Thursday, February 28, 2008

We Must Not Assume the Gospel

I grew up in a Christian home. As a child I attended Sunday school weekly. Then in my teen years I was present on Sundays for church, Wednesdays for Bible study, and among the first on the bus for camps and retreats. I read my Bible, I heard my parents talk about the Bible, I heard sermons about the Bible. But it wasn't until I was in a Bible survey class in college that it all came together. No longer were the stories of the Old Testament simply that—stories confined to the first section of God's Word. It all fit together. I not only heard that the Passover was representative of Jesus' sacrifice, but I saw all the elements that demonstrated that representation. Isaiah's popular prophecy of Jesus' birth no longer was the only Old Testament reference to the coming Christ. Finally, I saw the Bible as a whole. I saw how even in the time of Adam and Eve, God knew we'd need a savior.

And last week, challenged by a speaker, Art Azurdia, at a children's ministries network, I realized I'm doing the same as was done to me—teaching the Bible in segments. Telling children God loves them, showing them God loves them, teaching them about the Bible. But in all of this, as Art Azurdia said, "Divorcing the little stories from the big story."

I love that God can and does save children. What a privilege to be able to share that Good News with them! But wait, how often is the Gospel actually presented? At Easter, of course. And once a month we give an opportunity to accept Jesus as their forever friend. I know we cover quite a few stores from the four gospels. But is Jesus really the super hero every week?

Art challenged me by saying, "Do not assume the gospel. Bring it into all teachings of the Bible. The gospel is what changes people." Weekly, we have children coming into our program who have never attended church before. Who am I to ignore that fact and teach as though every little ear in the room has heard the story of Jesus? Who am I to assume that simply hearing the story of God's deliverance of Daniel from the lions will turn a heart toward accepting salvation? Who am I to teach about Paul, Silas, Barnabas, Peter, and the other great heroes of faith in the New Testament without also teaching why they were in the position to become that?

As we were planning our VBS yesterday, we changed out perspective. Rather than teaching the token two Old Testament stories, two New Testament stories and finally a "salvation day" at the end, we wanted to bring the Old Testament side by side with the New. We wanted to make sure that our children are able to grasp the Bible as a whole—to see that in the Old Testament God spoke through the prophets and in the New Testament, He brought Jesus and spoke through Him. To show that the Bible shows us what true love is—through Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and then through God's gift of His son Jesus. We want to teach that even though the Bible is a finished product, God’s story isn’t done yet. We can become a part of His story through Jesus.

When I was little, it was a great honor to be sent to the china cabinet on holidays. My mom would have us use her special dishes, and entrusted me with the task of setting the table. I knew how precious these dishes were and didn't want to break them. Carefully I would remove one plate at a time and then cautiously move my clumsy feet the few steps from the cabinet to the table. And one by one, I'd arrange the plates at each chair. God has entrusted me with a task far more honorable than setting the table with my mom's china. The children in my ministry are far more valuable but just as breakable. So as God's Word is opened each week and taught each week, Jesus must be our focus. We must not assume the gospel.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Thank You Amy Dolan!

My husband just pointed out that in all my excitement, I forgot to mention a BIG thanks in my previous post. So THANK YOU to Amy Dolan and the Conspire committee for giving us this truly wonderful gift. This act has brought so much excitement and joy to not only me and Amy, my Early Childhood Director, but also to our entire staff. It is an affirmation that God is working and He has some great things in store for us. When I was telling our Women's Ministries Director about the phone call, she commented on how God is using Amy Dolan to not only be answering her call to ministry, but have a tender heart to help people like us. So thank you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Even More Unexpected Answers

Two weeks ago I posted about how God had a different answer to my request to go to Promiseland. Since then, we've been happily planning our trip to Seattle and continued with ministry as usual. But then, I got a phone call. I was in my office chatting with Amy about... I don't know, something. And our receptionist buzzed me that Amy Dolan with Willow Creek Association was on the line for me. I just assumed it was a phone call to check up on ordering curriculum. But then, as I picked up the phone, it clicked. Was this Amy Dolan as in Lemon Lime Kids Amy Dolan? The Amy who my mom heard speak at a breakout session at the conference two years ago? The Amy who brought Krispy Kreme donuts and left such an impression my mom still makes references to it here and there? The Amy who's blog I read and love? The Amy who is on the planning committee for the conference? So, of course I asked, and yes! It was that Amy Dolan. Now before I get on with my story I have to say that there are four people in Children's Ministries who are like celebrities to me. They are people that I would LOVE to sit down and have a conversation with--maybe even get an autograph. These four are David Staal (Promiseland Director), Larry Shallenberger (I love his blog and books), Jim Wideman (Children's Ministries revolutionary, writer and speaker) and Amy Dolan (I think I described her well enough above). So yes, one of my celebrities was calling me!

Now back to my story. Once we clarified who exactly I was talking with, Amy went on tell me that she had read my blog about not being able to go to Promiseland, and would like to make it possible for me and a guest to go! I couldn't believe it! We could stay with a host family even. All we'd have to figure out is a way to get there! I keep using exclamation points because that's the only way to show just how excited I was. After we hung up, I went yelling down the hall to Amy's (my Early Childhood Director) office... "YOU WON'T BELIEVE IT!" I told her the story. She screamed. We ran up the stairs, told Joanne, she grinned. We ran down the hall and told Ken, he shook his head in disbelief and said "Well, I'm not standing in your way." I called my mom, she was happy for me. But I hadn't spread my joy quite enough yet, so I called my dad (woke him up because he just got back from Budapest). And the list goes on, I told everyone I came in contact with (even sent Brett a note through Facebook).

All this to say, I LOVE the way God works. Here I thought He'd already given his answer regarding conferences. I figured His plan wasn't to provide the remaining $2000 and instead send us to Seattle. But His plan didn't stop there. He's taking our team to Seattle and taking me and Amy to Chicago. Oh, one other amazing thing--plane tickets are actually cheaper right now than they were when I priced things out a month ago! Oh, God is good.

And... Amy Dolan reads my blog!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Unexpected Answers

The past two years I've gone to the Children's Ministries Promiseland conference at Willow Creek. The first year was with my mom, the second with Amy (my Early Childhood Director). Both years were refreshing, challenging, encouraging, enlightening and energizing. Unfortunately, both years were also expensive. This year my resources are a little more limited. Amy and I have been praying that somehow God would provide the $3200 needed to take the two of us and two other team members to Chicago. In November, an unexpected gift of $1300 came our way. I was certain this was a word of encouragement from the Lord that we were on our way to Promiseland.
But these three months have passed with no increase to the conference fund. We prayed and prayed, and prayed some more. But over the last month I've felt the possibility of our time in Chicago slipping away. I struggled with this. After all, we need this conference. Why couldn't God provide the money? With a new service added and an increase in attendance, I can feel myself physically, emotionally and spiritually needing a get away, a refreshment, a retreat.
This week I met with Ken, our executive pastor, and it became clear that a trip to Willow Creek wasn't a possibility this year. I had to fight off emotions and accept what was going to be. But then, as I walked down the stairs to my office, I remembered something. Just a few weeks earlier I'd received a program for the NW Christian Educator's Conference. At the time I just flipped through the booklet and threw it away--after all, I was going to Promiseland. But now, with my precious dream thrown out the window, NWCEC sounded like a silver lining. And guess what! I figured out that with the money already sitting in my account, we can take the four of us original conference attendees, plus one more, with money left over!
While the retreat won't be what was expected, I'm sure God can work through it just as much. And, it comes a month and a half earlier. Probably at just the time when I'll be ready to run away due to exhaustion.
And as though this new discovery wasn't encouraging enough, I also received affirmation for the change. Last night, Nolan and I were at our college/career group and the speaker was teaching out of John 4--when the government official went to Jesus to heal his son. He made a long journey with a request and a hoped for answer. In his view, Jesus needed to touch his son for healing to happen. But Jesus had a different answer. He told the official to go. His son was healed.
Who knows what God has in store for us at the NWCEC. All I know is I came with a request and an expected answer, but Jesus responded with another. He's telling me to go in faith. Who am I to argue?

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