Saturday, May 13, 2023

EDUCATION: Bible News Information Sheets

My congregation had the wonderful opportunity to read the Bible in chronological order this past year and many succeeded. In order to make things less confusing for them I created the BIBLE NEWS for all 66 books. 

There is so much information that we don't have when we start reading the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. There are unfamiliar terms or phrases, history, and political and cultural information, not to mention reading ancient Hebrew poetry and figurative language used by the prophets. Included in the News are also themes that span the whole Bible that we should be looking for, common misconceptions, and situations with the prophets that we don't know. It's so much easier to understand the epistles when we know why the apostle responded to the person or congregation the way they did. 

All of this information deepens our comprehension as we read these amazing books. Researching and writing them was a great blessing to me and I hope they are a blessing to all who use them as well. Interested? You can find them here or soon on Sola Publishing. 

Monday, April 24, 2023

YOUTH: The Truth About STDs

We all know that God does not recommend treating sex like a recreational activity, but it should be saved for a special relationship with one other person. Some people think it's the 21st century and that "rule" is outdated, but the truth is that not only does multiple sex partners erode your future marriage before you even get there, but every time you're intimate with someone, you're sharing a part of yourself that you cannot get back and your ability to be truly intimate with that one special person gets more difficult. With the 6th commandment, God is actually protecting our marriages and our ability to be intimate with one person and indeed, our souls.

Looking for a more practical reason to give your youth? Here's a good one.

According to the World Health Organization (2022) there are more than 30 different bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can be transmitted through sexual contact. Think you can just go to the doctor on campus and get a pill? Well, friends, think again. All are treatable, but only four are currently curable. FOUR!

Women can take the pill to try and prevent pregnancy, but it doesn’t protect them from many sexually transmitted diseases (STD) or infections (STI), though it may help for a few of them. Do you want to take that risk?

For the record, sexual contact means any time skin touches skin, whether it’s a hand, a mouth, or any other part of the body. People were told to wash their hands and be careful what they touch to prevent the spread of Covid-19, a coronavirus. Touching someone’s infected genitals or genital area transmits a virus too. Not only that, but many of them can be transmitted from mother-to-child during pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding, and worse, some of them can cause cancer and infertility, and even worse, you may not know you have one or are passing it around. The next time you think God’s rule about not having casual sex or sex outside of marriage is ridiculous, think about that.

There are millions of new infections every year and again, you don’t always know you have one. The ONLY way to know for sure that you’re not getting a sexually transmitted disease is to not have casual sex before marriage, and that means vaginal penetration, oral sex (putting mouth, tongue, or lips on another person's genitals -- front or back). Syphilis, HPV, and herpes are known to cause symptoms in the mouth and throat. Others that can be spread orally include gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HIV. Please remind youth that many of these have NO SYMPTOMS. If you are treating sex like a recreational activity, you will not know you have one of these unless you are tested, and tested often.

No man wants to have to tell the woman he wants to marry that he carries a sexually transmitted disease that cannot be cured because he had no self-control. No woman wants to tell the man she wants to marry that she cannot have a baby because she had no self-control. You might want to show this to your youth and their parents (Pam Stenzel).


Friday, April 21, 2023

CONFIRMATION: What's a good confirmation teacher?

 Sometimes parents complain about their church's confirmation teacher, which is often the pastor. Sometimes kids complain too. Let's be honest. Middle school kids complain about anything they don't want to do and think they can get out of by complaining. Sometimes parents buy into it and sometimes they see through the complaints and know that the purpose of confirmation is greater than kids realize.  So, when we start deciding what a good confirmation teacher is, we should start at the beginning. 

What's a good teacher? 

Can kids recognize a good teacher? What is their criteria? Most kids, especially teens, consider a teacher good if: 

  • They're getting a good grade. What if everyone in that class is getting a good grade? Is getting a good grade more or less important than earning that grade and learning? 
  • The teacher is fun or funny or cool. What if the most popular teacher is also the one who has the lowest academic and behavioral standards? Is caring about what a student learns more or less important than being cool? 
  • The teacher is too lenient and students can easily change his/her mind or get away with things they shouldn't. Is holding a student accountable for their choices more or less important than them getting their way? 
  • The teacher has low academic expectations or homework as long as they get a good evaluation. 

If a student's only criteria for good or bad teaching is how they feel, can they truly know the difference between a good or bad teacher? Kids are kids. That's why they need parents and teachers who care enough to do what's best for them even when they don't like it. It is common for a child to tell their parents that a teacher is bad if:

  • They don't like the class and don't want to be there.  
  • They are getting a bad grade. 
  • The teacher consistently expects them to do their best. 
  • The teacher isn't fun because his/her first priority is that they learn.
  • They hear their parents speaking badly about the teacher at home.
  • They think their parent will automatically agree with them.  

It's important that teachers be approachable and friendly, but they are often portrayed by students as bad teachers because they know they are about to get in trouble for something they know they should have done, or shouldn't have done. It's the same with parents of teens. You're the greatest parent in the world when you let your child do what s/he wants, but the minute you say no, you're the worst. Sometimes a child's favorite teacher is a favorite because of their personality and not their teaching expertise. Let's not discount some important things about that though. Good teachers: 

  • Care about their students as people and show that in how they interact with them. They're friendly even though they have standards. 
  • Care about whether or not their students are learning what they're being taught. They're approachable and ready to help. 
  • Teach students more than their subject, but also about life, accountability, the value of hard work, and the benefit of good habits and character. 
  • Want to partner with parents so they communicate with them when their children are not doing the work they should be doing. 
  • Have requirements that benefit their students even if they don't see that benefit yet. 
  • See the bigger picture of their student's life and try to prepare them for  challenges and what comes next. 

What's a good confirmation teacher?

If you're a parent or a student, before you complain about a pastor or other teacher of confirmation, check this list. Does your pastor/confirmation educator: 

  • Care about getting to know your child?
  • Care about whether or not your child participates in class learning activities?
  • Care about whether or not your child is doing their memory work? 
  • Attempt to give your child the information necessary in a way they can understand it? 
  • Attempt to help your child understand difficult doctrinal concepts through stories and examples? 
  • Attempt to get your child (and their parents) to read the Bible? 
  • Make himself available to have difficult conversations about the Bible and life? 
  • Let students and parents ask questions about anything they may be struggling with? 
  • Talk to parents about the importance of putting their child's faith above sports? School sports usually last until kids graduate from high school, and sometimes college. Faith is both lifelong and eternal. 
  • Expect your child to do the work necessary to increase their faith? Or has it been watered down to the point where it's fun, but they aren't really learning much? 
  • Care about whether or not your child will meet you in heaven one day? 

These are the qualities of a good confirmation teacher. If your pastor does these things, you should not be complaining, but appreciating and thanking. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

CONFIRMATION: Faith Journeys

 My husband started doing something in confirmation this year that I think is a great idea. He was having trouble feeling like the kids were connecting with their faith. After all, they're 13 and 14 years old. Hearing about God or faith from a pastor is expected. Hearing about God or faith from the pastor's wife is expected. Hearing about God and faith and life from people in the congregation that you know, however, is something else. 

Kids these day see everyone's best life online and most people don't talk about the challenges they face in life, either online or face-to-face. Many parents have a tendency to want their kids to be happy, not understanding that they should teach them how to cope with life's physical and emotional challenges by how they cope in word and deed. Nobody wants to admit that life can be disappointing, painful, and full of unexpected sorrow. Some dreams come true, and some don't. Happiness is elusive, it comes and goes, and is not a good life goal. How do we get through the hard times? Faith. If you don't see how your parents' faith uplifts and encourages them in hard times, you won't know how valuable it will be for you too. There are also people the kids see every week in church that they may not realize have had or are having challenging lives. Kids just don't see it. 

To help kids understand the benefit faith is in navigating life, my husband (who has a 2 hour confirmation class with a 10-15 minute break), personally invites a member of the congregation to come and tell their faith story. He gives them 10-15 minutes of class time. 

Of course, you want to give them a bit of guidance regarding what to share. My suggestion is to give them a few questions to think about: 

  • Since faith is not a feeling, how and when did you realize that you had it? 
  • Do you pray? How do you find it helpful? 
  • We often forget about our faith during good times. How did your faith help you during a hard time?
  • How does faith affect your daily life?
  • How does attending worship help you in your everyday life? 

This could be a great idea for high school Sunday school as well. Help kids connect faith and life!

Monday, October 10, 2022

LEADERSHIP: Thoughts on a Discipleship Conference

I went to a conference last week and the topic was DISCIPLESHIP. It was a great and uplifting conference, not because every speaker was excellent, but because it really got me thinking about making disciples. 

Here’s what I heard.

Discipleship at this particular church is neither a program nor evangelism, but about growing relationships. They then shared their list of steps that are what they will do for discipleship which sounds a lot like a program and evangelism.

  1. Choose someone in your life you think is ready to become a disciple.
  2. Pray for/about that person.
  3. Learn about Jesus through the Gospels.
  4. Invite that person to your community group. Talk to them about the gospel.
  5. Walk with that person and talk to them about life.

Here’s what I think.

We’re told to make disciples, baptize them, and teach them (Matthew 28).

  • Evangelism or discipleship is for everyone. It doesn’t have to look like the specific steps above or anywhere else. I like to tell people to LIVE YOUR FAITH OUT LOUD. That just means that we shouldn’t shy away from opportunities to let people know we’re Christ-followers. Simple phrases like:
    • I’ll pray for you. (Do it.)
    • In church yesterday…
    • I was reading the Bible this morning and it talked about this.
    • When I’m having a hard time in life I keep this Bible verse in mind.
    • Have you ever thought about Jesus? He has changed my life.
  • Pray. Pray that you recognize those God brings to you and that the Spirit give you wisdom in sharing your faith in any way that is comfortable for you. It doesn’t always have to be in words.
  • Listen. Listening is an underdeveloped skill in the world today. Listen and respond in love.
  • Know the Bible. Go to Bible class and learn the whole Bible. Be able to answer two questions: What do you believe? Why do you believe it? You can’t talk about something you don’t know and chances are pretty good that people will have questions. A major concern regarding lack of Bible literacy is the problem of false teaching. It’s great to develop relationships and talk about faith and life with people until we don’t know we’re sharing false information because we haven’t studied Scripture.
  • People are not called to disciple the same way. Everyone’s life is different. The Spirit brings us to people and we are to be prepared to share the reason for our hope. Mothers and fathers will disciple their kids differently and as those kids grow their discipling will change. Family members disciple each other. Whether it’s in word or deed, we all disciple friends, colleagues, roommates, and even strangers. Anyone can be nice, so keep in mind that at some point, however, speak your faith.
  • The role of the congregation may not be what you think. Ministry is multi-faceted and people have different spiritual gifts. Some have the gift of talking about faith with strangers in a coffee shop, but discipleship is also teaching Sunday School, encouraging other members, praying for others, etc.

All believers are servants of God. When the Spirit grows our faith a desire to learn more about the Lord and share what He has done for us with those around us will grow. The more we learn about God’s word, the more we won’t be able to help sharing it. Our life will become discipleship. 


Sunday, August 28, 2022

YOUTH: Another interesting Bible Inquiry idea!

I recently read an article about The Benefits of Incorporating Print Magazines Into English Class and it got me wondering how we can use that idea for teaching the faith to teenagers. After all, with all the misinformation out there, there are some skills we would really like them to have, such as: 
  • The ability to read and understand faith related or theology articles.
  • The chance to practice thinking about what they believe.  
  • We want them to develop curiosity and find reading about faith issues interesting.
Before you say no, and write this idea off as something they'll find boring, give it a chance, and that's more than one week. Here's how it works. 
  1. Take some time to collect some good faith magazines. You can have people donate them or check out your local library or see if there are any other sources that might have back issues. They do not have to come from your denomination. Keep in mind that some Lutheran magazines will not be your denomination, which is a good thing and should provide some interesting discussion. 
  2. Let kids take 10-15 minutes to flip through the magazines and choose an article they think is interesting. Give them 15 minutes to read the article, then ask them what they read. 
    1. Do they think it matches your doctrine? Why or why not?
    2. Can they see what may or may not be unbiblical?
  3. If one person has an article they find really interesting, see if someone else has one and ask what the similarities or differences are. 
  4. You may find some unexpected connections. Of all things, make sure there are Bibles and catechisms in the room. It doesn't matter what other people think, it matters what the Bible says. 
As you do this, you may find they start looking forward to it and recommending articles to others. The greatest thing that can come of it is for kids to become curious and feel confident in reading faith issues critically. If it's high school, they may find the most interesting articles are about social issues. It'll be great to have time to talk about them. Make the time. 

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

PODCAST: Children's Messages

To Cause to Learn - Episode 8 

If you want to know the truth about effective children's messages check this out! 

If you don't have time to listen and just want me to get to the point, keep reading to get the basic script. 

As promised, today we will be talking about children’s messages for the Narrative Stage of faith education. First, a quick reminder of the 5 stages of faith education: Narrative (PS – 2nd), Knowledge (3rd – 5th), Understanding (6th – 8th), Reason (9th – 12th), and Wisdom (adults).

So, welcome! and let’s get started!

The Tip of the Day is: There are a lot of options besides object lessons.

Question 1: What are children’s messages? What is their purpose?

The children’s message is… basically an attempt to make church more relevant to young kids who have a hard time participating in the service and understanding the sermon. It can be a long time for them to be quiet and a challenge to keep them as still, but busy, as possible. We DO want them to be in worship, to hear the word of God (even if they don’t seem to get it the Spirit can still use it to create and grow faith), and to learn the process and traditions of worship. We also want them to feel a part of the church family and a part of their family and not separate them. Worship is a family event. So, children’s messages help them be a part of worship.

Before crafting a children’s message, a few questions should be considered. First, what is their purpose? I know what I just said, but what is the purpose of YOUR children’s messages? Hopefully, it’s to leave the little ones with a nugget of God’s truth and a reminder that they are greatly loved by Him unconditionally. The next question, to whom is the message addressed, depends on the answer to the first one. Here’s why. Some people haven’t really thought about it, but their children’s message is more for the adults than the kids; and sometimes they don’t even know it. I’ll talk about that in a bit. The last question to be considered is; what are the ages of the kids who come up for the children’s message? If you’ve listened to some of the other podcasts you know how important it is to understand what young children understand. That brings us to question 2.

Question 2: Think about the age group of those who listen to your messages. What do you know about them?

Usually children’s messages are for kids in preschool through 2nd grade (ironically, that’s the Narrative Stage), but sometimes parents will bring up their younger children and sometimes a few older kids will come up too. It’s okay to include 3rd graders and even 4th graders, but then the question becomes, on which age do you focus the message? A lot happens in the body and world of a child between preschool and 4th grade. So, what do you do? Do you focus on the older kids or the youngers? If you focus on the older kids the youngers will get little from it, but if you focus on the youngers the older kids will still get something from it. Obviously I recommend focusing on the youngers.

What difference does that make (I hear people quietly asking themselves as they listen)? Well, actually, quite a big difference when you think about the kids and what those in the Narrative Stage understand. The biggest one is concrete thinking and the ability to transfer one idea to another. Here’s an example. At one church there was one lady who always gave the children’s message on Christmas day. People raved about it. Every year she pulled an elaborate Rube Goldberg type of toy into the sanctuary and the children oohed and aahed over it. She would put a marble in it and it would go through all these tubes and drops and spins as it made its way to the bottom. She would then talk to the children about life’s challenges and how Jesus was born to save us from our sins and help us through life’s challenges. My question: What does a kindergartener understand about life’s challenges? They don’t think of life as easy or hard, they just live it. How does a preschooler connect that cool toy to their life? They can’t. For the younger kids, that children’s message was all about watching the cool toy and had nothing to do with Jesus. That’s transference. There are points they just can’t connect even when an adult tries to explain it.

Here’s another one. I’ve seen people try to explain the Trinity with an apple, a hardened sinful heart with a Tootsie Pop, and the Holy Spirit with a balloon, to children who cannot transfer the object (no matter how clever or obvious it seems to an adult) to a concept (that they cannot understand).

A final example: One Sunday the sermon was called Rejected! It was based on Luke 4, specifically verse 24 where it says, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” The person giving the children’s message started telling the kids a story about how somebody got a letter of rejection from Harvard University. First of all, children 3-7 years old have no understanding of rejection and it would be a challenge to explain it to them as they have no experience with it. Second, they have no idea what Harvard University or a letter of rejection is. He might as well have been speaking to them in Chinese. He asked questions they couldn’t possibly answer and finally let them go. This was a non-object object lesson.

The truth is that the majority of children's object lessons aren't for the kids if the kids are under eight or even under 10 or 12 years old. The young kids who come up to the front of the church for your object lesson don't have the ability to connect the object to your intended concept. Again, that’s transference, the ability to transfer a quality from the object to a religious concept. It's a higher order thinking skill and their young brains simply can't get it.

So, the first step in a good children’s message is to know the children. I call the early years of faith education the Narrative Stage because of how influential they are in a child’s learning experience. We all learn through experience that connects to previous experiences, but a child’s experience is limited. These little lambs:
  1. Have little ability to think in terms of general principles (kindness, goodness, sin, forgiveness, etc.).
  2. Have little ability to think about non-physical entities (God, heaven, etc.) that they haven’t seen or experienced. God the Father is a really big dad. Heaven is an actual place like the library or a big park, but apparently it’s in the sky sitting on the clouds.
  3. Have little ability to understand symbolic meaning. Visual symbols do not initially have symbolic meaning -- children must be taught what the cross means as a symbol.
  4. Cannot relate one fact to another, for example, the heart being like the inside of a tootsie pop that was hardened on the outside by sin? No way.
  5. Cannot make generalizations like what happens to a Sunday school class when the word of God is shared. If they can’t see it happen; super no way.
  6. Classify Bible stories as any other stories. There are none more or less important. Jonah and Pinocchio are on the same level of truth or make-believe. They start coming out of this in second grade.
  7. Primarily perceive miracles in the same way as magic in fairy tales. They cannot understand them as real or fantasy. Again, they start coming out of this in second grade.
  8. Determine the difference between real and make believe better as they age, but that's different than taking something that sounds like it can't be real (coming back from the dead) and assuming it's real. Of course, they don’t really understand death because it looks like sleep. When my son-in-law died his young son kept asking when daddy was coming home. He couldn’t understand death.
  9. Do not understand metaphors. Their literal thinking would have them believe the Holy Spirit IS a dove (or at least a bird), a hardened heart actually gets hard like a rock, Jesus lives in a tiny room in their heart, or a stiff-necked people actually have stiff necks and should go see the doctor. 

So then, question 3…

Question 3: If object lessons don’t work. Where do you start?

First of all, remember the Brain Rules for memory. They are the same at every age and will come in handy.

  • Remember that children’s lives are much simpler than ours (thank God!). They have, but don’t understand complex emotions. They primarily recognize happy, sad, and angry or mad.
  • The vocabulary you use is important. Be careful about using theological language they don’t understand. Be aware of the good/bad behavior language. Jesus doesn’t love them because they’re good and when we attach God’s love to behavior kids really hear that.
  • If you ask a question and kids answer correctly, it doesn’t mean that they understand a concept. It’s okay to get them familiar with terms before they understand their meaning. Concepts can come later.
  • Young children love stories and they indirectly learn from them. Use them!

Question 4 then must be...

Question 4: So, what actually works?

Our greatest desire is for children to know that God loves them more than they can imagine and after that, to become familiar with Him and His people, of which they are one. We want them to know that they are part of a family of believers who are people that care about them. We do not need to try and explain life to them. They will experience it as they grow. We do not need to find clever ways to try and explain things they cannot understand. We can tell them that God is so amazing and cool that there are mysteries that only He knows. The Trinity is three people, but one person. What? How can that be? There is no possible way to explain it, especially to young concrete thinkers. Don’t tell them it’s an apple (seeds, fruit, skin) or water (solid, liquid, ice). They can’t imagine that anyway and it’s not actually a true description. The Trinity is not three different parts that make up a whole. It/they are three and one at the same time; always. It’s a mystery. Let it be.

When you are creating a children’s message, before you look for cute or clever ideas, decide on your goal. What do you want the children to leave believing? (I use the form on this website under the Confirmation Resources Tab.) If the pastor’s message is about Jesus going back to Nazareth and being unwelcome, you could briefly tell the story and show pictures. Young kids like pictures to go with their stories. It's why there are picture books for that age. If you don’t have a screen they can easily see, you should print pictures and hold them up for them. You can easily find pictures online or use a good children’s Bible. Little kids don’t know what it means to be rejected or to go somewhere and be unwelcome. They certainly don’t understand the concept of a prophet being rejected in his hometown and what that’s all about. So, think about your goal. What, out of that story, can they understand? 

Also, what the pastor talks about won’t necessarily be what the children’s message can be about, and everything can’t be about how somebody was treated and how that makes them feel, which seems to be a regular go-to or children's messages. Everything is not an emotional moral lesson or about how they should be good. Sometimes we have to flip it over. Here’s an idea:

Tell a story. Message: Jesus loves us even when we aren't nice, don't get it, or don't believe.
In the Gospel lesson today we heard the story of when Jesus went home to Nazareth to visit. He was a little boy there and grew up in the same way you’re growing up here. He lived there and played with friends there. He was Jesus, the carpenter’s son. Carpenters build things. Nobody knew He was God’s son except Mary, Joseph, and him. So, when He came back as a prophet (a guy who delivers messages from God) the people didn’t believe him. They said, “You’re not a prophet. You're Mary and Joseph’s son! You’re a carpenter! When did you get so smart? Who do you think you are?"
Do you think Jesus stopped loving them when they were mean like that and didn’t believe him? No! He didn’t! If you were there what would you want to tell those people? I would tell them that Jesus loves them even if they're mean. Let's do that now. Say this after me (use hand motions too), “Jesus loves you! (point to them) Jesus loves me! (point to yourself) Even when we’re mean (mean/angry face) or don’t believe (you're safe baseball action)!” Say it in rhythm a couple of times. Then, have them teach it to the congregation. "That’s the thing with Jesus. He loves us no matter what! Always!"

There are a lot of options for children’s messages besides object lessons. Most of the good ones involve the congregation. Here are a few examples:

  • To illustrate that the message is more important than who gives it, one presenter had a few children read something simple written for them. Then those little ones who couldn’t read were taught by the readers to repeat it so they learned it. After they knew it, the little ones taught the congregation to repeat it.
  • A Director of Christian Education at my church used the congregation to tell the story of Jesus calming the storm in a very clever way. He had the congregation make storm noises and wave their arms like waves and the children were to be Jesus. The children walked down the aisle and the storm grew as the waves got bigger and bigger until the kids shouted, “Stop!” The storm died down as the people stopped. They did it a couple of times and the lesson was that Jesus has power over nature. 
  • Tell stories that are close to the emotions of the children. Stories that use human characteristics such as loving, sharing, and caring are excellent at this age.
  • Use poems, riddles, and songs. Putting scripture to rhythm and song helps them remember it. They need to be short, so break a verse down into a memorable phrase and have them repeat it multiple times throughout your message.
  • Use illustrations when telling stories. Children read picture books and we know from Brain Rules that pictures help us understand and remember.
  • You can also use props, pictures, voices, puppets, and/or volunteer actors to tell stories.
  • If you have an abstract moral they won't get it, but they can answer simple questions like, "What happened when I...?" "What happened when (the puppet) hit the other one?" "What would happen if you...?" The information needs to be relevant to their experience.
  • Make the message about a picture of a story by showing it on the big screen and having kids answer questions about the picture. "What's happening in this picture?" It’s okay for kids to have their backs to the congregation so they can see the picture.
  • Add movement to a story you’re telling. What if you taught them the stories of the Old Testament with hand motions. The first one would be creation and might be using your arms to make a large circle above the head. The second would be the fall and that motion could be two hands making a breaking motion. There’s not a motion for every story in the Bible, but if chosen wisely and one taught a week, by the end of the year they’ll be able to tell the whole Old Testament! Imagine if the young kids and everyone in the congregation could tell the story of the Bible because of hand motions, which help with memory.

I bet you’ve got all kinds of ideas now!

Next time we’re moving on to move into the Knowledge Stage, 3rd – 5th grade! Things are getting interesting! Don’t forget, if you’ve got a question or a curiosity you’d like to have answered you can contact me and we’ll talk about it here. Whatever it is, if you’ve got a question, I’ve most likely have an answer. You can submit questions using the form right here under the podcast tab.