Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Have you ever wondered what Sin looked like in the Bible story about the first murder, when God warned Cain that Sin was crouching at his door?

Well, perhaps not.

But in any case, here’s what Sin looked like last Wednesday in our homeschool Bible study. There he is crouching…



Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse....

Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse….

… there’s a discussion going on about What Makes Me Jealous and My Choices When I am Jealous.

Oops! Somebody made a bad choice.

And that choice opened the door to Sin.

He pounces!

He pounces!

For the last six weeks I’ve been meeting with seven kids, a couple of my young mom friends, and a retired nurse for Bible study. The children range in age from 4 months to 12 years old. This is not your typical women’s Bible study, although we do try to spend an hour in an adult study. Nor is it a children’s neighborhood Bible Club, although we also spend an hour singing and teaching Bible to the kids. It’s a multi-generational inductive Bible study, where we study a passage together as adults, then turn around and draw the children into an inductive Bible study of the same scripture in the way that kids do inductive Bible study.

Which is – through the arts.

Taylor’s Comic Strip -1-
The Fall (Genesis 3)

During my four years as an undergrad at the University of Iowa, the most practical training I received came to me not from my professors, but from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s staff, who introduced me to inductive Bible study in small groups and then gave me hands-on training in this commonsense 3-step process of:
1. Observing (noting facts)
2. Interpreting (analyzing)
3. Applying (determining the significance of)
the text of the Bible for yourself first — instead of going to commentaries and other books to read what others have to say about the passage.

The method uses good questions to engage your mind in discovering for yourself what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies to your life.

I enjoyed this so much that when I went home for Christmas vacation, I gushed enthusiasm about studying the Bible to all the kids in my former youth group who had gone off to college, too. Unlike me, they were enrolled in Christian colleges.
And they were put out with me.


Because they were taking Bible classes in approved Christian schools and they didn’t see what there was to get so excited about.

Their bewilderment made me even more aware of the power and joy of discovering new things for oneself. It helped me understand why research shows people remembering more of what they say themselves than what they hear from others, and more of anything they figure out for themselves than what others tell them.

Good questions help discovery in any subject area. They have the power, though, to do even more in Bible study. For although the Bible is not the only place where we can meet God, it is our primary place, the place where we are most likely to encounter Him when we are looking. We get distracted, though. We find it hard to concentrate on our reading. But good inductive questions help us focus. They make us dig into the text. They prod us into engaging with the words, and the next thing we know, we are engaged with the Word Himself.

Today there is a flood of helpful inductive Bible study guides and other materials on the market, including whole Bibles published with inductive Bible study inserts. But when I was a college student, there was little material available. So my staff worker encouraged me to write the inductive questions for our student conferences.

Then I graduated, married, and had children. I began to wonder if it would be possible to teach the inductive Bible study method to kids. Could children observe, interpret and apply the Bible?

After I experimented a bit by creating an intergenerational Bible study class, Joann Collins, the wife of our church’s education pastor, asked me to help her develop Sunday School curriculum using learning centers. Her request for learning centers pushed me into realizing how to teach kids to observe, interpret, and apply the Bible for themselves.

First, I saw that the Bible takes hold on our imagination and starts renewing our minds when we are somehow motivated to process the material. Adults take hold in this way when good questions prod them to write down or to discuss the observations, interpretations, applications, prayers, etc. that flow from their reading. In other words, adults tend to process material by writing about it or talking about it.

But second, I realized that children don’t do that. They process Bible material better through the arts – storytelling, music, the visual arts, drama, and dance/creative movement. Here, for example, is 4-year-old Ada processing an application question (draw a picture of a time when you were jealous):

Ada Drawing: Jealousy             Ada Being Jealous

(Note: When Ada drew this picture, I told the moms that it would be OK if she just got so carried away with the Joy of Markers that she didn’t stick to the point and draw a jealousy experience. Pre-schoolers get very immersed in the media itself. They may not be ready to follow additional directions as well, like answering a question using the media. But Ada was working alongside older children (ages 8, 10, and 12) who were drawing pictures and talking about them, which probably helped her get the idea. She stayed on task and dictated an explanation of her drawing to her mom. We could have asked the older kids just to talk about their jealousy experience before playing the Sin Crouching game, in which case, the lesson would have taken less time. But since Ada was there too, we asked all the kids to draw a picture first. Ada was young enough to need the extra step of drawing her idea before discussing it, and the other kids enjoyed talking about their pictures, too.)

Back to the subject of my experience with inductive Bible study for kids: For the next two years that Joann’s husband was on staff at the Albuquerque Christian Center, she and I developed adult inductive Bible study material for parents and Sunday School teachers and worked with a team to develop inductive curriculum for children on the same scripture passages as the adults, but using a variety of hands on projects: visual art (drawing, painting, printing, sculpting, bookmaking, crayon techniques, and on and on), drama (charades, pantomime, puppet theater, shadow theater, masked drama productions), game inventing, creative writing (song writing, play writing), creative movement, you name it. In retrospect, we could have done kids’ inductive Bible study more simply, but so many young artists became involved in helping us that we were able try more elaborate projects along with the simple ones. We all had a lot of fun, and many worked together to build a Sunday School that engaged the children’s bodies, minds and hearts.

Along the way, we evaluated the curriculum according to the three steps of inductive study and to what children could do at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do at the beginning. If the object of the lesson was observation, could they retell the story accurately in some form? If the object was interpretation or application, could they express or demonstrate the meaning or a life application?

I moved with my family to another state after that, and there we began the adventure of homeschooling. Once again the inductive approach helped me. I developed our family’s curriculum for studying not only the Bible, but all subjects on all grade levels using an art-based, hands-on approach. The inductive method applies across the curriculum.

A few weeks ago, Joann phoned and asked me to help her develop inductive Bible study curriculum again, this time for a parochial school. So, in order to help her and the teachers at the school, I have decided to start blogging about Inductive Bible Study for Kids. I hope that what I’ve learned over the years will be useful not only for the teachers at Calvary Chapel Academy, but for parents, homeschoolers, intergenerational classes, home and cell churches, pastors who want to coordinate children’s ministry with their sermon texts, and many other ministries that work with children and want to encourage them to engage with the Word.

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by Brian Bolton with Becky Cerling Powers

I remember one day when I woke up in a crack house with the electricity turned off and people crashed out everywhere and wondered how I got there.  How in my journey through life, with all the talents I had, with all of the community support and all of the family love I had, how I could be at this place and think that it was normal?

Throughout my childhood, I was raised in a solid Christian household and blessed with a wonderful family, even with the shortcomings of my stepfather. My own father died of a heart attack when I was four and the youngest of five children. My mother married a few years later, but unfortunately my stepfather’s ex-wife came back to him behind the scenes, and I lost my stepfather to divorce.

Still, with the strength of my mom, we made it through. I had wonderful teachers who helped me graduate with honors from Eastwood High School. I had wonderful coaches who helped me become all-city in swimming for three years straight. And I had wonderful youth directors in church and Young Life who helped me grow in the Lord. 

I left for Texas Tech in 1981 and moved out of the structured, disciplined environment where I thrived. I no longer had a coach for a daily training program. I didn’t have professors that cared about my grades and attendance. I had no youth director that I was spiritually accountable to. It was a gradual thing, but once I got unplugged, my batteries only lasted so long.

I met a beautiful co-ed. We drank, we got into drugs, we dropped out of college together and we had an abortion together. When that relationship ended, I moved from Lubbock to California to start over. But unfortunately I moved out there with myself. (more…)

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When our son Matt was little he had a lot of ear infections. Finally in January, just after his fourth birthday, the pediatrician said that unless we could curb the infections, his hearing would be affected. He gave me the name of an Ear Nose Throat specialist and said, “He’ll probably want to put tubes in his ears.”

So I took Matt to the ENT, who examined him and said, “He needs a tonsillectomy. His tonsils are constantly swollen, and they are blocking his Eustachian tubes.” So we scheduled the surgery.

I’d had a tonsillectomy myself when I was six, so I knew Matt would be in a lot of pain. He really wanted cowboy boots, so we went out and bought him a pair to give him a happy distraction after his surgery. (more…)

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(by Sharon Withers as told to Becky Cerling Powers)

The first time Manny walked into my classroom, I knew immediately that I had a huge problem on my hands. He came into my life during the 1980s when I taught a special fifth grade class for underachievers who had failed standardized testing. My task was to bring them up to passing level. My students had normal intelligence but struggled in school because of emotional and other problems or a poor grasp of English.

The school was located in a deteriorating neighborhood in central El Paso, and Manny came from a family embroiled in drugs and alcohol. His older brothers were in a gang, and Manny was attracted to gang life. He used to write gang signs on his papers and on his hands. (more…)

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I’ve started writing a biweekly column for The Messenger, a free guide to church-related programs and events in El Paso . My column is called Hope of the Borderland, and I’m publishing faith-based stories from people who live in the El Paso/Juarez borderland region. Here is a story from my friend Espie:

Espie’s Story – By Esperanza Valadez as told to Becky Cerling Powers

 When I first started reading verses from the Bible, my family had 11 people living in El Paso in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. There were my five cousins (my father took them in after his brother in Juarez died), my two brothers, me, my father and mother and my aunt. Later my parents had three more children in the same house.

My father was an electrician, and my mother worked at Ft. Bliss in the laundry. They left around 6 a.m. and didn’t get home until about 6 p.m. My aunt took care of all the kids. She was rough. She swore at us a lot. My mother was very quiet, easy going – she didn’t like to argue or discipline the kids. My aunt used to complain about her a lot to my father. She meant well, but it felt like she caused a lot of division between my parents.

During summer vacation my aunt cleaned house every Friday. She brought down all the knick knacks, waxed the wood floor, and thoroughly cleaned everything. So on a typical Friday, she got us up in the morning, swearing at us, “Get up! Hurry up, so you can get the h— out of here.” We’d get up, wash up, eat, and she’d send us out. We’d hear her lock the door. If we tried to come back for lunch, she wouldn’t let us in.

I was about ten. It was hot in El Paso in the summer. (more…)

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 In September 1991, our 17-year-old daughter was living at the dorm and attending classes at New Mexico State University. I sent Jessica a letter to help her recognize manipulative messages and to show her the practical implications of the Christian faith in which we had raised her. Later, with her permission, I gave parts of that letter to several other young women who needed the same guidance. These are excerpts:         

 There’s a little song your grandparents and great-grandparents used to sing called “Gimme a Little Kiss.” It’s a funny ditty about a boy trying to convince a girl to kiss him. I always thought it was cute. A couple of years ago it struck me, though, that this song is a primer on classic manipulative approaches. Both women and men use these tactics to get their way. Sometimes people are unaware, or only dimly aware, of what they are doing – except that, if they’re honest, they’ll admit they’re trying to overcome the other person’s resistance in order to get their own way. People also use these tactics to weasel out of their legitimate responsibilities.

Here’s the song, with the lines numbered for my comments later:

(1)  Gimme a little kiss, will ya huh?

(2) What are you going to miss, will ya huh?

(3)  Gosh oh gee, why do you refuse?

(4)  I can’t see what you’re gonna lose, oh

(5)  Gimme a little squeeze, will ya huh?

(6)  Why do you wanna make me blue?

(7)  I wouldn’t say a word if I was askin’ for the world,

(8) But what’s a little kiss between a fella and his girl? O

(9) Gimme a little kiss, will ya huh?

(10) And I’ll give it right back to you!


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Recently several people have asked me how I think Christians should respond to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people coming to services in the church. My pastor asked. One of the moms in my Bible study struggles for wisdom to know how to respond to her son, who has come out as gay. Another Christian mom recently  asked me about her son, who was the one who got her going to church and now tells her that he has same sex desires. I think we will face this issue more and more because in the local high schools, being gay is the new cool. Since it has become popular, more kids will experiment and some will choose gayness simply because that’s the cool thing to be.

Behind the question, when Christians ask, is the idea that we should somehow straighten out gay people who attend services, that we should somehow try to make them change into heterosexuals. But that idea misses the point. (more…)

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This afternoon I ran across an old letter to my son Erik in my computer, written over a dozen years ago. Reading it reminded me how I wound up writing an article later based on that correspondence. Today I’d like to reprint the article to encourage any overwhelmed homeschool parents out there. Here it is:

Home schooling our children was such a rewarding experience that by the end of each school year, I was willing to do it another year. The beginning of each school year was a different story, though. Every year frustration took over as I faced the task of setting up the new school year. I felt overwhelmed, drowning in details — all those books to look through, subjects to plan, music lessons and sports activities to schedule, a house to manage, a home school support group to lead, and on and on…

Then one year, in the middle of the annual mess, I read the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible. As I read, it struck me that Genesis 1 not only says God created the earth, it also describes the creative process. For in the beginning, God started with a giant massiveness that was “without form.”  It was empty and covered in darkness. That sounded just like what I faced at the beginning of each school year! (more…)

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Last week I talked with a friend of mine who has an adult daughter with special needs. Some unsavory people took advantage of her daughter, who has been hospitalized. My friend is a Christian, and she was struggling with the ferocity of her rage. “I feel like a Mother Bear: ‘Don’t get near my cubs!’” she said. “I want to go and beat up people. I just want to get revenge on the people who have hurt my daughter. Is it wrong to be so angry?”

I told her that I believe it is right to be angry at the things that make God angry.

Our culture is offended at the idea of a God of wrath and judgment, especially a God who would become enraged at us. Yet at the same time, we all long for a God who will right the wrongs that upset us. That’s why we like Superman so much. He has power. He gets mad at injustice, and he does something about it. We really want God to get angry and do something about people who rape children. We want God to get mad and swoop in to rescue vulnerable people like my friend’s daughter. And the Bible says that the real God does this – in His own way, in His own time, and with incredible power. God gets angry.

This blog post could proceed at this point, I suppose, to discuss free will and original sin and why God doesn’t always swoop in like Superman, in the way and with the speed that we think He should. But I just want to talk about a mother’s pain and anger. Or anybody’s pain and anger. People do things that deeply hurt us or those we love. Things that may not necessarily be illegal, but things that are cruel and unfair. And we get angry. We want revenge. We want to get back. A lot of Christians think we’re not supposed to want those things – or feel that way. After all, “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. “I will repay.” And didn’t Jesus say we are supposed to turn the other cheek?

So what does that mean? Pretend it didn’t happen? Swallow your rage? (more…)

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This week I decided why the women in my church kiss the air instead of each other when they greet.

I attend Alfa y Omega, a Spanish language church in nearby Anthony, Texas, a small, working class town of 5-6,000 people, but growing. Rents are cheap. A lot of recent immigrants, mostly from Mexico and Central America, live here – not too many Anglos like me. Since the culture of people in my church is in many ways very different from the culture I grew up in, I’m always trying to figure out the customs and the why behind them.

When I walk into Alfa y Omega, even if I’m late and the service has started, people usually greet me. They stretch out their right hand as I pass their pew. “Dios la bendiga,” they say, “¿Como está?” (“God bless you. How are you?”) The men shake my hand. Women who don’t know me well also shake hands, but if a woman knows me a little better, she shakes my hand and leans her upper body forward. I do the same. Then she lays her right cheek flat against my right cheek, and we kiss the air.

I notice that when the men greet each other they shake hands and they often hug as well. And if a man is greeting a woman he knows well, he leans in and kisses her – her check, not the air. None of this Anglo “Hi, Mom!” stuff. When a man sees his mother or his sister in public, he gives her a big kiss. Smack on the cheek. But if a woman sees her mother or sister, they rub cheeks and kiss air.

One of the first things I learned when I started going to this church was the importance of acknowledging people’s presence, of greetings, of hellos and good-byes that pronounce a blessing with words and with touch. I grew up in the Midwest. I was raised to get things done. So when I first started going to this church, I walked in exuding purpose and direction. I had my goal: find a place to sit (hopefully next to someone who could translate), try to hear Spanish, immerse, learn the language. But my progress was impeded by all these gentle greetings, all this blessing and affirmation.


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