Eye Apples and Dolly Tea …

Keep me as the apple of your eye … pleads Psalmist David of God (Psalm 17.8)

… he kept him as the apple of his eye, Moses writes of God’s care for His people, Israel (Deuteronomy 32.10).

keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye … the LORD instructs His people (Proverbs 7.2).

School has begun, in our little house in the Northwoods. And, while other schools convoke the new school year with a dance or homecoming football game, we mark the beginning of the academic year with … the dolly tea-party!

It works like this: The girls—led by Lead Teacher, Mommy Amanda—prepare cupcakes and other delectables. Children personalize nameplates and table settings. Preparation lasts several days. It is to be a sumptuous affair.

Daddy Bryan (school principal) inaugurates the event itself by painting the girls’ nails, in the driveway. Then, the boys help one another into black suits and—bringing select stuffed animal guests (the famous Teddy for Daddy, Prancer for Henry, Baby Tiger for Jack, though he’d now prefer you didn’t know about it)—the boys approach the formal front entrance to the house. Girls hands are kissed, and we all sit down to tea. Greta Grace’s Emma and Sara likewise attend—thus, the dolly tea party. After tea and cakes, we all dance. Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, that kind of thing. When the fun has been had, the boys depart till the next year, and lessons begin the next day …

There is history to all this. In the summer of 2013, following a season of great loss for our family, we determined to celebrate what we had been given. We had dollies and stuffed bears, no doubt, but we also had one another and every opportunity to celebrate outrageously, and in ways that young children can understand.

The connection to our home learning goes something like this: if we as parents desire our children to take God, His Word and His world seriously, we’d better understand something of the Father’s great love for His people. A beginning to this life-long study might just be to learn what it means to be dear to one another. And, if that love for one another be so great, then Oh! how much more must be the love of the Father for His children! And, if the hurts and loss known to every family might be so redeemed by parents who drop to their knees to create and discover and play and heal, then how much more must be the riches of our great Creator who gives us all things to enjoy for our present and eternal good and His great glory. So goes the formation of our imaginations in truth.

And so, we’ve begun again … the good, the true, the beautiful. And, it all begins with eye apples and dolly tea!

Original dolly tea, 2013

Goodness … and Swiss chard

Real life conversation between two Westboro eight-year-olds—overheard by parents at older brother, Jack’s, baseball game, some weeks ago:

Dean: You’re kind of small for your age. How old are you, anyway?

Henry: Eight

Dean: Eight! You could be seven, or six … or five, even …

Henry: Uh-huh …

Dean: You need to get some veggies in that belly, like Swiss chard, or something. If you do that, you’ll grow—like—eighteen inches before I see you next. 

Not everyone can live in a place of obvious goodness, where Swiss chard comes up among eight-year-olds in ordinary playground talk. But, this year, we do live in such a place.

Goodness is abundant this time of year in the Northwoods. And, while our farms aren’t as big as our neighbors’ in the southern part of the state, ripeness too visits our fields, forests and gardens. For us, in the moment, this means the time of berry picking—strawberries, blueberries, raspberries—is just about past. Vegetable produce rolls in daily, enough to share, for sure. Apples await. Like the birds who by-pass our feeders for want of need, because of the abundance of food in the wild, we too look at our tables and say, “Wow … that all came from the garden. Praise God for this!

That last thought reminds me of Jeremiah’s word from God, spoken over Israel in light of His judgement, but in anticipation of future salvation:

They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more (31.12, ESV).

Those who rest in Christ know this abundance today, in essence. All who know peace with God through Christ will join Israel in fullness at Christ’s return.

Till that day, we say, Praise God for this! And, we harvest from the fields and forests and gardens, and receive all this as a picture of God’s present and future … Goodness. 

Really? You want … chickens?!

This weekend, we passed the first anniversary of our first Sunday at Woodland, our interview weekend.

Previous to that memorable time, we met the search team on webcam. Dear friends all today, they were (mostly) strangers then. And, it was really something when we connected to see a roomful of people in the church’s welcome area, a place now familiar to us.

“Why could you see yourselves bringing your family to Woodland and Westboro?” the team asked us, naturally.

“Well,” we said. “We’d like to serve in a place where we could have … chickens.”

Not to make light of the process that was thorough and good, but “chickens” must have been the answer they were looking for. One lady in the foreground of our webcam screen seemed especially taken with our response. “Really? You want chickens? … We can get you chickens!”

That was Wendy Budimlija (Ba-dim-u-la). And now, one year later, Wendy (and Randy) have delivered. We have chickens!

It started with the henhouse that had to be repaired. We closed ourselves inside on a bright day, and marked the daylight. A board slapped here and another slapped there was enough to darken the innards of the place. We discovered fence nails, and a bit of chicken wire served to re-enforce any weakness, real or imagined. Randy came over to inspect my carpentry. “It’s a chicken house,” he said. “You’ve done fine.” I needed the encouragement. If I’m a mink or a weasel, I can still get in, but we’ll make the varmints prove they’re serious.

Wendy and Randy returned again to bring a heating lamp, bedding, chick feed and food and water dispensers. Then, a gift from the Budimlijas: the chicks arrived at the Rib Lake Post Office! We drove the seven miles, all in a dither, and picked up the peeping packet. Twenty minutes later, we opened our box on the lush, green lawn, right in front of our very own chicken house. We gave them their first drink. Two Barred Rocks, two Silver-Laced Wyandottes, two Red Stars, an Americana (that’s the “Easter Egger” that lays the green eggs) and one Buff Orpington.

Since then, our “girls” have become young ladies. And, they’ve gone free range. Since they remind the kids of fancy women shopping together in a fancy department store, they’ve given the ladies mature names—Matilda Mae (Tilly), Missy, Hazel, Stella, Mabel and Sable (the Red Stars), Gertrude (Trudy) and then Pepper, whom we suspect to be a rooster.

If we’d seen ourselves a year ago!

Woodland and Wendy have made good. It was a search process to remember. And, “Chickens” was the right answer.

 

Growing up, together …

And, just like that, our Northwoods winter turned to mud, and then to spring, and now to … summer!

There’s projects afoot. Raised-bed garden and hoop house, for me. Beds and beds of perennials to plant, for Amanda. Acres to mow with our old push-mower, for Katja and Jack. And then, the work in the forest that must wait for another season.

My favorite projects remain the fanciful ones deep in the timber. There’s the log cabin the boys began constructing from fallen spruces—logs cut two meters in length with my old German Meterstik (measuring stick) and my handsaw. (The boys say they’re waiting for me to buy a chainsaw before finishing the project … )

There’s Jack’s live trap—a thing of beauty, of hope and of imagination. He’s threaded a snare he learned to tie from watching internet videos. And, he’s driven a stick into the ground and spiked it with a hunk of cheese. This he’s wired to a separate tension lever, just waiting to be tripped. The mechanics of the machine are abundantly clear to a ten-year-old. The animal will position itself squarely in the middle of the snare, seize the bait, and then be flung with overwhelming force against the tree, at the base of which it will lie, stunned, till Jack finds it in the morning. What he will do with the critter, Jack doesn’t know. But, his childlike wonderment places all within the realm of probability.

Then, there’s the zip line (pictured above). Each of our older three (Gigi excluded) takes a turn in the big maple we call Friendship. A bike helmet must be strapped on in recognition of the danger of the maneuver. Then, with the other two children pulling vigorously at an ordinary rope, the thrill-seeking subject launches from the tree and ecstatically zips across the side yard. At least, in theory … The reality is what actually happened when Jack flung himself from Friendship and, obedient to some physical law, dropped like a stone where he met dirt and tree roots. Why so? The physics of it all!

And why must it be necessary to grow up, when everything seems possible in childhood?

Far-fetched as this transition might seem, Ephesians 4.15 does spring to my mind:  speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (ESV).

We’ve recently finished our series on healthy church partnership at Woodland. Now, it’s time to gather up all our sessions on membership, generosity, shameless service, and so forth, and simply love one another, … until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (4.13). That’s growing up together in our local church.

The Regier kids will grow up and (alas!) lose interest in their imaginative, timbered world. And we, as grownups, must, along with the children, grow up too. Material-world mechanics that govern live traps and zip lines won’t be ignored forever. But, neither will the “royal law” of love (James 2.8). The first, we leave behind regrettably (at least, that’s my sentiment as parent to my kids). The second, we all run toward joyfully, since our love for one another in maturity is nothing short of preparation for Christ.

And, that’s the reality we can grow up to.

 

 

“For” Life

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Sunday at Woodland we participate with Christ-followers around the nation in Sanctity of Life Sunday. Being “for” life means serving Christ and suffering for those in crisis in this world while in the face of an enemy.

Our lesson spans the human story and tells of death and life, in Creation … in Crisis … and in Christ. Death in Ezekiel 28 and the fall of the beautiful being who became Satan, but life in Genesis 2 and the mud-man who received God’s breath of life. Death in our first parents’ grasp for power in the fashion of God’s arch-enemy who desired power of his own, but life in God’s severe mercy in expelling our first parents from the Garden. Then, life in Christ himself, who came to put to death our need to find contrived power apart from God’s rightful rule.

It’s in thinking through our own imitation of Satan’s grasping after power like God’s that we have our connection to Sanctity of Life Sunday.

Ancient peoples were not unlike us. They found need to reap power from their circumstances, to appease whatever forces they thought would deliver. And, the better the sacrifice, the more the power. So goes the reasoning.

For Ancient Near Eastern Moabites, and even wayward Israelites, this meant (the horror of it!) sacrificing their children to Molech, or his Phoenician counterpart, Baal. What god could resist delivering rain or other necessities for such a sacrifice? More sophisticated, later Greeks and Romans abandoned their infants (particularly baby girls) in exchange for the power of stature in society. Consider the candidness of one Roman, Hilarion, in writing to his pregnant wife, “If you are delivered of a child before I come home, if it is a boy, keep it, if a girl, discard it …”

We haven’t come much further, and Ancients weren’t the fools we sometimes think them. For many today, the gods are just different—upward mobility, career advancement, affluence, leisure, education; the “good life”. All forms of power by some estimations. And, for a heart-rending many intent to tap these modern forces, the price of unborn life does not seem to high.

Enter Christ. Legitimate in power, He is Life itself (Jn 1:4, 5:26; 1 Jn 5:12). But, with Him also comes death: His (1 Pet 2:24); in a mysterious way, ours (Gal 2:20); and then, our desire to find power apart from Him (Rm 12:2), and even our shame in having dabbled or plunged into the culture of death (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21). Glory be!

Now, for those of us knowing life in Christ, being “for” life means going back into the crisis. There, filled with the Spirit and armed with the Gospel and prayer, we identity with the powerless—the unborn, but also their mothers, their fathers, their families. We consider that  pro-life is “whole-life” and include the mentally handicapped, the elderly, the refugee, the otherwise healthy children in our Sunday schools, powerless because they are children.

Ours is the blessed task of ministering the Gospel to see the powerless reconnected to the rightly rule of the Father. And, in identifying with the powerless, we suffer with them in the face of an enemy. It’s an old story. It is the story.

Questions for application and group discussion

Find a friend, or a group of friends, and consider the verses listed throughout the post. Then, consider these thought questions:

What persons or things die with the coming of Christ?

How is it possible for holiness and shame to grow side-by-side in the life of a Christian?

How does Satan use shame to debilitate in the life of a Christian? (1 Pet 5:18; Rev 12:2)

Why is it important to separate the (objective) guilt of sin that is forgiven when a person trusts Christ from the (subjective) sense of shame that results? (Heb 10:22; 1 Jn 3:20-21)

Who are the powerless my my/our web of relationships? 

What groups of people are being left out or overlooked in the church family where I/we serve? 

What would it look like for me to join with others in serving these groups and suffering with them?

Together in Blood

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A word of caution to my tender-hearted animal loving friends: pictures of chicken butchery will be found below. (Although there’s a good deal more pictures that can’t be shown.)

A quick peek into my human resume before this weekend would have revealed a distinct lack of experience in butchery of anything but fish. That changed on my first full day as pastor of Woodland Community Church, even before I’d set foot in the church building.

It was “meat bird” day at Mike’s, a church member. Forty birds awaited quick and humane sacrifice for the good of the human community. I’d known the plan for months and asked to be included.

Chickens had to be snatched from the pen, arranged on a stump, so that two nails would hold the head, quickly dispatched with a buck knife or machete, hung to bleed, submerged in boiling water, then run through the electric plucker that made feathers fly.

Nothing flippant or disrespectful about it. All serious, interesting, but very curious work. Fight revulsion by grabbing your first bird without thinking about it. Let your new friends teach you. Today’s the day for that. Tomorrow you’ll preach, but this bond in blood must first be entered.

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When I’d severed the head from my first animal, my new friend Mike grew suddenly serious. “Gives you a new understanding of what Old Testament sacrifice must have been like, doesn’t it?”

I stood with my bloody knife still in hand … It did. Blood had been spilled, and, as life is in the blood, life had been sacrificed for a higher cause.

We worked quickly then. Not much skill needed out in the yard. More skilled workers (than I) dressed and bagged the birds in the garage. I took a short turn there as well, so as to share in every part of the operation. A kind of joyful, serious fellowship grew throughout the afternoon. We shared lunch (chili, not chicken). I was, and remain, the stranger, then not yet two days in town. But, we’d shared something. They told me of the twenty acres down the road, for sale. “Maybe, you ought to look at it,” they said. Were they serious? I’m not sure …

As much as Saturday helped me know my Old Testament better, there’s New Testament truth here as well. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

There’s a fellowship for all who know Christ and His Gospel work. 

This bond includes knowledge of Jesus’ sacrificial work on the cross, carried out in blood and toward the higher purposes of the Father. For those united under Christ’s blood, there is serious but joyful work. Table fellowship will be found here. New members will join those who have grown up in the fellowship. There’s learning here, and humility.

And, for me, a new community. Sunday turned out to be good too, but Saturday made for a really grand start.

 

Intangibles …

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Unthinkable! … Like shootin’ Ol’ Yeller.

Last week we sold the Growing Up House, as we call it—the place we about promised (okay, planned) for our kids to grow up in. Still sorting out the emotions as I am, I’ll only recount the process.

Negotiations took place over three days. Our buyer started low, then showed earnestness as we went along. Finally, we were down to the last move. We weren’t where we’d thought we’d be. Not a bad deal, but not where people had told us we’d be. We held our ground. “Let him suck up the last thousand …”

Then, after our final counter-offer had been called in, but before it had been signed, a bubbling thought broke the surface: There’s intangibles at play here … like being together sooner in our rental up North … like having this business behind us before I move (solo) and begin pastoring Woodland Community Church … like not having to negotiate another deal while Amanda and I are six hours apart … like not contending with cell phones that barely work out in the woods … like not dragging Woodland through the winter with a pastor who has a house to sell … like joining my kids as we swim and fish and run wild in the North Woods …

Enough already! Let’s all pray about something else.

We were in the van just minutes before the deadline. I called it in … deal done.Then I texted in the final terms while sitting at my own, old wooden desk, now in the church library. Finally, I had myself a little cry …

The Christian life is filled with intangibles. Jesus said as much, Luke 16:9: ” … make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteousness wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” 

That passage is worthy of further study. Jesus isn’t being a push-over, a sucker. He’s not giving away the farm. In fact, He’s being shrewd, but in a currency that counts for eternity. Jesus is talking about the intangibles that can’t be bought, sold, measured or valued in our everyday economy. An earthly fortune won’t get you to the table in a deal for the intangibles.

We won’t be richer over this deal. Oh, but, the more I think about this, the more I think we made out like bandits, in what really matters.

Assuming this deal goes through, we’ve cut the flotsam and gotten back to people. Sunday, I’ll worship with our new church family. Amanda will pack up the house and join me in October. The kids are aufgepumpt (all pumped up) about life in our delightful snowbird-family rental on Rib Lake.

It’s all eyes forward. It’s life lived in the intangibles.

 

Grace for the Next Thing

 

Sunday we said good-bye.

That’s farewell to Faith Bible Church, the church that found us nine years ago when we were younger and vulnerable and looked terrible on paper. (At our first contact with Pastor Steve and Faith, Amanda had taken the two babies and gone to her mother in Wisconsin. I’d remained in Germany to finish the mission work and was sleeping nights in my tent—just for fun, but also because students filled the mission building.) Other churches thought us missionary burn-outs, I’m sure.

Faith found us. Now, after nine years have passed like the sucking sound of the midnight express, it’s time to say good-bye.

I expected seventy-five people to turn up for our potluck. But, our church family filled the place. I’d planned a little speech of gratitude. But, I got overwhelmed and forgot most of it. Amanda too. It was just too much love and gratitude … Probably best. It was about the nine years, and not to be a swan song. And, it wasn’t about us at all, not really.

Here’s what I meant in my teary-eyed little speech:

The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 1:21-24, shows his heart to the Philippians—For to me is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 

Lots about this doesn’t apply to me, right now—not contemplating dying, at the moment, and not staying, to name two. But, something strikes me here, something that ties me to the Apostle:

We both know what it is to want more than one thing.

In a profound way, we don’t want to depart Iowa and Faith Bible. We love the church that has grieved and celebrated with us, watched us bring home babies, and shared our personal tragedies and joys. We like our solid little Craftsman home and will dearly miss our walks and our life in our charming and historic neighborhood.

But, we want something else. We want to follow the Lord’s leading to our new church family in Westboro/Rib Lake, Wisconsin. We want to add the family of Woodland Community Church to the big, joyful, collective family made up of all those we’ve known and loved.

But, right now, between the two, this death and rebirth feels like grief.

And that’s life between Christ’s two comings. Someone dies, a baby is born. In order to arrive, we have to leave. We can’t have everything, and we can’t even have more than one thing, sometimes.

But, we can have grace for the next thing. The present thing. But, to know that grace there has to be a giving up. Paul said as much, in Acts 20:24, as the Ephesian elders wept at his parting—But, I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course in the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

There’s single-mindedness there. And, if I’ve learned anything from my Faith Bible family, there is joy in the doing of it. And, in the doing of it, there’s a longing for Christ’s coming when all our desires will be joined.

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Made by Hands

Second Corinthians 5:21 promises that, for those in Christ, this life leads to another. In that time and place, we’ll be housed in a dwelling of God’s creation, “… a house not made with hands.”

Deep thoughts for Labor Day! A time usually set aside from thinking of sweat and toil.

There’s refreshing implications here—for my hope beyond this life, for the security I find in the stuff and matter of this earth. But, there’s a flip-side implication as well: While we’re in this life, handwork (together with its grit and grime) does matter.

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In several of my former lives (being figurative here) I did not believe this. In my liberal arts past, loving the iron of English and the stuff of great thoughts, I thought that real work, my work at least, should involve nothing practical. I was young then. Later, in my work in New Testament, same thing. I grew a little less young …

Since, I’ve found that the closer I read Scripture the more God’s Word and God’s world merge in this life. 

Living life in relationship helps. A dirty deck becomes a journey of discovery with my nine year-old son, Jack, and I. A faulty sump pump switch, then a clogged evacuation line, becomes opportunity for humility in asking for help from church member and manual arts mentor friend, Greig. (There’s others in Greig’s mold, Ed, Steve, Larry. I call them my “mighty men,” those further along in the manual arts and, thus, able to teach me.) Discipleship is the word I’m looking for here.

In the end, there is a kind of preparation for the next life that takes place when we work with our hands, particularly with others. We find it with those we help, and those who help us. And we learn … that while God prepares our future without hands, He meets our needs in this life with hands—our own and, frequently, the hands of others.

There’s another verse that comes to mind. Psalm 90:17 reads, Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands. 

And so, while we travel this life with others, God’s Word and world form a pleasant marriage. And, we work.

Version 2

How To Build a Bridge

I’ve done many things backwards in my life.

Many young people from rural America use their college years for a metropolitan adventure, a chance to experience the quicker pace of the city. (Think: “John Boy” Walton here).

I did the opposite. Having grown up in a city with three major interstate highways (and numbers of lesser roads, just as large), I then spent my college years in the idyllic hills of southern Appalachia. My little college of not-quite 500 students sat on a hill over-looking the town of Dayton, the (brace yourselves) “county seat” of Rhea County, Tennessee.

To the northwest of Dayton ran the Cumberland Plateau, the edge of the Tennessee Valley. Flowing along the southern and eastern borders of the county ran the Tennessee River. A two-lane road ran south to Chattanooga, thirty-five miles away. An even more rustic two-lane road took the occasional traveler north to a place called Watt’s Bar, thirty miles distant. We had a Walmart. And, three years before my arrival, we’d scored a McDonalds.

If a college-boy in Dayton wanted to go anywhere fast, he’d have to make it over the Tennessee River to I-75, that fast and furious traffic artery serving everything moving between Knoxville to the north and Chattanooga to the south. But to get across the river, he’d have to first travel to Chattanooga itself, or Watt’s Bar. Or, he could take the Washington Ferry.

In those days we’d approach the ferry, moving east on County Road 30. We’d see signs: “Road Ends 1,000 Feet,” then “Road Ends 500 Feet”. The limits of our world announced by these signs seemed mistaken to the urban-inclined among us. But after sufficient warning, the road really did end. And even those who doubted the signs would contend with the vast water of the Tennessee River. (Occasionally, we’d hear of a disbelieving city-boy winging his car off the firm ground of the west bank, only to be dredged out in humility.) The more patient traveler would wait for the Washington Ferry itself, a little barge working both banks of the river at inconvenient hours—three dollars a ride, one car at a time.

That was 1990. Today, the Washington Ferry Bridge spans the Tennessee connecting the westernmost towns of the Tennessee Valley with I-75. As freight rolls from one firm bank to the other, the county and towns have grown. We’ve lost the Americana, but we’ve seen the value of a bridge.

In this series for the Faith Bible Adult Education Fellowship we’re answering the question: How do you build a lesson? Or, how do you develop an original lesson that is true (grounded in the Bible), clear (faithful to convey the biblical message in one main idea) and relevant to the need of the learner. We’ll find this process of building a lesson illustrated by the bridge.

(For those with interest, check out the following link to see a picture of the old Washington Ferry: http://rheaheraldnews.com/WeAreRheaCounty2013.pdf.)

 

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Bridges come in different kinds. There’s the ancient, Roman arch bridge like the famous Pons Aelius in Rome. Then there’s the truss bridge with its series of triangles made from straight bars like the Queensferry Crossing Bridge over the Firth of Forth separating England from Scotland. Finally, there’s the modern suspension bridge like our Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

But whether ancient or modern, and no matter how engineered, the bridge has only one purpose: A bridge exists to connect one piece of solid ground to another. Between the two ends of the bridge you can’t walk, drive, or carry freight—not easily, and maybe not at all. Not without the bridge!

The teacher teaching “Christianly” is in the bridge-construction business. Only he’s not working in brick and steel, he’s working in words and ideas, and in living souls being changed by the Spirit of God. These learners—like travelers separated from their destinations by a large body of water or a deep valley—need a bridge. Their bridge must connect them across space (Jesus didn’t come to America), across time (Jesus died and rose again over 2,000 years ago), and across culture (The first readers of the Bible were eastern, not western).

The teacher—like the bridge-builder—must connect to firm ground on two shores. He will anchor his lesson in the ancient “world” of the biblical text on one side and in the present “world” of the learner on the other. The act of teaching the lesson then becomes the business of transporting the learner back and forth across the bridge. On one side they encounter the text in the ancient world, on the other they apply the message of the text to their own world.

None of this will take place without the work of the Spirit who applies God’s Word to our hearts. But without a properly designed lesson, we fail to put the learner in the place to learn from the text and be changed by the Spirit. The Spirit will accomplish His work, but not in our classroom—at least not that day! With so much at stake, we’d do well to think about how we develop our lessons.

How does one go about constructing the lesson? How does the teacher build a bridge? 

 

THE LESSON STARTS IN THE PRESENT WORLD OF THE LEARNER.

In their book Creative Bible Teaching Richards and Bredfeldt famously identify the parts of a lesson—Hook . . . Book . . . Look . . . Took.

If they’d been using our bridge illustration, they might also have noted that each of these movements takes place in a different “world”—either that of the learner or the text.

We start in the present world of the learner. In this opening part of the lesson we want to “hook” the learner. This involves capturing the learner’s attention, but in a meaningful way. It also involves orienting the learner to the main idea of the biblical text.

Methods vary in the Hook. In our own children’s ministry curriculum at Faith, we use tangible objects from the childrens’ world to prepare the children for the lesson: An empty dessert plate we’d like to fill with cake illustrates how (unlike God in Genesis 1-2) we can’t create at will. An antique vase the children aren’t allowed to touch reminds children how some things, or people (like God Himself in Exodus 19-20), are set apart for God’s purposes and very special.

Teen-agers like to argue their case (They want to know why? not what?) and often respond to theoretical and relational role-play. Adults prefer practical exercises that guard them from being embarrassed and draw on their experience. The teacher might begin a lesson on Galatians with what we call the “neighbor nudge”: Turn to one person next to you and describe a time when you’ve seen dissimilar people united in the gospel. 

The Hook challenges the assumptions of the learner. It serves the teacher with an opportunity to challenge the learner’s present knowledge, as well as his cultural assumptions (or prejudices). The Hook punctuates the opening of the lesson with a question mark that (like a baited fishhook teasing a fish) invites the learner to follow. The well-used Hook also destabilizes the learner’s world and prepares her for the world of the text. Now the learner is ready to cross the bridge.

 

THE LESSON CONNECTS THE LEARNER TO THE WORLD OF THE TEXT.

Once the learner has been oriented to the subject, the teacher introduces the Book, the presentation of the passage proper.

Working in the world of the “text”, the teacher will summarize what the biblical author said to his original audience. This will take into account the particular time in salvation history of the first readers. Were they coming to God as Old Testament Israelites, trusting in the promise of Messiah who would come? Were they followers of Jesus living just before the cross? Were they first-generation Christians who, like us, live this side of the cross?  Here, the teacher must be deft in summarizes what God has done in up to the point in history where the first readers receive the text. This might involve big-picture survey. Or, it might involve explanation of details in the passage.

Regardless of the level of explanation, everything in the Book flows into and from the main idea of the text. This will be the statement that summarizes what the biblical author said to his first readers. The statement itself will include a subject (what the passage is about) and at least one complement (what the subject does).  A lesson on Galatians 2:11-21 might challenge us with the question, “How do we become right with God?” The main idea might read: We become right with God by depending on the work of Christ rather than self-effort. (We’ll take on the mechanics of writing a main idea in a future post.)

Left on this side of the bridge, the lesson becomes a lecture. And that’s how lecturing got its bad name! But if the teacher leads the learner across the bridge one more time, the learner will find that he now really has something to apply.

 

THE LESSON TRAVERSES THE CHASM TO APPLY THE TEXT.

When the teacher arrives at the Look, he has likely taught the bulk of his lesson. But since he hasn’t applied, he hasn’t taught.

The teacher must now show the learner what it “looks” like to unpack the main idea of the passage back in the present world of the reader. This involves thinking about what the main idea looks like on this side of the cross—as a follower of Jesus having been saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

This can be challenging, particularly when working in the Old Testament. In Genesis 27-28:5 we read of Jacob’s deception of his father, Isaac. Though Jacob, at times, demonstrates little more character than his unspiritual brother, Esau, God will be faithful to keep His covenant promises. God will preserve Jacob. The main idea of Genesis 27-28:5 might read: God always kept His promises, even when the descendants of Abraham didn’t obey Him. 

The learner must now “look” at this summary of the passage in his world. When he considers its truth, he realizes that the Father’s provision of Jesus took place before he had ever obeyed God and despite his own sin. The Old Testament passage about Jacob’s sin has taught him something true about God that only becomes clear at the cross. Even more, the application of the passage continues into the area of practical holiness. Having had the righteousness of Christ applied to his account, the learner now realizes how his own obedience does not alter his righteous position with God. Just as God’s covenant with Abraham did not hang in the balance when Jacob sinned, God will accomplish all that He has purposed to do in Christ.

The Look now allows the teacher to make contemporary the Bible-based main idea for the learner in the present-day world: God always keeps His promises, even when we don’t obey Him. This statement becomes the main idea of the lesson.

Though even many good lessons stop here, there is yet another step necessary to round out a fully gospel-centered, “Christian” lesson. As we saw in our post What Makes Our Teaching Christian?, biblical truth must be applied to both the head (the intellect) and the heart (the affections and desires). Once again, this is the domain of the Spirit. We can’t change peoples’ hearts. But we can (we must!) invite them to the place where they can do business with the Spirit through the word.

We finish the lesson with the Took where the learner demonstrates that the lesson has actually “took”. This will be accomplished through the writing of an aim that serves as a kind of target for the teacher throughout the lesson.

At the level of the intellect the aim requires the learner to interact once again with the passage. Taking Genesis 27-28:5 once again, the aim could read: The learner will explain, from Genesis 27-28:5 how God showed Jacob that He will always be true to His promises. This is the “head” aim to be completed in the last part of the lesson. The learner demonstrates, through his explanation of God’s faithfulness to Jacob, that he understands the passage at an intellectual level.

That’s not small change! We’ve really done something when the learner can demonstrate understanding. But for the teacher to really know that he’s scored a hit, the learner needs to demonstrate heart awareness. This “heart” aim will build on the “head” aim and require the learner to demonstrate that she is at least aware of the nature of the heart change called for in the text.

In the Genesis 27-28:5 passage, the “head” and “heart” aims might be combined to form the following: The learner will explain, from Genesis 27-28:5, how God showed Jacob that He will always be true to His promises (head) and describe why it’s important to value God’s fulfilled promise of Jesus above her own appetites (heart). 

The lesson now ends with consideration of the gospel. The learner, like Jacob, will be asked to consider his own desires in the light of God’s promises. Unlike Jacob—who lived before the cross—he’ll look back in time to the cross to see the aim of his true desire.

The lesson has now gone from the world of the learner to the world of the biblical text and back again. The learner has been asked to consider his own need in light of the gospel. The teacher has used the lesson to build a bridge.

The bridge illustration gives us a big-picture look at how lessons are developed. Now that we’ve surveyed the whole process, we’ll break it down in the next seven post with practical examples and concrete action steps.

For the moment, consider the following questions as you think about the lesson as a bridge.

Why don’t you leave your thoughts in the “comments” box? Maybe we’ll unpack these thoughts in our next meeting of the “The Fellowship”.

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How does the picture of the lesson as a bridge help you understand the difference between the lecture and the kind of lesson we’re proposing here? 
 
Why is it absolutely imperative to find firm ground in the “world of the text”? (That is, why do you have to be absolutely clear in understanding what the text meant to its original hearers?) 
 
Why do we start and end in the “world of the learner”?