Tag Archives: teaching children

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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Right-Brained Thinking


I am left-brained; there’s no two ways about it.  I think with words.  I think linearly.  I can only concentrate on one activity at a time if I am to do it justice.  I’m mathematically challenged.  I can’t hold a map in my head, and judging distances and sizes is an impossible task for me.  But I’m incredibly fortunate, because most Americans are also left-brained, and therefore our educational system is geared towards those who think like I do.  I had no trouble in school, because American schools were designed exactly for people like me.

My husband is right-brained.  He thinks in symbols, and must translate his thoughts into words before he can communicate them to others; but since he is not limited to thinking in words, he can think of things for which there are no words. He is not limited to thinking chronologically; he has no sense of the passage of time.  He can do twenty things at once and do them all well.  He’s not great at math, but he’s a lot better at it than I am.  He has an uncanny sense of direction and can measure objects and spaces at a glance.  He has a genius IQ.  But he struggled in school.  American schools are not equipped to teach right-brained kids.  Because they are unconventional thinkers and learn in ways other than rote memorization and reading, right-brained kids, no matter their superior mental abilities, are very likely to be labeled “learning-disabled”.   Although he never had trouble reading, my husband would be called “dyslexic” if he were in the school-system today.  He was fortunate–he grew up before the country’s educators invented this “disability”, and so never had to deal with this label.

I home-schooled my children.  The first three were left-brainers, like me.  It was easy to teach them, because they learned best the same ways I learn best.  We had loads of fun together.  By the time my fourth child was ready for school, I was a veteran home-school mom.  I had it down!  I could teach standing on my head with one hand tied behind my back.  My fourth child did not know this.  She is right-brained, like my husband.  She struggled with reading, and all the teaching techniques that I had learned in the past, all the things that had worked so well with my other children, did her no good.  Was this because there was something “wrong” with her?  Of course not!  I just had to let go of my entrenched teaching methods and re-learn how to teach in ways that would benefit her.

I spent months researching, and then I was ready to try again.  I’m not saying it was not difficult.  I was very often teaching in ways that seemed foreign to me, and it was hard to make myself think in such a different way.  My kid was unhappy, also.  She hated reading. She hated spelling. But we muddled through, learning together, and today as she finishes her second year of high school, I doubt anyone would ever guess that she is dyslexic.  She reads better than most kids her age, she has an intuitive grasp of math, and absorbs science like a pro.

Here’s the secret:  I never told her she had a learning disability.  Because honestly, she really doesn’t.  She thinks differently than the majority of Americans, but it is a strength and a gift, not a disability.  The fact is, most “dyslexics” are highly intelligent–most of the world’s true geniuses were right-brained and would have been called dyslexic if they had been subject to today’s educational system.  The disability is in the schools and the teachers, not in the children.  Just as I had to re-learn how to teach, schools should re-learn how to present material to students in a way that will benefit all of them, not just the left-brainers.

I guess what I would like to see is an acknowledgement of the facts by our educational system.  Right-brained thinkers are not problems–they are assets to our society.  Most of the creative and inventive  advances in our modern world are due to right-brainers, who can think outside of the box more quickly and creatively than we plodding left-brained folks can.  Rather than ostracizing these kids by negatively labeling them and separating them from the rest of the school body, we should be encouraging them and helping them learn to use their gifts, for their own sakes and for ours.  We should be teaching all of our kids to respect and understand differences in thought processes; not only to accept these differences, but to value them and embrace them.  Think what the world would be like today if the likes of Leonardo DaVinci, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, or Thomas Edison had been told that they had an “incurable neurological disability” as one website puts it?  This site describes these famous people, among others, as “sufferers of dyslexia”.  Did they truly “suffer”?  I’m pretty sure they would take issue with such terms.  I do know for certain that my husband suffered from the lack of understanding of his teachers in the 1960’s; and if my daughter suffered from anything, it was from her mother’s lack of knowledge, not from her own mind’s make-up.

How about if we just stop labeling people altogether?  Maybe we could just all be individuals.  My linear, word-oriented left brain thinks this would work for the best.  So does my kid’s creative, symbol-oriented right one.

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American Attitudes


One day last year, I gave all of my tutorial students a grade of 100% for having marvelous attitudes. I had never graded for attitude before, but in this case I was pleased to do so. Here’s how it came about: I began the class by telling my students that I was giving them a pop-essay quiz to help prepare them for the essay section of the ACT. I explained why I felt this time of practice was important and proceeded to inform them as to the subject and form the essays were to take and how much time they had to complete them. I had fully expected frowns, sighs, even a groan or two. Instead, they were every one of them smiling at me with anticipation. “This is exciting!” one girl exclaimed. “Yeah, this’ll be fun!” another one agreed.

No, I promise, this really happened. I was not dreaming and I am not making this up.

Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of taking on several more tutorial classes, and I’ve run into the same positive attitudes time and time again. Last week I asked my Middle School Language Arts Class if they would like to diagram sentences on the board and had to jump back to avoid the stampede towards the front of the classroom. When I give them their reading assignments, they cry, “yay!” and can’t wait to get started. I can hardly get through all the material I prepare for my Literature classes because the kids don’t want to stop discussing their latest reading assignments. One of my College Prep Writing students greets me almost every week with an enthusiastic: “I love this class!”

When I was in school, it was considered the height of “uncool” to be enthusiastic about anything, least of all schoolwork. From what my kids tell me, this attitude has not changed much over the years. Learning is a chore, a drudgery, something to avoid if at all possible. Kids complain about their assignments, get them done late, try to get away with doing as little work as they can.

So have I somehow found the only kids in America who enjoy learning? I must be the luckiest teacher in the country! Actually, all of my students are talented, intelligent, and special. But any student can be a good student if he or she wants to be. It’s all in the attitude.

I don’t know where this American disdain for education started. Perhaps it’s the fault of the media, portraying kids as perpetually lazy, whiny, and ill-mannered and labelling this behavior as “cool”. Are the movie and television industries simply reflecting American reality, or are the kids of America watching the media and buying into the message?

Perhaps it started with the kids themselves, bullying those who excel in the classroom to cover for their own inadequacies. I do know that I was persecuted by my peers in school because I enjoyed my classes, made good grades and always completed my assignments on time. I was not a particularly brilliant student, but I did well because I worked hard; as a consequence, I was disliked by almost everyone. It is my understanding that this situation has not changed at all over the years in both public and private schools; if anything, it may have become much worse.

Could it be the fault of the educators? I’m not sure. I know that I had some terrific teachers in high school who were caring, innovative, and encouraging. They made learning exciting for me, but most of my fellow students would have disagreed with me. No matter what the teacher did to try to engage the class, only a few of us responded positively.

My opinion is that it’s the parents that make the difference. The parents of my own students are excited about learning. They not only teach their own children, they continue educating themselves. They discuss what they’ve been learning with their children and with other adults in the hearing of their children, modelling the kind of attitudes that I appreciate so much in the classroom. We should never stop the education process. Americans in particular have no excuse for not taking the time to learn something new everyday. We have access to the knowledge of the world from throughout all ages of history; but do take advantage of that? Or do we waste our time and resources on pointless games and videos of cats? Do we read the great literary offerings of the masters, or do we content ourselves with equivalent of literary junk-food? Do we go to museums and concerts with enthusiasm? What are we teaching our kids when we don’t take the time to improve our minds? Yes, it can be hard after a long days’ work to sit down and read a good book or watch an informative documentary. But our kids have had a long, hard day, too–and we still expect them to finish their homework, while we relax and watch mindless trivia.

Our attitudes as parents are contagious. If we value education for ourselves, our children will value it as well. If we get excited about learning new things, they will view learning as exciting. And enthusiastic students sure make my job a lot more exciting!

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Run From Dick and Jane


Look, look. Look and see! See my blog. See my blog rant. Rant, blog, rant!

There was a lot of controversy in the 1960’s and 1970’s about the efficacy of the “Dick and Jane” readers. Johnny, who was “taught” to read with these textbooks, couldn’t. In the 70’s, more and more students were graduating from high school without the rudiments of literacy. Reading was no longer a pleasant pastime for most Americans by the end of the 70’s. Today, it’s rare to find an avid reader amongst the general public. Ask any adult on the street the title of the last book he read, and I’ll wager it was a book he was forced to read in high school and he can’t remember a thing about it. Was it the “whole word”, “look and say” method that failed them? Was it the lack of phonics?

I have not done an official study on this subject; I haven’t done a lot of interviews or administered a battery of tests. But I have done a lot of research on ways to teach children to read, and I have drawn my own conclusions. Why did “Dick and Jane” fail to teach American children to read? “Dick and Jane” is boring.

The first sentence of this blog entry is mildly amusing for the short line that it takes up. Imagine forcing yourself to read page after page of such drivel! The repetition, the constant tone of command, the entire lack of imaginative or interesting content is mind-numbing. I remember as a six-year-old being forced to wade through this stuff in school with only the knowledge of an exciting “Bobbsey Twins” mystery waiting for me at home to keep me going. How did anyone expect children to learn to enjoy reading when they were forced to endure such boring (I use this word in its broadest possible sense) “stories”?

Yes, the pictures are cute. I admit to a nostalgic draw towards the colorful pictures of white, middle-class American suburbia. They’re pretty. But pictures are not words. Words are the most important part of any book. (Do I really need to point that out?) Not, admittedly, the most marketable part, but the most important. I have in my home a number of readers from pre-Great War times, and these contain few or no color pictures, but are filled with interesting, educational, and imaginative narrative. Were our Victorian-era forefathers better readers than modern Americans? You bet they were! What made the difference? Were they smarter than we are? Did they have access to better schools? Did they have more well-funded government programs? No, the real difference is simpler than that. They WANTED to read!

I was a lucky kid. I had access to a houseful of good books to choose from, and parents who took me to the library every week. Books were considered the best presents to give and receive for Christmas and birthdays. My parents read to me when I was too young to read, and they spent their spare time reading in front of me, showing by example that reading is fun for everyone. But what about kids who aren’t so lucky? What about kids who grow up in homes with few or no books, and whose parents do not have time for frivolous trips to the library and do not have the money to purchase books as gifts? What about kids whose parents don’t read and whose only exposure to books is in school? Shouldn’t we offer them books that are at least as exciting as the TV programs they watch every day? What draw is there to reading when books are presented as bland and boring?

There’s a resurgence of nostalgic interest in the old “Dick and Jane” books lately. I’ve seen copies in book stores, and they are just as pretty as I remembered them. And the earnest message they send to me is: “Run, kids, run! Go fast! Run to Dr. Seuss! Read, kids, read!”

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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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The Lost Art of Spelling


I know that some people look forward to the Superbowl as a major event in their year. Others live for the World Series or the World Cup. Personally, I find team sports dull and have never been able to muster up an interest in any of them. The event I anticipate every year, my personal “Superbowl” so to speak, is the National Spelling Bee. I was very sad that I had to miss it this year, but most years, Spelling Bee Day finds me ensconced on the couch with my snacks, shouting encouragement to the spellers on the TV screen. It’s so refreshing to see that spelling is still important to some Americans. Unfortunately, we spelling enthusiasts are a dying breed.

Why does it matter? I’m told (by students) that as long as they make themselves understood, communication is achieved and the purpose of reading and writing is fulfilled. (Actually, they rarely word it that way: they generally say something like, “So what? You understood it, right?”) Well, I’ll tell you why it matters. Has anyone else noticed that as spelling abilities fall, so does reading proficiency? Kids find reading tedious and difficult, rather than enjoyable and informative. I think I know why this is.

You see, I would like to blame texting and the electronic age for the poor spelling and reading skills of this generation of students, but I’m afraid the problem started a long time ago. Now please don’t misunderstand me: I am a great proponent of teaching children to read phonetically. But the emphasis of phonics in reading instruction has done a lot of damage to potential readers. Listen to a student read aloud. Then listen to an older person, one educated before the 1980’s, read aloud. Can you tell what the difference is? Children who were taught to read phonetically are still trying to sound out nearly every word as they come to it, as if they’d never seen that word before. The mechanics of reading get in the way of the process and little understanding is accomplished. Relying entirely on phonics to read IS tedious and difficult! No wonder kids don’t want to do it. Learning to read should begin with phonics, but should quickly progress to whole-word recognition. Relying on the sound of the words for recognition slows the reader down; sight readers don’t need to hear the word pronounced to know what it is. The more words a person has memorized, the quicker he can read and with greater comprehension. Sounding out words phonetically can still be used when confronted with an unfamiliar word, but the best readers rarely need to sound out any words. They just know them at a glance, like recognizing an old friend. This is the advantage of having a reading vocabulary as well as a speaking vocabulary.

But there are over a quarter of a million words in the English language! How can one memorize so many? Well, obviously, most of those words are jargon; scientific, medical, or technological terms that the normal reader will rarely if ever come across. A great many of the rest are formed from the same root words, with prefixes and/or suffixes added. Here’s where spelling comes in. Recognizing a word means knowing what a certain combination of letters mean without having to sound it out to hear what it sounds like. Spelling is the art of putting letters together correctly to form meaningful words. The more common root words, prefixes and suffixes one knows, the more words one can recognize.

Once upon a time in the Middle Ages, people spelled words however they liked. (Even in the 1500’s, spelling was not completely standardized. Shakespeare spelled his own name at least 6 different ways.) Reader proficiency was poor in the Middle Ages. Can you imagine, trying to memorize all the potential spellings of any given word? How about “phonics”? Let’s see: fonics; phonix; fonnics; fonicks; pfonicks; ffonix. Ever tried to wade through a manuscript written before 1500? It’s tedious and difficult. There’s a reason spelling was standardized. Arguments can be made as to how efficient or sensible a job those spelling-standardizers did, but the fact is, it’s so much easier to memorize words that look the same all the time.

I am a great believer in spelling lists. I don’t understand modern educators who don’t require them in high school. I had spelling lists to memorize in college, and my reading vocabulary is very much above average as a result. Every word a student learns to spell correctly adds to his reading vocabulary, thereby improving his ability to read more quickly and with better comprehension. And, one hopes, with greater enjoyment as well.

However, the best way to learn to spell correctly and to read well is to practice. In this way, reading is like anything else–sports, music, any skill one wishes to acquire. Practicing to increase proficiency in reading has the extra perk of also providing the reader with information or with a good story in the process! I practice reading every day and hardly even know I’m exercising a skill–it feels more like having a good time.

As for those who still contend that it doesn’t matter how one spells a word as long as it is understood: to you, I say this. Picture in your mind, if you will, a familiar work of art. Let’s take the “Mona Lisa”, for example. Now picture her with bushy eyebrows. You still recognize the painting. You still understand that this is the “Mona Lisa”. But it is now more than a little disturbing, isn’t it? A little bit wrong is still wrong! And while the error is calling attention to itself, it draws attention away from what the artist or writer was intending to communicate.

(Now I’m in great fear of posting this, as I’m sure I’ve misspelled something in this essay. . . .)

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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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Draw Swords!


My family loves the “Lord of the Rings” movies. We watched them in the IMAX theater on opening nights. We bought the DVDs and watched them repeatedly. We still constantly quote lines from the movies to one another, and we even enjoyed the special features so much that we still quote lines from them to each other. Yes, we are total geeks. But as interesting as my readers may find these facts of my family life, that’s not the point of this blog entry.

One of the stories the actors told in the special features particularly caught my interest. The actor who played Aragorn, Viggo Mortensen, felt it important to stay in character as much as possible. And in his mind, Aragorn’s sword was what defined the character. So, Mr. Mortensen carried his sword everywhere he went. He put it in the back seat of his car where ever he drove. He carried it into restaurants and leaned it against the wall close at hand. He took it with him into his hotel room and slept with it near. His sword was always either in his hand or so close to him he could grasp it at a moments notice. He spent many hours learning how to use it with the guidance of an expert swordsman. He spent many more hours practicing what he had learned. He told a story about one time while on his way down the street from the sound stage to his car, still dressed in his costume and practicing his riposte and parry with his weapon, he was stopped and questioned by the police. Apparently this “desperate, Rasputin character,” as he put it, had alarmed the neighbors and they had called 911.

The point is, because he dedicated so much time to learning about his sword, constantly practicing and handling it, he became intimately familiar with it. Although he had never touched a sword before beginning the filming of “Lord of the Rings”, he became an expert swordsman in a matter of months. Such dedication for something as ephemeral as a movie.

I know you can see the obvious connection coming. We as the People of the Book should learn a lesson from Mr. Mortensen. Our Sword, the Sword of the Spirit, deserves at least as much attention from us. We should let it define our character. We should practice and study it constantly. We should carry it with us everywhere we go. We might actually frighten a few people, too! But that’s all right; the important thing is to become so intimately familiar with it that we become experts in the Word. Then we can go on to help others learn more about this Sword. Most importantly, we can teach our children how to wield it effectively.

Ephesians chapter six outlines the “armor of God” that we are commanded to put on. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith: these are all :defensive. Our only weapon against the enemy is the Sword of Spirit. Only the Word of God; not human knowledge, not our own thoughts or logic. His word alone. But it is powerful enough to defeat the devil and all his followers, if we use it properly. I’m afraid some of us, with only a weak grip on the sword or sketchy knowledge of its character, only harm ourselves with it. It is, after all, a two-edged Sword.

We parents and teachers owe it to our children to be as intimately familiar with the Word of God as we possibly can. That takes time, dedication, attention, practice, determination, and help from those who have more experience that we have. The more we know, the more our Sword will define our characters. The more we practice, the more our children will see the importance of studying God’s Word. The more we allowed God’s Word to permeate our beings, the better equipped we become to do God’s work in the world, including our most important job: raising our kids in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.

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War in the World


Ladies and Gentlemen, we are at war. This war is not fought far afield; it is not the Battle of Bunker Hill, with families picnicking in safety as they looked on. This is not trained soldiers facing off in lines or in trenches, with their women and children safely back at home. This is barbaric, Vandal and Visigoth-type warfare. This is an enemy who crashes right into our homes and places of work; into our schools and even into our places of worship; and violates men, women and children alike, old or young, educated or ignorant. This is an enemy who attacks whole families, whole communities from the air, without our ever seeing the faces of our attackers. This enemy is vast in number and is almost always completely invisible to the naked eye.

I am referring, of course, to germs.

(Perhaps you thought I was writing about something else.)

We all know how pervasive and how dangerous germs are. We are all made aware from infancy how important it is to fight and to avoid germs. We have all heard of plagues and pestilences which wiped out whole villages, decimated populations, caused untold suffering. So, why are we not living in a state of constant terror? Well, I know that there are germophobes who DO live in constant terror, but they need more help than I can offer in this forum!

We do not live in fear of germs because we know how to fight them. And, 99 percent of the time, we are successful. We do not fall ill day after day. When we do become ill, we generally recover. Knowledge is power, and we acquire this knowledge early on. Who does not remember his mother admonishing: “Wash your hands before you eat. Don’t eat food off the floor! Stop kissing the dog on the lips! Wash that apple before you eat it. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. Get in the tub, you’re filthy!” As we get older, we learn even more about combating the enemy: we cook our food thoroughly; we refrigerate it adequately; we keep our homes clean and disinfected; we teach our kids how to avoid getting sick. Because this knowledge is too important to keep from our children.

Wait. Maybe I AM writing about something else!

I have had parents and teachers tell me that they will not teach their children about Satan and his demons because they don’t want them to get scared. What would happen if we did not teach our children about germs? They would get sick all the time; they might even die of an illness. Ignorant children are not germ-free children; they are actually MORE susceptible to germs than knowledgeable children. There’s no need to terrify our children with stories about germs, but they do need to be made aware of the existence of germs and of what they need to do to protect themselves. It’s the same way with the forces of evil. There’s no need for anyone to be terrorized by demonic activity if they are adequately knowledgeable about the enemy and how to avoid or defeat it. Prayer is our greatest defense, and the name of Jesus will send the enemy running. Keeping our minds and hearts clean helps prevent a great deal of infection by the wiles of our enemy, and knowledge of Scripture helps us combat the lies he whispers in our ears. Knowledge is power: God is the greatest power of all!

There is a kind of magical thinking among some parents and teachers that causes them to believe that keeping children ignorant will protect them. “What they don’t know can’t hurt them,” they say. I contend the opposite: What they don’t know will certainly hurt them! Without knowledge, our children are helpless and defenseless before a ruthless enemy who is out to destroy them. Don’t be deceived: Satan wants our kids! There’s no need to be alarmed by this. There is great need to be aware of it!

I was myself first confronted by a demon at age seven. I didn’t know what it was and didn’t know what to do. Over the past 30 years that I have spent in teaching children, I have discovered that my experience was hardly singular. A great many of our children have been attacked by the enemy, and being unprepared, they had no idea what to do. Most were too afraid or confused to tell anyone about their experiences. Many who dared to alert an adult of their experiences were dismissed as having an over-active imagination. This is a shameful state of affairs. If we are the people of the Book, as all believers should be, we ought to know our Scriptures well enough to realize that we have an active enemy who has no scruples, no conscience, and is not ashamed of attacking the young and helpless rather than the older and better-armed.

There are ways of teaching our children how to combat the enemy without terrorizing them, just as there are ways of teaching them to avoid germs without undue emotional stress. Just be matter-of-fact, and tell them the truth. Tell them that our God is greater than the enemy and is able to protect them, and that His Name is all-powerful! Teach them to pray. Teach them the Scriptures. Teach them that they can tell an adult what happened to them and they will be believed. Encourage them to talk about their concerns and fears, and know your Bible well enough to be able to answer their questions.

I Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your anxieties upon Him, for He cares for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”

James 4: 7 “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

It’s hard to keep vigilant when you haven’t been told to be vigilant. It’s hard to resist the devil when you don’t know anything about him. It’s easier to resist the devil when you know that we are all in this fight together and none of us are alone in battling the enemy. It’s easier to confront the powers of evil when you know the power of “the mighty hand of God”.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war. Arm yourselves and your children and prepare to fight!

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Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures: Part Two


Here’s the second installment in my re-posting of my original blog entries. I would really appreciate feedback and comments. I would love to be able to learn from the ideas of other like-minded educators.

How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? We must remember why God gave them to us in the first place. Rather than consistently focusing on the child, we must return to focusing on God. Too many children’s Bible stories are obviously written with the end goal in mind: “how can this story help the child live a good, Christian life?” These stories perpetuate the mistake of Robert Raikes. I am not saying that applicability is not important, but it is of secondary importance. God gave us the Scriptures primarily so that we can know Who He is. In particular, the Old Testament reveals to us the heart of God the Father and Creator, and His Messiah Jesus Christ, most vividly and as completely as mere mortals are able to comprehend.

Here, then, are the guidelines I would propose in teaching Scripture to children, and in particular, teaching the Old Testament:
First, please don’t make the mistake of thinking of this precious time you have with the children as baby-sitting time. We are not just trying to keep the children occupied while the adults take part in the “real” ministry. Humans learn best before the age of six. After that, their learning patterns are fairly well set. I don’t want to say that it’s too late to teach people after they reach adulthood, but adults have a much more difficult time learning new things. Why wait? We have them in our classrooms NOW! Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to make a difference in these children’s lives. I suggest that the “real” ministry is going on in the children’s classrooms, and the adult teachers or ministers are just keeping the grown-ups occupied until the children are finished.

Second, begin by making certain they understand that the Bible is ONE book, ONE story; the story of God dealing with His people. It begins at creation and ends after the early church is established (actually, it ends at the end of time!). Yet the ONE STORY still goes on, and we as God’s people are a part of that vast, overreaching history. Make the child feel part of the story and events recorded in the Bible will seem that much more relevant to them.

Third, make certain the children understand that the WHOLE Bible, Old and New Testaments, is about Jesus. He is right there in the first chapter of Genesis, and He is there throughout, on every page. The Old Testament Scriptures are the story of God preparing the world for the coming of His Messiah. He spent thousands of years preparing for this all-important, culminating event. Do we dare deprive our children of this preparatory process? There are plenty of resources available to help you “find” Jesus in the Old Testament, but once you are accustomed to thinking this way you won’t be able to help seeing Him everywhere on your own. The Bible is HIS story, and that is the primary reason for studying it.

In this area, I imagine my proposition will receive the most objections. Christ appears in the Old Testament most often in types, or pictures as I prefer to call them when teaching children. It is conventional wisdom that children cannot understand abstract ideas until they reach their teens; that typology and symbology are beyond their comprehension. This is nonsense. The same experts who claim that children cannot grasp symbology will strongly advocate teaching infants the alphabet and telling them the names of objects in order to give them a good start on vocabulary. What are letters or words but symbols of sounds or objects or ideas? There is nothing intrinsically “A-like” about the three lines we put together and to which we ascribe the sounds we call “A”. People in other countries may put three lines together in the same way and ascribe different sounds to it. “A” means “A” because we say it does. That is symbology. It is the same with words. An English-speaking mother will tell her child “eye”; a Spanish-speaking mother will say to her child “ojo”. Both mothers will point to the same object as they say these two different words in the instinctive understanding that they are speaking a symbol and that the object of that symbol must be pointed out to the child for understanding to be accomplished. Mothers also know instinctively that this process is not immediate. For symbols and their objects to become part of the child’s thinking, it is necessary to repeat the alphabet and the words many times. Repetition and usage are the keys to any kind of learning. It is the same with Scripture. Repeatedly saying the symbol, or type, and pointing to the object of its meaning will make these concepts such a part of the child’s thinking that it will seem to him as if he’d always known them, just as it seems he has always know that “A is for Apple”. This aptitude for absorbing language and symbols is greatest when the child is an infant and grows less as he grows older. It becomes more and more difficult for them to learn these concepts as they approach their teens. Start them young or they will always be at a disadvantage! Take the words of linguist J.R.R. Tolkien to heart: “Therefore do not write down to the Children or to anybody. Not even in language. . . . an honest word is an honest word, and its acquaintance can only be made by meeting it in a right context. A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one’s age-group. It comes from reading books above one.” The same is true of Spiritual concepts: Don’t teach down to the children. Use the correct words for spiritual concepts, explaining as you go, and let their minds expand.

Fourth, make connections week by week, so the children understand that they are not learning a new story from the Bible each week but a small part of the continuing saga. This is, of course, much easier to do if you teach them the Scriptures in order, but not strictly necessary if you have a good time line to aid you. Here again, repetition will aid in the children’s process of learning. Don’t just review last week’s lesson, go back many weeks and connect each to each before beginning each new lesson. Ask the children what they can remember, for hearing the stories from each other is even more helpful than hearing them from you.

Fifth, do not try to force application where there is none. Remember, Scripture is not about the child but all about God. I have seen this done in ways which actually twist Scripture into meaning the opposite of what was intended! Which brings me to my last point:

Sixth, be completely honest with the children. I don’t mean that you have to go into detail: just admitting that David took something that didn’t belong to him is enough for a two-year-old. That David killed a man so he could marry his wife is graphic enough for a five-year-old. Include the facts that David was sorry for his sins, was forgiven, yet had to suffer the consequences of his actions. Emphasize that God brought His Messiah, Jesus, through David’s family as a way of honoring David’s faithfulness. Don’t try to clean up Bible characters. Kids need to know that they were real people with real problems, just like them. It is not helpful to give them super-heroes to emulate; they know they can’t be perfect and this will just discourage them.

Additionally, don’t make the mistake of teaching a Bible story only in order to teach other skills: my biggest pet peeve is the “story of Joseph and the coat of many colors”. Yes, it’s a great way of teaching pre-schoolers their colors. Yes, it makes a beautiful picture in a story book. By all means, tell them that Jacob gave Joseph this wonderful coat, but tell them the truth about it. Every child knows instinctively that there’s something wrong in this story. Every child knows that Jacob should not have shown preference to one of his children at the expense of the others. And what reason do we give them for this shocking display of favoritism by Jacob? I have seen too many of these stories end with the touching moral: “Jacob loved Joseph just like God loves you!” If God is like Jacob, how unfair He must be! What child has not had the fear that Mom or Dad will love one of his siblings more than they love him? No, be honest with the children–Jacob was deliberately disobeying God by conferring the birthright on Joseph instead of on Judah. Children deserve to have their discomfort with this story acknowledged rather than brushed under the rug.

Being honest with the children often means reconsidering what you might have thought about age-appropriate material. Teachers (and parents) often try to protect children from unpleasant or frightening truths by simply not teaching them these things. This is, in fact, the opposite of protecting them. Knowledge is power; ignorance is dangerous. We cannot protect our children from sexual predators, for example, by keeping them ignorant of such dangers. Yes, it’s not a fun topic and it’s a little scary; but it will be a whole lot scarier for a child to be confronted with a situation for which he has not been prepared. I bring this up because there are two topics which the Bible discusses a great deal but which tend to be ignored in order to protect children from being frightened. First, Scripture deals with sex and uses sexual imagery extensively. Just as there are ways to protect a child from potential molesters without being too graphic, there are ways to teach the Proverbs and other such scriptures without being too graphic. Small children can understand that it’s wrong for two people to pretend they are married when they are not, for example. They don’t have to know the specifics of the situation. Second, Scripture gives us a great deal of information concerning the devil and his angels. I have known teachers who feel that teaching about demons might overly frighten the children, but keeping children in ignorance of demonology actually makes them easy prey for the evil ones. I was confronted by a demon myself at age 7, and having had no teaching on such things, I didn’t know what to do. I have taught children for 25 years now, and have met many children, some as young as 5, who have had demonic experiences. I’m talking about children who are raised in loving, Christian homes. The devil wants our children, and we must teach them what to do to avoid his snares. The best weapon we can give them is knowledge. We can give them weapons they can wield themselves: prayer, and the assurance that they can come to an adult with such matters and be both believed and supported. The best way I have found for teaching children about demons is to compare them with germs. Both are out to get us, both can be dangerous; but there’s an easy way to avoid germs–wash your hands! And there’s an easy way to avoid demons, as well–pray!

One of the worst trends in teaching children Scripture in the past several decades has been teaching about God’s great love for them without the balance of teaching them of God’s judgment. Adults seem to be afraid to introduce this subject with children, but it’s exactly what children like to hear about. Kids love to hear about the bad guys getting what they deserve. Adults don’t like to hear about God’s judgment because it makes them feel condemned, but kids almost never identify themselves with those being judged. Tell them the truth about Noah’s flood: yes, eight people were saved, but hundreds of thousands died. This story is not about a lot of smiling animals on a big, cute boat. It’s about cataclysmic judgment over the entire earth–valleys were carved, mountains raised up, the weather was changed forever. The animals, and the people, on the ark were, no doubt, terrified by the ferocity of the storm and the waves. The kids will invariably identify with Noah’s family and the animals, feeling relieved at their rescue and gratified that the bad guys went down. Where do adults today get the idea that a loving God would never send anyone to hell? They got that idea in Sunday School! Teach children while they are young that God cannot let sin go unpunished. Otherwise, Christ’s death makes no sense.

Two examples on this last point: I was once teaching a group of five-year-olds about Jesus cleansing the temple. To illustrate this story, I had been provided with coloring pages depicting animals running out of the temple. My kids were horrified! “Jesus didn’t hit the animals, did He Mrs. MariLynn? He just hit the bad guys, right?” I painted them a picture of Jesus the Mighty Hero driving all the evil bad guys out of the house of God. They loved it! I understand that whoever prepared those coloring pages did not want to depict the loving Son of God whipping people, but that’s what happened and that’s exactly what children want to see! They need to see Jesus as He really is–the Conquering Hero! Better than Superman! They need to know that God can beat the bad guys. It makes them feel safe and secure in His hands.

One year later, I was teaching six-year-olds the Book of Acts. As we approached the story of Ananias and Sapphira, I grew nervous about how to present this story. Would the kids think that God was going to zap them the next time they told a lie? I was still fairly inexperienced or I would never have thought this. The children listened to the story and all nodded wisely. It was then that I realized that children are much closer to God in the area of judgment than adults are. Adults expect mercy and are surprised and dismayed by judgment–even resentful of it. Children, on the other hand, expect judgment and are surprised by mercy. They take the “wages of sin” being death very seriously. Why take this wonderful quality away from them? Yes, they can seem mercenary and even blood-thirsty in the joy they take in the bad guy “getting his”, but that is easily dealt with by gently steering this just impulse towards empathy rather than trying to mold them into adults who take mercy for granted and thus miss the whole meaning of the cross.

One last point: I have a suspicion that God added in the gory details of battles and such just for the interest He knew little boys and girls would have in them. Don’t deprive them of this! I once tried to steer around the graphic, nasty details of Herod’s death by simply stating that “God said Herod must die for his pride, so he did.” My kids did not let me get away with that! They had read the text for themselves (and they were seven and eight years old!) “Tell us about the worms, Mrs. MariLynn! We want to hear about the worms!” Give ‘em the worms! Let them have the whole truth of the Bible, pretty or not. If God thought it was important enough to include in His Holy Word, who are we to say, “eeewww!”

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