Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Recommendation for Young Parents: Homegrown Readers

 I'd like to introduce you to my friend Jan Pierce and her new book, Homegrown Readers. This book is an excellent tool for young parents and those who work with children, to help them learn how to read and ENJOY it for a lifetime.

Jan's experience in the field:
"I retired eight years ago from a long career in education. I taught all grades from kindergarten through fourth grade, but mostly first and second. So I had ample time to teach children to read. I earned a reading endorsement when I got my Master’s degree because I wanted to understand more about the nuts and bolts of reading. The last two years of my career I spent as a reading specialist."

      Jan's heart is to equip young parents:
"As I worked with children who struggled with learning to read I noticed recurring problems. Often these children lacked background knowledge in reading skills. They weren’t familiar with books and book language. They were discouraged. At the early age of six or seven they already felt like failures.

"I realized that many of the problems could be solved if parents knew what to do. And even more serious problems such as learning disabilities could be improved if parents knew how to support their child in reading.

"Many parents don’t have warm, fuzzy memories of learning to read. They may have felt embarrassed in reading groups as a child. They don’t want that negative experience for their own children. Homegrown Readers can help. And, parents can use the key ideas to brainstorm ways to solve reading problems for their children."

Special features of Homegrown Readers:
It’s written in everyday language and has resources in the appendix section at the back. It also offers Homegrown Readers Discussion Groups that parents can choose to take part in. There are key ideas for each chapter of the book plus ready to use questions for a discussion group.

Three Examples from Jan you can put to work immediately:

1. Number one will always be: read to your children. Start when they’re babies and never stop. Even middle school children enjoy family read-alouds.
2. Secondly I’d say to make reading fun. Let the kids choose the books part of the time. Keep reading sessions short, but do them regularly. Add small incentives such as stickers on a reading chart for independent reading homework.
3. A third suggestion is to teach children to ask questions as they read. You can model this to them as you read aloud. Reading is all about meaning. Children need to know about the characters, the setting and the basic plot.
Questions are also great prompts when your child gets “stuck.” Teach them to ask, Does it look right? Did that make sense? Or Does that sound right? Asking questions will always take the reader deeper into the meaning of the story.

You can read the reviews and order your copy of Homegrown Readers on Amazon: 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Why Does She Get to be First? – Easter Afterglow

It begins early in life. We notice someone else is beating us to what we wanted – attention from Mom or Dad, the toy across the room, the first serving of ice cream, first words of praise. It only adds to the sting when the one receiving the attention is the class clown or prodigal child. We suffer the elder brother syndrome, feeling it’s unfair for them to get a party when we’ve been faithful all along.

That’s why, even though there’s no mention of it in the Bible, I wonder how the other believers felt when Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first after His resurrection. She had four counts against her – Mary was a woman, a former prostitute, former host of seven demons, and neither a family member nor a disciple. Out of all those who had followed Him, why did she get to be first? (John 20:1-18)

In the next chapter, Jesus takes Peter aside to reassure him of his position as a disciple, and tells him he will suffer death for His’ sake. Peter notices John following them (the author who calls himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved”), and asks, “What about him?” Even in the midst of this meaningful moment with his risen Savior, Peter still plays the comparison game. And what is John doing? Following, so he can be near the Savior too.

Since God knows this tendency of ours, why did Mary Magdalene get to be the first to see Jesus alive? God doesn’t do things randomly, so I think He had reasons. But the Bible doesn’t explain. Sometimes what God chooses not to tell us, is as meaningful as what He does. Here are four possibilities for you to ponder, which I believe are consistent with Jesus’ character. Jesus might have appeared to Mary first because of her:

1. Gratitude
2. Devotion
3. Need, or as
4. An Example

First of all, Mary was grateful. Imagine being freed from the dominion of seven demons to a life of peace and joy. Of course she was grateful! After He healed her, Mary followed Him. “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out…and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1-3).

Second, Mary was devoted to Jesus. Before His death Mary anointed Him with her own expensive perfume. Mary stayed with Jesus at the cross. All the men, except John, ran in fear. She observed His burial, and went back after the Sabbath with additional spices for His body.

Third, did Mary have a special need to see Jesus first? Was she alone by the tomb in such a state of despair that He rewarded her love by appearing to her first? Did the disciples show her a long unmet need for respect, because she was the first to see their Lord?

Fourth, just as Jesus did in His earthly ministry, He honored Mary as an equal, and set an example for us to follow. In that day, as well as today in places not governed by Judeo-Christian values, women were considered nothing more than property. They could be treated however a man deemed acceptable. Jesus spoke to and treated Mary as a valued disciple and beloved child of God.

Why isn’t any of this mentioned in scripture? Could it be that once the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, it didn’t matter who saw Jesus first? They were empowered; their mission was clear – regardless of their gender, their past, or their social standing. And they took the world by storm.

Maybe that’s the key to effectively reach our world for Christ--to stop focusing on who gets first place, and more about putting Jesus first. After all, the point is that we serve a risen Savior, not who's known Him the longest or has the most effective ministry. Jesus is alive--halleluia!

#Easter #jealousy #comparisongame #thelastshallbefirst #MaryMagdalene

Saturday, April 4, 2015

At the Cross: Just Had to Be There, Easter

Today, we honor the symbol of the cross. People wear t-shirts, earrings, and necklaces with cross designs. They commemorate those killed in war or mark a dangerous curve where they died. It's a recognized symbol of comfort and faith. But it wasn’t always that way.
In Jesus’ day, the cross was the ultimate vehicle of torture and humiliation. Crucifixion was reserved for the vilest criminal or prisoner of war. It was a slow, agonizing death that went on for hours, sometimes days. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to be present at such a gruesome display, yet when Christ was crucified there were four groups who just had to be there.
As you read, see if you are one of them.

The Convicted:
The thieves, who died on either side of Jesus, had to be there because they were guilty. In Luke’s account he says, “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed… they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left” (Luke 23:32-33).

All of us have sinned. We are guilty of breaking God’s laws and hurting our fellow man. Christ died to pay the penalty we deserve. We’re already there and we have a choice to make. Will we choose to accept Jesus’ gift, as one thief did, or will we turn away from Him, like the other? Both had to be there, but only one was forgiven and is in heaven with Jesus (Luke 23:39-43).

Just Doing His Job:
The second individual who had to be at the cross was the centurion. Scripture doesn’t tell us whether he enjoyed watching scores of men die this way, but it was his job, so he did it. However, this time he saw something he had never seen before – God in the flesh.  

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last. The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, ‘Surely this was a righteous man’ ” (Luke 23:44-47). Or as Matthew 27:54 says, “ ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’ ”

Easter can be a lot of work for pastors and Christians involved at church. We might find ourselves “at the cross” just because we have to be there – working, serving, showing up - because it’s what we do. Do we pause to recognize the Son of God?

The Curious:
It’s hard to imagine, but a number of people attended crucifixions for the thrill of it. It was entertainment. They just had to be there to see their enemies suffer, feast their eyes on blood. To compare it to the last one; rate it on a scale of 1-10 of how thoroughly the soldiers did their job, or how stoically the crucified died. To cheer and clap when they cried like babies.

The crowd that gathered that day had the added pleasure of hearing Jesus degraded by the Jewish leaders. “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One’ ” (Luke 23:35). But the show didn’t satisfy as usual. “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away” (verse 48).

We may think our entertainment is much more sophisticated, but we’re not so different. Movies, television shows, video games, books, and music become more violent and explicit every year. And we hunger for more. Even at Easter, we focus on the gory details of Christ’s suffering, but only glance at the victory of His resurrection. Are we there for the show?

The Devoted:
The final group at the cross was there because of love. They didn’t want to see their Master and Lord suffer an excruciating death, but they had to be there, because they couldn’t leave Jesus alone. They were devoted to Him. “All those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23:49).

Are you at the cross because you love Him? You just have to be there because you want to be near Him and share in His suffering? If so, it’s the best place to be, because His story doesn’t end there. The cross conquered sin and death forever. And because of Easter morning, we can live with Him.

If you’re at the cross today, I pray you will bow your knee and call Jesus Lord. It's the best place to be.

Happy Easter!

#whatthecrossmeans #whowasatthecross #crucifixion #thievesatthecross #whydoyoulovethecross

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Come and See - Easter

I’ve heard some people refer to Christianity as a matter of blind faith. I would like to suggest that true believers enter with their eyes wide open. They want to have faith in something that satisfies both their head and heart. They wrestle the assertions of Christ to the ground until  satisfied. Jesus never asked anyone to follow Him in blind faith. His offer has always been to come and see. He calls for you to decide, based on the evidence, whether or not He is who He claimed to be.

His words are not bedtime stories to comfort the weak-minded, but truth that has stood over time. From the first disciples to the present day, true believers are willing to face death rather than deny Jesus is Lord.

Easter fast approaches. Come and see angelic messengers, Jesus’ resurrected body, and personal testimonies of the first to examine the evidence.

Jesus invites seekers for a closer look:
John the Baptist sent his disciples to see Jesus, but Jesus didn’t expect them to follow Him until they’d thought it through. He welcomed their questions and scrutiny. They went to see where He was staying, “‘Come,’ he replied, and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him” (John 1:39). They saw God in the flesh and never left.

Believers invite others:
Once you know Jesus, it’s only natural to bring others. “Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph…Come and see,’ ” (John 1:45-46).

When Jesus was crucified, His disciples were crushed. They thought they’d gotten it wrong; He wasn’t the Son of God after all. He was dead, buried, their hopes destroyed. They huddled in fear of being the next ones to die…until they found angels in His empty tomb.

Angelic proof:
The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you” (Matt. 28:5-7).

After the resurrection, Jesus’ followers no longer hid in fear. They told everybody they met that Jesus is alive. John, the only disciple who stayed at the cross said, “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled ” (John 19:34-36).

Later, John pointed out that they all based their faith not on what they believed, but on what they experienced: "That…which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

Jesus invites a doubter in:
When Thomas refused to believe He was truly alive, Jesus made a special appearance. “He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’ ” (John 20:27).

Some Easter movies depict only the spirit or claim of a risen Lord; they do not show Him in the flesh. But Jesus, knowing they would need hard evidence to hold steady through persecution and doubt, walked and talked, ate with and instructed His followers for forty days before He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-3).

 If we could see Jesus like that and touch Him, our choice would be easy. He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Where’s the proof? In changed lives – from despair to hope. In unexplainable courage in tragedy, torture, and death. In miracles and wonders all over the world. In the fulfillment of biblical prophecies that cannot be explained away.

If you don’t know Jesus, I invite you to come and see if He is the way, the truth, and the life. He promises that those who seek, will find Him. 

#evidenceofresurrection #seeingisbelieving #isJesuswhoheclaimedtobe #prooffordoubters