Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ideas for Sunday School

  For those of you that teach Sunday School and are always looking for additional activities I thought I would share some of the things we are beginning to implement in our class which consists of children from 1st through 4th grade. 

  Years ago I heard James Dobson say that most parents teach children to be defensive Christians and not offensive. What he meant by that is, we teach them what to abstain from to maintain their purity and innocence, a noble and grand work. But in so doing we often forget to teach them to use their God given gifts and fail to ignite a passion to serve and follow Christ in His missions of today. Children have hearts that are tender and sensitive to the needs of others and if we train and expose them to the needs that surround them here and abroad they can catch a vision of God’s kingdom that extends farther than we often give them credit for.
The following is an attempt to ignite that Godly vision of serving Christ in his many loving works going on worldwide today.

In order to do this we simply incorporate subjects and approaches to the wonderful curriculums already in place.
I will show here some simple ideas that cover worship, teaching, crafts and games. I think in helping children learn that they are old enough to storm the gates of hell, and if they are presented with themes on a regular basis, that it will eventually become part of their thinking and they will see the hand of God and hear his Spirit when it moves around them and be far more likely to act. My hope is that after reading this it will spark ideas of your own and that you will share them with me to expand this pamphlet.

In addition to all the wonderful songs we sing to the Savior, I propose to add some that speak to what he is doing today and praise Him for it. Often the songs we sing are directed to receiving and frankly they can be somewhat self-centered.
Let me give you an example of how a song can be changed to be service oriented. 

Let’s take the old gospel song “Give Me Some of That Old Time Religion.” We can add some verses that will help visualize Christian service, such as –

Makes you care for widows and orphans, makes you care for widows and orphans, makes you care for widows and orphans and that’s good enough for me.

Another lyric addition could be –
Makes you love foreigners and strangers.
Makes you love everybody.
Makes you care for the downcast.
Makes you want to feed the hungry
With these examples of these lyrics, I’m sure you can think of many others.

Using Matthew 25 as a theme of a song, we can express the lyrics with hand and body motions that represent the acts of compassion Christ exhorts us to do. Acting out feeding the hungry, giving a drink, inviting in the stranger, clothing the naked, tending to the sick and visiting the prisoner.
Psalm 82:3,4 and Psalm 41:1-3, and Job 31:16 – 20, Isaiah 58 6-12 are examples of scriptures that can be adapted.

In addition to adapting songs to include deeds of compassion we can look to other cultures and incorporate different modes of worship. For example in Liberia where often they have no instruments they use their hands and clap to their songs.
If you have the class help research different methods of worship around the world, it not only gives them something new but it helps them see their brothers and sisters worldwide with a sense of unity; it simply broadens awareness.
In other cultures they sing songs that we can learn that are equally exalting to God but done with different melodies and arrangements. For example the African nations have a distinct sound to their worship and can be fun to learn.


Most Sunday School classes have a time of crafts and there are a host of activities that can be proactive and help extend the power of love from the classroom to the local church, those in need in our country and those abroad.
The children can produce crafts, pictures, prayer cards that can be sent to shut-ins within the church to let them know they are not forgotten. I have listed some additional ideas below. 

Letters to service men and women.
I can’t think of anything that would be more heartening than to receive letters from a Sunday School class showing their appreciation for their sacrifice.

Widows in church
We are repeatedly encouraged to visit and care for widows, and a picture of the class of Sunday School children smiling and waving to those widows in distress can be a wonderful way of showing love and let them know they are not forgotten.

Sick or shut-in correspondence
The loneliness caused by Isolation from sickness can be eased with correspondence from the children.

 Single parents in church
Many single parents struggle with the heavy load of going it alone and a hearty hello from the children of the church can help let them know they are remembered.

Prayer posters for those in disasters
  If there was a natural disaster we can, in an age appropriate way, talk about it with some pictures and then plan to spend the month doing something about it.
  E.g. We can have the children work on a special work of art for the month and sell them in the foyer one Sunday and send the money to a Sister Church in the area to help fund emergency items. 
For those who are more ambitious, I could actually see this art sale done in front of Fred Meyer or some chain with informative signage; I think it is a good testimony, and if student initiated, I think the public would donate by way of buying a picture. Works for Girl Scouts.

We could Color a picture at craft time and send a short compassionate note.

We could do a corporate art picture with all the children’s hands and a short prayer or word of encouragement from each child.

Support letters for missionaries in church

We could write or draw or paint things for our missionaries. Working in the mission field away from home and those we love can be a very lonely task. What a wonderful way to let them know we appreciate the work they are doing. We can ask them for updates to show our interest in the work.
  We asked one of our missionaries who works with an orphanage in Liberia to give a presentation to the children where we learned about the desperate needs through video, pictures and teaching. Explaining the needs with age appropriate graphics helps them personalize the needs and sets some children on fire with an eager compassion and missionary zeal. 
If the missionary project has a computer, it may be possible to have a Skype call so the orphans can be introduced to the supporting children and the supporting children can meet those of another culture, what fun! Many cultures speak English, but even if not, a rehearsed sign language using simple symbols could be utilized.

 Holiday notes for nursing home residents

Correspondence with the elderly in nursing homes is always appreciated. There are some residents that never receive a card from anyone. Loneliness is a universal issue with those that have had to leave their own homes and spend the remaining months or years isolated from family and friends.
Correspondence needn’t be during holidays only.
The ideal of course is to contact the activities director at the Nursing Home and set up a time where the children could come in a sing a few songs and hand out things personally.

Prayer card for the President

In response to the exhortation to pray for our leaders we can have the children send a personal or corporate note.


All across America there are organizations that bring in and help refugees adapt to the new country; there may be ways we could help them. Frequently they come in with nothing but the shirts on their backs, and asking the children to share some of their toys with the new residents may be an option.

 Ideas for Projects

Child trafficking project
Newspaper articles to find prayer projects
Gifts for nursing home residents, sundries, bingo games etc.
Make a collogue? with photos from newspaper
Work projects for shut-ins
Supporting orphans
Carnival day outreach

Here are some simple games that help remind us of the needs of others while having fun.

Rescue the kidnapped

Have one child sit in a chair at one end of the room.
Form a line of children at the other end of the room about halfway to the child sitting on the chair. The child sitting represents a kidnaped child or an abandoned or otherwise needy child; and the goal is for the other children to reach across the room and touch the sitting child to set him free. The children can stretch out in order to reach the sitting child and they can use any article of clothing to help extend their reach, (belts, ribbons, coats) but they must be connected either by clothing article or hands or feet.   
Distance the children far enough from the sitting child that it makes a real challenge to reach them.
For larger classes have two teams compete.

Capture the Flag

This game is based on Jn. 4:35 about the fields being white unto harvest and I thought about adapting a "capture the flag" game. 

Have one child represent a kidnapped child and have three kids guarding in a corner. Then have one child with a flag in their back pocket try and reach the prisoner without having his flag removed. This of course would be nearly impossible. So then to show the advantage of numbers the rescuers could be gradually increased until there is such a number that reaching the child would be easy.

Back to Matt 25, there needs to be a game to represent feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst, clothing the naked, aid to the stranger, visitation to the sick and those in prison.
I was trying to brainstorm and one idea came up of giving the kids some tape, heavy gauge paper and scissors and have them try to make some kind of shoe to help clothe. First to achieve is the winner. That could be fun and as creative as some of the kids are there could be some interesting shoes. They could work in teams of two or three. Now for the balance of the applications I'm leaving that up to you 

 Shipping Aid

Have one child stand at one end of the room, have another stand about 10 feet from him and a third 10 feet farther. The farthest child represents an orphanage or some place that needs aid. The first child has a paper airplane representing air travel, also a balloon representing a boat and lastly a wheeled cart or a skateboard could be used to represent railroad travel. The furthest child from the “orphanage”, fly’s the plane to the center child who then fly’s it to the orphanage.
If the plane flies off course, the child intended to receive it, can reach for it but cannot move their feet toward it, if so, they must start again. Once the plane reaches the destination the boat, represented by a inflated balloon is batted to the middle person same as the plane. And lastly the cart or skateboard, which is easiest, is sent scooting to the middle person to be passed on to the orphanage.

We have three lines that compete getting the supplies to the orphanage.

The children began improvising and the most successful attempt was when the children taped the balloon, and the airplane to the cart; and in addition they taped shoes, representing clothing as well as magic markers representing school supplies. Needless to say we were impressed.

 Fund raising

We use the children’s offerings to support projects the children have been informed about and are working on.

We encourage the Sunday School children to bring their own money from their allowance or money they have earned. I would encourage all parents to start their children on an allowance - saving part for deeds of charity, of course part for their future and some savings for things they want in the near future, even if it’s only ten cents per week. 

Collecting toys, stuffed animals, food. When the children share something that is their own with someone in need it helps personalize giving.

We could encourage the children to bake something and have a sale at church.

Plant potting, encourage the children to plant flowers that could be sold.
Jewelry, making items to sell.

Well there you have it, this is an ongoing work and if you like these ideas and have some of your own you would like to share with us please do.
Email Fred at


 This week I thought we could send home a 3 part bank box for the kids so that they can save money at home and have their own money to bring in on Sunday to donate.  

Some of the kids made get well cards this week for Claire because she had surgery that was cool.  I will keep my ears open for people in our church that need encouragement.  Also I will get a group shot of our kids and I will make prints so we can send that out or even use it as a postcard to send out.

Prayer articles
I hope to have a bulletin board eventually for kids to bring in articles of places to pray for and we can keep them up.  If we get new information we can bring them in and put it up with it.  

Spread the Word
I have often carried a small New Testament in my purse and asked God for an opportunity to hand one out as He may ask me to.  So we could ask all the kids and their families that are going on vacations around the country/world to take some Bibles and give them to someone they felt the Lord was prompting them to share with.

I have thought how cool would it be to have a map up on a bulletin board with a heading "where are we spreading the word too?"  And then when the kids are going someplace they can take a little New Testament and hand it out.  Then they can have their picture take at that location and then we can put a tack on the map with their picture. Maybe we can even get the adults in on it.  It sure is fun to see who God is going to put in your path!

Monday, July 09, 2012

I ran across this lengthy essay today and love his honesty; now if you are a successful Christian walking in victory then you won't gain much from this, but if you are like the rest of us you may find it truly liberating and honest. 

iMonk 101: When I Am Weak: Why we must embrace our brokenness and never be good Christians
by iMonk
This is perhaps my favorite statement of the Gospel that I’ve every written. The best sermons should preach to yourself. The Luther quote at the end still rocks me. I’ve been working on this to make it “book friendly,” and I wanted to share it with the IM audience again. If you’re a “good Christian,” go do something else. If you are a mess, this is my gift to you. From 2004 I think.
The voice on the other end of the phone told a story that has become so familiar to me, I could have almost finished it from the third sentence. A respected and admired Christian leader, carrying the secret burden of depression, had finally broken under the crushing load of holding it all together. As prayer networks in our area begin to make calls and send e-mails, the same questions are asked again and again. “How could this happen? How could someone who spoke so confidently of God, someone whose life gave such evidence of Jesus’ presence, come to the point of a complete breakdown? How can someone who has the answers for everyone one moment, have no answers for themselves the next?”
Indeed. Why are we, after all that confident talk of “new life,” “new creation,” “the power of God,” “healing,” “wisdom,” “miracles,” “the power of prayer,” …why are we so weak? Why do so many “good Christian people,” turn out to be just like everyone else? Divorced. Depressed. Broken. Messed up. Full of pain and secrets. Addicted, needy and phony. I thought we were different.
It’s remarkable, considering the tone of so many Christian sermons and messages, that any church has honest people show up at all. I can’t imagine that any religion in the history of humanity has made as many clearly false claims and promises as evangelical Christians in their quest to say that Jesus makes us better people right now. With their constant promises of joy, power, contentment, healing, prosperity, purpose, better relationships, successful parenting and freedom from every kind of oppression and affliction, I wonder why more Christians aren’t either being sued by the rest of humanity for lying or hauled off to a psych ward to be examined for serious delusions.
Evangelicals love a testimony of how screwed up I USED to be. They aren’t interested in how screwed up I am NOW. But the fact is, that we are screwed up. Then. Now. All the time in between and, it’s a safe bet to assume, the rest of the time we’re alive. But we will pay $400 to go hear a “Bible teacher” tell us how we are only a few verses, prayers and cds away from being a lot better. And we will set quietly, or applaud loudly, when the story is retold. I’m really better now. I’m a good Christian. I’m not a mess anymore. I’m different from other people.
Please. Call this off. It’s making me sick. I mean that. It’s affecting me. I’m seeing, in my life and the lives of others, a commitment to lying about our condition that is absolutely pathological. Evangelicals called Bill Clinton a big-time liar about sex? Come on. How many nodding “good Christians” have so much garbage sitting in the middle of their lives that the odor makes it impossible to breathe without gagging? How many of us are addicted to food, porn and shopping? How many of us are depressed, angry, unforgiving and just plain mean? How many of us are a walking, talking course on basic hypocrisy, because we just can’t look at ourselves in the mirror and admit what we a collection of brokenness we’ve become WHILE we called ourselves “good Christians” who want to “witness” to others. I’m choking just writing this.
You people with your Bibles. Look something up for me? Isn’t almost everyone in that book screwed up? I mean, don’t the screwed up people- like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Hosea- outnumber the “good Christians” by about ten to one? And isn’t it true that the more we get to look at a Biblical character close up, the more likely it will be that we’ll see a whole nasty collection of things that Christians say they no longer have to deal with because, praise God! I’m fixed? Not just a few temper tantrums or ordinary lies, but stuff like violence. Sex addictions. Abuse. Racism. Depression. It’s all there, yet we still flop our Bibles open on the pulpit and talk about “Ten Ways To Have Joy That Never Goes Away!” Where is the laugh track?
What was that I heard? “Well….we’re getting better. That’s sanctification. I’ve been delivered!” I suppose some of us are getting better. For instance, my temper is better than it used to be. Of course, the reason my temper is better, is that in the process of cleaning up the mess I’ve made of my family with my temper, I’ve discovered about twenty other major character flaws that were growing, unchecked, in my personality. I’ve inventoried the havoc I’ve caused in this short life of mine, and it turns out “temper problem” is way too simple to describe the mess that is me. Sanctification? Yes, I no longer have the arrogant ignorance to believe that I’m always right about everything, and I’m too embarrassed by the general chaos of my life to mount an angry fit every time something doesn’t go my way. Getting better? Quite true. I’m getting better at knowing what a wretched wreck I really amount to, and it’s shut me up and sat me down.
I love this passage of scripture. I don’t know why know one believes it, but I love it.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

Let me attempt a slight retelling of the text, more in line with the Christianity of our time.
But we have this treasure in saved, healed, delivered and supernaturally changed vessels, to show that God has given to us, right now, His surpassing power over ever situation. We are no longer afflicted, perplexed, in conflict or defeated. No, we are alive with the power of Jesus, and the resurrection power of Jesus has changed us now…TODAY! In every way!. God wants you to see just what a Jesus-controlled person is all about, so the power of Jesus is on display in the life I am living, and those who don’t have this life, are miserable and dying.

Contextual concerns aside, let’s read Paul’s words as a basic “reality board” to the Christian life.
We’re dying. Life is full of pain and perplexity. We have Christ, and so, in the future, his life will manifest in us in resurrection and glory. In the present, that life manifests in us in this very odd, contradictory experience. We are dying, afflicted, broken, hurting, confused…yet we hold on to Jesus in all these things, and continue to love him and believe in him. The power of God is in us, not in making us above the human, but allowing us to be merely human, yet part of a new creation in Jesus.
What does this mean?
It means your depression isn’t fixed. It means you are still overwieght. It means you still want to look at porn. It means you are still frightened of dying, reluctant to tell the truth and purposely evasive when it comes to responsibility. It means you can lie, cheat, steal, even do terrible things, when you are ‘in the flesh,” which, in one sense, you always are. If you are a Christian, it means you are frequently, perhaps constantly miserable, and it means you are involved in a fight for Christ to have more influence in your life than your broken, screwed up, messed up humanity. In fact, the greatest miracle is that with all the miserable messes in your life, you still want to have Jesus as King, because it’s a lot of trouble, folks. It isn’t a picnic.
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Here is even more undeniable, unarguable language. Weaknesses are with me for the whole journey. Paul was particularly thinking of persecutions, but how much more does this passage apply to human frailty, brokenness and hurt? How essential is it for us to be broken, if Christ is going to be our strength? When I am weak I am strong. Not, “When I am cured,” or “When I am successful,” or “When I am a good Christian,” but when I am weak. Weakness- the human experience of weakness- is God’s blueprint for exalting and magnifying his Son. When broken people, miserably failing people, continue to belong to, believe in and worship Jesus, God is happy.
Now, the upper gallery is full of people who are getting upset, certain that this essay is one of those pieces where I am in the mood to tell everyone to go sin themselves up, and forget about sanctification. Sorry to disappoint.
The problem is a simple one of semantics. Or perhaps a better way to say it is imagination. How do we imagine the life of faith? What does living faith look like? Does it look like the “good Christian,” “whole person,” “victorious life” version of the Christian life?
Faith, alive in our weakness, looks like a war. An impossible war, against a far superior adversary: our own sinful, fallen nature. Faith fights this battle. Piper loves this verse from Romans, and I do, too. But I need to explain why, because it can sound like the “victorious” life is not Jesus’ life in the Gospel, but me “winning at life” or some other nonsense.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put (are putting) to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

The complexity resides right here: Faith is discontentment with what I am, and satisfaction with all God is for me in Jesus. The reason that description works so well for me is that it tells us the mark of saving faith is not just resting passively in the promises of the Gospel (though that is exactly what justification does), but this ongoing war with the reality of my condition. Unless I am reading Romans 8 wrongly, my fight is never finished, because my sinful, messed-up human experience isn’t finished until death and resurrection. That fight- acceptance and battle- is the normal life of the believer. I fight. Jesus will finish the work. I will groan, and do battle, climb the mountain of Holiness with wounds and brokenness and holy battle scars, but I will climb it, since Christ is in me. The Gospel assures victory, but to say I stand in a present victory as I “kill” sin is a serious wrong turn.
What does this fight look like? It is a bloody mess, I’m telling you. There is a lot of failure in it. It is not an easy way to the heavenly city. It is a battle where we are brought down again, and again and again. Brought down by what we are, and what we continually discover ourselves to be. And we only are “victorious” in the victory of Jesus, a victory that is ours by faith, not by sight. In fact, that fight is probably described just as accurately by the closing words of Romans 7 as by the “victorious” words of Romans 8.
23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:23-25)

I fall down. I get up….and believe. Over and over again. That’s as good as it gets in this world. This life of faith, is a battle full of weakness and brokenness. The only soldiers in this battle are wounded ones. There are moments of total candor- I am a “wretched man” living in a “body” of death. Denying this, spinning this, ignoring this or distorting this reality is nothing but trouble in the true Christian experience. The sin we are killing in Romans 8 is, in a sense, ourselves. Not some demon or serpent external to us. Our battle is with ourselves, and embracing this fact is the compass and foundation of the Gospel’s power in our lives.
What lands us in churches where we are turned into the cheering section for personal victory over everything is denying that faith is an ongoing battle that does not end until Jesus ends it. Those who stand up and claim victory may be inviting us to celebrate a true place in their experience at the time, but it isn’t the whole person, the whole story, or all that accurate. They are still a mess. Count on it. This battle- and the victories in it- are fought by very un-victorious Christians.
I will be accused of a serious lack of good news, I’m sure, so listen. At the moment I am winning, Jesus is with me. At the moment I am losing, Jesus is with me and guarantees that I will get up and fight on. At the moment I am confused, wounded and despairing, Jesus is with me. I never, ever lose the brokenness. I fight, and sometimes I prevail, but more and more of my screwed up, messed up life erupts. Each battle has the potential to be the last, but because I belong to one whose resurrection guarantees that I will arrive safely home in a new body and a new creation, I miraculously, amazingly, find myself continuing to believe, continuing to move forward, till Jesus picks us up and takes us home.
Now, let’s come to something very important here. This constant emphasis on the “victorious life” or “good Christian life” is absolutely the anti-Christ when it comes to the Gospel. If I am _________________ (fill in the blank with victorious life terminology) then I am oriented to be grateful for what Jesus did THEN, but I’m needing him less and less in the NOW. I want to make sure he meets me at the gate on the way into heaven, but right now, I’m signing autographs. I’m a good Christian. This imagining of the Christian journey will kill us.
We need our brokenness. We need to admit it and know it is the real, true stuff of our earthly journey in a fallen world. It’s the cross on which Jesus meets us. It is the incarnation he takes up for us. It’s what his hands touch when he holds us. Do you remember this story? It’s often been told, but oh how true it is as a GOSPEL story (not a law story.) It is a Gospel story about Jesus and how I experience him in this “twisted” life.
In his book Mortal Lessons (Touchstone Books, 1987) physician Richard Selzer describes a scene in a hospital room after he had performed surgery on a young woman’s face:
I stand by the bed where the young woman lies . . . her face, postoperative . . . her mouth twisted in palsy . . . clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, one of the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be that way from now on. I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had cut this little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to be in a world all their own in the evening lamplight . . . isolated from me . . .private.

Who are they? I ask myself . . . he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously. The young woman speaks. “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks. “Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.” She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says, “it’s kind of cute.” All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with the divine. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers. . . to show her that their kiss still works
This is who Jesus has always been. And if you think you are getting to be a great kisser or are looking desirable, I feel sorry for you. He wraps himself around our hurts, our brokenness and our ugly, ever-present sin. Those of you who want to draw big, dark lines between my humanity and my sin, go right ahead, but I’m not joining you. It’s all ME. And I need Jesus so much to love me like I really am: brokenness, memories, wounds, sins, addictions, lies, death, fear….all of it. Take all it, Lord Jesus. If I don’t present this broken, messed up person to Jesus, my faith is dishonest, and my understanding of it will become a way of continuing the ruse and pretense of being “good.”
Now I want to talk about why this is important. We must begin to accept who we are, and bring a halt to the sad and repeated phenomenon of lives that are crumbling into pieces because the only Christian experience they know about is one that is a lie. We are infected with something that isn’t the Gospel, but a version of a religious life; an entirely untruthful version that drives genuine believers into the pit of despair and depression because, contrary to the truth, God is “against” them, rather than for them.
The verse says, “When I am weak, then I am strong- in Jesus.” It does not say “When I am strong, then I am strong, and you’ll know because Jesus will get all the credit.” Let me use two examples, and I hope neither will be offensive to those who might read and feel they recognize the persons described.
Many years ago, I knew a man who was a vibrant and very public Christian witness. He was involved in the “lay renewal” movement in the SBC, which involved a lot of giving testimonies of “what God was doing in your life.” (A phrase I could do without.) He was well-known for being a better speaker than most preachers, and he was an impressive and persuasive lay speaker. His enthusiasm for Christ was convincing.
He was also known to be a serial adulterer. Over and over, he strayed from his marriage vows, and scandalized his church and its witness in the community. When confronted, his response was predictable. He would visit the Church of Total Victory Now, and return claiming to have been delivered of the “demons of lust” that had caused him to sin. Life would go on. As far as I know, the cycle continued, unabated, for all the time I knew about him.
I understand that the church today needs- desperately- to hear experiential testimonies of the power of the Gospel. I understand that it is not good news to say we are broken and are going to stay that way. I know there will be little enthusiasm for saying sanctification consists, in large measure, in seeing our sin, and acknowledging what it is and how deep and extensive it has marred us. I doubt that the triumphalists will agree with me that the fight of faith is not a victory party, but a bloody war on a battlefield that resembles Omaha Beach more than a Beach party.
I write this piece particularly concerned for leaders, parents, pastors and teachers. I am moved and distressed that so many of them, most of all, are unable to admit their humanity, and their brokenness. In silence, they carry the secret, then stand in the place of public leadership and present a Gospel that is true, but a Christian experience that is far from true.
Then, from time to time, they fall. Into adultery, like the pastor of one of our state’s largest churches. A wonderful man, who kept a mistress for years rather than admit a problem millions of us share: faulty, imperfect marriages. Where is he now, I wonder? And where are so many others I’ve known and heard of who fell under the same weight? Their lives are lost to the cause of the Kingdom because they are just like the rest of us?
By the way, I’m not rejecting Biblical standards for leadership. I am suggesting we need a Biblical view of humanity when we read those passages. Otherwise we are going to turn statements like “rules his household well” into a disqualification to every human being on the planet.
I hear of those who are depressed. Where do they turn for help? How do they admit their hurt? It seems so “unChristian” to admit depression, yet it is a reality for millions and millions of human beings. Porn addiction. Food addiction. Rage addiction. Obsessive needs for control. Chronic lying and dishonesty. How many pastors and Christian leaders live with these human frailties and flaws, and never seek help because they can’t admit what we all know is true about all of us? They speak of salvation, love and Jesus, but inside they feel like the damned.
Multiply this by the hundreds of millions of broken Christians. They are merely human, but their church says they must be more than human to be good Christians. They cannot speak of or even acknowledge their troubled lives. Their marriages are wounded. Their children are hurting. They are filled with fear and the sins of the flesh. They are depressed and addicted, yet they can only approach the church with the lie that all is well, and if it becomes apparent that all is not well, they avoid the church.
I do not blame the church for this situation. It is always human nature to avoid the mirror and prefer the self-portrait. I blame all of us who know better. We know this is not the message of the Gospels, the Bible or of Jesus. But we- every one of us- is afraid to live otherwise. What if someone knew we were not a good Christian? Ah…what if…what if….
I close with a something I have said many times before. The Prodigal son, there on his knees, his father’s touch upon him, was not a “good” or “victorious” Christian. He was broken. A failure. He wasn’t even good at being honest. He wanted religion more than grace. His father baptized him in mercy, and resurrected him in grace. His brokenness was wrapped up in the robe and the embrace of God.
Why do we want to be better than that boy? Why do we make the older brother the goal of Christian experience? Why do we want to add our own addition to the parable, where the prodigal straightens out and becomes a successful youth speaker, writing books and doing youth revivals?
Lutheran writer Herman Sasse, in a meditation on Luther’s last words, “We are beggars. This is true,” puts it perfectly:
Luther asserted the very opposite: Christ dwells only with sinners. For the sinner and for the sinner alone is His table set. There we receive His true body and His true blood for the forgiveness of sins and this holds true even if forgiveness has already been received in Absolution. That here Scripture is completely on the side of Luther needs no further demonstration. Every page of the New Testament is indeed testimony of the Christ whose proper office it is to  save sinners, to seek and to save the lost. And the entire saving work of Jesus, from the days when He was in Galilee and, to the amazement and alarm of the Pharisees, ate with tax collectors and sinners; to the moment when he, in contradiction with the principles of every rational morality, promised paradise to the thief on the cross, yes, His entire life on earth, from the cradle to the Cross, is one, unique grand demonstration of a wonder beyond all reason: The miracle of divine forgiveness, of the justification of the sinner. Christ dwells only in sinners.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Words only?

 "But we were gentle among you, even as a mother cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us..........
As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and implored every one of you, as a father doth his children." 1Thess 2:7,8,11

The first thing that stood out in this passage was, "not the gospel of God only," as though that were not enough, but one can't read this passage without sensing the Godly connection that was given to Paul for  these brothers and sisters. A message of salvation alone would not do, he was compelled by God to pour out his love and affection that they would not only hear the Gospel of love but feel the trinity of love in the Fatherhood, motherhood and brotherhood Paul displayed.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


   In my reading I came across a passage in Orison Swett Marden’s book titled “The Secret of Achievement.” Now this is a rather lengthy post for me but I think it has merit. The point where I became focused is when the question was posed, “what is the point of an education?”
 I asked myself what I think the point of an education, especially a higher education, is.
My immediate thought is to become a master at something that will
enable me to earn a good living while doing something that I enjoy. We all want to enjoy life and do work that is meaningful and that we draw satisfaction from, do we not?
May be, but that was not the answer that was given in this piece; I’ll write his insights –

“The object of an education is to unfold and to lay open to the sunlight all the faculties and powers of the body, mind, and soul. A rosebud may be a beautiful thing in possibility; but its petals must be unfolded, its tints must be developed, its fragrance evolved, before it becomes a rose, or before it answers the call of its existence.” 

As I read and pondered this imagining how a tight bud has within it all the potential of unfurling into great beauty, sweet fragrance and pure delight to those who encounter it, I began to understand his premise. Education of the body, mind and soul are truly like the bud, and with each of these independent parts of our being they must be unfolded in order to reach our true call of existence. He went on to further describe his point ---

  To be educated is to have every faculty of body, mind, and heart naturally unfolded and developed to the utmost possible sensibility, so that they shall respond to the slightest stimulus of everything in the universe which can possibly give physical, mental, or moral delight, or which can aid in their expansion or culture; while, at the same time, the man’s original genius is quickened or disciplined to do or to produce its best.”

Wow, so much more than my conclusion. Unfolding and developing to the utmost of our sensibilities so we can respond to the slightest, (I thought how much of life is hidden in subtleties, like the beauty of the violet that grows low, head down under the foliage of larger plants but casting sweet fragrance and beauty to the beholder.) stimulus of everything in the universe. Now this is more, much more; I began recalling subjects I have been educated in to some degree; while in my garden catching my breath over a spade: Why must a garden herb be crushed to release its most pungent scent? How the youngest tendrils grow and reach out in an aimless fashion and how the first blast of heat can shrivel and retard their growth. And on and on. 
Things come to life as we learn of them, whether it be physical tests, intellectual pursuits or moral revelation, when we are without education, we are truly in the dark.
Of course, we all want to delight in life; the Bible tells us the eye never tires of seeing and so it is, but if we lack physical, mental or moral education, this seeing casts its sight lower and lower until only the base elements of life are apparent. Promiscuous sex, intoxicants, high levels of excitement become the only stimulus we comprehend; we are blinded to the vast outer and inner universe, the things that give delight, joy, illumination and are hidden, crowded out and stifled by loud explosions of electric guitars, drug induced ecstasies, and meaningless sexual exploits, just to name a few.
 I began to consider how ‘every good and perfect gift comes down from God’, but unless we are educated we can go through life missing so much of these perfect gifts. He then made this comment – 
“The world itself is a university. Travel and contact with men and things, a mental collision with different races and peoples, and the struggle to get on in the world, are themselves educators in the highest degree.” 
Implied by this I think is that whether in academic pursuits or as we engage life, if we have a mind to learn and educate ourselves there are opportunities every where we go. But beware--
“The boy who leaves school or college with a head full of knowledge, but hating his lessons, shows that his education was a failure. It would be far better if he had only half the knowledge and left school in love with learning…..” We must love to learn things that matter.

  While meeting with the guys the next day I posed the same question to them regarding education and I was impressed to hear many of the comments along the line of this piece. Especially from the guys who have benefited from education. Teen Challenge has an extensive Bible education program and they spend many hours studying the word along with a host of other topics needful to men.

  I want to go on with this by including an illustration ----
  “As we pass before some painting, or some poem,” says E. R. Sill, “the question is, what does this give me? It may give the imagination some pretty image of nature. That is something.
It may give the feeling of peace or tranquility bringing up memories from the past. That is more. But if it be a truly great picture, or a great poem, the whole spirit in us is quickened to new life.” Our sense of color and form, our perception of harmonious relations, “our interest in some crisis of human destiny, our thought concerning this, and a hundred mingled streams of fancy and reflection and will-impulse, are set flowing in us; because all this was present in the man of genius who produced the work, and because his expression of it there means the carrying of it over from his spirit into ours. If it be a work of the greatest rank, we are more from that moment and forever.”

My mind hung on those words, “we are more.” Is this not the desire of every man and woman, to influence others to be more? Certainly every parent, school teacher, religious instructor hopes they can gift their hearer with thoughts that will make them more from that moment and forever. Don’t we all want to be a positive influence in this world?
 I think it is said best by Wm. M. Thayer in a letter to Mr. Burke ---

  My dear Burke; -- you will agree with me that every one must decide and direct his own course in life, and the only service friends can afford is to give us the data from which we must draw our own conclusion and look over the field of life and see what are its aspects.
   “Tell me, Burke, do you not feel a spirit stirring within you that longs to know, to do, and to dare; to hold converse with the great world of thought, and hold before you some high and noble object to which the vigor of your mind and the strength of your arm may be given? Do you not have longings like these, which you breathe to no one, and which you feel must be heeded, or you will pass through life unsatisfied and regretful? I am sure you have them, and they will forever cling round your heart till you obey their mandate. They are the voices of that nature which God has given you, and which, when obeyed, will bless you and your fellow-men.”

I love this quote and I have never met anyone who didn’t agree that no one can direct us, they can only give information; we are the captains of our own destiny. We all have that spirit within to know, to do and to dare. It can be dimmed but never extinguished. Some high and noble cause, like King David says, “my heart is stirred by a noble theme.” We want to be more, influence others to be more; accomplish more than we have to this point, and it may be, much more.
Can I not spend some bit more time exploring subjects of value, some additional time reading or searching out wisdom and knowledge by restraining some of my half witted entertainments? I will be the same man next year if my friends, books, influences and entertainments are the same. But I can ‘begin to become’ by redeeming some time for something high and noble.
When writing something like this I know there are some who will dismiss it, others who will obsess over it but my hope is to encourage those along the way and to awaken others and inspire all, self included.