Difficult topics

In the months ahead, I'm going to explore some difficult topics related to parenting in our peculiar day and time. We are living in a most remarkable age with breathtaking changes happening so fast we don't know how to respond. One of those changes is our nation's view of same sex marriage. I have a Biblical world-view, and thus I have a strong opinion about homosexuality. I believe the Bible is clear in calling homosexual behavior a sin. Yet this same Bible tells me to love my neighbor as myself, and some of these neighbors are homosexual.

Two questions seem to press in on us: 1) How do Christians show love for homosexuals and draw them toward Christ? and 2) How do Christians respond in the political arena when our nation's and our states' laws are changing?

The answer to the first is simpler than to the second, at least for me. I am learning to think of homosexuals as nothing more or less than human beings with the same dignity and problems I possess. They are sinners whom Christ died to save. If I think about them in this way, I simply focus on sharing with them the life-giving water Christ gave me, and I don't worry about much else. As I change my thinking, I am not as likely to avoid them, and I can joyfully engage them as people like myself--fallen but made in the image of God.

But when I'm asked to vote for candidates or support parties that intend to change the definition of marriage, I'm less clear about the path. The consensus we once had as a nation regarding same-sex marriage has now swung so that more believe it is right than wrong. Whether I like it or not, the laws appear to be changing. But man's laws have often been in conflict with God's laws, and we may have to relearn this lesson in 21st century America. Is it a person's fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex and receive all the blessings of marriage that society affords? I don't think so, but neither do I relish laws that deny basic civil rights to people.

At any rate, I want to pray and read and think about these issues so I can share with parents whose children may be experiencing same sex attraction or considering marriage to someone of the same sex. I read an article that stretches my thinking a bit, but I agree with much of what he said. The author is celibate and single, yet has same sex attractions. His struggle is enlightening and makes me want to pray for him and others like him. The article also reminds me that the forces of political correctness may squelch such viewpoints soon. Please read it yourself and tell me what you think. Treasure your right to read and hear from various points of view. We may not always have this right!

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/08/6065/

There is a ministry we know that gives tremendous help to those who struggle with SSA, and to those who love them. Go to www.livehope.org.

Do you call today good? A VBS post

I've been preparing for VBS, as most everyone in Children's Ministry must at this time of year. Often children's teachers feel that, because they teach such simple truths week after week, they miss getting fed themselves. I've felt that way. Teaching an adult Bible study allowed me to study and teach truths for where I was in life—probing deeply into issues I faced as a Christian adult. But children's teachers teach very basic material, and frankly, it often fails to challenge and feed like adult material would. But this VBS material creates a veritable feast for me to study. I've been forced to go back and forth through the gospels to see certain essential truths about Jesus. Sure, I've read them before, but as I prepare to teach children five basic truths about this person Jesus, I've put these essentials in order and in a few words.  And as any writer knows, a few of the right words explode with a punch.

First, Jesus had eyewitnesses to His power and His position. From the moment He began His saving ministry, He was identified by the voice of God from heaven who called Him "My Beloved Son."

Second, He performed miracles that identified Him as more than a man. He commanded nature by calming waves (demonstrating power over planetary tides and forces we don't understand even today, like wind and storms) and making inanimate objects like bread and dead fish multiply. Try figuring out the physics of that—no natural phenomena can account for that! He proved He was God in all four gospels.

Third, He really and completely died on a cross. Pilate made sure of this by sending a top officer to confirm what any Roman soldier would know well—the difference between a dead man and a wounded man. Jesus died, as my mom would say, as dead as a doornail.

Fourth, He rose again, and His tomb was opened for inspection, in spite of guards posted to prevent any tampering. No one expected it. The disciples were 'scattered' and scared. The women brought spices expecting to find a decomposing body. His closest supporters had to be convinced of His resurrection. This is not the way myths or legends start. Jesus had predicted this, and it happened as He said it would.

Fifth, His disciples were radically changed by what they witnessed. They were willing to confront the same Jewish mob just 50 days later, not as fearful disciples, but as men sure of what they knew, and as men filled with the Holy Spirit. Their witness pierced the hearts of three thousand that Pentecost, birthing the same church which continues to this day--the one that has grafted into it you and me, that is, if you too believe this story and submit to this Jesus.

If you do, today is your independence day. It seemed more like Black Friday to the first disciples, but it's no wonder they call it by the name we now use–Good Friday.

We All Win By Helping Parents

Parenting is hard.    -   signed: Captain Obvious

Parenting special needs kids is harder.   -   signed: Colonel N.O. Kidding

I was reminded of that yesterday as I worked alongside a young mom who has a special needs child, along with a precocious two year old. Together, these two wonderful kids created a full-contact, ab-building, 2,000 calorie-burning workout for their mom. And that was before lunch.

This mom loves her kids, and has a wonderful attitude about the role God has given her. She even has room in her day to help out around the church--probably too much for her sanity--but she loves that too.

When I watch young parents do all the wrangling, wiping, and wardrobe-malfunctioning that goes with raising children, I'm humbled and amazed. If you're one of those child wranglers, and especially if you have a special needs child, pat yourself on the back, and remind yourself that it's a season in your life that will pass quickly, at least it will seem so when viewed from the empty nest. I'm praying for you--that you will enjoy this season of life, and that you'll keep your perspective.

God gave you your children to train them to be Godly, and that makes your work even more important. It also means that the rest of us, the church and community, need to help parents. Children are the next generation of workers, warriors, innovators, and leaders. Any society that desires to thrive and succeed should help in raising the next generation.

Sure, parents have the primary responsibility for child rearing, but we all have a stake in the task. We all pay the price when children are neglected. The government has a role in helping by creating a safety net of programs like Head Start and Aid to Families with Dependent Children. But little things matter, too-- little things like what individuals can do. You can help out in the church nursery or offer childcare to a single parent friend while she goes shopping. Want something smaller? How about offering encouragement instead of an icy glare when a harried parent's child acts up at the grocery store? How about sympathizing with the mom who got her kids to church (with shoes on!) even if they were a few minutes late?

We all have burdens to bear, and parents more than most. The Bible tells us to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." I'm no theologian, so I don't know exactly what the "law of Christ" is, but I bet the point is "If you want to be like Christ, help each other out." Parenting is a tough job, but we can help both others and ourselves by helping train the next generation.

5 Bad Behavior Challenges (with 10 helpful Scriptures)

Five ‘Bad Behavior’ Challenges

(and Ten Scriptures to Help) 

Whenever you must confront a child, be sure to take them aside and speak privately to them so that you don’t involve other children or embarrass the child.

1.     A child just doesn’t want to do what you tell them (clean up, join in group time, etc.).

Scripture 1:  Proverbs 18:13 -  He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.

Application:  This verse is for us teachers.  Listen to what the child is saying (verbally or non-verbally).  Is the child afraid, upset about being left by the parent, or unclear about what is expected?  Try to learn the reason for un-cooperativeness before addressing it.  One way to encourage cooperation is to give good, clear directions.  Praise those who are following directions.

Scripture 2:  Hebrews 13:17 – Obey them that have the rule over you…

Application:  The Bible tells children to obey their parents, and the authority of the parent is passed to the teacher for the time children are in your care.  This delegated authority is handled by us teachers as a sacred duty, not to abuse it, but to do what‘s best for children with that authority.  We can properly remind children that their parents expect them to obey us.  This is our Biblical basis for helping them learn to obey in classroom situations.  Of course, if teachers can re-direct a child rather than draw a battle line, that will often defuse the situation.  Remember that learning to obey is a lifelong task!

2.     A child reacts with angry outbursts.

Scripture 1:  Proverbs 15:1 – A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Application:  When children become angry, your best response is a gentle tone of voice.  Your angry or loud voice in response will add tension and stir up more anger.  This doesn’t mean you cannot be firm, but make sure your face and voice don’t add more tension to the situation.

Scripture 2: James 1:19 - …be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…

Application:  Since this verse does NOT say, don’t become angry, but to be SLOW to anger, we want to help children slow down the anger process.  In the heat of the moment, just getting the child to express the reason for anger in words will help.  You might say “Use your words to tell me what is wrong.”  You are helping them learn to deal with their anger.  You may need to use the ‘break’ technique to allow them to calm down before addressing the reason for the anger.  Remember, the anger itself is not wrong but the resulting actions often are.    The old technique “Count to 10 before speaking” actually has a biblical basis!  Once the anger subsides, we can talk to the child about the cause of the outbreak.  Often this will lead to discussions about sharing and selfishness (see problem 4 below).  Sometimes children simply have thinking errors, e.g., thinking they can’t get more crayons if someone takes theirs.

3.     A child hits another child (or verbally attacks/teases others).

Scripture 1:  Galatians 5:14 – “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Application:  Help children to see that we should do to others what we want them to do to us (Golden Rule – Luke 6:31).  God knows that we love ourselves, so He uses this self love to teach us how we should love others.  If we want something for ourselves, we should want that for others.  If we don’t want to be hit, then we know that we should not hit others.

Scripture 2: Matthew 5:9 -  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Application:  Peace is not simply the absence of fighting.  We make peace when we pay attention to the feelings of others.  We are like God when we help people get along with each other.  We want to teach children that it is everyone’s responsibility to help make and keep peace.  In the classroom, we want children to observe and be aware of others’ feelings.  If someone doesn’t have their fair share of toys, every child can help by sharing.  Encourage children to regularly stop what they are doing and notice what others are doing.  Philippians 2:4 says “…do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  As children become aware of others’ needs, they have opportunities to show empathy.  (A great Bible story to tell is about Abigail, Nabal and David in 1 Samuel 25.)

4.     A child won’t share.

Scripture 1:  Acts 20:35 – It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Application:  This is true because God says it is true.  We are blessed (happy) when we learn to give to others.  God is a giver, and we are made in His image.  I think maybe this is the first verse I ever memorized.  My mom said it to me constantly, and I really believe hearing and knowing this verse made me a cheerful giver.  In practical application, I don’t take a toy away from a child and force sharing that way.  When we do that, we teach brute force to the offender, and we only satisfy the selfishness of the one who didn’t have the toy.  That child needs to learn how to handle hurts, and to ask politely.  Among preschool children, asking the child with the toy to give the toy to the next child when they are through usually allows that child to share from the right spirit, not out of compulsion.  If they won’t share, I set a timer for a reasonable time and tell both parties what will happen.

Scripture 2:  2 Corinthians 9:7 – God loves a cheerful giver.

Application:  We need to point children to the Lord as the one we need to please.  This verse not only points out the benefit of giving but also stresses the attitude of the giver.  To give and be jealous is not our goal but to truly enjoy when others are happy.  Share with the giver how their gift made another person happy.  Again, as much as possible do not force sharing.  Redirect the child without the item to something else to help them manage their disappointment and learn to be patient.  Encourage examples of sharing by celebrating them publicly.

5.     A child is too sensitive, crying or sulking whenever they get offended.

Scripture 1:  Psalm 31:4 -  Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.

We want children to learn to deal with disappointments in life and learn godly coping skills.  God allows difficulty in our lives so we will learn to trust Him and seek Him.  When a child is too sensitive, we want to find out why (go back to situation number one!) and make sure there is not something going on and causing a child to act out of character.  We need to be good observers of family interaction at drop off.  Is the child sad or are the parents unusually stressed?  No matter what the reason for hyper-sensitivity, we can help children deal with disappointments by pointing to the strength we have in God.  After salvation, children have the Holy Spirit within them to help.  Even before, we can help children know about God as our helper (Psalm 46:1 – a very present help in times of trouble).

Scripture 2: James 1:2  Consider it all joy…when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (strength to endure).

Application:  When we are disappointed, we usually have thinking errors—things like “I never get what I want” or “I’ll never get to be the one to go first”.  We may have to spend time helping children see the truth that we don’t always get what we want.  Everyone can’t be first.  Also, we need to help children see that bad things (disappointments) help us know how it feels when others are disappointed.  And since God is sovereign, the things we go through are allowed by Him for a greater purpose—not to hurt us but to help us grow strong.  A great antidote for moodiness is a dose of thankfulness.

Child Development Principles for Sunday School Teachers

Picture1 Development Principles for Sunday School Teachers

  1.  God made individuals.  At 24 hours after conception, the unique combination of genes from a mother and a father will be present in the new creation growing in a mother’s womb.  At 40 days after conception, a baby in the womb has a unique brain wave which will be consistent for a person’s life.    We must think of the children we serve as individuals, fearfully and wonderfully made by an infinite Creator for a specific plan.
  2. There is a wide range of ability in any group of same-age children.  (Among my friends’ children, one boy waited to age two before saying anything, then spoke in whole sentences.  Another friend’s child, a girl, spoke in whole 4-word sentences at 11 months old.)  So, if you have a group of “young three’s”, you will likely have children who act in some areas like a mature 4 year old, along with children who act in some ways like young 2 year olds.  Young two’s may barely be verbal while mature fours may already by reading.  This creates a real challenge for teachers.  One solution?  Allow for plenty of individual choice by using a ‘center-based’ classroom—lots of choices children can make for themselves.  Observe!  See who is mature and who isn’t.
  3. Stages of development are generally consistent in their order, but the rate of progress is experienced very differently by each child.  For example, all children go through a progression in the social stages of their play, from solitary (alone) to parallel (side by side with similar toys) to associative (side by side working on a common construction) to cooperative (assigning different roles, like playing mother/child).  However, one child may linger in the first stage, solitary, until they are four, while others go quickly through the stages and play cooperatively when they are only three.
  4. Traumatic events will cause a child to regress to earlier stages.  That’s why a four year old whose family moves to a new town, or whose mom has a new baby, may go back to bed-wetting as they experience ‘trauma’.

All these principles should cause us as teachers to have great patience and seek the Lord’s wisdom as we first observe*, then interact with His magnificent creations.  The children we serve are of infinite worth to God.  He knows them inside out and has a unique plan for them.

Here’s my challenge to you:  Keep a notebook with you as you teach.  Each time you have class, pick a child to observe and make it a goal to record something they said or did that made you appreciate their uniqueness.  Maybe they hopped on one foot.  Maybe they showed empathy for another child.  Maybe an infant grabbed something then intentionally let it go (that’s a big deal for a 4 month old!)  Share that observation with their parents if you get a chance that day, or call them later.  You will have given glory to that child’s Creator and made an important connection with a parent.  Do it once and I guarantee you will want to make it a habit.

* Proverbs 18:13 -  He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.