Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Are You Being "With"?

This was the devotion I led at our recent church business meeting. -- Glenn

This ministry is always about people, and always about Jesus, and is larger than any one of us.

‘With’ is an important word, a powerful concept.  I’d like you to listen for ‘with’ in these Bible passages:

"Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons." (Mark 3:13-15)

So Jesus chose men to be with him and be his disciples. That “being with Jesus” time had a powerful influence on them:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

The elders have spent some time in the recent months thinking and praying about developing leaders in our congregation – not just for our own boards and teams, but leaders who can influence the world. 

We can do leadership development and training the cheap way or the expensive way.  The cheap way is to spend about $60,000 and send a bunch of people off to cool-sounding week-long training classes and have 'em come back with certificates.  The expensive way is to man up (and lady up) and pour your life into someone by being with them.

Let’s consider some opportunities:

Enormous challenges for teenagers -- they need men and women who will be with them.  They need good families. That's why we invest in youth staff and want to be there for parents.

We need to be with our spouse.  We need to be with one another as
believers -- this is why we stress small groups!

Thousands of people who live in the neighborhood we live in are desperately lonely.  These people need someone to be with them.
There are over a billion souls in unreached people groups who have not yet heard about the God who wants to be with them.  That's why we're emphasizing cross-cultural missions and sending people from our fellowship.

And when we grow weary, we will remember that we will be with the
Lord.  He is faithful on his part: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) 

We are told that we will be with Jesus at the end of earth as we know it:

"They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (Revelation 17:14)

[You can tell the whole arc of the Bible story around the word ‘with’: God created Adam and Eve and was with them.  Sin broke that fellowship.  God worked out His plan to restore relationship so that through Jesus Christ we can be with Him again.]

Sounds great, doesn't it?  Let's be real with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ: it's harder to be with specific, real, imperfect individuals than to talk about it. Much harder.  Many times, it is beyond our capacity and our capability.  The little committee members in our heads say, “Ok, but let’s go be with somebody besides this guy.”

The open secret is that the power to be with people is our abiding

connection with Jesus: "4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch

cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can

you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches.

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for

apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he

is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are

gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and

my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for

you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so

prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I

loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will

abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and

abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy

may be in you, and that your joy may be full." (John 15:4-11)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Short Tips on YouTube

I recently heard from a church in Tennessee that held a Sunday School teacher training time -- they opened up the BibleTeachingCoach YouTube channel and watched a batch of my short teaching tips, discussing how they could apply them in their classes.  Great idea!  Perhaps you'd like to do the same?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

DNA Replication: Awe and Inspiration

You might find it odd that I'd post a TED video about scientific visualization on a blog for Bible teachers. Many of you know that I earned a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology. I researched DNA replication, which is the focus of this video. I share this because it's beautiful, it should inspire awe, and it's a terrific example of teachers helping people see things they haven't seen before. That's what YOU do as a Bible teacher!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good Counsel When You're Afraid

Great Bible teachers often experience fears -- smaller and larger.  Here's some excellent advice:

How to Fight Fear from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

For the Sake of God's Name

Justin Taylor shares some great insights on praying and acting in the name of God -- lists several OT and NT passages.  This would be an excellent base for a lesson or devotional.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book recommendation: Boring to Bravo

I highly recommend Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve, and Inspire Your Audience to Action, by Kristin Arnold

I have recommended other presentation books in the past, so why do I recommend you study this one?  The main reason: the focus on interacting with and engaging your audience.  This is an essential skill for presenters and teachers today.  Presentations which change minds and lives must be engaging.

Kristin Arnold is a good writer, so you'll enjoy the reading time.

I particularly appreciate her comments about the mindset you need to cultivate in order to engage an audience. The book is written more for professional speakers and trainers, but you'll find most of it applies for small group presentations and teaching times.

If you want to be selective in reading this book, study the chapters on stories, use of humor, illustrationss, interacting with Q&A, and calling for decision/action.

Boring to Bravo delivers the promise implicit in the title. Get it. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Vocal Projection!

Brian Croft has an excellent blog post on vocal projection for preachers.  This applies equally well to teaching the Bible in many settings.

If you want people to understand you -- that would be necessary to teach to change lives! -- then put his recommendations into practice.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Worship Before You Teach

Let me stress this to those of you who want to teach the Bible to change lives: worship before you teach.

It's true that our whole lives should be worshipful. (Equally true that they aren't.)

Before you begin teaching a class or leading a small group discussion about God's truth, create some time and space for personal worship. Consciously reconnect with God through praise and celebration! Listen to music, sing songs, pray aloud with hands raised high, whatever you can do, but get your whole mind and heart and body engaged in worship that pleases God.

Having worshipped the living God, your teaching can flow from that. And that's teaching that can change lives!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Ministering to People who have Mental Illness

Note from Glenn: This is another post by my friend Marda.  Great information!

Ministering to People who have Mental Illness
In this country, mental illness is more common than generally believed.  Many people suffer with various anxiety disorders and with depression, seasonal affective disorder and other mood disorders.  In the last few years the prevalence of diagnosed bipolar disorder (what used to be called manic-depressive illness) has increased.  In addition, there has been a movement to become more open about mental illness and to remove some of the stigma that has traditionally been linked with it.  Since society in general is becoming more aware of this population it seems reasonable to assume that at some point you will encounter someone with mental illness or at least someone who has close family or friends with mental illness, in church ministry.
Mental illness is, in many ways, an invisible disability since it is often under medical control or is episodic in nature, meaning that sometimes a person will manifest symptoms of the illness and sometimes will not.  Exacerbation of symptoms of a mental illness can be brought on by increased stress, need for medication changes and other factors.  In this series of articles, I will begin with general comments regarding all mental illness and then go into more specifics on how to deal with various conditions.
First, there are two major views of mental illness.  The most commonly practiced one is the medical model, which tends to use drugs as a means of relieving symptoms.  In the medical model, mental illness is thought of as a disease like a physical illness.  Psychiatrists are medical doctors who generally work within the medical model, working with the patient to find the correct medications to ameliorate the symptoms.  In some of these illnesses, such as schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and bipolar disorder, where there is clearly chemical imbalance in the brain, medications can be extremely helpful.  Sometimes medications will stop working or a new and better medication will come out and those things as well as other factors can necessitate a medication change.  In some instances, this needs to be done under medical supervision in a hospital, often in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit of a general hospital.  In these days of shrinking insurance coverage, most such hospitalizations will only last a week or two at a time.  But if a person misses church and you know they have a mental illness, it is possible that they are being hospitalized.
The most important thing in dealing with hospitalization, taking of medication or other kinds of symptoms of mental illness is that the mental illness is not the person's fault.  It is not a simple matter of telling someone to pray more for healing of their illness and have more faith.  Telling a schizophrenic person to stop taking their medicine is the same as telling someone to stop taking their blood pressure medicine.  You man not notice immediate deterioration but the person is a time bomb waiting to go off and more than likely symptoms will return.
The second model says that mental illness or disorders are caused by other factors such as environment, personality, reaction to stress and so on.  The primary treatment modality of these people is psychotherapy, which is often referred to as "talk therapy" though there are many other kinds of therapies and alternative healing methods.  In cases of serious mental illness there is often a combination of therapies including medications as well as other treatment approaches. 
So what do you do when a person comes into your Bible study class in a clearly manic state or a schizophrenic psychotic episode?  Patience is paramount.  The person is not likely to just snap out of it.  What you can do is ask for compliance with general rules of courtesy and respect.  A quiet "Someone else is speaking now and in this class we don't interrupt".  Make your statements brief and concrete.  Do not challenge a person's fixed delusion.  It doesn't work and can only make the person more agitated.  If the person continues to be disruptive you might have a designated person to escort him or her from the room and talk to them individually.  Some churches train volunteers to do this kind of thing.  If they are caring and nonjudgmental, possible guilt and shame can often be avoided.
If the person says they are hearing voices that are telling them to kill themselves or someone else, there are several things you can do.  One is to have trained people who can take the person aside and deal with the issue.  Such a trained person will ask if they can talk back to the voices and tell them no, they're not going to kill or whatever the voices are demanding.  Ask if the voices are in the background or are so loud that they can not be ignored.  Generally, the person will say that the voices are distracting and sometimes loud but will often say that they can handle them.  If a person seems to be becoming violent and can't be calmed down and if that person appears to be a threat to him/herself or others, it is time to call either the person's psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker or call 911 and explain the nature of the emergency, where it is taking place and so on so that the appropriate personnel can be dispatched.  While waiting for help, it is best not to leave the person alone unless you think you are in immediate danger.
Most often this drastic action will not be called for as the person can often function in spite of psychotic symptoms.  Sometimes they will be confused and their communication will be unclear.  If words are coming out that don't make sense, a condition unofficially referred to as "word salad", it is best not to demand a clearer explanation.  Just say something like "thank you for that contribution" and move on and if the problem persists, say something like, "We're discussing something else now so it's time to listen" or "That's interesting.  We need to have another person talking now."
What other kinds of manifestations of a mental disorder can happen in a church setting?  Since anxiety disorders are so common, I will deal with them next.
One common anxiety disorder is panic disorder.  In this disorder, a person can have a panic attack, sometimes with no discernible cause.  Again, many anxiety disorders have a biochemical component that is not completely understood.  There is increased production of adrenaline which can cause increased heart rate or palpitations, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, chest pains, gastrointestinal symptoms, fear of dying just to name a few.  Panic attacks can be frightening to the person having them and to those watching.  They usually peak within ten minutes or so but can sometimes last longer.  The best thing to do again is to have someone take the person to a quiet place and calmly reassure them that they are not dying, they are safe, the panic will subside and so on.  Then it is important to let the person know that you are not ashamed or condemning of them for having the panic attack.
Another increasingly seen anxiety disorder is posttraumatic stress disorder.  This diagnosis was first used when referring to symptoms shown by vets returning from battle who would relive combat experiences in flashbacks as well as being highly anxious or depressed and otherwise having difficulty coping with life.  The term was then expanded to include sufferers of all kinds of traumas, from car accidents, natural disasters and acts of terrorism  to prolonged and severe physical, sexual or emotional abuse.  Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has a wide variety of symptoms.  Most common are periods when the person is having difficulty in remaining in reality.  They may think they are in the original traumatic situations or they may be overcome with debilitating anxiety.  When someone is triggered into re-experiencing a trauma or aspects of it, they often need to be grounded, or reestablished in reality.  One way to do this is to have someone, either quietly in the room or in another room, have the sufferer take deep calming breaths, then try to have them describe the room, ask if they know who you are and so on.  Sometimes people use things like rubber bands on the wrist that they can snap or ice in the hand, to bring them back to the present.  Personally, I don't like either of those.  I prefer a reassuring voice telling me who they are and where I am.  If I am deeper into an episode, I might need something such as a smell to bring me back.  The main thing is to stay calm and patient.  These episodes are generally short but can be longer.  While you are with the person, ask them to look around the room and describe what's there, have them put their feet flat on the ground (thus the name "grounding") hold onto the chair, etc. and try to get a dialogue going in which you continue to remind them of where they are, what the date and year are, that whatever horrible thing they are experiencing is not happening now and so on.  Frequently, a person who has been living with PTSD for a long time will have developed their own coping skills and will be able to ground themselves.  Sometimes they will carry a "comfort bag" which will contain items with which the person can self-soothe.  So the extreme manifestations will not happen in every case.  Again, it is important to assure the person that you don't think any less of them, that you are there to help in any way you can, that God still loves them and that they are a worthwhile person.
After an episode, or before an episode happens if you know about the person's mental disorder, you can ask what you can do to help should symptoms occur.  Most people will know and be able to tell you.  Remember that you are dealing with another human being, not just a diagnosis.  They are not weak.  They are not malingering.  They are not seeking attention, for the most part.  They do need to know God's love because so often they have experienced little love in their lives.  Try not to fear them and their conditions.  They are children of God, part of his family like you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


There are some verses and passages you go back to time and again.  Isaiah 49:16 is one of mine:

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands"

A few thoughts to encourage you:

God is speaking to his children of Israel, and by extension, we who have been grafted in and adopted as heirs.  Think of how sensitive your palms are, and how visible they are to you.  They're never more than an arm's length away!  "Engraved" suggests permanence and lasting effect.  This is not magic marker or ball-point pen scrawling to remind you of something ephemeral.  What is engraved?  Not a picture of story of my ancestors, but me.  What a precious statement from the God of the Universe!

"See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands"

Sunday, January 01, 2012

First Day of 2012 -- May I Offend You?

Happy 2012, dear Bible teachers!

Let me start off the year and risk offending some of you.

Here's my challenge for you: leave the study Bibles and commentaries on your bookshelf.

Go for days and weeks without checking footnotes and commentaries -- simply and prayerfully invest yourself in the Word.

Get a simple Bible, without all the study notes.  Read it in depth, read it in breadth.  Pray as your read.  If you find this difficult, it's a sure sign you need to do this!!

I promise you that you'll learn much more, and be shaped more by God.  This pays HUGE dividends in your teaching ability (at least if you want to teach to change lives, not just entertain people).

Let me be clear, ok?  I'm not opposed to study Bibles and commentaries.  Great Bible teachers use them, but use them as reference tools, not as primary sources.  (See my recommended list of Bible study tools.) We have only one primary source: the Word of God itself.

Go ahead, take me up on this challenge.  And let me know how it works for you.