Wading Lambs and Swimming Elephants

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As a Scripture was being publicly read in the church of my childhood I would sometimes watch my grandmother’s finger slide across the page of her Bible.  As a small child I would light up when I could occasionally read a word or two.

 

There is no other book like the Bible in its importance for people of all ages.  It has always amazed me how God’s Word can seem so simple and yet so complex.  Even when I am reading Scripture as I prepare lessons for infants and toddlers I am often astounded at a new concept that I had never noticed before.

I think Gregory the Great said it best many many years ago when he wrote the following (emphasis is mine),

“Divine speech sometimes stirs up the clever with mysteries, but more often provides consolation for the simple with the obvious. It has out in the open food for children but keeps hidden away the things that fill the minds of the eminent with awe. Scripture is like a river again, broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim”.

Saint Gregory the Great: Moralia on the Book of Blessed Job, Section 4.  Click here for full text.

 

What a blessing to help lambs wade in God’s Word!  As I teach children I want to be attentive to their stage of development and help them experience God fully.  I usually have my own Bible open on the table when I am teaching so that children can see that I refer to it and respect what God says.

In addition to my own Bible I want children to be very familiar with handling a Bible on their own.  If at all possible I try to have bibles available for the children.  Over the years I’ve developed a few measures for what children of various ages are able to do so I’m sharing them with you here in case you might find them useful in your teaching and at home.

 

Infants and Toddlers

  • 0-2 Rectangle3Allow the infants and toddlers to hold small Bibles.  These should be inexpensive because they will inevitably, at one time or another, be chewed and pulled apart and the pages torn.
  • Show them how to hold the Bible carefully and how to turn pages.
  • Place a sticker of Jesus inside the front cover so the children can “find Jesus” when they hold their bibles.
  • Hold the Bible in front of each child, in turn, and slide your finger along as you “read” from it.  I usually read, “God Loves Suzy.” (inserting the child’s name)  Or “God loves Mummy.” “God loves Daddy.”

 

Pre-School (ages 3-5 years)

  • 3-5 Rectangle3Pre-Schoolers can look at pictures in a children’s Bible.  If you do not have picture Bibles then tuck pictures between the pages of a Bible before class.
  • Guide the children in pretending to read along with you as you tell a story or read a verse.
  • Children of this age can learn to spell and write a few basic Bible words.  I use magnetic letters or puzzles to do this.  And of course they are learning to write letters at this age so they really enjoy just writing the letters.  We practice one word over a few weeks until the children have it down.  They are so proud of themselves!
    • G-O-D
    • J-E-S-U-S
    • B-I-B-L-E (song)

 

Younger Primary School Age (ages 6-7 years)

  • 6-7 Rectangle3Children of this age can learn to recite the names of the 66 books of the Bible. I think it really helps to learn them by singing the songs.
  • With help, children can find a book, chapter and verse in the Bible when given a Scripture reference.  This is much easier to accomplish with a few children than a big group.
  • Depending on their reading ability they can usually read a Bible verse that you have chosen (short and simple).
  • They can use their finger to follow along in their own Bible as the teacher reads

 

Older Primary School Age (ages 8-10 years)

  • 8-10 Rectangle3Depending on reading level children of this age might be able to read a few verses in a row or even a very short Bible story.  You will have to plan this carefully if children are reading out loud in class.  This can be embarassing for some children and it does take time.
  • Children in this age group can copy verses onto paper.  These can be used in the classroom or taken home as reminders.
  • Children aged 8-10 years are often able to confidently find a verse from a book, chapter, verse reference.  A fun game is for the teacher to call out a reference (like Ephesians 6:1).  The children then “race” to find the verse in their Bible and begin reading.

 

Pre-Teen (ages 11-12)

  • 11-12 Teaching AgesBy the pre-teen years children can usually read a set of verses or a Bible story of reasonable length from the Bible.
  • A teacher can challenge them to read a verse or set of verses and then:
    • Outline what they have read
    • Point out the most important words and/or
    • Name the characters and describe them based on what they have read.
  • Also guide them to read a verse, group of verses or a Bible story and then describe:
    • What this reading reveals about God
    • How the pre-teen’s thoughts and feelings are affected by what they have read, and/or
    • What actions they might take based on what they have just read.

 

 

The Best Gift

My youngest grandson turned four years old this week.  Before opening his gifts there was much curiosity about what was inside each one.  If he had not been such a busy four year old he would probably have guessed what was inside by simply listening to all the clues that were floating around among the grown-ups.

The time of year is fast approaching when many of us wrap up surprises and place them under a Christmas tree to be unwrapped by family and friends.  Aren’t you a little curious about what is inside that package with your name on it?

God so loved the world that he gave us the gift of his Son.  As I was looking over the lesson Prophecies Fulfilled in Jesus I was reminded once again about the number of clues God gave about the coming of the Messiah.

I love talking to children about this!

 

God Kept His Promises!

God sent all of these messages before Jesus was even born. God promised over and over that he would send Jesus. And guess what.

  • Jesus was Abram’s great, great, great…..grandson-just like God had promised.
  • Jesus was a special child born to a special mother. Just like God told Isaiah.
  • Jesus was born in the city of Bethlehem. Just like God told Micah.
  • Mary had a baby and named him Jesus. Just like the angel said.
  • Joseph married Mary and took care of Jesus. Just like the angel told him to.

For help teaching this lesson and links to download the pictures click here.

 

 

Experiencing God’s Holiness

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What does “holiness” mean to a child who is five years old?  God’s holiness is an extremely important theme running throughout the entire Bible and I believe even very young children can experience how special God is.

I’ve recently had an opportunity to teach in a large room so I decided to dedicate one area of the room as a special place where, each week, we sit for a few minutes and talk about how special God really is.  I’ve loved how this has brought a new depth to what we are learning and I would encourage you to give this a try sometimes.

 

A Holy Space

I didn’t buy anything to set this space up and, with a little imagination, you will be able to find “special” items of your own.  I drug in a coffee table from another room.  I covered it with some shiny wrapping paper and placed chairs around it.  Draping some old sheets and fabric over a room divider formed a small “wall” to make the space cozy.  Someone had left some “gold” Christmas tree garland in our supply room so I thought that would add to the feeling of grandeur.  A paper crown on a purple pillow emphasized the Kingship of God since we were studying the Divided Kingdom and the End of the Kingdom.

Even though these were not expensive items I can tell you that the children were in awe of the space.  On a side note it occurred to me that the Temple that Solomon built was dripping with gold and precious cloths in a way that left everyone awestruck.  But, in reality, gold and expensive items are actually worthless in comparison to God’s true worth.  Perhaps we adults aren’t all that sophisticated after all.

 

A Holy Attitude

When we sit at the table in this space it is a “set apart” time from the rest of the class period.  At other times we might play games and sing action songs and act out the story. There are many ways to glorify God. But, when we go and sit in our holy space we speak more quietly and we all reflect in awe and reverence about God.

 

A Holy Conversation

This is a 5 minute devotional time that is not limited to the lesson we are studying for the day.  Everything we talk about in this space relates to how special God is.  He is approachable but He is different than us.  In a child’s eyes this space is very special and it is a great launching place to talk about how God is even more special than our idea of precious things.

Each week I try to cover a different aspect of God’s holiness and how this has been shown in Scripture.  This is not the time to tell another Bible story or try to explain complex topics.  I want the children’s minds to be fully on God so I talk about concepts they can easily grasp.  I try my best to use illustrations to depict these things. For instance, the illustrations below are from www.freebibleimages.org

  • The Tabernacle
  • The Temple
  • The Word of God-  We open our Bibles and read a verse about God (or they follow along as I read).

Moses_Tabernacle_JPEG_1024  Solomon_Temple_JPEG_1024

 

New Depths

This experience has brought a new depth to the lessons I’ve been teaching.  The children have really picked up on the fact that sin is not just “bad behaviour” it is a real offence against who God is.  I’ve been amazed at how often the children have referenced God’s holiness as we study other lessons.

  • When we talked about idols being erected and even brought into the temple the children were disgusted.  They understood why King Josiah destoyed idols and places of false worship.  “Don’t those people know how much more special God is than statues?”
  • When we learned about the prophet Jeremiah visiting the potter’s house and hearing God warn about turning away from him the children understood why God was angry.  The kings were not treating him in the way he deserved.
  • We learned about how Jeremiah dictated God’s Message onto a scroll.  As King Jehoiakim listened to the words he cut off pieces of the scroll and threw them into a fire piece by piece. When I mentioned that King Jehoiakim was making a huge mistake one of the children corrected me, “No! the king knew God’s words were special.  He did not make a mistake, he did it on purpose!”
  • Before being led off into Exile the Temple of God was destroyed.  The students in my class were so sad to hear this.  They understood how serious this was to God.

 

 

How About Making Your Own Temporary Tabernacle?

I was blessed with a room large enough to create a separate space but you could create a special space almost anywhere.  Put your “special” items in a basket and lay out the items when it comes time to have your devotional.  After all, this is exactly what was done with The Tabernacle.  It was set up and taken down wherever the Israelites camped.

When Destructive Behaviour is a Good Thing

 

King Josiah Game

If you asked me what my Bible Class was like this week I would have to say it was quite destructive…in a good way!

The 4 and 5 year old children have been learning about the Divided Kingdom and this particular lesson was about King Josiah and how he attempted to restore true worship of God in Judah. 2 Kings 22-23:30; 2 Chronicles 34-36

As I read about King Josiah and his zealous destruction of idols and places of false worship I wrestled with how I would relate the severe actions of destruction and even death to the lives of these 4 and 5 year olds without giving them nightmares or encouraging destructive behaviour in general.

How do we relate tough lessons in the Bible to children?

Here’s how I prepared for the lesson about Josiah.  There were many actions and themes that children this age would find confusing and disturbing.  So, as I read about Josiah, I tried to focus on God and then thought about how Josiah responded to him.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • God is Holy and Josiah believed this passionately and wanted to honour him.
  • God desires and commands our sole worship.  Josiah was indignant about the prevalent idol worship in the kingdom.
  • God expects to be taken seriously.  Josiah took his kingship seriously and was determined to change his kingdom.
  • God displays emotions but he always does the right thing.  Josiah’s anger, indignation and outrage did not lead him to sin.  These emotions propelled him into actions that honoured God.
  • God’s Word is true.  Josiah had respect for God’s Word and obeyed it.
  • God is concerned about everyone.  As king, Josiah displayed leadership and shared God’s Word with his people.

Trying to teach all of these would have been too much for 4 and 5 year olds to comprehend so I focused on just two main points that I thought they could best relate to.  I felt confident in the priority of these choices since they are also how God started when he issued the 10 Commandments.

  1. God is Holy.
  2. Do not worship idols or anything else besides God.

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God is Holy

We spent time in a “special” area I had created in our classroom.  I wasn’t trying to re-create the temple but I made the space special with some silver wrapping paper and some strings of gold beads that I found.  As we sat in this space we read from God’s special book, talked about the special tabernacle and temple and then spent some time talking about how God is different and holy.

Do Not Worship Idols

After sharing the Bible story we spent some time destroying idols!  The children took turns finding a scroll I hid underneath some carpet tiles.  If they found the scroll they “read” it.

Yes! for God……….No! for idols

Once they found and read the scroll they then followed Josiah’s example in clearing out all of the idols.  The biblical version is much more graphic.  We expressed our outrage by kicking them and knocking them down.

To conclude the class we gathered in and focused on God’s holiness one more time.

For older children I would follow up by taping pictures of other “idols” on the boxes to show that anything we place as more important than God can be our idol.  This might include possessions, beauty, sports…and the list goes on.

 

What Bothers Jesus?

2_Jesus Blesses Children

What bothers Jesus?  His earliest disciples thought they knew.

“Some people brought their children to Jesus so that he could bless them by placing his hands on them. But his disciples told the people to stop bothering him.

When Jesus saw this, he became angry and said, “Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these little children belong to the kingdom of God. I promise you that you cannot get into God’s kingdom, unless you accept it the way a child does.”

Then Jesus took the children in his arms and blessed them by placing his hands on them.”
Mark 10:13-16 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

The disciples thought that these children would bother Jesus but it seems very clear that the disciples themselves, the adults in this situation, were the real bother. In fact, their judgement on children led to one of the few times in Scripture when Jesus was recorded as being angry. The New International Version uses the word “indignant”.

So why is Jesus not bothered by children? After all, children are wiggly and curious and lacking in inhibition. If we are honest, we have to say they are often inconvenient to have around. They slow us down, exhaust us and generally cause havoc in what we like to call our “perfectly organised lives”.

Children force us to reorganise our priorities. Schedules are worked around nap times and curfews. Holidays are planned based on how “child friendly” the activities and accommodations are. Having a couple of children enrolled in sporting activities or music lessons means a couple’s once-spontaneous social life becomes a series of intricately planned and often postponed events.

And if that was not enough, they don’t seem to really care when we are doing the “important stuff” at church. They are obviously not impressed by long sermons or deep discussions about spiritual matters. They don’t seem to worry about the things we worry about. They choose action over contemplation almost every time.

If children are such a bother then why was Jesus indignant that the disciples would turn them away? Jesus points out that the disciples were turning away the very examples they needed to learn how to enter the kingdom of God. Ultimately, the disciples were the ones missing out.

Children in our communities, families and churches inspire us to act more like adults than we sometimes feel like acting. The inconvenience they bring produces patience. Examining priorities helps us maintain focus. And practising an active faith makes us useful. To keep children safe we plan better. To secure their future we work harder. To help them engage we adapt and change.

Most of all, like the disciples, we adults are sometimes satisfied with walking alongside and talking about Jesus. Children on the other hand want to touch him and be embraced by him.

May we learn from the example of the young ones among us. This does not bother him at all.

Click here for for help in teaching the Bible lesson: Jesus Blesses the Children.

This article by Mary Nelson was first published in “The Edifier” Belmore Church of Christ, Melbourne, Australia on 11 October 2015