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If God Wrote a Blog . . .


“Why do people die spiritually?” a friend of mine asked me recently, referring to believers who no longer seemed to want to be involved in the work of the church.  “What makes someone lose interest in spiritual things?”  I have also been musing on this subject for some time.  Coincidentally (or not!), the very nature of my relationship with this particular friend led me to a possible answer.

My friend and I met via an internet forum.  She lives half a world away, but we were brought together through a mutual admiration for each other’s work online and began to get acquainted through e-mail.  We then discovered each other’s blogs and began to read through the entries.  I quickly realized that, as much as I enjoyed getting to know my new friend through the almost instant methods of e-mail and private messaging, it was through her blog that I could really learn about her character, history, philosophy–her heart.  There I can come to understand more about who she was before we met, how she got to where she is today, how she interacts with others in her life.  I can’t talk to her face to face; we can’t sit down with cups of tea and have a heart-to-heart talk in person.  So I read her blog, and she reads mine, and this is how we each learn who the other truly is.

I hope the analogy I’m drawing here is clear.  I certainly believe that God speaks to us directly in our day-to-day lives, moving in our hearts and minds to guide us in an intimate and immediate way.  However, like the e-mails my friend and I exchange, this more direct communication generally addresses the concerns and events of the here and now.  In order to fully know God–His character, history, philosophy: His heart–I must study His blog.

Yes, my friends, God kept a blog for quite a long number of years.  Of course, the internet had not been invented when He started writing His blog.  He used the cutting edge technology of the day by dictating His entries to His various secretaries, who inscribed them on scrolls of parchment. These blog entries (we call them “books” today) purposed to tell the world who God is, describe His character, and explain His workings through history and through individuals as He strove to accomplish redemption for His creation.  The way to learn who God really is, therefore, would be to read His Word.

I believe that many Christians fall away from true faith because they neglect the one thing that would bring them more fully into it:  they fail to study God’s Word.  I know my friend will understand what I mean when I admit that, if our friendship were based solely upon our brief e-mails to each other, our relationship would be shallow and largely imaginary.  Without the insight of our blogs, we would have no foundation upon which to build a true representation of each other’s character.  We would be forced to rely on what little information we could glean through a few sentences or paragraphs and would most probably draw many wrong conclusions about each other’s motivations and philosophies.  We would, in fact, be inventing each other in our own minds based upon our own experiences and thought processes rather than actually learning the truth we reveal about ourselves through our written works.   After all, it is a fact that in order to truly know another person, one must see that person’s actions in many different circumstances and watch them interact with a wide spectrum of other people.  My friend and I cannot observe one another in person, but through our blogs we can “see” each other as we truly are.

When I asked my friend’s permission to use her as an example in this blog entry, she replied, “I would be honoured if you wanted to use me as an example. That’s why I’m on earth you know.”  Her answer brought to my mind another reason Christians may fall away from the faith when they do not study the Scriptures.  If you wanted to read an example of what living out the love and compassion of Christ looks like in this modern world, you need go no further than to read my friend’s blog!  She is daily living out her faith in tangible ways that brings hope and change to those around her.  And this is another purpose of God’s Word. In I Corinthians 10, Paul warns us to pay attention to the history of Israel. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did,” he tells us in verse 6.  And again, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,” he says in verse 11.  He was speaking of negative examples, of course, but there are many instances of positive examples and exhortations of how God wants us to live our lives throughout Scripture.  Unless we study His Word, we can only guess at what He wants for us and what He expects from us.

My friend told me a few days ago that she had been visited in person by another such internet acquaintance.  After a year of e-mails and reading one another’s written work, their first face-to-face meeting was perfectly comfortable.  She said it felt as if they’d known each other all their lives. Commenting on the analogy she knew I was attempting to write about in this blog entry, she concluded: “. . .like my friend from—–, when Jesus comes in person and I see Him face to face it will be like ‘old times’ and we will be completely comfortable in each other’s presence.” God forbid we should ignore the singular opportunity to get to know Him so personally through His revealed Word, so that we can indeed be comfortable in his presence when we see Him face-to-face at last!

“Why do people die spiritually?”  Well, I believe one reason is that they do not value God’s Word and pour over it as if their very lives depended on it.  This is more than unfortunate, because it really does.  It is the blog God gave to us as a direct line to His mind and heart. We neglect so great a gift to our own peril and detriment.

 

 

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Four


At last, the walls of Jerusalem were complete.  It was now a safe, secure place for the people to live.  Governor Nehemiah had plans for guarding the gates and for moving the people into the almost empty city.  He chose two men to be in charge of the city:  his brother Hanani and another man named Hananiah.  He chose Hananiah because this good man feared God more than most men do.  Why was this important to Nehemiah?  What does it mean to fear God?  Deuteronomy 10:12 tells us that, of all the things God wants us to do, to fear Hi is first on the list, even above loving Him.  Proverbs 9:10 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and Prov. 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  Proverbs 8:13 says that to fear the Lord is to hate evil.  I think these verses are telling us that fearing the Lord means trying to always please Him in everything we do.  If we do this, we can truly get to know Him as He is, and only then can we truly love Him.  That’s why the fear of the Lord must come first:  we might love God for selfish reasons, for what He can do for us or give to us.  But if we really get to know Him, by truly trying to please Him, we can love Him because of Who He is.

The walls were finished in time for the festivals of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar.  This would have been the end of September and beginning of October on our calendar.  The first day of that month was the Feast of Trumpets.  The priest Ezra had come to Jerusalem to teach the Law to the people.  Ezra would have been very old by this time, but he stood before the people on the Feast of Trumpets and read the Law to them.  The people stood out of respect for the Law and listened from dawn until noon!  They listened carefully to every word, and if someone did not understand a part of it, the Levites would explain it to him.  The people grieved when they heard God’s Laws, because they realized how much of His precious Word they had forgotten.  They wept and mourned, which showed that they not only understood and believed God’s Word, but they were applying it to their lives.  Nehemiah reassured them: “Do not grieve.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  The people then went on to plan a wonderful celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, which came two weeks later.   They had the biggest, most joyful celebration of this holiday since Joshua’s time.  God’s Word made them grieve because of their sins, and then God’s Word gave them great joy because it showed them how to live.

Do you reverence God’s Word as His people should?  How many of you have Bibles of your own?  Do you know how incredibly lucky you are to be able to own a copy of God’s Word?  In Nehemiah’s day, no one had a Bible of their own.  Few people were even able to read at all, and books were so expensive and took so long to make, there were very few of them.  That is why Ezra had to read the Law out loud to everyone.  Perhaps this was the first time some of them had heard God’s Word!  The priests were supposed to read it every seven years, but if you missed that reading you might not hear God’s Word for years.

Do you have to wait seven years to hear God’s Word?  You can read it or listen to your Mom or Dad read it to you any time you want.  Do you take advantage of this incredible blessing?  Do you respect God’s Word by listening carefully and asking questions if you don’t understand?  Do you apply His Words to your life, being sorry for your sins and feeling joy because of His many blessings to you?

There are about 440 million people in the world today who have no Bible.  I have missionary friends whose only job is to get Bibles to people in their own language.  How their eyes light up when they get a Bible of their very own in their language.  They know what an incredible gift God’s Word is and they treasure it above all things.  I am afraid that God’s Word is not valued as much here in America because almost everyone has one.  We should treasure His precious Word as much as those who can’t have it.  We should want to read it or listen to it every day, and hide it in our hearts.

It was not an accident that Ezra chose to read God’s Word by the Water Gate.  Many times in the Bible, God’s Word is compared to water.  Water quenches our thirst and makes us clean.  God’s Word also quenches our thirst for knowledge of Him, and it makes us aware of sin so that we can be clean inside.  Remember how it feels to be very thirsty and then to get a nice, cold glass of water?  It makes you happy, doesn’t it?  God’s Word should make you that happy.  Next time you pick up your Bible, think about how blessed you are to have it!

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Three


Here is the next installment for teaching this wonderful little book to children.  This is, in fact, my favorite part!

Last time, we learned that Nehemiah was a careful planner and that he began the work to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in an orderly way.  But the enemies of the Jews, led by Sanballat and Tobiah, tried to stop them from finishing their work.

First, they tried ridicule.  What does it mean to ridicule someone?  It means to make fun of them.  Did anyone ever make fun of you or something you were trying to do?  It can make you want to quit, can’t it?  Tobiah said that the wall they were building was so weak that if a little fox jumped on it, it would fall right down!  Tobiah might have thought that was a funny joke, but I’ll bet Nehemiah wasn’t laughing.  It hurts when people make fun of us, doesn’t it?  We must be careful never to hurt anyone else’s feelings by saying mean things, even if we think we’re being funny.  You might think it’s a great joke, but the people you hurt won’t be laughing.

Instead of being discouraged and quitting, Nehemiah and the people just worked that much harder to finish the wall.  I can just hear them saying to each other, “We’ll show them!  We’ll show that old Tobiah!”  Before they knew it, the walls were half done!

Now Israel’s enemies knew that ridicule would not stop the Jews.  So they tried making threats.  What does that mean?  Has anyone ever threatened to hurt you?  Have you ever threatened to hurt someone, maybe a younger brother or sister who was bothering you?  Do you think God approves of a person who threatens to harm another person?  I don’t think so!

If someone said to you, “Stop what you’re doing or I’ll kill you,” would you stop?  I think I would!  It would be scary, wouldn’t it?  But instead of being afraid, Nehemiah and the Jews just prayed to God for safety and posted watchmen to keep a lookout for trouble while the others worked.

Then Israel’s enemies formed a wicked plot.  They would sneak up on the Jews when they were busy working on the wall and kill the all!  When Nehemiah heard this, do you think he was afraid?  I’ll bet he was!  But he didn’t let his fear stop him from doing God’s work.  He posted guards with swords and spears and bows and arrows to “watch the backs” of those who were working.  “Our God will fight for us,” he reminded them.  And so the work continued.

Israels’ enemies were quite willing to kill people by sneaking up on them and taking them by surprise, but they did not want to actually fight! So Sanballat and Tobiah tried to stop the work a different way.  They thought that if they could just get rid of Nehemiah, the people would stop working.   They tried to get Nehemiah to meet with them alone, to “talk things over”.  Do you think Nehemiah was silly enough to fall for this?  No!  He knew they could not be trusted.  “I’m too busy to leave the city right now,” he said. “Should I stop working just to meet with you?”

Then Sanballat and Tobiah tried spreading lies about Nehemiah.  They thought that if they could make the people stop trusting Nehemiah, they would stop working.  Maybe they even thought their lies would reach the ears of the King of Persia and then the king would get rid of Nehemiah for them!  So they said that Nehemiah was trying to set himself up as King of Israel and was rebelling against King Artaxerxes.  Nehemiah was too smart to get into an argument with such people.  “Nothing like this is happening, and you know it!  You are just making all this up!” he said, and ignored them.  It’s hard to ignore people who are telling lies about you, isn’t it?  But sometimes that is the best way to handle people who like that.

Then Sanballat hired a false prophet to go try to frighten Nehemiah into hiding in the temple.  “Men are coming to kill you!” the false prophet said to Nehemiah.  “God says to run away and hide in the temple.  Lock yourself in!  You’ll be safe there!”

“Should a man like me run away from danger?” Nehemiah said bravely.  It was obvious to him that this prophet was not from God. “I will not run away and hide like a coward!  If someone wants to kill me, bring it on!”  And he just kept on working.

After 52 days of hard work, the walls around Jerusalem were finished!  It was finished so quickly that all of Israel’s enemies were terrified.  They knew it was only because the God of Israel was helping them that they could do such an impossible job!  If we become discouraged in doing God’s work, we can know that He is helping us, too.

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part Two


Here is the second lesson in my Nehemiah series.  What I neglected to mention in Part One is Nehemiah’s conversation with King Artaxerxes.  He had a way with words, did Nehemiah, which is one of the things I like about him.  The king said, “Why are you sad when you are clearly not ill.  This is surely the sadness of the heart.”  A very sensitive guy, this king.  And Nehemiah replied, “Why shouldn’t I be sad, when my city lies in ruins, with its walls destroyed and its gates burnt to ashes.”  Fortunately for everyone concerned, King Artaxerxes could appreciate snarkiness as much as I do.  “What can I do for you?” he said kindly, and proceeded to give Nehemiah everything he asked for.  But perhaps this isn’t the best example for a the Sunday School classroom!  So, on to part two:

Last week, we learned that Nehemiah was sent by the king  to Jerusalem to rebuild the city gates and walls.  The king of Persia had provided everything that would be needed for this great work.

Now Nehemiah is in Jerusalem, but he does not start building right away.  He does not even tell anyone why he has come.  Instead, he goes out at night with just a few friends to look at the ruins of the old walls and find out just exactly what needed to be done to rebuild them.    Close your eyes and picture Nehemiah on his trusty horse, riding carefully in the dark around the city, picking his way through the rubble of the broken walls in the moonlight.  Sometimes the piles of stones from the fallen walls were so big, he had to ride far out of his way to go around.  Perhaps the moon cast eerie shadows from the ruined bits of stonework.  Nehemiah took note of all the damage done.  He knew how important it was to make a plan.

Here is what the word PLAN stands for:  Pray, Learn, Ask, and kNow what you’re doing.  What comes first when you make a new plan?  PRAY! Prayer always comes first, doesn’t it?  Nehemiah prayed before talking to the king, and kept right on praying every step of the way to Jerusalem.  If we don’t do a job the way God wants us to, we may as well not do it at all!  So we must always begin by asking God what He wants us to do.

We must also be sure to LEARN all there is to know about a job before we begin.  Nehemiah wisely looked at the walls and gates, so that he knew exactly what work needed to be done.  But he didn’t learn how to build a city wall in one night, did he?  He must have been studying about how to build walls for months, while he was waiting to go to Jerusalem.  We can begin preparing ourselves for whatever work God has planned for us to do by studying now and learning as much as we can from God’s Word and from our schoolwork.  If we learn all we can now, we can be ready to do God’s work when the time comes.

ASKING for help and advice is also important.  Nehemiah took his friends with him to look at the walls because he knew they could give him good advice and might spot things that he might miss.  No matter how much you learn, you just can’t know everything, can you?  There’s always something that someone knows that you don’t know.  Your parents, teachers, and even your friends can help you in whatever task you have at hand.  God never means for us to work alone.  He puts other people into our lives to work with us–but we must ask!

Now, I know that KNOW doesn’t begin with “n”!  But I had to make it fit with the word PLAN!  Always try hard to KNOW what you are going to do before you begin.  An artist sketches out a picture in pencil before starting to paint, so that he will know how the picture will all fit together.  A writer always makes an outline before he begins writing a story, so he knows how all the details will fit together.  A builder makes a blueprint copy of his plans so he knows how the building will fit together.  Nehemiah made a plan of how the wall was going to fit together before he started building.  God expects us to use the brains He gave us to plan our work so that we can do our best for Him.

Remember that Nehemiah had not told anyone but his few special friends why he had come to Jerusalem.  Only after Nehemiah made his plans,  did he then reveal the plans to the people.  Everyone was excited and ready to begin work at once.  Do you think they would have been so excited if Nehemiah had said, “Let’s rebuild the walls.  I don’t know how to do it, but we’ll figure it out somehow.”  I don’t think so!  Nehemiah had planned very carefully, and was able to give each family a job to do so that they were able to begin working right away.  Every family in Jerusalem had specific job; not just professional builders, but also the priests, the store-keepers, the blacksmiths, the farmers–even the jewelry makers and the perfume makers!  Men, women, and children worked side by side, following the plans that Nehemiah gave them.

But the enemies of the Jews were not happy about this building project! Two men named Sanballat and Tobiah  began to mock the people and try to discourage them.  What does it mean to mock?  It means to make fun of someone.  It hurts when people make fun of the work you are doing, doesn’t it?  But Nehemiah just said, “The God of heaven will give us success.”  We can say this, too, if anyone tries to discourage us from doing God’s work.  Then Nehemiah said to Sanballat and Tobiah: “We have every right under heaven and by the king’s command to be here and to do this work.  But you have no right to be here at all.  So go away!”  And they went away.  But only for a while!  Next time, we’ll learn more about the evil schemes of Sanballat and Tobiah, and how Nehemiah outsmarted them!

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Teaching Children the Book of Nehemiah: Part One


Nehemiah is one of my favorite people.  He was a man who threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever task God handed to him.  He was faithful and hard-working; he was passionate; he was capable; and he could get mighty snarky!  Sarcasm is my love-language, and I think Nehemiah and I would have gotten along famously.  So, here’s my take on this enjoyable little book.

Because God’s people would not stop worshiping idols, God had to punish them by allowing them all to be taken away to the pagan empire of Babylon for 70 years.  Now the 70 years was over, and the people of Israel were slowly moving back to Jerusalem.  But it was a long process, and many Jews remained in Babylon.  One of these Jewish men who still lived in a foreign land was  Nehemiah.  Nehemiah had become a trusted servant to King Artaxerxes, the ruler of Persia.  He was the cup-bearer to the king, so it was his job to make sure no one put poison into the king’s food or drink.  King Artaxerxes must have trusted Nehemiah a great deal, don’t you think?  It was a big responsibility to keep the king safe, and it meant that Nehemiah would see the king many times a day, every day.  God put Nehemiah into this special job for a reason, but Nehemiah didn’t know what that reason was.  He just did his best, knowing that by doing his job well, he was also serving God.

Nehemiah had a brother named Hanani, who had already moved to Jerusalem.  One day,  Hanani, came back to Persia from Jerusalem for a visit.  Nehemiah asked how things were going, and Hanani had bad news to tell.   “They are in great trouble and disgrace,” Hanani said.  Back in Nehemiah’s time, cities always had walls to protect them from enemies and wild animals.  Jerusalem’s walls had been broken down and the gates burned when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city so long ago.  The people living in Jerusalem were in trouble because they had no walls to protect them.  They were in disgrace because having broken-down walls would be like you and me living in a broken-down, burnt-out house!  It is possible that the people had tried to repair the walls, but without official permission from the king it would have been impossible for them to get the materials they needed.  And there would have been no protection for the Jews from Jerusalem’s enemies, who did not want the walls rebuilt.

When Nehemiah heard this news, he began to weep.  Even though he had never seen Jerusalem himself, as a Jew it was his true home.  He felt as you might feel if you heard that your house had burned down.

Nehemiah was a man of action, though.  When he heard about the problem, he didn’t just sit around crying about it.  He did something about it.  He did the only really helpful thing anyone can do.  Do you know what that is?  He prayed!

And now Nehemiah knew why God had put him into the job of cup-bearer to the king.  He asked God to give him a chance to talk to the king.  Although he was with King Artaxerxes every day, Nehemiah was not allowed to speak to him without permission.  No one was!  Also, no one was allowed to look sad in the king’s presence or they would be punished!  The Persians had some strange laws, didn’t they?  So Nehemiah had to try to keep his feelings hidden and wait for the king to speak to him

Four months went by, and Nehemiah kept praying faithfully.  At last, God answered his prayer.  One day, the king noticed that Nehemiah looked sad, and instead of being angry and punishing Nehemiah for breaking that rule, he kindly asked what was wrong.  Nehemiah breathed a quick prayer to God to ask for the right words to say.  Then he boldly told the king what was on his heart.  The king must have liked Nehemiah a lot, probably because Nehemiah had been a good and faithful servant to him.  He was willing to do whatever Nehemiah asked of him, and Nehemiah was not afraid to ask the king for everything he would need to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Isn’t it wonderful that Nehemiah was such a faithful man?  What if he had not been a good worker?  The king would never have listened to him, or even cared that he was sad.  In fact, he would never have gotten the job of cup-bearer in the first place, so he would never even have seen the king.  Then God would not have been able to use Nehemiah for such an important job.  Are you faithful in the jobs your parents or teachers give to you?  If you are, then you are also being faithful to God, and He can use you to do even bigger, more important jobs.

Next time, we’ll learn what Nehemiah did when he arrived in Jerusalem.

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Freedom


We keep our cat Ira indoors for a reason:  there are a lot of dogs in our neighborhood and we want him to be safe.  He does not understand this.  He believes our rules are unreasonable and unnecessarily restrictive  He is sure he can fend for himself and that he does not need us to take care of him.  Of course, he is always quite willing to eat the food we offer him, but he never shows gratitude for it.  He acts as if we somehow owe it to him.  And he resents our keeping him in the “prison” of our home.

Ira has run out the door a million times without incident.  But last week, he ran out the door for the million and first time, and disappeared.  We searched for him for two days.  It sleeted.  The wind was blowing cold and merciless.  The temperature dropped to 20 degrees.  We worried and hunted for him, calling his name, going door to door, handing out pictures of him.  And at last, on the third night, we found him.

He was trapped 60 feet up in a tree.  That’s like the height of a six-story building.  This tree had been trimmed back within an inch of its life and had almost no branches between the ground and the crotch of three limbs where Ira had settled himself.  He was so high up, you could barely make out his pathetic little face as he cried for help.  The only way he could have had the initiative to climb that high was if a dog were chasing him.  Well, we told him so, didn’t we?  Not understanding the reasons for our rules did not help him escape the consequences of disobedience.

We called the fire department.  They did not have a ladder tall enough to reach Ira, and the nearby power lines made it unsafe to use the bucket lift.  They soon gave up and went home.  Next we called a professional tree trimmer.  By now it was nearly midnight, and he was unable to help Ira, either.  The next day, we found an animal rescue service who sent out a man with their longest ladder.  That ladder was almost 20 feet short of where Ira sat.  We were getting desperate.  After four days of sitting in that tree, Ira was dehydrated and hungry, as well as in danger of freezing to death.  At last, we found a man who could climb trees using a sling and harness and spiked boots.  He climbed up that tree, putting himself in danger of falling, and rescued our silly cat.

What’s the moral of this tale?  Romans chapter 6 tells us that we are all slaves to what we obey.  Ira obeyed his own instincts, believing that ignoring our restrictions would give him greater freedom.  He ended up stuck in one position, completely alone, without food or water, and exposed to the elements,  helpless to even move an inch in any direction.  If he had been willing to obey US, he would have had everything a cat would want–free run of the entire nice, warm house; plenty of food and water; and people who love him.

Doing what I want looks like fun.  It looks like freedom.  But freedom from what?  Freedom from God means freedom from all the good things He wants to give us.  Freedom to do what we want can look attractive, but can lead to horrifying circumstances!  Ira thought he knew more about how life works than we do.  He thought that fulfilling his own desires would give him happiness.  He had to learn the hard way that we actually do know what’s best for him.  I had to learn that lesson, too; I learned it well enough that I never want to be free from God again.

 

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Teaching the Epistle of Jude to Children


Sandwiched between the letters of John the Beloved and the intriguing Book of Revelation, the tiny book of Jude is perhaps the most neglected and ignored of all New Testament scripture.  So short it is not even divided into chapters, Jude is mysterious and fascinating–and little understood.  Teaching this beautifully written letter to children is not a challenge, but an opportunity to explore the mind of a man who grew up in the same household as our Savior.  Here is a lesson designed to introduce Jude to young elementary-age kids.

Jude is very short letter written by–guess who?  A guy named Jude!  Who is this guy?  He was one of the sons of Joseph and Mary, making him the earthly half-brother of Jesus.  Another brother of Jesus and Jude was James, who became the leader of the Jerusalem church soon after Jesus went back to heaven.  We don’t know nearly as much about Jude as we do about James, but we can learn a lot from his little letter.

Jude’s letter is so short, we have not even bothered to divide it into chapters.  It is only 25 verses long.  But it’s jam-packed with interesting stuff!  One thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that Jude makes his points by referring to Old Testament stories.  He mentions something from the Old Testament in almost every verse, in fact.  But he never tells the stories–he just expects his reader to have already learned the stories and remember them.  He says things like, “they are just like Cain,” or “they made the same mistake as Balaam”.  If you don’t know Cain or Balaam, you won’t have any idea what Jude is talking about!    I cannot emphasize this often enough, kids:  you  cannot really understand any of the New Testament if you don’t know your Old Testament.  All of the New Testament is meant to be understood in light of the Old.

Jude addressed his letter to all believers, or as he put it: “to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ.”  Does that describe you?  Then Jude wrote this letter to you!  Jude says he felt compelled to write in order to warn the believers not to listen to false teachers.  The false teachers in Jude’s day were telling the believers that since Jesus has saved us, now we can sin all we want!  Jude says that these false teachers are twisting the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in order to make themselves feel they have the right to do whatever they want.  Should we just do whatever we want?  No, we should live the way God wants us to live, shouldn’t we?  If we belong to Jesus, then He is our Lord.  What does the word “Lord” mean?  A “Lord” is someone who has the right to tell people what to do.  It’s like being the Boss.  Jesus is the one who tells believers how to live.  We do not have the right to live our own lives once we have given our lives to Jesus.  And really, why would we want to live sinful lives, knowing what Jesus has done for us, to take those sins away?

Jude reminds the believers that, even though God saved the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, they still had to be disciplined when they refused to obey God.  All the Israelites who refused to listen to God had to live their lives out in the wilderness instead of going on to the Promised Land.  Even if you are a believer and know you are going to heaven for certain, that does not mean that you will not have to live with the consequences here on earth if you choose to disobey.  For example, if you rob a bank, being a Christian will not keep you out of jail, will it?  If you drink and drive, being a Christian will not stop you from having an accident.

Jude goes on to remind us that even the angels are not left unpunished if they disobey God.  The angels who rebelled against God and followed Satan are going to be bound in chains and judged.  Remember Sodom and Gomorrah, Jude says solemnly.  Can any of you remember what happened there?  The people in those towns were so wicked, God finally rained fire and brimstone on them and completely destroyed them forever.  Today, where those cities once stood, is now the Dead Sea, a lake so salty that nothing can live in it.  Jude’s point is clear.  God loves us and wants to save us from our sins.  But if we insist on doing evil, He has to judge us.

Jude says that these false teacher have “taken the way of Cain.”  Who was Cain?  He killed his brother Abel, didn’t he, and was driven from the presence of God.  The false teachers may not be physically killing anyone, but they are killing people’s souls with their lies.  They are far away from God and are leading others far away from God.  Jude then compares the false teachers to Balaam.  Does anyone remember Balaam?  He was actually paid by a pagan king to curse Israel, but God sent an angel to stop Balaam.  Balaam wanted the money the king had promised him so much, he would not listen to God’s angel.  Then God made Balaam’s donkey talk to him!  But still, Balaam would not listen.  Money was more important to Balaam than obeying God.  Since he couldn’t curse Israel, Balaam tricked the people into sinning against God instead.  Balaam led the people into disobeying God, just like the false teachers Jude is talking about.

One of the things I love about the book of Jude is the writing.  Jude is very much a poet, and his writing makes pictures in your mind.  He calls the false teachers “clouds without rain” and “autumn trees, fruitless and uprooted.”  What do you think he means by that?  Isn’t a cloud without rain kind of useless?  We need rain for the earth to produce fruit.  Isn’t a dead tree also kind of useless?  A dead tree won’t produce any fruit.  Jude calls these wicked men “wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame.”  Can’t you just picture that?  How about “wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”  How does that sentence make you feel?  It makes me feel kind of shivery!

Then Jude quotes the prophet Enoch.  Does anyone remember who Enoch was?  The Old Testament only tells a little bit about him.  In Genesis, it says that Enoch walked with God, then he disappeared because God took him.  Enoch is one of only two people we know of who never died.  The Bible says God took him right up to heaven to live with Him, still alive.  The book of Jude is the only place in the Bible that records Enoch’s prophecies.  Jude says that Enoch prophesied about false teachers and other wicked men, back in the beginning.  Enoch said, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict the ungodly of all ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against God.”  This is going to happen at the end of time, when Jesus comes back the second time and takes over the earth once and for all.  Isn’t it cool that God told people this way back in the time of Genesis?

Instead of following these wicked teachers into lives of sin, how should we live?  Jude says, “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.  Keep yourselves in God’s love.”  Can you think of ways we can do this?

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The Appointed Times: Teaching Children about the Feasts of the Lord


In honor of the High Holy Days, here is a lesson about the fall “feasts” of the Lord. We call them “feasts” in English, but in Hebrew they are called “Appointed Times”; times to spend with God. These special days are filled with symbolism and significance, and are especially fun to celebrate with children. My own children grew up loving this time of year, and celebrating these holy days of God was a big part of our lives.

God is really big on having celebrations and parties. He wants us to remember all the things He has done for us, and He knows the best way for us to remember is to have a special feast for it. God calls these special days “Sabbaths”. Sabbath means “Rest”, because these days are times when the people were not to work. God wanted them to take the day off in order to spend the day with Him. God really wants to spend time with us, but He knows we get really busy and won’t make the time to spend with Him if He doesn’t tell us to!

Once a week God told His people to celebrate the Sabbath day and keep it holy. What day was that? It was Saturday. Now, for the Jewish people, even today, a day doesn’t start when you wake up in the morning, or even at midnight in the middle of the night. Their days start at sundown of one day and end at sundown the next. So the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday evening and lasts until Saturday evening. This is a day for spending with family, reading scripture, eating a special meal, praying special prayers, and resting and being still with God. Isn’t that a wonderful idea? Christians have gotten away from this idea of keeping one special day just for family and God and for resting. We go to church on Sunday, but otherwise it’s usually just a normal, busy day, isn’t it? I think that’s really sad. God never told us we could stop having a special day once a week to spend with Him, and I think He still expects us to. It is one of the ten commandments, after all.

There were also many special celebrations or feasts throughout the year. There were three in the springtime and three in the autumn. With these feasts, God is the telling a story, the story of how He is dealing with His people. Those first three feasts of springtime have already been fulfilled. They were fulfilled on the very days they are celebrated. We can discuss them another day. The three fall feasts have not been fulfilled yet. They tell of things that will happen in the future. And since we are in the middle of celebrating these appointed times, we’ll talk about them today.

The first of the fall feasts is called “Rosh Hashanah”, which means “head of the year”. It is also called the feast of trumpets, since the shofar, or ram’s horn, is to be blown many, many times on that day. This feast takes place on the first day of the seventh month of the year. In fact, all three of the fall feasts take place during the seventh month of the year. Because this is the seventh month and has so many important days in it, this month considered the beginning of the Jewish year. This is confusing, but think about it. We in America also have two beginnings to our year! The calendar year begins with January, but the school year begins in August or September! Most businesses begin their year with July! So the Jews also have two beginnings to their year: the month of Nisan in the spring begins their spiritual year, and the seventh month, Tishri, begins their secular year.

Another reason for considering the seventh month to be the beginning of the year is that, traditionally, Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. The Jews believe that God created the earth on that day over 6,000 years ago. I would not be surprised if this were true, as the Jews have a reputation for keeping track of important dates! At any rate, the seventh month in the Jewish calendar is their most important month. Just as they spend the sixth day of the week getting ready for the seventh day, the Sabbath day, they Jews spend the sixth month of the year getting ready for the seventh month. Every morning of the sixth month, except for the day before Rosh Hashanah, the shofar, or ram’s horn, is blown to remind the people that the time for repentance is now. On Rosh Hashanah, the last trumpet is sounded, and the priest cries out “You who are asleep, wake up! Search yourselves and repent! Remember your creator!” To Christians, this day is an important reminder that Jesus is coming again. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:52 that the last trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raised, and we shall all be changed and taken up to meet our Lord in the air.

The ten days after Rosh Hashanah are solemn days of repentance, getting ready for the next feast, the Day of Judgement, or Yom Kippur. This day is actually a fast day, for no one eats or drinks anything that day, but prays that God accepts the sacrifices that are to atone for the sins of the people for the whole year. For Christians, we know that this holy day will be fulfilled on the day of the Last Judgement, when God will open the Lamb’s Book of Life. All those who have accepted Jesus’ death as atonement for their sins will go on to live with Him for eternity. Those who have not accepted Jesus will not be able to live with God, but must go to hell.

The third fall feast is called “Sukkot”, or the Feast of Tabernacles or the Feast of Booths. This week-long feast begins five days after Yom Kippur, and it is the origin of our own Thanksgiving day. This feast is a celebration of the final harvest. The Jews build booths, or tabernacles, outside and live in them for a week-long family camp-out. People who live in cities and who don’t have yards might build their booth, or sukkah, on their apartment balcony or on the roof! The booths are to remind the Jews of the 40 years their people lived in the wilderness, before reaching the Promised Land. It reminds them that God takes care of His people and provides all their needs. The booths, or sukkahs, must be flimsy in structure to remind us that our lives here on earth are temporary and that we are on our way to the ultimate Promised Land, our home in heaven with God. We as Christians know that this feast will not be fulfilled until the end of time, when we all get home to live with Jesus forever. Here’s a strange fact about this feast: it is to be a week long, but it is celebrated for 8 days! Have you ever heard of an 8 day week? Seven is the number of completion, and this feast completes the year and points to the completion of all time. Eight is the number of eternity. Seven plus one equals completion and beyond! This is the most fun of all the feasts, with camping out and bonfires and lots of good food and fun. It reminds us of how wonderful eternity living with God will be! It reminds of how much God wants to live with us forever: He wants to be our Emmanuel, “God with us”.

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Teaching Children About the Wrath of God


Adults in America today have a hard time with the wrath of God. They don’t want it to exist. They want to ignore it, and they hope that by ignoring it or denying its existence, it will somehow just go away. I’m sorry, Americans. God’s wrath is a part of His character and it won’t go away just because you want it to!

Perhaps the mistake is in defining God’s wrath as an emotional response on His part, as if He were a human who is on His last nerve. The wrath of God is coming, not because He’s going to suddenly snap and overreact to childish behavior, but because He has promised us since Adam’s sin that He would destroy evil and He always keeps His promises. I’ve heard it said by so many that a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. But are they really thinking about what that means? If God allowed sin to continue forever, in what way is that loving? Yes, God is allowing wickedness to exist for a time, because He wants to give everyone a chance to repent. But a holy, loving God must deal with wickedness and destroy it once and for all. Unfortunately, those who stubbornly cling to sin will be destroyed along with the sin. How else can there be a “happily ever after”? It isn’t as if they haven’t been repeatedly warned!

Children have an easier time understanding the wrath of God because they long for their parents or other authority figures to “make everything okay” in this sinful world and they get frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Children understand sin. They know they do wrong things, and they know that others do wrong to them. They want the bullies to be punished and the adults who hurt them to be dealt with accordingly. Too many adults today are afraid to tell children about God’s wrath, thinking that it will frighten them. This is, I’m sure, because the adults know deep inside that they deserve God’s wrath and it frightens THEM! Children, on the other hand, are greatly comforted by the knowledge that God is greater than sin and that He will deal with evil. For them, a loving God is One who will destroy their enemies and make the world the place of beauty and wonder that they know it should be.

In this lesson, (Isaiah 33-35) God tells Isaiah what the future will be like for the wicked who refuse to repent and then what the future will be like for those who DO repent and who love God.

Those who sin and won’t repent deserve God’s wrath. What is wrath? It means anger. Did you know that God gets angry at sin? He is so holy that He has to hate sin. Sin hurts everything He created. It destroys the things He loves. Imagine that you created a beautiful work of art and then an ugly monster came and threw dirt on it and stomped on it and ruined it. That would make you mad, wouldn’t it? Sin is the ugliest monster you can imagine. It must be destroyed. What if some people throw their arms around that ugly monster of sin and won’t let go of it, even when God begs them to? The time will come when God will finally get rid of sin once and for all, and the people who stubbornly hold onto sin will be destroyed with it. God warns people and warns people that this time is coming. Everyone has time to repent and let go of the monster of sin. If they won’t stop sinning, they must be punished, mustn’t they? It’s the only way to get rid of all sin. Satan and all of his followers will also be punished, and all the sin in the universe will be destroyed. God says that in that time, “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine; like shriveled figs from the fig tree.” That sounds scary, doesn’t it? But we don’t have to be afraid, do we? Why do we not have to be afraid? Because if we belong to Jesus, He has already saved us!

The redeemed will be saved from God’s wrath. Redeemed means “bought back”. We were slaves to Satan and to that monster sin from the day we were born, because Adam and Eve gave this world to Satan in the beginning. But Jesus paid the price to buy us back. What was the price Jesus paid to buy us? His own life! He died on the cross to pay for our sins. If we die for our own sins, it’s too late—we’re dead! Did Jesus have any sins of His own to pay for? No, Jesus never sinned. So when He died, He was able to die for your sins and for my sins. And then He rose from the dead! All we have to do is believe that Jesus died for us and we are redeemed!

Isaiah says that when Jesus returns He will bring the fruit of righteousness, which is peace. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Listen to this: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each man will be like a shelter from the wind, and a refuge from the storm; like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land. Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed, and the ears of those of those who hear will listen.” Isn’t that beautiful? If we believe in Jesus, we will rule with Him. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will jump around like deer! The desert land will have water and be fruitful. We will all live happily ever after with our great God! Doesn’t that make you want to rejoice?

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Teaching Children The Book of Philemon


In past posts about teaching difficult Scriptures to children, I’ve been concentrating on Old Testament books. But there is a book in the New Testament which is consistently passed over in most children’s curriculum. Paul’s letter to Philemon brings up the question of slavery, an emotionally-charged and controversial subject that most are not willing or able to tackle in a Sunday School class, or in any other forum I suppose. I propose that the difficultly many have in presenting this book lies in a lack of historical knowledge in placing this scripture in proper context. Here is my attempt at teaching this problematic book to children with a simple history lesson to aid in a proper understanding of it.

Most of Paul’s letters were written to churches, but four of the books Paul wrote he addressed to individual people. Can you name them? (I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, Philemon) These books are really short; Philemon is only one chapter!

When this letter was written, Paul was in prison in Rome waiting to see Caesar. Paul was allowed to live in a house which he rented there in Rome, but he was constantly under Roman guard and in chains, not allowed to leave the house. He could not go out into the streets and preach to the unbelievers of Rome. He depended on his friends to bring people to him so that he could teach them in his home. One day, a run-away slave named Onesimus found his way to Paul’s house. We don’t know if he sought Paul out or if someone brought Onesimus to Paul. But we do know that after talking with Paul, Onesimus became a believer in the Messiah. Paul calls his new friend “my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.”

Now Onesimus had a problem, though. He had run away from his master. In Rome at that time, slaves who ran away were considered a great threat to the government. You see, about 100 years earlier there had been a great slave uprising. A slave named Spartacus had run away and had become a great leader among other runaway slaves. He had managed to gather an army of tens of thousands of slaves, who marched against the Roman army to gain their freedom and end slavery. This slave army was defeated and 7,000 of the leaders, including Spartacus himself, were crucified–hung on crosses that lined the road leading into Rome for miles. This was done as a warning for the slaves to never rise up against their masters again! Since that time, any slave who ran away was sentenced to die, unless his master would take him back and protect him.

What was Onesimus to do? His life was in danger every day that he was separated from his master. Fortunately, God is a good God! It so happened that Onesimus’ master was a good friend of Paul’s! His name was Philemon, and a church met in his home in Colossae. Paul wrote this letter to Philemon for Onesimus to carry with him on his journey back to Colossae. In it, Paul says of Philemon, “your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because, you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”

You might ask yourself, if Philemon was such a good man and a Christian, why did he own slaves? It’s hard for us in America to understand how different slavery was in ancient times and in other countries because our own American system of slavery was so horrible. In America, slaves were kidnaped from their homes in Africa and sold. They were treated as if they were property and not really human beings. But slavery in ancient times worked differently. Most of the time, it was an arrangement made between the slave and master. Perhaps you owe some money to someone and can’t pay it back. Or perhaps you have for some reason lost your home and your land and have no means to feed and clothe your family. How would you get money? You could sell yourself to someone and work off your debt. You would agree to work for someone for a certain amount of time and then when that time had passed, you would be free to go. In the meantime, you could be saving up your money so that when you were free you could buy a home and maybe even start your own business.

Here’s another way to become a slave: perhaps your family is very poor and cannot afford to send you to school. They could give you to someone as an apprentice. This means you would be learning a trade from your master, like carpentry or iron-making. Your parents would have an agreement with this master–he would give you food and clothes and a place to live while he taught you all you needed to know about his business. In return, you would have to work for him for a certain number of years.

Now, there were also slaves who were from other countries whom Rome had defeated. These people had not made an agreement with their masters! However, since they were a conquered people, they had no home to go back to. If they were to be freed, they would be poor and homeless with no means of supporting themselves and their families. This was a big problem with no easy solution. Simply freeing all the slaves would not solve anything. It would just put a lot of people out on the streets with no place to live and no way to earn a living. I’m not saying that this was a good system. Owning people against their will is wrong. But it was the system that Christians had to deal with at that time as best they could. Protecting their slaves and treating them well was one solution. Giving them their freedom along with land and money to help them start out on their own was another, if you had the land and the money to do this.

We don’t know if Onesimus was a slave by his own agreement with Philemon, an agreement with Onesimus’ parents, or because his country had been conquered by Rome. We do know that it was not safe for Onesimus to wander around without his master’s protection! Any Roman soldier who caught him could put him to death. Onesimus knew he needed to go back to his master. Paul asks Philemon to take the run-away slave back as a brother in Christ, not just as a slave. The name Onesimus means “Useful”. Paul makes a joke of that name when he tells Philemon, “He was Useless to you before, but now he is Useful to you and to me.” In fact, Paul says, he really wanted Onesimus to stay with him in Rome and help him, but he knew he couldn’t do this without Philemon’s permission. “He is more useful to you as a brother in Christ,” Paul tells his friend. I believe he is hinting to Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom and help him find a way to live on his own. “Remember that you owe me your very life,” Paul added. “I’m certain you’ll do as I ask.” Paul was being a little forceful, wasn’t he?

We don’t know what Philemon did. But we do know that 30 years or so later there was a Bishop, a church leader, in Ephesus named Onesimus. Ephesus is not very far away from Colossae. What do you think happened?

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