A while ago, I remember hearing the phrase, “If the devil can’t make you sin, he’ll make you busy.” Were it not for my acute awareness of my own sin, I’d say that phrase has applied to me as of late. From what I know from Scripture and my own heart, I would say it this way: When you pursue God regularly, seeking him above all else, he will use you more than you expect.
This last week, I taught the Bible each day from Sunday through Friday. In case you’ve wondered why I haven’t posted lately, that’s the main reason. All my focus has been on creating interesting lessons on rather large portions of Scripture (anywhere between 2 and 7 verses) which last between 30 and 40 minutes. It was grueling, to say the least.
The first lesson was on the “College Question”, for my JH/HS group. I did my best to make my presentation palatable for the incoming 7th graders, and challenging to the 11th and 12th graders. First, I went through the Bible to gain its principles about education. Next, I explained 3 different types of colleges which I am familiar with, from a spiritual perspective: Conservative Christian, Broad Christian, and Liberal Secular schools. Perhaps I’ll elaborate in a future blog on what exactly those mean to me. Finally, I gave some personal advice on the priorities all students should have after they graduate, regardless of what type of education they may (or may not) pursue.
The second lesson was for the first day of 5th and 6th grade VBS. The VBS curriculum had prescribed that the lesson deal with Exodus 1-2, honing in on the story of Moses’ mother. That was the inspiration for my last posting on this blog. I expanded the ideas in that blog and then turned it into a PowerPoint presentation presentation. One of my “catches” in the lesson was the idea of a “princess”. Pop culture has glorified the idea of princesses; but one of the things I pointed out was how rarely princesses ever actually do anything. The story of Jochebed, Moses’ mother benefits from this reality: Pharoah’s daughter chooses not to raise Moses, and pays Jochebed to do it instead! A friend of mine who was volunteering that day later told me of how all the girls in her group connected to this message.
The second day of VBS, I taught on the story of Esther and Mordecai, chapters 2-8. Until I went to Israel in the Spring of 2003, I had never (to my memory) had a thorough lesson on the book. To my surprise, most of the students in my age-bracket had a fairly good grasp of the book already. One of the most encouraging things about this lesson was that, on Friday, when the 6th grade boys group I sat in on had their question and answer time after my lesson, several of the boys had such a clear picture of Esther that they felt they could relate with her more than any other character throughout the week. They had a deep admiration for her tact and faithfulness as she approached the King on behalf of her people.
The third day, I taught on Daniel 1. With all the other lessons, I felt a lot of pressure to accurately and thoroughly summarize a rather large text; with this lesson, I wondered how I could make it through 3o minutes on one chapter and still hold their interest. Instead of just focusing on the sequence of events, I decided to frame the story in a slightly unconventional way. Taking all the little details Daniel gives us about the King’s court, I characterized the story as a sort of battle between Daniel and his friends, and the “Babylonian Hogwarts”, which represented the magicians and advisers to King Nebuchadnezzar. Hogwarts is the academy which Harry Potter attends in order to hone his magical powers. I felt it was an apt comparison to show how God uses people for his (often profoundly miraculous) purposes, in spite of many humans who attempt to conjure up their own sorcery. It worked!
The fourth day of VBS was by far the most challenging, and the most rewarding. I was asked to speak on perhaps one of the most uncommon, yet powerful accounts of the Old Testament: the story of Jeremiah and his ministry to kings Jehoiakim and Zedekiah, as given in Jeremiah 36-39. As I prepared this lesson, I was abundantly grateful to God for guiding me to read a book which gives a complete harmony of all the Old Testament books which relate to the Kings of Israel and Judah. I’ve just finished it a few weeks ago, and it gave me a great background in how to understand kingly behavior in the Israelite theocracy. Moreover, the study we had uncovered to all of us how difficult it can be to stand up for God and his word, but how God will always shower those people with blessing who have the boldness to speak up. I closed the message with a short presentation on an ancient clay seal which had the name of Jeremiah’s scribe, Baruch the son of Neriah, and how this archaeological find gives clear scientific support to the Biblical account. After explaining this, I asked them to raise their hands if they thought this was cool…those adolescent arms stretched passionately in the air gave me so much joy.
The final lesson took a step back about 800 years, to 1445 BC, when Israel had just made it to Canaan, and sent spies in to evaluate the land (Numbers 13-14). The theme for this lesson was fear vs. courage. I discussed with the students a bit about the idea of group projects and asked if they liked them? The answers they gave led so well into the lesson, most of them didn’t look forward to group projects in school because “I have to do all the work”, “Other people lose focus”, and “Sometimes there’s too much disagreement”. As we studied how 10 of the spies reacted cowardly to the prospect of invading Canaan, two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, were disregarded by the rest of the group, as they pronounced the land fit for their capture as they trusted in God’s protection.
As I gave these lessons, I realized something: these kids were the most ideal audience I could ever ask for, as a teacher. Most of them have been uncommonly blessed by a great Children’s Sunday School program at my old church, as well as sincerely devout parents who also teach them God’s word at home. They were attentive, engaged, and energetic throughout the week. I was personally humbled, scholastically impressed, and spiritually edified as I studied various portions of the Old Testament with them.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the week was on Tuesday. After my lesson, a volunteer came up to me and told me how some of the girls in her group were having a hard time understanding how God’s faithfulness to Israelites related to us, since we aren’t Israelites. That day, I had mentioned how God was faithful to Mordecai, Esther, and Paul, all Benjamites. I had made a brief foray into the book of Romans when Paul elaborates on God’s continued faithfulness to Israel in chapter 11. These girls had paid such dear attention to this, they desired more explanation about how God includes us, the Gentiles who believe in Christ, into this blessing.
What a great question!
So the next day, after my lesson on Daniel, I took a few minutes to channel the apostle Paul’s explanation of how the Gentiles are branches of a wild olive tree whom Paul says (in Romans 11) is “grafted in” to the cultivated olive tree, Israel, through faith in Christ. I tried not to get too in-depth addressing covenental ideas vs. dispensational ones (especially in a Presbyterian church), but I appreciated this passage so much:
“For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery
so that you will not be wise in your own estimation
that a partial hardening has happened to Israel
until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;
and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
‘The Deliverer will come from Zion
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
This is my covenant with them,
When I take away their sins'”
The topics we learned about were so far beyond what adults expect 5th or 6th graders to understand (except many of these children’s parents), so it was all the more gratifying to see the ability of children, through the Holy Spirit, to see the inherent value of studying, treasuring, and living by God’s word. I tell you a few of those boys are going to become Jeremiahs, some of those girls will grow into Jochebeds.