. Shortly after taking this class, I had an opportunity to tell Dr. Jack Cottrell of the Cincinnati Christian University how thankful I was for his class: that it wasn't merely an attainment of head knowledge; instead, his explanation of grace literally set me free from the bondage of unworthiness I felt from some difficult events in my childhood.

As I told him briefly what those events were, doggonit, the man wouldn't respond to my words of thanks. Instead, he grabbed my forearm and interrupted me.

"Are you all right now?" he asked, concern and compassion tenderizing each word.

I stammered a "yeah, sure I'm ok," hating myself for the lie, and moved on quickly to finish my prepared speech of thanks. I didn't want to cry in front of Dr. Cottrell but his action was another lesson in the life-time course of God's grace. This man, this well-known writer of many books, this scholar of theology was willing to be concerned about me. He wasn't judging me because I had been such a slow learner. He wasn't saying, "What's your problem? What kind of slow learner are you?" He wasn't impatiently tapping his foot, waiting for yet another over-zealous student to finish blathering. He wasn't looking down on me for being a broken human being. Instead, as a gifted teacher, he added precept upon precept.

It was another grace-gift, another illumination of what grace is about. He taught me that as Christ has offered grace to us, we need to offer grace to others. If I can say one more time, in the third venue of the day, our actions and responses teach others the meaning of God's grace.

Giving people more than they deserve is such a foreign concept in our culture. A news commentator I usually highly respect sometimes alludes to 'karma," the concept of people getting their just desserts. No, no, I want to scream at the television. Our job is not to smugly smile when people get a return of justice. Like Jesus, our hearts need to break that they have not been delivered from the same bondage that has entrapped us. Grace is tough to understand. We are not going to "get it" just by reading the Bible. Like Dr. Cottrell and Mrs. Jackson, my third grade teacher, we need to live grace out loud so the people we influence can grow in their understanding of God's grace, acceptance and forgiveness.

Each of us, whether we teach children or not, have the responsibility and opportunity to model grace. Like me, each of us needs repetitive expressions of grace, for each time someone models grace, it acts as one more building block to the structure of my understanding of what God did for me through Jesus at the cross. Even though I have been a Christian for over 40 years, I still need reminders of God's grace - and I need daily practice in exhibiting it to others.

Who in your life needs a gift of grace today? Name a child, a non-believer and a growing Christian to whom you can exhibit grace. Then pray that God will give you a God-nudge when the moment is right to share His message and example of grace with that person.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Say Know To Teaching

"I can't teach!" I've heard that from so many church members when the plea goes forth for more children's ministry workers. Their body language is almost humorous. They actually take a step back. I can envision their hands coming up, as if to push away the plea.

Have you said that? Are you one of those who think you can't teach children?

Let me ask you another question. Do you believe that Jesus' Great Commission to "Go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)" was just for the twelve apostles or for all Christians? Because of the language throughout the rest of the New Testament (look at 2 Timothy 2:2), we can accept those marching orders were for everyone who confesses Christ. But catch the language of the rest of the passage. "Baptizing them." Okay, that means being evangelistic and leading others to the point of salvation which includes baptism. That's what most people think of when they think about the Great Commission. But look at the rest of the verse. Uh oh! " . . .Teaching them to observe all I have commanded you." TEACHING! That means every one of us needs to TEACH younger and newer believers.

Granted, each of us are uniquely gifted to reach one age group better than another. Yet the majority of us have had experience with children through raising our own. Each of us need to be involved in some way in raising up the next generation in the ways of the Lord.

Perhaps the better admission is, "I don't know how to teach. I don't even know what I need to know."

Ah! Now we are on the right track. Let me share with you what you need to know in order to be an effective teacher.

1. KNOW yourself. Know your strengths and gifts. Do what you do best.

2. KNOW your students. Learn about age characteristics and learning styles. Your teaching will be more effective if you pay attention to how they learn best.

3. KNOW your curriculum. How is each lesson organized? Are the activities appropriate for your group? Curriculum is written to meet the needs of a broad audience and cannot possibly fit every situation. What will you need to adapt to fit your group?

4. KNOW your environment. Is your teaching area inviting to today's students? What resources and supplies are available? What technology is available to you? How can you improve your environment to make it more learner-friendly?

5. KNOW your team. Jesus sent his disciples forth two by two. Paul always traveled with an entourage. God expects no one to go it alone. Where you are weak, others are strong. Know the gifts and experience of your other workers. Don't be threatened by what they can do better than you - use it. Remember: your goal is to help children learn about Jesus and you need to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal.

6. Finally, most importantly, KNOW your God. That sounds almost obvious. Every Christian worker ought to have a personal relationship with Jesus. Sadly, I've seen too many teachers and other Christian workers count on their skills, not their relationship. I would far rather have one teacher dedicated and in love with Jesus Christ who is willing to learn how to be a good teacher than ten competent teachers who are not personally walking the walk. Kids learn more from what you do than what you say.

I probably almost had you hooked and now you are backing off again. Don't be afraid: none of us are perfect, we are all growing. God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7) and the heart is the wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Stay passionate and desperately in love with Jesus, and stay humble, KNOWING you don't KNOW it all. Students want authenticity. They want to see what Jesus has done for you.

Go! Teach! And Jesus promises tobe with you. Always.