The Empty Tomb
Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a third-grade Sunday School class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences, according to an article in leadership magazine. But because of a creative teacher, they began to care about Philip and accept him as part of the group, though not fully.
The Sunday after Easter the teacher brought L’eggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life, and put it in the egg-like container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one in surprise fashion. After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them one by one. After each one, whether a flower, butterfly, or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh.
Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside. The children exclaimed, That’s stupid. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.”
Philip spoke up, “That’s mine.”
“Philip, you don’t ever do things right!” the student retorted. “There’s nothing there!”
“I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!”
Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. He died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral this class of eight-year-olds marched up to the altar not with flowers, but with their Sunday school teacher, each to lay on it an empty pantyhose egg. (…source not known)
“And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6)
Here’s a special story (with some editing) I think all of us need to hear again as we approach Passion Week and Easter. Let’s never forget the great price Jesus paid for our glorious freedom!
There once was a man named George Thomas, pastor in a small New England town. One Sunday morning he came to the Church carrying a rusty, bent, old bird cage, and set it by the pulpit.
“I was walking through town yesterday when I saw someone coming toward me swinging this bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were three little wild birds, shivering with cold and fright.
I stopped and asked, “What do you have there?”
“Just some old birds,” came the reply.
“What are you going to do with them?” I asked.
“Take ’em home and have fun with ’em,” he answered. “I’m gonna tease ’em and pull out their feathers to make ’em fight. I’m gonna have a real good time.”
“But you’ll get tired of those birds sooner or later. What will you do then?”
“Oh, I got some cats. They like birds. I’ll take ’em to them.”
The pastor was silent for a moment. “How much do you want for those birds?”
“Huh?? !!! Why, you don’t want them birds, mister. They’re just plain old field birds. They don’t sing. They ain’t even pretty!”
“How much?” the pastor asked again.
The villain sized up the pastor as if he were crazy and said, “$10?”
The pastor reached in his pocket and took out a ten dollar bill. He placed it in the villain’s hand. In a flash, he was gone. The pastor picked up the cage and gently carried it to the end of the alley where there was a tree and a grassy spot. Setting the cage down, he opened the door, and by softly tapping the bars persuaded the birds out, setting them free.
Well, that explained the empty bird cage on the pulpit, and then the pastor began to tell this story:
One day Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. Satan had just come from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting. “Yes, sir, I just caught a world full of people down there. Set me a trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist. Got ’em all!”
“What are you going to do with them?” Jesus asked.
Satan replied, “Oh, I’m gonna have fun! I’m gonna teach them how to marry and divorce each other, how to hate and abuse each other, how to drink and smoke and curse, and fight and even kill each other. I’m really gonna have fun!”
“And what will you do when you are done with them?”Jesus asked.
“Oh, I’ll kill ’em,” Satan glared proudly.
“How much do you want for them?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, you don’t want those people. They ain’t no good. Why, you’ll take them and they’ll just hate you. They’ll spit on you, curse you and kill you. You don’t want those people!!”
“How much? He asked again.
Satan looked at Jesus and sneered, “All your blood, tears and your life.”
Jesus said, “DONE!” Then He paid the price.
The pastor picked up the cage and walked from the pulpit.
Think about it…Jesus shed his blood at Calvary to open the cage of our doubt and unbelief, and we are now free to “go and sin no more.” If Jesus loves us that much, should we (and can we) “love him because he first loved us”? Yes, by God’s mercy and grace! It’s a choice we are now free to make!
“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
NEVER GIVE UP!
Many years ago on “LinkedIn” I shared a weekly dialog with several teachers and educators relating to the importance of creating a caring school environment. The following is the response of one of the teachers and then my response to her:
“I completely agree that building a caring environment is crucial for student success. However, a teacher who emphasizes and creates a caring environment with his/her students may still have students who refuse to comply. My students come from broken homes and a hostile environment. Some of my students have trust issues and have difficulty accepting kindness from other people. I need to continue to have a strong focus on building a strong community, but at times it can be difficult because they have so much anger and aggression towards others. I would love to hear suggestions on how to continue to embrace my students and let them know how much I truly care about them.”
My response to the teacher (slightly edited):
It is very difficult but please don’t ever, ever give up; let apparent failure only drive you to try harder and smarter to reach the hearts of those children who need your caring spirit more than they need anything else. Quite a bit of my work has been in inter-city schools, and I know the frustration you feel for I have felt it many times. It has been suggested that children of low self-esteem are compelled to act out in their behavior what they see themselves to be as a person. They will never change until someone penetrates the ugly shell of their behavior and touches the heart of the real person behind the behavior. Don’t accept the low opinion some children have of themselves; let them know you believe in them and in their potential of making this world a better world, and keep teaching it until they come to believe it. We must come up with a plan to reach these children and then consistently work our plan, and that’s why I share what worked for me in the book, “The Power of Caring for Elementary Schools.” Here’s a powerful statement I often make on how to change children, and I believe it is true: “Children are not what they think they are; children are not what we think they are; but usually, children will become what they think we think they are.” I wish you well!
Now friends…the only one who can change the heart of anyone is Jesus, but we know God often works through people to change people including children; and I believe what happens in a wise and caring teacher’s classroom may be applicable to living a Christian life. Do you sometimes feel like giving up because of overwhelming circumstances? Instead of giving up or almost giving up, we must trust God who loves us more than we can know and boldly declare as Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Remember, God never gives up on us; and when we love and care for others God is in the middle of it all!
WILLPOWER or lots and lots of cookies?
Here’s a classic tale too funny not to re-tell and with a lot or insight into the power of temptation. Let’s enjoy it but also learn from it.
Toad baked some cookies. “These cookies smell very good,” said Toad. He ate one. “And they taste even better,” he said. Toad ran to Frog’s house. “Frog, Frog,” cried Toad, “taste these cookies that I have made.”
Frog ate one of the cookies, “These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!” said Frog.
Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another. “You know, Toad,” said Frog, with his mouth full, “I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick.”
“You are right,” said Toad. “Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop.” Frog and Toad ate one last cookie. There were many cookies left in the bowl.
“Frog,” said Toad, “let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.” Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie.
“We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another.
“Yes,” said Frog, reaching for a cookie, “we need willpower.”
“What is willpower?” asked Toad.
“Willpower is trying hard not to do something you really want to do,” said Frog.
“You mean like trying hard not to eat all these cookies?” asked Toad.
“Right,” said Frog.
Frog put the cookies in a box. “There,” he said. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.”
“But we can open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog.
Frog tied some string around the box. “There,” he said. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.”
“But we can cut the string and open the box.” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog. Frog got a ladder. He put the box up on a high shelf.
“There,” said Frog. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.”
“But we can climb the ladder and take the box down from the shelf and cut the string and open the box,” said Toad.
“That is true,” said Frog.
Frog climbed the ladder and took the box down from the shelf. He cut the string and opened the box. Frog took the box outside. He shouted in a loud voice. “Hey, birds, here are cookies!” Birds came from everywhere. They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away.
“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly. “Not even one.”
“Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of willpower.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
…shared by Ray & Anne Ortlund, Renewal, Navpress, 1989, p. 73-74.
Think about it: Do we choose willpower or lots and lots of cookies? And on a deeper level, if God has given us a free will, will we held responsible for the choices we make?
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” (James 1:12).
Every Child has Great Potential!
The picture is not the actual child, but this miracle story is true and took place at Clairfield Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio; and it documents the fact that severe negative attitudes and behaviors can be changed into positive attitudes and behaviors when an all-out, intensive effort is made to do so involving the major people in a child’s life. At my request a very gifted teacher, Debbie Glenn, shared with me the before and after story of a special needs child in her classroom. When enrolled early in the year this child was much larger than the other children, very unsure of herself, surly, had been questioned as being mentally retarded in her other school, very unhappy, lacked self confidence, had been in 21 foster homes, and was an abused child.
Mrs. Glenn reported that by the end of the year this same child was popular with the class, very confident, laughed all the time, was learning to give and receive affection, helpful and cooperative in class, and got mostly A’s & B’s on her report card. Wow, what a change! No doubt the major cause according to her teacher was that the child was adopted by a loving and caring family, but I‘m also confident that being in a wise and caring teacher’s classroom and receiving a lot of structure and security was a big factor in this child’s restoration. Also, our school had a structured plan for creating a caring school environment including a strong effort to inspire and encourage the combined involvement of children, teachers, and parents; and that’s what made it so special.
Now, if God could do such a great work in a public school classroom many years ago, don’t you think he can do the same today in our Churches, in our Christian Schools, and in our Homes if we follow his formula? What about 1 Jn. 4:19? “We love him, because he first loved us,” and Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Let’s get back to the basics. God will help us!
Is Jesus Welcome?
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).
This Bible verse reminds me of one of the first poems I chose to memorize, and it was a very long time ago.
IF JESUS CAME TO YOUR HOUSE
If Jesus came to your house to spend a day or two–
If He came unexpectedly, I wonder what you would do.
Oh, I know you’d give your nicest room to such an honored Guest
And all the food you’d serve Him would be the very best,
And you would keep assuring Him you’re glad to have Him there–
That serving Him in your own home is joy beyond compare.
But–when you saw Him coming, would you meet Him at the door
With arms outstretched in welcome to your heavenly visitor?
Or would you have to change your clothes before you let Him in?
Or hide some magazines and put the Bible where they’d been?
Would you turn off the radio and hope He hadn’t heard?
And wish you hadn’t uttered that last, loud, hasty word?
Would you hide your worldly music and put some hymn books out?
Could you let Jesus walk right in, or would you rush about?
And I wonder–if the Saviour spent a day or two with you,
Would you go right on doing the things you always do?
Would you go right on saying the things you always say?
Would life for you continue as it does from day to day?
Would your family conversation keep up its usual pace?
And would you find it hard each meal to say a table grace?
Would you sing the songs you always sing, and read the books you read,
And let Him know the things on which your mind and spirit feed?
Would you take Jesus with you everywhere you’d planned to go?
Or would you, maybe, change your plans for just a day or so?
Would you be glad to have Him meet your very closest friends?
Or would you hope they’d stay away until His visit ends?
Would you be glad to have Him stay forever on and on?
Or would you sigh with great relief when He at last was gone?
It might be interesting to know the things that you would do
If Jesus Christ in person came to spend some time with you.
Jesus wants to do more than come to our house. He wants to come into our heart and live in us and through us. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Let’s make sure Jesus is always welcome in our heart and that he is always welcome to make any changes he wants to make for he always wants what is best for us and the kingdom of God!……
A CHILD’S GREATEST NEED!
I don’t like sharing sad stories, but I believe this story illustrates the fact that the greatest need in the life of any child is to know that somebody important in their life really loves them. I remember a fourth or fifth grader in one of my schools who took a bottle of pills and almost lost her life. When she came back to school a couple weeks later, she asked her teacher if she could talk with Mr. Winner. As she came into the office she said, “You probably want to know why I did what I did.” I told her she could tell me if she wanted to and she responded, “I had to do it to find out if my parents really loved me.”
How sad…and her parents if asked would probably say they loved their daughter, but somehow the communication did not get through as far as their daughter was concerned. Remember, it’s not always the actual feedback a child receives but their interpretation of the feedback that influences behavior. These times of anxiety and confusion overtake many children, though their outward actions may not say it or show it in such an extreme way as the child in this true story. The bottom line, however, is this: it is very important for every child to be able to consistently read the message loud and clear: “I care about you, I love you” from the important people in their lives. In fact, it is so important that without it they may never find true happiness and success in this earthly life. Of course, it’s more important than anything else that children know first that Jesus loves them; however, the love of Jesus is best communicated to children through the loving and caring people in their lives.
“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
“And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
Another MIRACLE STORY from Eleventh Avenue School
Last week, I shared a special story to illustrate the power of love and caring that happened during my first assignment as an elementary principal at Eleventh Avenue, a large inner-city school in Columbus, Ohio. The only picture I could find is very old. The school was built in 1908 and burnt in 1994. I was there in the early 70’s.
This week I share another story that took place in the same school. Our staff was trying hard to communicate that we really cared for all children using strategies that were designed for that purpose. It was during a time when racial tension was strong within the public schools of our city and just a few years before a court-ordered, city-wide busing plan was put into place. In an effort to resolve some of the issues, a community action leader was assigned to each school that had a high percentage of black students enrolled. The plan was put into place for this leader to met with the principal along with twenty-five to thirty parents from the school each month to discuss their concerns, to draft plans to meet those concerns, and to assess whether or not progress was being made.
I will never forget the first (and last) meeting of this group in our building. There were twenty-nine of us all seated in a circle, including the community action leader who was in charge of the meeting, our parents, and myself. After opening comments regarding the purpose of the meeting, our leader went around the circle, asking each parent to share a concern they had about their school. I was amazed and greatly humbled as each parent spoke. One after another, they shared how happy and pleased they were with what was going on at their school. They praised our staff, our curriculum, our activities, and I believe anything else they could think about. There was not one problem or concern shared by these parents. At the end of the meeting, the community action leader stated that it was apparent we had no problems in our school. He also added that it would not be necessary for us to meet again in the future.
Wow, and I’m very confident the primary reason these parents were so positive is that they came to believe and know that our school staff really cared for their children. It seems they had never experienced this level of caring before. Surely God was in the middle of it all, and it all happened through the power of God’s love!
May God help all of us to continuously communicate his love to others, and let us always follow the strategies given in our guidebook, the Holy Bible.
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31)
IT REALLY HAPPENED!
Another illustration on THE POWER OF CARING (for teachers, parents, and all that connect with children)
My first assignment as an elementary principal was at Eleventh Avenue, a large inner-city school in Columbus, Ohio. I was told the previous principal had a difficult time and another person had been assigned as principal of the school, but he refused to take the job. As the new principal I was determined to give it my best; and if I could do no more I would at least communicate to children, teachers, and parents that I really cared for them. That was my game plan because I believe God put it in my heart; and I began to create tools to make it work.
The plan did work, and I learned a great success secret on the power of caring early in my career. The degree of community pride and support that developed against great odds during my five years in this my first assignment is still hard to believe, and I still thank God for it. I could share many miracle stories and may do so in the future, but please consider this one fabulous illustration. One of our teachers just happened to be in a certain supermarket over the weekend to purchase some groceries. One of our parents just happened to be in the same store. They both just happened to get into the same check-out line but did not recognize each other. The parent was in front and was overheard by our teacher saying to the cashier, “Well, I have learned that there is at least one school in Columbus that really cares about kids; and it is Eleventh Avenue School.” It was our school she was talking about. Wow, and what a time of encouragement for everyone when the teacher shared her story at our next staff meeting!
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
“Charity (Love) never faileth…” (1 Cor. 13:8).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)
THE POWER OF CARING (for teachers, parents, and all that connect with children)
To show the power of a caring teacher in my life, I must tell the story of how I flunked the fifth grade and what followed afterward. My best friend during my first year in the fifth grade was the strongest kid in the class, who was also considered to be a slow learner. I did a lot of his homework for him, and he protected me from the other kids. I didn’t think he was going to pass; and if he didn’t pass, why would I want to pass?
The teacher didn’t seem to like me very well; and somehow she didn’t notice that when the less intelligent kids were sent to the chalkboard to work on math problems with a helper, I often finished first and didn’t need a helper.
I admit that my friend and I didn’t like school, and we both got a lot of F’s on our report card; but the shocker is that I flunked, and if I remember correctly, he passed!
Now here’s what followed afterward: The schools in our community were reorganized, and I ended up in a different school the following year without my friend’s protection. I was on my own, and I was a very tiny kid. But Miss Reece, the teacher in my new school, seemed to like me. She laughed when I said funny things, and I especially remember her holding up a picture I had drawn and telling the whole class why she liked it. That year, I believe I got nearly all A’s and B’s on my report card, and every year after that–all through grade school, high school, and college. Oh, the POWER of a caring teacher! Thank you, Miss Reece!
I believe God works through caring teachers, caring parents…caring people. Do you agree?
And how great is the POWER of a CARING GOD?
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
REVIVAL in a public school classroom?
Is it possible for several children to be saved in a 4th grade classroom where the teacher was a Jew?
I was principal at Southwood School in Columbus, Ohio, and the teacher asked me one day, “What do Christians believe, anyway?” I believe I told her that we believe in the Old Testament just as she did, but we also believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah that we read about in the Old Testament. I then encouraged her to read from the book of Hebrews because it clearly shows how the new covenant is so much better than the old.
But how did God motivate this Jewish teacher to ask the question, “What do Christians believe, anyway?” Here’s how it happened to the best of my memory. A Christian parent called me one day and said “Mr. Winner, my daughter loves your school is doing very well; but I have the opportunity to enroll her in a Christian School, and I think I should do it.” Of course, I told her we hated to see them leave; but I understood and would probably do the same thing if I were in her shoes. I asked her to keep praying for Southwood, and she said she would.
She called me again about a month or two later and asked, “Mr. Winner, can my daughter come back to your school?” She then explained that her daughter still loved Southwood and was not doing well in her new school. She was very depressed and her grades were really dropping. Of course, I told her we would be glad to have them back but shared that her daughter would not have the same teacher because of a school policy requiring all new enrollees to go into the classroom with the least number of children. They talked it over and the daughter still wanted to return to Southwood. I then enrolled her in the 4th grade classroom with the least number of students, and her teacher was a Jew.
After probably a month or so and toward the end of the day, the teacher sent me a note saying, “Mr. Winner, I need to see you right after school; it’s really important, and it’s about Mary” (not her real name). When she entered my office I asked, “Is Mary becoming a discipline problem?” She responded, “Oh no, she’s a good student and all the kids like her, but here’s the problem: Mary invites one of her classmates to spend the night with her and while there her friend gets saved and then comes back to school the next day and tells everyone about it. Then Mary invites another friend to spend the night and she gets saved and comes back to school the next day and tells everyone about it. This keeps happening over and over and if we don’t do something quick the whole class is going to get saved!”
This didn’t sound like a big problem to me, but I kindly told the teacher there was nothing we could or should do and assured her that everything would be OK. She then said, “I told Mary she had nothing to worry about because Mr. Winner believes just like you.” Then came her question, “What do Christians believe, anyway?”
“Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1).
“With God all things are possible!” Amen!
God created a very beautiful world; and then he created us to experience, enjoy, and to take care of the world he created and especially to love and care for one another.
As we live out our life in God’s world, do you think we should set priorities? Should we put Jesus first in everything we do? And if we’re not careful, can we get sidetracked from what life is all about?
I think the following poem can help us address these questions:
THE WILD WHITE ROSE
It was peeping through the brambles, that little wild white rose,
Where the hawthorn hedge was planted, my garden to enclose;
All beyond was fern and heather, on the breezy, open moor;
All within was sun and shelter, and the wealth of beauty’s shore.
But I did not heed the fragrance of flow’ret or of tree,
For my eyes were on that rosebud, and it grew too high for me.
In vain I strove to reach it through the tangled mass of green,
It only smiled and nodded behind its thorny screen.
Yet through that summer morning I lingered near the spot;
Oh, why do things seem sweeter if we possess them not?
My garden buds were blooming, but all that I could see
Was that little mocking wild rose hanging just too high for me.
So in life’s wider garden there are buds of promise, too,
Beyond our reach to gather, but not beyond our view;
And like the little charmer that tempted me astray,
They steal out half the brightness of many a summer’s day.
Oh, hearts that fail with longing for some forbidden tree,
Look up and learn a lesson from my white rose and me.
‘Tis wiser far to number the blessings at my feet
Than ever to be sighing for just one bud more sweet.
My sunbeams and my shadows fall from a pierced hand,
I can surely trust His wisdom since His heart I understand;
And maybe in the morning, when His blessed face I see,
He will tell me why my white rose grew just too high for me.
—Ellen H. Willis
God promised to supply all our “need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” but not necessarily all our wants and especially if they are misguided and selfish. In fact, could it be that some of our wants could actually interfere with God supplying all our needs?
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).