Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Awana Memories and S.H.A.R.I.N.G.

A few weeks ago saw the final installment for this year’s Awana program at ABC. This year began with some difficult decisions and changes, we had a few major setbacks come from out of nowhere during the middle of the year, but we ended well.

The difficult changes that we had to navigate through this year included changing the location, the night, and the leadership of the entire Awana program. However, when I think about this last year in Awana, it is a lot of the positive things come to mind, whether I think of the clubbers, leaders, or the parents of the children involved it doesn’t matter, I have been blessed on all fronts. Some of the most encouraging ways that others have blessed me this year are related to the areas of service, spiritual growth, and spiritual sensitivity.

First of all, it is no secret that all three of our Awana directors were not directors last year. In fact, neither Jon nor Susan had ever even worked in Awana before. I say this to both of their credit. Jon had shown an interest in participating in previous years, but because of the mid-week meeting time, he was never able to participate. One thing that really impressed me about his heart for this type of ministry was when he asked me what we did and when we did it for our program in order that he could pray for us at those times. That blew me away, and it still is a source of encouragement.

Susan had a bit of a different reason for becoming the director of our youngest club members (preschoolers). Our carry-over leadership from the previous year became disgruntled or unhappy with something (I have no clear idea of what it was), and quit one Sunday night after the program. So, we had one week to scramble and find some committed leadership to fill in the gap, and Susan jumped in and really did a fantastic job.

Both Jon and Susan responded to an urgent and critical need in our body, and the Lord has used their willingness to serve and love for children greatly this year, and I have personally been blessed by them on numerous occasions.

Secondly, in the area of spiritual growth I wanted to make two comments. Perhaps the key factor that can make our Awana program shine, except in the semi-rare case of a committed and personal initiative by the individual clubber, is the parental involvement. As a leader, It is very easy to figure out which parents spend time working with their children on their Awana verses. For that, parents, I am truly grateful, and I think that your children will only thank you more as they grow older. Another key factor is the involvement and growth of the individual leaders. Now since I spend the majority of my time working with T&T and I have been able to witness those leaders more closely, I have two thoughts relating to two leaders; Ed and Dan. I remember hearing Ed’s testimony, being present at his baptism, and approaching him to serve in Awana three years ago. Let me just say that whether it is taking charge of the section time or boldly leading the club in prayer, Ed has shown growth in spiritual maturity and a willingness to lead this year. Similarly, I asked Dan to lead a council time this year. In reality, I badgered him until he relented and put together his first ever lesson for Awana. I was (and am) so proud of Dan for stepping out, putting a good deal of preparation into his lesson, and boldly delivering it to the clubbers. Dan gained a valuable experience that he said will help him next time. Both of these men blessed me in their very distinct, but vitally important, ways of service and faith.

Now, if I were to try and sum up what my main goal or primary point was that I was trying to instill in the children this year, I would use the acronym of S.H.A.R.I.N.G.. It is true that you could accurately describe my focus as being on the Ten Commandments, but teaching on them was not the end goal in mind.

S – Show sin By Using the Law.

The whole lesson series on the Ten Commandments could fit into this letter of the acronym. It might seem a bit excessive to spend so much time on only one point when there are six other parts to the whole goal, but there is good reason to do that. The Bible calls the law the tutor that leads us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Paul also said this, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET.’” (Romans 7:7)

In other words, we cannot know what sin is or see the sin in ourselves if we do not know the law because “sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4) Once this is established, the rest of the message of the gospel flows comes somewhat more smoothly. When I went through the Ten Commandments with the children, my goal was not to talk about worshiping a golden calf as idolatry or robbing a liquor store as a form of theft. Because if I had done this, these “good” church kids would have tuned me out thinking that this doesn’t apply to them because they would never do that stuff. So I talked about budging and cheating on a test as forms of stealing. Budging in line is stealing someone else’s place and cheating is stealing someone else’s answers.

It was after one such lesson that a child blessed me with her spiritual sensitivity. After the lesson when the leaders and clubbers were dispersing, Grace, a shy fourth-grader, timidly approached me to ask a question. Grace’s question was, essentially, to ask if it was covetous to want something for her birthday. I was very blessed and impressed by this question. I was blessed because it showed that she had understood the lesson about coveting enough to apply it to her own life in a way that I had not described. I was blessed because it is such a sweet thing to hear a child (or anyone for that matter) examining everyday normal life in an effort to determine what is pleasing to God. This was truly a joyful experience and a highlight of the year for me. It was exactly this type of personal application of the Law of God that was my goal for the children.

H – Humility Before God’s Law is the Only Acceptable Reaction.

There are only a few different ways that one can react to the correct teaching and direct application of God’s Law to one’s life other than with an attitude of ambivalence. The first reaction is pride or self-righteousness, and this is the most common reaction, by far. These people react to the Law of God by saying that they are good people even after being shown to have broken the Law of God and therefore are lawbreakers. This self-righteousness can show itself in that this person refuses to admit that they’ve broken any commandments (i.e. “I’m perfect”). The other way is after admitting that they have sinned, they are confident that the good that they will accomplish will outweigh or take “atone” for any of their own sin.

Even after the Law has been used properly, to the best of the ability of the preacher, there is no guarantee that everyone will have a humble attitude. This is why it is a blessing to know what Paul taught us that regardless of the variety of workers, it is God and God alone who has the responsibility of enabling or causing the growth of a believer.

5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:5-7)

The response that we want and that we desire in others is one of humility, or, as Jesus put it, being poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). It is exactly this humble attitude of acknowledgement and personal ownership of sin that shows that the hearer has truly understood their crime and their impending punishment.

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." (James 4:6)

If the person displays an acceptance of the pronouncement of guilt as well as the personal responsibility and ownership of it, then we can begin to share the Good News. I have heard Todd Friel say on many occasions that once the ground work of the Law has been laid, then when we proclaim the gospel using John 3:16, we do it with power and conviction and enthusiasm. Because grace without the reason for grace, or a sacrifice without the need for a sacrifice doesn’t make any sense.

A – Accept the Truth of the Gospel with A Child-Like Faith
– A Child-Like faith

16 But Jesus called for them, saying, ‘Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ 17 ‘Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’” (Luke 18:16,17)

First of all, I must say that I agonized over using “accept” in this part of the acronym. I realize that “accepting Jesus” is the common way to refer to the appropriate response to the proclamation of the gospel, but I am not convinced that it is the best word to use. Personally, I like the word “receive” because it is the word that seems more often to be used in the Bible (i.e. Luke 18). Unfortunately, “sharing” is not spelled “shrring”, so I had to “make due” with what I had.

Using the concept of childlike faith was not a matter of making my message fit my audience, the older I get; the more I see the necessity of just that kind of faith. One of the chief things that is different between children and adults relates to skepticism, mistrust, and unbelief. Children (using my own experience as a father) are very inquisitive, but this is not really a different trait from adults. The difference is that if a child trusts someone, they will accept an answer that is given and move on. For instance, when my son asks me why he can’t go out into the street to pick up some “treasures”, I simply tell him that it is dangerous and that he could get very hurt doing so. My son believes what I say, and we move on.

This same pattern, a question asked by the child (which may have been precipitated by a direction or correction from a parent) and is then answered with a statement by the parent, seems to be the formula for how children learn and understand things about the world. The child has no knowledge of gum disease or tooth decay, but we teach them to brush their teeth. They most likely haven’t seen gross tooth decay or even been to a dentists’ office, but they take their parent’s word to be true. We must humble ourselves to the preaching of the gospel and come to it as helpless and ignorant children placing our faith in the tested and true Word of our Father in Heaven.

R – Repent of Sins.

However controversial this concept may be inside of modern Christendom, this step of repentance is both a natural response to understanding, receiving, and believing the gospel, plus it is also the mandate and testimony of scripture.

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15)

7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 "Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." (Luke 3:7-9)

Repenting of sins is the turning from and forsaking the old fleshly life, habits, and desires that so defined us before being saved. One of the chief objections to this doctrine of repentance is that it seems to be a “work” and the gospel is clear that we are saved by grace and not by works (Ephesians 2:8,9). This objection is very easily dealt with because repentance (as I see it) is always the response of the one who is being saved. In other words, repentance doesn’t save you, but this repentance is the evidence that you have truly been saved.

"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)

The obedience here is to the full message of the gospel. Satan himself believes the truth about God – he knows that God is real, that Jesus is the Christ, and he understands the atonement and yet neither Satan nor his fallen angels are saved. This type of mental understanding doesn’t save the redeemable either; one must have the full faith that is evidenced by a changed life.

“5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.” (John 15:5,6)

In short, repentance is a tangible process by which our lives are brought into an increasing alignment with God and His holy standard.

I – Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Once the gospel has been preached, and the individual has responded in faith and repentance, the Holy Spirit now indwells the believer.1 There are many different facets and important points to make about the significance of the Spirits’ indwelling the believer, but for this lesson, I simply focused on the fact that eternal life has been granted to the believer at this time. This is something that cannot be lost. The hope of the believer is that we will be united with Christ in glory and be released from this state of war, turmoil, and suffering.

2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2-5)

N – Neglect Your Old Self; Take Up Your Cross

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” (Matthew 16:24,25)

Christ made the demand on all of His disciples that they must forsake all that they had known and treasured in favor of Him and Him alone. Another way of articulating this concept is as the continuation of a lifestyle of repentance. In other words, we must continually be forsaking our old nature, warring with the sin that we are aware of, and running to Christ and following in His commandment of love and obedience.

One of the things that we see in the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:3-9,18-23) as well as in the text above is that the Christian life is not one of care-free or struggle free life, but it is one of battle and relentless striving for Christ and against the flesh. It is those inside of Christendom who are wooed away from Christ by money and possessions or who back away and forsake the name of Christ because of the threat or reality of persecution who testify in and of themselves that they were never born again because the testimony of their lives is not one of forsaking all in favor of Christ.

G – Go Into All the World and Make Disciples

19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19,20)

The goal is never just to get someone to be saved and end there. The end goal is for that same person to be obedient to Christ, and having the mind of Christ this same person will obey Christ’s commission to all believers to preach the gospel in order to “seek and save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10).

14 How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14,17)

1 I would say that these three things happen almost simultaneously, but if you were to press me, I would say that the individual is regenerated first and then responds in repentance and faith to the proclaimed gospel. Even though this is the logical way that the steps would occur in time, I don’t believe that we can parse them out like that and that is why I think that they occur virtually simultaneously.

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