Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Optical Illusions

If you liked yesterday's tip about using puzzles to engage your learners, you'll enjoy using optical illusions. They're particularly handy for lessons about perspective, world view, convictions, bias, subjectivity, seeing things that aren't there, missing things that are--you get the idea.

To find free downloadable (or copy-paste-able) optical illusions you can try Cool Optical Illusions (when you get there, just click on any illusion listed in the sidebar on the left), The Optical Illusion Archive, Optillusion, or Eye Tricks.

I find the "Cool Optical Illusions" site easiest to navigate, but I've used illusions from the other sites, too.

Fair warning: in addition to illustions, these sites contain crass humor links, magic links, and tons of advertising, most of which I would not endorse. If you stick to the illusions, you'll be fine.



Monday, May 30, 2005

Puzzles: They Work for Grown-Ups, Too!

I'm always on the look-out for creative ways to engage my adult students. Puzzles, believe it or not, are one way I've found to foster fun, thinking, and discussion in my adult Bible study classes.

I've used brainteasers, optical illusions, word art, and jigsaw puzzles for group projects and discussion starters (much to my students groaning delight). :o)

I used to spend hours putting these things together or hunting for them on-line. Now I've found a great tool for creating these things in a snap.

Sponsored by the Discovery Channel's DiscoverySchool.com, the site is called Puzzle Maker, and it allows you to create (in almost an instant) several different types of puzzles on any subject.

These services are free and printable for your teaching/leading use.

I suspect I'll return to this site often!


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Spurgeon Archive

Here's another great resource, especially for you Charles Haddon Spurgeon fans:

The Spurgeon Archive

Quotes, writings, The Treasury of David (his commentary on the Psalms), sermons (indexed by chronology, title, or Bible passage), devotionals, and other helps, this all-things-Spurgeon site contains just about anything you want to read by this classic author. And is completely searchable.


'Til next time,

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Blue Letter Bible - Check it Out!

If you're looking for free, solid, on-line learning opportunities, check out the Blue Letter Bible Institute (BLBI). Their introduction is self-explanatory and worth reading. You also can find a general "about" section on the BLBI here.

Home of the Blue Letter Bible, a superb on-line Bible study tool (searchable Bible, concordance, articles, maps, images, commentaries, audio teaching, other Bible tools), the Blue Letter Bible Institute provides FREE courses on basic Bible doctrine. As of this writing, the courses available to take free on-line (for grade or audit) are these:

God's Sufficiency for Godly Living
Growing in the Grace of God
An Exposition of Matthew
Bible Survey 1 (Genesis to Song of Solomon)
Bible Survey 2 (Isaiah to Malachi)

There is no time limit within which you must complete the course work (it's entirely self-paced) and you can take as many classes at a time as you wish. Course materials are free and downloadable as PDF or MP3 files.

The BLBI faculty is solid (from the little I know about them). The BLBI's statement of faith is true to historic Christianity.

Summer may be a great time to take a course if you've been thinking about brushing up on your theology, doctrine, or exposition.

I'm taking the two survey courses in preparation for teaching next year. So far, they're very good.

The BLBI seems almost too good to be true, but it's not. For FAQs, click here.


'Til next time,

Monday, May 23, 2005

Bible Study Helps

Here's another 0n-line resource that provides a ton of links for Bible Study Helps. Provided by Ark Web Ministries, the resources listed seem solid, but use your judgment. Rather than duplicate their list here, just click on link in the first sentence of this paragraph and it will take you to sources for on-line Bibles, commentaries, apologetics, Q&A, study aids, and downloadable Bible software.


'Til next time,

Friday, May 20, 2005

Bible Verses for Teachers

For those of you writing thank-you notes to teachers, here are a few passages from Scripture that might encourage those who teach (at least they've encouraged me over the years). Feel free to use these in cards or notes as you pray for or encourage your teachers!

Psalm 1:2-3 (NIV)
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

Psalm 37:31 (NIV)
The law of his God is in his heart;
his feet do not slip.

Jeremiah 17:8 (NIV)
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit."

Matthew 25:21 (NIV)
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV)
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Ephesians 1:16 (NIV)
I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, [18] may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, [19] and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

1 Thessalonians 1:2 (NIV)
We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.

1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV)
The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.

1 Timothy 4:11 (NIV)
Command and teach these things.

2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV)
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.

3 John 1:3 (NIV)
It gave me great joy to have some brothers come and tell about your faithfulness to the truth and how you continue to walk in the truth.

Whatever you end up saying (or writing), you can be certain your teachers will appreciate your affirmation, perhaps in ways you can't even begin to imagine. Thanks for taking the time to offer a pat on the back and a humble "thank you" to those who teach!

Blessings to you,

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Tools for the Teacher's Soul

If your Bible study classes or groups break for the summer, now is a good time to be thinking about your personal devleopment as a teacher or leader. Summer breaks provide a great opportunity to foster your own growth and development apart from preparing for next fall.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what you might work on over the summer. I've used most of these in trainings with Bible study teachers or have used them for my own study and can recommend them all. I've grouped these suggested resources by type or subject area. Enjoy!





I suspect that's enough to get you started. In later posts I'll list resources for doctrinal development, personal devotions, and other topics of interest.

I hope you'll take time this summer to allow God to renew your soul and to increase your knowledge and understanding.

'Til next time,


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Rhythms of Life

Os Guiness, in his book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, encourages the reader to follow Jesus' model of living out the faith in a secular world. He states,

"For Jesus, spirituality is plainly not a life of contemplation divorced from a life of action. There is nothing in Jesus' life of either the super-spiritual...or the the all-too-secular.... There is only a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal, work and rest, dispensing and recharging, crowds and solitude, in the midst of one of the shortest, busiest public lives ever lived."

As leaders, if we're to stay refreshed, recharged, and relevent, we would do well to listen to Guiness and follow Jesus' example. And this year, I plan to model his rhythms of engagement and withdrawel; work and rest. I will allow for rhythms of life.

As I write this, our Bible studies have come to the end of our academic year. I no longer have to teach weekly. This summer, instead of filling my time off full of travel, additional work deadlines, and vacations-from-which-I-need-a-vacation-upon-my-return, I'm planning for rest. Real rest (not just escapist recreation).

My soul needs a cycle of rest just about now. I can sense my weariness. I need to withdraw from engagement for a time so God can restore my soul.

And so I will. I'll do what Jesus did in Mark 6:45-47; I'll dismiss the crowds, I'll pause from my ministry, and make time for solitude.

How about you? In what part of the life rhythm do you find yourself these days. Don't forget about cycles of rest. Jesus needed them; we do, too.

'Til next time,

Friday, May 13, 2005

Away Again

I'm away speaking this weekend, so I won't be able to post until Monday, May 16th.

In the meantime, enjoy the weekend, stay faithful, and rest in God's mercies. :o)

Blessings to you all,

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Ideas for Expressing Appreciation

In yesterday's post, I challenged us all to say "thanks" to those who have supported our ministries this year (in any capacity).

Lest you feel overwhelmed, here's a list of ideas that offers various levels of "thanks": some cost no money and taking only a moment of time, and others require a bit more investment. Enjoy!

Money-Free Ways to Say "Thanks" (these only cost time and things you have):
  • Make a phone call whose sole purpose it is to say thank you (no other agenda allowed).
  • Make a public statement of thanks (in front of class, group, or congregation).
  • Write a thank-you note and hand-deliver it.
  • Make a small bouquet from cuttings from your garden or yard (Iris and Lilac blooms are plentiful this time of year), then give the bouquet as an appreciation gift.
  • Bake cookies and place two or three in a Baggie tied with ribbon (one batch makes lots of thank-yous).
  • Bake mini-loaves of bread and give them as appreciation gifts.
  • Roast your own coffee beans and give small bags of them away as thank-you gifts.
  • Write out Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 on stationary or an index card, then give it to the person and commit to praying Paul's prayer for him over the summer.
  • Write a poem about the person for whom you're thankful, then give it to her.
  • Using your computer, create a personalized appreciation bookmark (using Publisher, Print Shop, or Adobe, for example) for those you want to thank, print them, laminate them (if you have a limanator), and give them to those who've helped you.
  • Create a list: The Five Things I Most Appreciate About You and Why. Give it to the person about whom you've created the list.
  • Offer to do a service for someone you want to thank (babysit, cut the grass, weed their garden).

Ways to Say Thanks that Cost a Bit More:

  • Give gift certificates to local restaurants or bookstores.
  • Give gift certificates to CBD (Christian Book Distributors).
  • Host an appreciation day recognizing all helping hands.
  • Put on a "thank-you" brunch.
  • Treat your whole team to a catered lunch (or even take-out).
  • Treat them to a one-on-one-with-you thank-you lunch at a restaurant.
  • Give chocolate, coffee, or tea as gifts.
  • Order a gift basket, fruit basket, or treat tower from your local florist (great for church staffs to share).
  • Give mugs with appropriate messages printed on them.
  • Give a personalized gift (monogramed or inscribed).
  • Create personalized appreciation certificates (using pre-printed certificate paper).
  • Give a token appreciation gift: pens, journals, medals, gift Bibles, Bible-study helps, single-stem flowers, potted plants, stress balls, bookmarks, picture frames, trophies, paper weights, framed prints, Scripture Keepers.

There are countless ways to say thank you. The point isn't how much we spend or how big a gift we give; the point is simply to communicate our appreciation.

This year I gave each woman on my class leadership team a box containing two books marks and a few pieces of chocolate nicely dressed up in tissue paper. With each gift I included a personalized note from me expressing what I valued about that person. The total cost for these four appreciation gifts was less than $5 (for all four total) and little bit of my time. And my leaders know I'm grateful for them.

Next week I'll give my program teachers different appreciation gifts, just to say thanks for their faithfulness in teaching this year. And each will receive a personal note from me with their gift.

The personal touch counts.

So, yes, indeed, express your thanks, but include a personal touch no matter what you choose to do. It will mean more to those receiving your appreciation.

'Til next time,


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Remember to Say "Thank You"

It's May now, and many of us are or will be wrapping up our classes or studies for this semester. I'm not sure why, but in American culture we tend to take the summer off from Bible studies and small groups.

Before you dismiss for the next few months, remember to express your appreciation for those who have supported you or from whom you've received any kind of assistance this year. That could be those who:

provided the home or room in which you met
made home-made goodies for refreshments
brought store-bought munchies to nibble on
offered suggestions for next year's improvements
made coffee
set up the room
participated in classes or meetings
reached out to someone in your class or group
prayed for you, your attendees, or your ministry
cleaned up after your meetings
provided transportation
watched children so that others could attend
loaned you study helps or resources to aid in your preparation
gave you counsel
spoke a kind word
ran copies of handouts for you
shared your teaching/leading load
encouraged you in any way

Certainly there are other roles for which we can give thanks, but you get the idea.

Expressed thanks goes a long way toward encouraging others; it helps those you are thanking to feel valued and to feel like needed members of the body of Christ.

Won't you take time to thank someone before you dismiss for the coming summer season? It will be good for them, and for your heart, too!

'Til next time,

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Problem of Buffet Theology

The following is an observation I made nearly three years ago in a newsletter I used to put together for the ladies who teach in our Bible study program (about 15 in all).

Sadly, these observations are still true, and they've become even more pervasive today than what I saw then. Read, enjoy, but be challenged. I know I am, and will be, as I seek to know the God of the Scriptures.

At a recent Christian conference, I was making my way through the dinner buffet line when I overheard two women discussing their views of God.

“I can believe that God is loving and that He is in control,” said the first, “but I really don’t think He’s ever the source of suffering in our lives. I mean, what about all those passages that say His plans are only good?”

The second woman thought for a moment and replied, “God doesn’t make people suffer. Suffering is always caused by sin, but then God uses it for good….”

Sounds nice, doesn't it?

Actually, the view these women held may sound appealing, and it contains an element of truth, but it’s not accurate or complete.

Scripture makes it clear that God brings both blessing and calamity (Lamentations 3:37-38), that He sometimes wills suffering for our lives (1 Peter 3:17), that He disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6), and that both good things and trouble come from Him (Job 1:10). Yes, they were correct in part: God is loving, suffering can come from sin, and God uses suffering, but biblically He can also be the cause of suffering.


I couldn’t help but think how these two women had a theology of God much like the buffet we partook of together. “I’ll take a little of God’s grace, and a helping of His love, but I’ll pass on His anger.” “Oh, yes, I’d love a heaping portion of His mercy, but ‘no thanks’ to His justice or wrath.”

The problem with a cafeteria-style theology of God is that we ultimately end up with a God of our own making, not the true God of the Bible as He has revealed Himself in His word.

Is your God manageable? Does He fit into a nice, tidy theological box? Is He comfortable? Then (forgive my boldness), I would submit that you don’t really know the true God of the Scriptures. That God is never “manageable.” His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9). He is unsearchable (Romans 11:33). Some of His closest followers, when seeing Him face-to-face, fell prostrate before Him in holy fear (Revelation 1:17).

Tidy? Manageable? Comfortable? Hardly!

As teachers, it’s vital that we endeavor to have a biblical understanding of God, and that we communicate as accurate a depiction of His character as possible (knowing that we will fall short). We won’t always understand Him and we won’t always be able to reconcile His ways. This is a good thing. That means that God is a God too big for us to fully grasp (He is God), and that should lead to worship and wonder.

This God, however, has also said that He can be known (John 10:14). Let’s pursue knowing Him as He truly is, and not how we’d prefer Him to be.

‘Til next time,
Joan :o)

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Prayer and Teaching

Today is our National Day of Prayer (in the United States).

In honor of this annual call to petition, I ask this question:

How dependent are we on God for our ministries?

In other words, do we invite God into our lesson preparation? Do we depend on His wisdom and guidance? Do we rely on Him to work in our students? Do we rest in the fact that outcomes belong to Him--they are not in our hands?

Take time today to thank God for the gifts, talents, and abilities He's given you. Thank Him for your health, your mind, your ability to read and write, your training (these, too, ultimately came from His hand), and your ability to understand His word.

Invite Him to work in the hearts and lives of your students or group members. Ask Him to grant you the wisdom, humility,love, and knowledge you need to be an effective vessel. Ask him for strength and perseverence. Ask Him to reveal more of Himself to you and to increase your passion for Him.

And then, if you're brave enough, ask Him to make you more reliant on Him (a dangerous prayer).

He will.

And when He does, let me know how it works out.

'Til next time,

Monday, May 02, 2005

Where to Find Resources

As teachers or leaders, we're always on the prowl for new studies or helpful books or fresh insights on topics we're preparing to teach. Retail prices sometimes make these resources cost prohibitive.

The following is a list of web sites where you can find discounted resources or resources for free that might aid you in your teaching, lesson prep, or resource building.

DISCLAIMER: Though I've found these sites reliable and helpful, I can't guarantee their content or products. You'll need to do some investigation on your own.


Christian Book Distributors (an on-line Christian book & other resources discounter)

Christian Book Clearinghouse (another on-line Christian book & other resources discounter)

Parable.com (another on-line Christian book & other resources discounter)

Christian Classics Ethereal Library (full text book resources, downloadable, searchable, and free)

123 Christian (an on-line Christian product superstore)

If you want to shop several stores at once and compare prices, try using the Discount Christian Stores and Christian Catalogs section of Access-Jesus.Com, an on-line hub for Christian resources.

These should keep you busy for now! I'll post more in future updates.

'Til next time,