Sunday School Lessons

Frequently Asked Questions

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1. May I copy your art for my class?

This is one of many gray areas on the web. Most of my art comes from clip art books (they are listed in the reference section.)

You will find the best quality if you buy the books and copy the art yourself. Web art has a very low resolution, and it shows when you try to copy it.

But as long as you use it for not-for-profit purposes (for your individual classes), you may be all right.

You are welcome to copy anything I write for your classes.

2. I am 80 years old and am the youngest person in the Sunday School Class. We use a prepared lesson book and all we do is read it in class; I don't like that very much and would like to know how to make it better.

As we grow older, we seem to become more interested in the text itself than in the commentary on it.

Gently nudge your class toward looking at the text on its own - in different translations and voices. Try using the African Bible study , and maybe even write some text-based discussion questions.

With children, art and music add major dimensions to the lesson. These may or may not work with an older class.

But you could put up a vibrant bulletin board based on the text, even if others in the class don't want to help. They definitely will see it and talk about it.

Change rooms - or at least turn the table sideways. That will break some of the frozen patterns.

And some commentaries are better than others. My adult class really enjoyed the Inspire and Friendship Series from Augsburg Fortress - they are still talking about Jeremiah five years later.

3. What is "the communion of saints" in the Apostles' Creed?

The communion of saints is all people who believe in Christ crucified and risen from the dead, regardless of denomination or practice. It is our expression of the belief that God wants us to worship, pray, and receive Holy Communion with other believers, instead of just by ourselves.

4. Is it appropriate to bake our own bread for communion?

Yes, by all means. In Jesus' time, almost all bread was homemade.

5. Who named God "God?"

God named himself Yahweh (spelled YHWH in classical Hebrew, which doesn't write the vowels) (Exodus 3: 13 - 16) when Moses asked him his name. It means, "I am who I am," or to some Hebrew scholars, "I am who I shall have become." In English, it is the word, Jehovah. Many peoples use a word in their native languages for God - most northern Europeans use some form of the word, God (Lord is also a northern European word), the French use Dieu, and speakers of Arabic, both Christian and Muslim, use Allah.

6. We have people who are developmentally disabled or who have closed head injuries in our class. What is the best way to involve them in our study of God's word?

People who are always identified as being "different" often enjoy the opportunity of being "the same" as everyone else. Work with them to learn some of the basics that are repeated every week in worship, like the Lord's Prayer, and help them to learn to sing parts of the liturgy like "Lamb of God" or "Now the Feast and Celebration." We ask everyone to participate in worship to the full extent of his or her abilities. Stretching those abilities to feel like full members of the congregation can be a wonderful experience.

7. A friend of a girl in my sixth grade class says she does not believe in God. What can my student tell her?

What's important isn't whether the girl believes in God.

What is truly important is that God believes in her.

He has given her a beautiful planet to live on, senses to appreciate what's around her (what if we could only see a black-and-white world?), and the intelligence to explore the world around her. She has been given the desire to see the changes of days, seasons, and weather - and your class can add lots more.

Whenever and however she is ready to come to faith, God is waiting for her with open arms - no recriminations or punishments, just overwhelming welcome.

What an awesome God! He is so glorious and so majestic that it must be all about him, instead of about us.

Yet he knows each one of us by name, and gave his only son to die for each of us so that we might each know him personally.

And he likes to hear us sing his praises.

Your class can pray for her - and maybe they can invite her to some event where you show special appreciation for all that God has done for us.

8. Is it appropriate to put religious lyrics to rap or popular music?

Actually this is one of our oldest traditions - Martin Luther wrote Christian lyrics to drinking songs and brought the organ from the beer
hall into the church.

And the earliest Northern European hymns were added words to the long, multisyllabic Amens, so the monks could remember the notes.

The kids love singing "Be Present at Our Table Lord" to the Addams Family theme song - and with a little bravery, you can sing it to "Up on the Housetop," too.

You do have to be careful of copyright for music that is not in the public domain.

9. My junior and senior high classes either spend all their time goofing off or sitting still in stony silence. What can I do to reinvolve them?

Goofing off has its place - older Christians call it fellowship - but, you're right, it's not enough.

People of this age seem to have a special aptitude and desire for service projects.

Ground yourselves in a Bible study of the early church - there are lots of details in the Book of Acts - and Ephesians also provides a good start. Then walk your immediate neighborhood looking for places in the neighborhood that are in need of prayer. Add prayer for those places to your Bible study, and a service project of depth and value should become obvious.

10. My congregation allows us to use only the King James Version of the Bible. How can I help the children to understand the language?

The King James Version is a beautiful translation of the Bible, but our spoken and written English has changed dramatically since that translation was made in the 16th century.

Find a good, historical English grammar to help you understand the verb forms - forms that use identical words in contemporary English were quite different for the Elizabethans.

And find a strong, historical dictionary: the meanings of many English words have changed significantly since then. For example, at that time there were no English names for the animals and plants of Palestine, and the translators did the best they could to translate them into Northern European words.

In the story of Abraham, you will find yogurt translated as curds and whey (cottage cheese). No one in England had ever seen or eaten yogurt at that time, so the translators came as close as they could.

Nothing prevents you from reading another translation at home (I recommend the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, or the Contemporary English Version) in order to get another perspective on what the translators were trying to achieve.

The American Bible Society has published the Contemporary English Version as The Learning Bible (also available on CD-ROM, which makes searching for words a pleasure). The helps are thorough, detailed and accessible. The Learning Bible is available through Augsburg Fortress.

And rejoice that your students will do extremely well in their English classes when they study Shakespeare.

11. Where can I find the Joseph and Mary Blues?

The tape or CD is called Mary Christmas. The artist is Mary Rice Hopkins, and the label is Big Steps 4 U. Many Christian bookstores stock it, but you can also call (818) 790-5605 or write Big Steps 4 U at P.O. Box 362, Montrose, CA 91021.

12.What was the situation in Palestine around the time of Jesus' birth?

At the time of Jesus' birth, all of Palestine was held under Roman occupation. (Rome at that time was a city-state with enormous influence and power.)

Herod the Great was the Roman representative who ruled all of Palestine.

In many ways, times were good. People were working and making money - therefore there were plenty of taxes for the Romans to collect. Much of the tax money stayed in Palestine - the Romans used it to build the new city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, villas and summer palaces for Roman dignitaries, and Herod (who had a Jewish mother) rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been in ruins since the Babylonian captivity and exile.

Travel seemed to be easy and safe in the context of the times, and many Jews received hellenized Roman educations: the Romans hired or enslaved Greek teachers to teach their children in Greek, and those educations were available to Jewish boys in Palestine.

Though the Roman emperor was officially a god, Jewish religious belief and practice were accepted; the Jewish court of elders, the Sanhedrin, met to decide on matters of religion and family, although the criminal courts were Roman.

Things were just good enough to make the Jews restless. If Herod was going to rebuild their Temple with their tax money, why couldn't they do it themselves? If they could hold court on the most serious of matters, religious practice and belief, why couldn't they administer the criminal courts?

The Zealots led the fight for Jewish autonomy, but all Jews were saddened at the thought that they had returned from captivity in Babylon only to be Roman subjects in their own land.

13. Where do the ashes for Ash Wednesday come from?

The pastor saves the palm branches from Palm Sunday, and after they are dried, burns them and saves the ashes. (Or he may order them from a company that does the same thing.)

14. Why don't some people eat meat on Friday?

The early Christians, like the Jews, believed that prayer, fasting (going without eating for a period of time), study, kindness, and good deeds went hand in hand. They often spent entire days in prayer and fasting.

In the Middle Ages, working people couldn't take whole days away from work, so they observed modified fasts (for example, going without meat or some favorite food) to remind themselves of Jesus' death on Good Friday.

Many, but not all, Christians observe some forms of modified fasts today, but please remember that fasting is not an end in itself; its value comes from the prayer and study and kindness that go with it.

15. Why is Lent forty days long?

In the very early church, adult baptisms were most frequently performed at Easter vigil or on Easter morning. Following Jesus' example of forty days of prayer and fasting in the wilderness after his own baptism, early Christians spent forty days in prayer, fasting, and study as preparation for their own baptisms.

Then the early Christians realized that forty days of prayer, fasting, and study were a good idea for everyone in order to remember his or her own baptism at Easter, as well as celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, which is what Christianity is all about.

The forty days are also the length of time that Moses spent in prayer and fasting on the mountain top when he received the Ten Commandments and the length of time Elijah spent in meditation after hearing God's call. The Israelites also spent forty years wandering in the wilderness.

And as we remember our baptisms, we remember the forty days and nights of the Great Flood in Noah's time, when God promised he would never destroy the world in that way again.

16. I keep getting old information - have you updated your site?

Yes, I update constantly; you may need to clear your web cache. On your browser page, go to Options, choose Network Preferences, then Cache. Clear both caches - the Memory Cache and the Disk Cache. When it asks if you are sure you want to clear your cache, answer Yes both times. You may even need to do this more than once, but once both caches are clear, you will receive current data.

17. I am a Sunday school teacher in a small congregation with a very small budget. Where can I find additional resources?

Ask everyone and everywhere you can.

If you belong to one of the mainline denominations, ask your pastor to remind your congregation that we have lost a generation and a half of members - if we lose the current generation, we have no future. Ask your pastor and council to reconsider the allocation of resources.

Ask for help at the synod, diocese, or conference level. My bishop (Southwestern California, ELCA) is teaching a series of workshops for Sunday school teachers.

If you are an Episcopalian, please explore the training in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The training is expensive, but the bishops of several dioceses are paying for it, rather than asking the congregations to bear the burden. Other denominations are also welcome at the training, which leads you to teach Sunday school as though it were Montessori school.

Network with other congregations in your conference or community. Larger, wealthier congregations (even of other denominations) may have resources they are willing to share with you, from surplus materials from last year (the Bible doesn't change much from year to year) to sponsoring of joint field trips.

If you are a Lutheran, Thrivent will often sponsor buses for field trips: ask your local chapter. Thrivent gives matching funds for certain fund raisers and special projects, and your Thrivent representative will supply calendars, maps, and coloring books.

Most of all, rejoice in your call. You have responded graciously to a mission which is surely pleasing in the eyes of God.

18. Sometimes I am so angry at God. Is it okay to be mad at him?

God is big enough and tough enough to handle all of our anger and all of our pain.

But even though he always knows how we feel whenever we are angry or sad or hurt, he always wants to hear from us in our own words, through prayer. Sometimes it is easier to write down our feelings in letters or a journal addressed to God, instead of praying out loud. God is fine with that, too.

Most of all, he wants to hear directly from us all of the time about everything bad or good that is happening in our lives. He always listens, no matter what.

The story of Jonah shows how God turns our anger at him into praise.


19. Why do we know the disciple Thomas only by nicknames?

We have two names for Thomas: Thomas, which means twin in Aramaic, and Didymus, which means twin in Greek. Peter also had two nicknames, Cephas which means rock in Aramaic, and Peter, which means rock in Greek.

The disciples were much more interested in the story of Jesus than in the story of their own lives, and they may not have realized that their own stories would echo any farther than to people who already knew them: they were ordinary people who lived everyday lives, and none of them seemed to consider the possibility that we would want to know more about them 2,000 years after they lived.

We know very little about Thomas. He is listed most often with Philip, Bartholomew, and Matthew, but after Jesus' death he returned with Peter and the fishermen to Tiberias when the others did not.

He was quick to ask hard questions, and quick to action - our evidence that he may have been called the twin of Jesus is that in John 11:16 he may be suggesting that he serve as a decoy to keep Jesus safe.

20. Did the disciples' hair catch on fire on Pentecost?

When the disciples were gathered together to celebrated the Feast of the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit entered the room like a powerful wind, and tongues as of fire descended on the disciples' heads.

But the wind didn't destroy the room like a tornado or a hurricane, and the disciples' hair did not catch on fire.

21. Why do we eat the cracker?

The cracker is properly called a communion wafer, or the host. We eat the wafer and drink the wine because Jesus told us to, and because receiving the sacraments is a way of welcoming the presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives and bodies.

Eating the wafer and drinking the wine are a hands-on way of receiving grace from God.

[See The Sacrament of Holy Communion]

22. Why do I need to go to church? Why isn't it enough if I live a good life and pray to God at home?

God seems to like to hear his praises sung in groups, rather than individually - that's what many of the Psalms are about: sing His praise with shouts of thanksgiving.

We also receive the blood and body of Christ through the sacraments at worship. Your pastor will gladly take the sacraments to people who are ill or shut-in, but if we are able, God seems to like to see us sharing the sacraments with a group of believers.

And when we gather in community, we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to enter into our lives.

23. Why are the words so hard?

Some of the most difficult readings at worship are the most beautiful. We don't want to lose the poetry of worship, and we need to worship God in the most beautiful way we can. We always remember that He is the creator of all beauty and that all beauty comes from Him.

But we always keep looking for simpler translations so that everyone can understand God's word.

24. How do we support the work of the Lord through giving?

Since the earliest times of the Old Testament, God has asked us to show his thanks by returning a portion of everything he has given us.

The first believers returned ten percent (the first fruits) of the harvest - wheat, olives, grapes. As each crop was harvested, believers always gave the first and best of whatever God had provided. (Exodus 23: 19)

In the time of Jesus, many believers lived in a cash economy, again always giving the first ten percent of what God had given them.

Jesus always wanted people to show their thankfulness for the goodness of God (Mark 12: 41 - 44, Luke 21: 1 - 4).

Christians were the very first people to include slaves in full fellowship at worship. Since slaves owned nothing of their own, they could not participate in giving, but some wealthy Christians gave everything they had to the poor and needy.

In modern giving, we also give the first and best. Some gifts are given directly to the congregation proper - like altar flowers - and are not counted in the church's statement of giving. Many congregations give "time and talents" (maintaining the building itself, teaching Sunday school, auditing the church's finances) - recommending four hours per week without any sort of recompense - in addition to cash giving.

All gifts are given from the heart with deep thankfulness for the goodness of God. (First Chronicles 16: 8 - 9)

25. Who were the wise men?

In the book of Daniel, "wise men" were people who could read books, a rarely held skill in that time and place.

Only the book of Matthew tells the story of the of the wise men and Herod. We know that there were three or more wise men because of the verb forms, but the names of the wise men and their stories weren't added until the sixth century, so they probably aren't accurate.

Many people in modern times cannot see the night sky because of light pollution, so we don't know the beauty of the desert night that the people of Bethlehem took for granted.

But the desert peoples were very aware of changes in the sky, using the stars and planets to plan their journeys.

If you can't see the complete night sky, try to arrange a field trip for your class to an observatory or planetarium.

26. What does it mean to be justified through faith in Jesus Christ?

All of Jesus' twelve disciples were Jewish, but many of the early followers of The Way were not, so the earliest Christians looked for ways to express their beliefs in God that would be clear to everyone in the world without including dietary and familial laws that applied only to Jewish belief and practice.

Faith is the cornerstone of our relationship with God.

In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul (Psalm 32: 1 - 2) says that our living in right relationship with God saves us from living sinful lives, regardless of to whom or where we are born.

"Abram believed in the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15: 6)" before he was circumcised and before God renamed him Abraham. So we believe that faith in God came first before anything else.

Justification by faith means that Christians can never earn God's love or forgiveness. All that Christians must do is to accept God as God, and God will love and forgive and cherish them.

27. What is sin?

Sin is anything that separates us from God, that leads us toward taking a wrong path, toward missing the mark, toward losing the point.

Sin leads us into hurting other people or ourselves or into damaging our beautiful planet.

28. How do we teach The Apostle's Creed in Vacation Bible School?

No human wisdom can understand the Creed; it must be taught by the Holy Spirit alone - Martin Luther

Teaching the abstract thought of the Apostle's Creed is a real challenge, but teaching the children the Creed is a great joy. We teach the Creed in Confirmation Instruction (Confirmation Instruction Overview), and the three lessons on the Creed may give you some signposts.

To teach the Creed in Vacation Bible School (which I do in a program which is months or years long) I would emphasize field trips and service projects.

A field trip to people who believe in the One God, but who express their beliefs differently (especially those who who speak a different language) can be a real eye opener.

Service projects can broaden our belief into action. When asked what he would do if he knew for certain that he would die the next day, Martin Luther answered, "Plant a tree." If you're in the right season for planting, find a plant that will live a long time, as the kids begin to think about Eternity.

Walking the labyrinth is a good way for the kids to enter into long prayer. Some people can only pray when they are standing still, but experiencing prayer just once in the labyrinth can be good for everybody. See if you can find one nearby.

Put up some bulletin boards from the Art Index.

And sing songs about the Holy Spirit.

29. How can I home school the Catechism?

Martin Luther wrote the Catechism for parents to teach their children at home, and I have parents who home school catechism, so I know it can be done.

I wrote a whole section on Confirmation Instruction, clicking on the HomePage, beginning with a Headnote to Parents and Teachers. I hope that will help you get started. Children don't memorize any more, the way we once did, but I still think it's a good idea.

Try to include some of the fields trips - you can ask some of your non-Lutheran friends to come with you.

Confirmation Instruction is my favorite subject to teach - the kids have lots and lots of questions and it's fun to watch their minds open up.

30. When did Adam receive his name?

Adam simply meant "man" when God first spoke to him, so Adam may have used his own word for himself (self-identification), never taking an original human name.

In the second chapter of Genesis, Adam moved quickly to name Eve and to name all the other animals. But God continued to call Adam "the man," as the stories about him continued.

31. How do we know that God hears our prayers?
How do I know if what I prayed for is God’s plan for me?

We take everything to God in prayer, from the smallest parts of daily life to our greatest worries and concerns.

The prayers God seems to like best are our praising Him, worshipping Him, and thanking Him. The songwrwiter Michael Neale asks, "Shape my life to bring You praise and glory." One way that we know God shapes our lives is that He gently nudges us in the ways He would have us go.

In the third Petition of the Lord's Prayer, we pray "Thy will be done," and we believe "The good and gracious will of God is surely done without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may be done also among us."

We say in Petition 4 of the Lord's Prayer that God gives daily bread, even without our prayer, to all people, though sinful,

We follow God's plan by answering his call, which leads us to worship and service.



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