A Pair of Paradoxes

May 16, 2017 at 10:24 am | Posted in Mark | 1 Comment
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Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem. The Pharisees were getting desperate. They had questioned His miracles. They had questioned His background. They couldn’t really question His teaching, but they had tried to refute it with tradition. Now they decided to try to trap Him with controversial questions.

One of the classic ways to make a Bible teacher squirm is to ask him about divorce. No matter what he says, somebody is not going to like it. There is often a temptation for the teacher to think, “I have to be careful with what I say. I don’t want to sound too harsh and alienate the students who have been divorced.” However, the faithful Bible teacher will say, “Jesus talked about divorce, and I should, too.”

And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.

Mark 10:2

The Pharisees probably also reasoned that John the Baptist had been killed for talking about marriage. However, Jesus knew just what to do when faced with a controversial question: He used the Bible.

But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Mark 10:6-9

This is the first paradox in Mark Chapter 10: Two shall be one. A paradox is something that seems contradictory, but is actually logically consistent in reality. Divorce is man tearing apart what God has – in His perfect will and in His supernatural power – joined together.

Examples of other paradox teachings in the Bible are:

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

II Corinthians 2:10

As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

II Corinthians 10:6

The second paradox in Mark 10 has to do with adults becoming little children.

And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Mark 10:13-16

Our modern society devalues children, as shown by the prevalence of abortion, abuse, neglect, divorce, lack of spiritual instruction, and lack of proper education. Let the LITTLE children come unto Me, said Jesus. He did not appoint the Disciples to go get some crayons and puppets and put on some entertaining children’s activities. Little children tend to respond to the offer of a warm invitation with cheerful acceptance. Unless, they have been seriously hurt in some way by someone they trusted, they do not respond with suspicion, reluctance, or a dread of the responsibility that the invitation might entail. Jesus reached out directly into the lives of others, including children. As His followers, will we get involved with people who are not as equipped to face their circumstances as we are?

Next time, we will see the second “pair” of paradoxes in Mark Chapter 10.

Don’t Teach Finesse

May 1, 2017 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Previously I discussed the dangers of teaching the Bible to children the way we would teach fables, and of the danger of teaching them that the Bible is merely a sounding board for our feelings. Now we will see that we must also beware of the temptation to teach obedience to God as though it was part of a reward system, or a quid pro quo bargaining chip.

This is an especially dangerous teaching method because of the way even adults, through the so-called “health and wealth gospel” or the “Word of Faith” movement, have been seduced into this way of thinking: “I’ll obey You, God, but I need You give me something in return” (good health and money being the two favorites). We see this train of thought subtly insinuated in promises to get blessings for giving, for ministry, even for faithfulness.

The problem is not really in teaching that God blesses, and even honors, faithfulness. The problem is in slapping our definition of “blessing” onto God’s greater and higher definition of blessing. Children who are taught that God is just aching to give them what their flesh craves are susceptible to developing a mentality of “gaming the system” – of trying to bribe or outsmart God.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.

I Timothy 6:6-10

A love of money or any material thing (which amounts to the sin of greed) will bring sorrow instead of joy into the hearts of your children. Let’s teach our children that knowing and serving God is a blessing unto itself, and that even poverty and suffering may be counted as true blessings under His promises.

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.

Luke 6:20-21

Don’t Teach Fables

April 5, 2017 at 11:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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The are various ways to teach Bible stories (which are true, factual, historical events) to children, and various techniques that can be used. This is not going to be a lesson about how to use sock puppets, or how to talk in a funny voice to keep kids’ attention, or how to string out a story over several weeks with carefully designed “cliffhangers,” so they will want to come back each week to find out what happens next. There are people who are far better at those things than I am.

No, this is about the actual teaching of Scripture. Teaching means that you are focusing on what they are actually learning, not just making sure they are having fun or being entertained. Nor am I talking about showing off Bible knowledge, or giving out prizes for participation or accomplishment. I’m talking about actually finding out what God wants us to know about a particular Bible story: Why did God put this in there and command us to read and study it?

Therefore, the first thing to keep in mind when teaching Bible stories to children is: Don’t teach fables. Bible stories are not fables. They are not fairy tales, and their purpose is not always to teach a “moral lesson,” although we usually can glean moral lessons from them.

The problem with avoiding the fable-teaching method in children’s Bible studies is that you will be hard-pressed to find a children’s curriculum or lesson book that DOESN’T use this method. Take the story of Jonah for example.

“Jonah was told by God to go where? Nineveh. But he didn’t want to go there, did he? No. Where did he go instead? To Joppa and then to Tarshish. And when he boarded the ship for Tarshish, what happened? A big storm that resulted in him getting thrown overboard. What do we learn from this? That if you disobey God something bad will happen to you.”

That’s true – as far as it goes – but remember, there are people disobeying God all over the place like crazy, and they seem to be doing fine. Several of them hold the highest government offices in our land! The story of Jonah is not like the boy who cried wolf – he did something bad so he ended up facing the consequences.

Try this instead: “What happened to Jonah when he was thrown overboard? Did he drown? No, God sent a big fish to swallow him up. That’s terrifying, but it turned out to be better than drowning, because he lived in the fish’s belly for how long? Three days… hey, wait a minute… hmmm, that reminds me of someone else who was supposed to be dead, and went down somewhere for three days.”

Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.

Matthew 12:38-41

It turns out that the Holy Spirit, when describing what happened to Jonah, was not really primarily teaching a lesson about the consequences of disobeying God, or even about how God can comfort you when you are scared and alone, or even about how God controls His creation (weather and animals). No, what He was primarily teaching is that we all have disobeyed God, and we deserve to be thrown into the sea to die, and we have absolutely no ability to save ourselves, but God can save us, because He Himself went down into the grave (the “belly of the earth”) and rose again in His Own power. Furthermore, just like Jonah’s testimony of coming back from the dead was the sign that supported his preaching, for us, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is our “proof” that everything that Jesus said about our sin and His salvation is true.

We don’t want our kids to think of a cartoon man and a cartoon whale, and definitely not a cucumber swimming around with a talking tomato.

We want them to think of a real man and a real fish that God used to get people ready to recognize Jesus – the Christ – Who would one day fulfill what Jonah and the whale typified: sin, death, burial, resurrection, and Gospel preaching!

The Most Important Children’s Ministry Tool

April 3, 2017 at 4:01 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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There is a whole industry out their geared toward the production of material for sale to churches, under the heading, “children’s ministry.” From coloring books, to puzzles, to visual aids, to movies, to action figures, to entire programs with point systems set up to award patches, trophies, candy, and prizes for attaining participation and memorization goals, there is no shortage of items available for those who would like organize, institute, or carry on with, a “children’s program” at his or her church.

The Holy Spirit, however, reminds us that the most important “material” needed in the evangelism, instruction, and training of children is found between the covers of God’s Holy Word: the Bible.

And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

II Timothy 3:15

If you are a Christian parent, then I suppose there may be some value in having a shelf filled with work books, color-in-the-lines representations of Noah’s Ark, and attendance awards, or a wall covered with certificates of merit for knowing all the hand motions to “I’m in the Lord’s Army, yes sir!” but do not neglect the most valuable teaching and learning tool ever invented for the edification of little (or future) disciples of Jesus: the Scriptures.


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