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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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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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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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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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Teaching Children the Truth of the Scriptures


This is a re-posting of my first blog entry, with a few little changes. I began this crusade for better Bible instruction for children many years ago, and I am making little headway! Now that my blog is being read by more people, I wanted to re-emphasize the reasons I began it in the first place–to improve teaching methods for Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. Our children are the future of the church! They need to be prepared to lead. They need to be taught truth!

Deuteronomy 11:18-19. “You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul. . . . And you shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” When God commanded that His words be impressed on our hearts and on our children, the only words there were to impress were those in the Pentateuch. How far we have diverted ourselves from this simple command of teaching God’s word in its entirety, difficult parts, “boring” parts and all.
Up until about 240 years ago, the Bible was taught to children in the same way it was taught to adults: it was read to them. Most children in English-speaking nations, in general, learned to read by reading the Bible. Families were all together in church services–children heard the same sermons as the adults, and the parents would talk to them about the message afterward. I’m not advocating going back to that way of teaching, and we have many more resources available to us which we should take advantage of. But it served human-kind well enough for thousands of years, and I am not sure that adults of today who learned under modern methods of teaching are better educated than those who came before.
Along came the Industrial Revolution. In the 1780′s an upper-class gentleman in England, Robert Raikes, noticed that children of the poorer classes were no longer attending school or church, but were being forced to work in factories to help support their families. He became concerned about what kind of adults this generation of uneducated children would grow up to be, and so he conceived of a “Sunday School” to be held on the only day the children had off of work. This was the beginning of the concept of Sunday School that we have today. Unfortunately, it was Raikes’ primary goal to teach the underprivileged to read and to be good, moral citizens of Great Britain. Their spiritual enlightenment was secondary in his mind. Therefore, he chose to teach the children only those Bible stories which he could adapt to his agenda of moral values, leaving out any details that might detract from his goals. For example, he might teach them about the patriarch Jacob by expounding on his faithfulness and how he was blessed by God, leaving out the parts where Jacob lied, deceived people, and ran away like a coward. The Bible stories were presented as isolated tales rather than as part of a vast history, so that anyone attending his schools would come away with the impression that the Bible was like Aesop’s Fables: a book of unrelated moral tales with unreal, perfect characters.
As the years passed, printing in color became easier and cheaper, and colored story books for children became all the rage among the wealthier Victorians in the mid- to late-1800′s. Bible stories, with beautifully colored wood-cuts, were popular presents for Christmas and birthdays. Naturally, the stories in these books were chosen for their illustrative qualities, and the narratives themselves were often questionable. When the wealthy Victorians got wind of the Sunday School movement among the poor, they grabbed onto the concept with their own twist-–illustrated Sunday School cards and papers. Again, these stories were presented as isolated, moral tales and chosen for their illustrative qualities. The Bible was cleaned up and disinfected so that the children would never know that David committed murder and adultery; that every living thing on earth, except those in the ark, died in Noah’s flood; that when Ehud stabbed Eglon, Eglon’s fat stomach closed over the hilt of the knife. In other words, the Bible began to be unreal and unhistorical, and those whose only knowledge of the Bible came from Sunday School grew to have a warped and one-dimensional idea of what the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is all about. A warped view of the Bible means a warped view of God, and there was a great falling away from the faith as the children taught in this way grew to adulthood.
Darwinism took hold, and the Bible began to be seen by many, even by Christians, as unscientific, even mythological. By the 1950′s and 60′s, the Bible was being taught more and more as a lot of unrelated, moral fables rather than historical truth–-as a way of teaching children how to behave rather than teaching them to know their Creator and Savior. Even those churches which remained fundamental in doctrine often used inferior Sunday School material which failed to emphasize the historical accuracy of the Bible. Lessons were still chosen for the cute crafts and pretty coloring pages that could be created to enhance the stories, and so the less “pretty” stories were ignored. Think of the vast amount of material which is never presented in Sunday School, or in other venues of children’s education: most of the Judges, most of the Kings, most of the prophets. Fascinating, enlightening stories which children would love, which never-the-less would be difficult to illustrate tastefully or to create appropriate hand-work for. The adults raised in these Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools thought they knew what was in the Old Testament and so never bothered to read it for themselves. The Old Testament began to be seen as irrelevant to adults, to be set aside with books of fairy tales.
Many of us who now attempt to teach the Scriptures to children today received our earliest Bible instruction in the 1960′s style Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Schools. You might argue that they were better than nothing and that no other curriculum was available to be taught at that time, and that is certainly true. But the tragedy remains. Ask any adult of our generation a question about the Old Testament and see if they can answer it. Look it up and make sure YOU know the right answer yourself! How many adults today are fully literate in Old Testament theology? I have known many intelligent, well-educated Christians who are very knowledgeable in the New Testament Scriptures but have only the most rudimentary grasp of the Old. I have even heard arguments for abandoning the study of the Old Testament Scriptures since they have been “replaced” by the New! I sincerely believe that this attitude comes from a Sunday School mentality of Old Testament study. Since people are being taught the Old Testament as a collection of isolated morality tales, they can’t understand how these Scriptures can be relevant to adults. They don’t understand what they are missing, because they have never really been taught Scripture as a serious, historical document.
How then should we teach the Scriptures to children? I’ll share my ideas on this tomorrow.

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Teaching Children the Truth About Christ’s Death Part Two


Teaching children about the death of Christ is difficult in today’s America. Post-modern Americans are used to hearing all kinds of filthy language and sexual innuendos in their daily lives, but bring up death and they are offended beyond endurance. The Gospel has in many churches been “cleaned up”, with all mention of blood or suffering excised from hymnals and Sunday School material. As violent as our society is, you would think Americans would be immune to death, but instead they purport to be shocked by it. Look through many children’s Bibles and you will notice that the text skips from the Last Supper to the Resurrection with barely a mention of why the Supper was Jesus’ last and why He needed to rise from the grave. And yet, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. Do we really dare minimize it when teaching our children? Do we dare leave it out?

Here is the second part of a lesson I wrote for elementary age children in which I attempt to explain Christ’s death and resurrection truthfully in words they can understand. I find no need in being melodramatic–I find that children respond favorably to a matter-of-fact delivery when it comes to difficult subjects such as this one.

Last time we were together, we talked about the Last Supper and why Passover is important. Now I’ll tell you what happened next.
Jesus and His disciples left the house where they had eaten the Last Supper and went to the Garden of Gethsemane, a sort of little park on the Mount of Olives just outside of Jerusalem. There, Jesus prayed and waited for Judas to bring the soldiers to arrest Him.

Soon the soldiers came, a detachment of them. I had a hard time finding anything to tell me about a “detachment”, but from what I gathered, it would have been about 30 soldiers. That seems a little excessive to arrest one man, doesn’t it? Now here’s an interesting thing that happened: Jesus went forward to meet the soldiers and asked them whom they wanted. “Jesus of Nazareth”, they said. “I am He,” Jesus said. When Jesus said, “I am”, everyone drew back from Him and fell to the ground! Why do you think they did that? Do you know what God’s own name for Himself is? It’s Yahweh, and in English that means “I Am”. When Jesus said, “I am”, He was pronouncing His own name for Himself, His “God” name, and everyone who heard it fell over. That’s the kind of power God has–no one can even stand up to the sound of His name! But even though Jesus could have just walked away, He allowed Himself to be arrested and taken to trial.

Was it a fair trial? Of course not! The Jewish religious leaders had already decided that they wanted Jesus killed. They weren’t going to let a little thing like truth or innocence stop them! And Jesus did not try to defend Himself, either. He knew He had come to earth for just this very reason; to be the Passover Lamb that would save the world from the destroyer. His blood must be shed in order to save us from sin.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus’ death saves us? God said in the very beginning, to Adam, that sin would bring death. “The wages of sin is death”, God says. What is death? “Death” means separation. When our physical body dies, we are separated from this world and our loved ones, and from our body, but our souls are still alive. Our souls and spirits never stop being alive. It’s just a question of where our souls are. Real death, the kind of death Jesus saves us from, is separation from God. Separation from God is separation from all that God is: separation from love, beauty, creativeness, hope, peace. That’s what hell is–separation from God. Jesus’ death saves us from that. We deserve to die and be separated from God forever. But Jesus died our deaths for us, so that we can live with Him forever. That’s why it was important that Jesus become a man. Only a human can die for another human, so Jesus had to be human. But He is also God, sinless and perfect. Only a sinless, perfect human could die for another human. I can’t die your death for you; if I die, I die in payment of my own sins. I can’t die for your sins, I have my own to die for! Jesus had no sin to die for. And His death was so powerful, that He not only could die my death for me, He could die the death of everyone in the whole world who ever lived or who is ever going to live.

The Gospel of John describes Jesus’ death briefly, pointing out many of the ways prophecy was fulfilled at that time. David had prophesied that the Messiah’s clothes would be gambled for, and sure enough the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus gambled with each other for His robe. David also said that Messiah’s hands and feet would be pierced–it says all this in Psalm 22. Although the soldiers broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus, no bones of Jesus were broken. This was a prophecy from Exodus 12 and from Psalm 34. Instead, the soldiers thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, fulfilling a prophecy by Zechariah.

After Jesus was dead, He was taken down and buried in a rich man’s tomb, just as the prophet Isaiah had said would happen in Isaiah 53. The rich man’s name was Joseph of Arimathea, and he was a Pharisee. He was the only member of the Jewish court that disagreed with putting Jesus to death. Joseph and Nicodemus took care of Jesus’ body, wrapping Him in linens and placing him in Joseph’s own tomb. Isn’t it kind of cool that a man named Joseph helped take care of Jesus when Jesus came into the world as a baby, and another Joseph helped take care of Jesus when Jesus left the world?

Just as important as Jesus’ death for us is the fact that He rose again. The apostle Paul says, “If Jesus were not raised, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Jesus did not physically walk out of that tomb in His own human body, then our faith in Him is worthless. But we know that Jesus did come out of the tomb! When some of the women who had believed in Him came on Sunday morning to anoint His body, the tomb was open, Jesus was gone, and some angels were sitting there waiting to tell them that Jesus had risen! An earthquake had happened and the Roman soldiers who had been guarding the tomb had fainted! And Jesus had walked out of the tomb right past them.

The women ran to tell Jesus’ disciples what had happened. Peter and John raced to see for themselves. John ran faster and reached the tomb first, but could not bring himself to go inside; he just looked in and saw that the burial linens that had been wrapped around Jesus’ dead body were lying there, empty. Peter soon caught up, but he did not stop outside of the tomb; he ran right inside and looked closely at the burial linens, and at the separate head covering that was now neatly folded away from the linens. They saw these things but still did not understand what had happened.

Apparently, Mary Magdalene had followed John and Peter back to the tomb, and when they left, she stayed and wept for her missing Lord. But then Jesus appeared to her. The first person Jesus showed Himself to after He rose from the dead was not one of His twelve disciples, but a woman from whom He had once cast 7 demons. Isn’t that encouraging? Any ordinary person is just as important to Jesus as those who are leaders in His church.

That evening, Jesus did appear to the eleven disciples who were left. Judas, of course, was no longer with them; he had not been able to live with what he had done by betraying Jesus, and had hanged himself. Jesus appeared to His people many times for 40 days after He rose again, and then He went up to heaven to be with the Father.

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Teaching Children the Difficult Truths of the Bible: David and Bathsheba


It’s a tendency in this generation to try to protect our children from the harsh light of reality; to try to “keep their innocence” for as long as possible. This is a natural instinct on the part of those of us entrusted with these vulnerable lives. But is keeping important information from our children really protecting them, or just setting them up for a hard fall in the future? If our children don’t understand that life is hard and that the people they count on are bound to act like humans and let them down sometimes, we are doing them a severe disservice. I don’t mean that we should focus on the negative all the time: this, too, would be deceptive, for people can be good and honorable and trustworthy. But people are also sinners and will act like sinners no matter how hard they try not to. There are parents and teachers who want so much for children to have perfect role models to emulate that they cover up the negative aspects of potential heroes’ lives or even deliberately prevaricate or lie outright in order to keep a reputation unstained. This is a serious breach of our children’s trust in us: it is, in fact, re-creating reality into what we want it to be. And how do we expect our children to live in this alternate universe we create for them? How will they respond when the curtain is pulled back and the truth is uncovered? No, we must strive to present the world as it really is, both the good and bad, the righteous and the wicked, as honestly as possible.

This is especially true when teaching children the Bible. God does not cover for His people. He does not skirt the truth or try to put a good face on sin. When His righteous ones sin, He just records it exactly as it happened. He did this for a reason: He wanted us to know that He knows we are but dust and that we are sinners by nature, but that He loves us and can use us in His marvelous plans anyway. He wants us to understand that it is He Who is perfect and Who accomplishes all that is good in this world, and that He is gracious in allowing us to be a part of it all.

One of the stories Sunday Schools tend to skip over is David and Bathsheba. David is such a big hero in the Bible, the “man after God’s own heart”; we want him to be a beacon of righteousness for our children to strive to emulate. Well, he is! He did a lot of things right. And one of the things he did right was fall on his face before God and beg forgiveness when he messed up. This lesson is as important for our kids to learn as the lessons of felling giants and sparing evil kings. Here’s one way to present the story of David and Bathsheba in a tasteful and uncontroversial way to very young children who may not have been taught about the birds and the bees as yet. I have presented it from the view-point of the prophet Nathan. I have found that children love role-play and pay closer attention to me if I pretend to be someone else!

My name is Nathan. I was a prophet of Yahweh in Israel while David was king. David was the greatest king Israel ever had. He defeated Israel’s enemies and united the nation as no one else has ever been able to. He was courageous in battle, fair in his judgements, and he loved and obeyed God faithfully all his life. Even when he messed up, he always turned back to God and asked forgiveness. God called David “a man after God’s own heart.”

But David was a human being and he made mistakes. We all sin, and David was no exception. One of the worst mistakes he ever made was to stay at home in his palace when he should have been out fighting against the Ammonites with his armies. He left his general, Joab, to lead the men, and he stayed home in comfort and safety. What do you think his men thought about that?

Back then, houses didn’t have air conditioners like you have now. The people built their houses with flat roofs and when it got too hot to stay indoors they would go up on their roofs to catch the cooling breezes. Often in the summers people would sleep on their roofs. One such hot night, David was on his roof trying to keep cool. He couldn’t sleep, so he paced back and forth. Perhaps he felt guilty for not being with his army! But then, looking down into the neighbor’s garden, he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. David decided he was in love with this woman. Now, David already had several wives. Do you think he really needed another one? But David was now in a selfish mood. He asked the servants about the woman and they told him that she was named Bathsheba and she was the wife of one of David’s most faithful soldiers, Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was not an Israelite by birth, but he loved Israel’s God so much he had left his own people and joined with the people of God. Uriah was a good man and a good soldier.

After trying a few unsuccessful schemes, David decided that Uriah must die so that he, David, could have what he wanted. He sent a note in Uriah’s own hand to his general, Joab, telling Joab to put Uriah on the front lines of the army where the fighting was fiercest, and then pull everyone else back so that Uriah would be alone. What must Joab have thought of that? But he obeyed his king, and soon poor Uriah was dead. After Bathsheba had mourned for her husband the proper amount of time, David sent for her and married her.

David thought he’d gotten away with his sin, but God knows everything, doesn’t He? God sent me, His prophet, to tell David a little story. Here’s the story I told him:

There were once two men, one rich and one poor. The rich man had many sheep and lambs and all kinds of stuff, but the poor man owned only one little lamb whom he loved very much. One day a traveler came to visit the rich man and the rich man needed to feed his guest a special meal. But instead of taking one of his own many lambs to feed his guest, the rich man stole the poor man’s only little lamb and cooked it for his meal.

This story made David so angry! He understood about loving a lamb–he had once been a shepherd himself. He asked who this terrible, selfish, rich man was so that he could be punished. Then I said, “David, you are that man. God has blessed you in so many ways; He even gave you many wives, but you took Uriah’s only lamb, his wife Bathsheba, and you killed him to get her.”

“Nathan, I have sinned against Yahweh,” David said, horrified at the truth of what he had done. He fell on his face before God and asked for forgiveness, and God forgave him. After that, David tried even harder to be a good and Godly king, although the consequences of his sin followed him all the rest of his life. One of David’s strengths was knowing how to be sorry when he did wrong instead of trying to hide his sin from God.

Who is the true king of all the earth? Yes, God is the King who will never fail. He will never do anything wrong. He will never let us down. Unlike King David, God is the perfect King who always does the right thing. We can trust God to always take care of us.

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