Hiding God’s Word in a Child’s HeartAugust 21, 2009
How well do you know the Scriptures? Today Larry Fowler, executive director of global training for AWANA, talks about the importance of teaching your kids the Scriptures while they are young.
How well do you know the Scriptures? Today Larry Fowler, executive director of global training for AWANA, talks about the importance of teaching your kids the Scriptures while they are young.
Hiding God’s Word in a Child’s Heart
Bob: We are familiar with Bible passages like Psalm 119 that says a word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee. Or Psalm 1 that talks about the blessed man who meditates on God’s word day and night. We are familiar with those verses but are we actually applying them?
Here’s Larry Fowler.
Larry Fowler: We really have focused I think a little bit too much on learning about the word of God without learning the word of God. I can get up and teach or preach and my words are not inspired but God’s word is. Doesn’t it just make more sense that we would spend a little bit more time actually learning His words?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 21st. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. We are going to talk today about what family’s can do to make Bible meditation and Bible memory a more significant part of what you do together as a family.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today! Thanks for joining us. Next time you and Barbara are over at the house I’ll be happy to show you the five Timothy trophies that we have hanging around the house. You are familiar with the Timothy trophy aren’t you?
Dennis: I can’t recall that, no.
Bob: You will have to ask our guest. Not only do we have some Timothy trophies and he’ll tell you about those but we also have some “clubber of the year” awards that we can show you.
Dennis: Well if that’s not enough of a hint to our listeners about the organization we are talking about let me read a passage of Scripture and see if this finishes off giving it away.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved. A worker who has no need to be ashamed rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Bob: Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed.
Dennis: AWANA—We have with us the Executive Director of Global Training Larry Fowler. Larry welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Larry Fowler: Thank you very much. It is great to be here.
Dennis: Larry is the proud papa of two children and three grandchildren who we want to say quickly are all involved in AWANA. I’m sure it’s part of the job description of being in your family now.
Larry Fowler: Yes it is.
Dennis: No doubt about it. I’ve not stayed up with AWANA because our kids are older now and we’ve really been out of it for a number of years but AWANA is really global. It has more than 250,000 volunteers and works with how many children ages 2-18?
Larry Fowler: Well, it’s well over a million every week. It’s in 18,000 churches and the churches don’t all report to us exactly how many kids are involved but it is well over a million every single week.
Dennis: It is all about Scripture memory?
Larry Fowler: Well, it is a lot about Scripture memory but it’s really all about sharing the gospel with kids and then seeing them discipled. Scripture memory is absolutely one of the methods that we use to make that happen.
Dennis: So back to the Timothy trophies at Bob’s house that are gathering dust.
Larry Fowler: The Timothy trophies are the motive to achieve the end. They are not an end in themselves but they are a motive because kids and parents are motivated by extrinsic awards sometimes when we need a little help with the intrinsic.
Bob: Some of our listeners may be going I never heard of AWANA and I hear you talking about clubs and game times and Scripture memory. It’s kind of hard to describe. I’ve described it to people as maybe a biblical cub scouts and brownies.
Dennis: There is a reason for saying that. When our kids were involved they had vests
Bob: With patches and badges and all that.
Dennis: That they earned. There were awards and it tapped into kid’s motives as you were talking about to get them into the Bible and learning about Jesus Christ.
Bob: How do you explain it to folks who ask what is AWANA like?
Larry Fowler: Well, that is a way to explain it to some because of the fact that we do have awards and uniforms. But that is not the primary thing. We would say that it is a tool that local churches can use to share the gospel with kids and disciple them in their faith. It is certainly far more than simply an awards system. It’s more than a game time although those things again are not ends in themselves but are tools that we use to attract children and keep them involved.
We want kids to absolutely have the time of their life when they come to an AWANA club. We want the atmosphere to just be electric. We want them to enjoy their experience so much and then in the process of them having fun we’re going to teach them the word of God.
Bob: Some AWANA clubs start with kids as early as two or three years old, don’t they?
Larry Fowler: Yes. We just added a program within the last couple of years called puggles and that is for two year olds. And, yes, two year olds can even learn God’s word and begin to understand some initial concepts.
Bob: So if a child is five, six, or seven years old and they show up for their very first AWANA what is going to happen at that event that night?
Larry Fowler: They will be welcomed and registered. Then the first part of the night will be a game time. The game time is our primary tool to attract the kids and really make it fun. Our games are characterized by a very fast pace and also by real positive discipline. We want the games to not be chaos although kids sometimes like chaos.
They enjoy that. But they also enjoy orderly fun as well and we want it to be orderly because when there is discipline in that session then it translates over into the other parts of the meeting as well. So there is excitement in a disciplined, organized structural way.
Dennis: It’s a little bit like vacation Bible school except that it occurs over a number of weeks not just for a week.
Larry Fowler: That is correct. There is one meeting a week.
Bob: So you have game time and then what is next?
Larry Fowler: We call it hand book time or small group time. Each one of the children receives materials free at first. There is a small booklet that we call an entrance booklet at each age and then they work in the requirements in that book to become a part of AWANA. Once they do that then the regular handbook can be purchased where there is continued learning and continued challenges for them.
Bob: The handbook is what points them to verses to memorize or things where they fill in the blank. They are learning definitions. It’s really basic biblical discipleship for kids.
Larry Fowler: Yes, and completing those handbooks is what got your kids the Timothy trophies.
Bob: That’s right. I forget what it was but the night that the kids would get their Timothy trophy the leaders would say, “Now to get this award John Lepine had to learn something like 600 Bible verses over a six year period of time.” It was astounding.
Larry Fowler: Yes, from third grade on up it is pretty to close to 100 verses a year. Not all of those are learned for the first time. We think that it is very important that the children review the verses because we are very interested in retention not in just the number of how many verses they learn.
Bob: Here’s what is interesting about that. When kids are at that age they can memorize quickly and it’s stuck for a long time, isn’t it?
Larry Fowler: Yes.
Dennis: I noticed that you lived on a cattle ranch growing up and didn’t have a chance to participate in something like this but because your mom and dad believed in the importance of Scripture memory you did commit it to memory. Do you remember the first verse that you committed to memory?
Larry Fowler: I can’t say I remember the first verse. My mom would use calendars from Christian radio stations that we had on the wall. Quite often and you might remember these, too, there would have this beautiful scenery picture and then there would be a Bible verse on each month. She would have us kids learn the Bible verse that was on those calendars and I remember so clearly the picture of the ocean hitting the rock and the verse was, “The Lord is our rock. He is our salvation.” That was our handbook when I was a little kid.
Dennis: That was a better place to start than where we started with our kids. It may be was AWANA but we started with the ABCs and the “A” was All we like sheep have gone astray each to his own way. We definitely taught our kids about how they were headed for their own way and that’s why they needed salvation ultimately.
Larry Fowler: Yes. I challenge parents to do the same thing that we do at AWANA and that is to ask themselves what scriptural truths would you really like your kids to have engrained in their memory bank for life? That is a challenging question. What are you going to equip your kids for? Are you going to equip them for how to avoid temptation or are you going to equip them for comfort in the time of crises or are you going to equip them for doctrinal foundation?
The selection of verses that you have them work on to memorize is different based upon the objectives that you have for them through the years.
Bob: I think you’ve heard about the event we are helping to sponsor that is coming up in September in a regional level and then in November at a national level, the Bible Bee. You’ve heard about this right?
Larry Fowler: Yes.
Bob: We thought this was a great idea. It wasn’t our idea but when we heard about is we said we want to be a part of this. There is a national spelling bee that has been going on for years and kids will memorize a lot of spelling words and then go to Washington, D.C. They will be asked a word and they will spell it and whoever wins gets recognition.
Dennis: Yes, in fact back in late May I was watching the national spelling bee. It’s fierce competition.
Bob: It is.
Dennis: That spelling bee was held at the same location where the national Bible bee…
Bob: At the J.W. Mariott in Washington, D.C.
Dennis: That’s right. I’m personally looking forward to being there. You are going to be there as well. We are going to be participating with them and after the event is over you and I are going to interview the winners in three categories.
Bob: Right. There’s a category for elementary age children, one for middle school children, and one for senior high children. I think the concept is so powerful. If you are going to have your kids involved in some kind of academic discipline memorizing scripture what would we prefer our kids to do? Would we rather have them memorizing spelling words or even math equations? Hiding God’s word in their hearts, that’s powerful.
Larry Fowler: Well, yes. Of course the skill of memorizing will actually help them in the other things first as well. But certainly what comes first is memorizing God’s word. Do you men know if there is an age limit on who can enter that?
Bob: There is. I think it is elementary through senior high so maybe age 7 through 18 I think is about where it is.
Larry Fowler: I was really hoping I could enter my mother?
Dennis: Your mother?
Larry Fowler: My mother and the founder of AWANA, Art Rorheim. My mother is Margaret Fowler.
Dennis: How old are they?
Larry Fowler: Art is 90 and my mom is 91.
Bob: So you are trying to get some ringers in the competition.
Larry Fowler: Let me tell you they are ringers.
Bob: Art would be disqualified since he’s a professional at this and it’s amateur competition.
Dennis: The founder of AWANA.
Larry Fowler: Yes, he knows a number of whole books of the Bible by memory.
Bob: Whole books of the Bible?
Dennis: Wow. I was thinking as you were talking about the value of scripture memory. There are a lot of things that end up getting lodged in kid’s minds—songs, poetry, nursery rhymes. These really are of little benefit in terms of the choices they are going to make in their lives but the scripture is really a light to their path. It guides their decision making and keeps their hearts and heads clear, right?
Larry Fowler: Yes. I’ve had that example in my mother for all of these years. My mother has been deeply committed to the discipline of memorizing scripture. Even at 91 she reviews all the time. In fact, she started this thing of reviewing by asking people to give her a letter of the alphabet and then she’ll think of verses that start with that letter of the alphabet. God has really preserved her mind and her ministry and her influence on our family. I believe comes from the discipline that she has chosen of memorizing God’s word.
Bob: Is Art still memorizing passages?
Larry Fowler: Yes. He still memorizes. Part of our staff requirements for working at AWANA is to memorize scripture on an annual basis. We sometimes deliberately pick passages that he doesn’t know just to make him memorize a new one.
Bob: So what are you working on right now in AWANA?
Larry Fowler: We just finished learning 2 Timothy 3 because we are learning the book of 2 Timothy. We are also working on Colossians 3 and Psalm 1. Those were the chapters for this last year.
Dennis: What would you do? Would you have staff members memorize those chapters and share those passages?
Larry Fowler: Yes. Every staff member is required to memorize.
Bob: Does that mean I can come around and knock on somebody’s desk and say Psalm 1. Let me hear it.
Larry Fowler: They should be able to do that. There would be various levels of retention.
Dennis: Let’s test you out right here. You are a staff member is that correct?
Larry Fowler: Yes, that’s right.
Dennis: What version are you memorizing?
Larry Fowler: I memorize out of the King James. I would love to memorize in a different version but I’ve learned so many verses in my past in King James that I…
Bob: You didn’t want to mess up the flow.
Dennis: I’m sure Bob has this committed to memory.
And even though I don’t have a King James Bible here.
Bob: Let’s see how you do on Psalm 1. It’s only six verses long, right?
Larry Fowler: Yes. Blessed is a man that walketh not in the council of the ungodly nor standeth in the way of sinners nor sittith in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law doth he mediate day and night. His leaf also shall he not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff that the wind driveth away.
Doing it on the air puts a little extra pressure on. It’s kind of like a little Bible bee for me.
Dennis: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord…
Larry Fowler: For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Dennis: Way to go!
Bob: Good for you! Having something like that committed to memory means that there are times when you’re going through the normal course of life and something happens and it triggers a part of that passage doesn’t it?
Larry Fowler: Absolutely. We really have focused a little bit too much the last couple of decades in particular on learning about the word of God without learning the word of God. I think I can get up and teach or preach and my words are not inspired but God’s word is. Doesn’t it make more sense that we would spend a little bit more time actually learning His words rather than our own?
I’ve been guilty as a preacher and a teacher. You’ve probably heard people do this, too. They will read a passage of scripture and they read it real fast and they get done and say, “Now…” and there is this pregnant pause and say “listen to this or I don’t want you to miss this.” What they don’t want you to miss is their words when they have just run through scripture really fast. I think we don’t elevate scripture as high as we ought to in our homes and in our churches. Certainly scripture memory is one way of elevating the value of God’s word.
Bob: You said there are 18,000 churches doing AWANA across the United States?
Larry Fowler: Across the world. There are 12,000 in the U.S.
Bob: In a couple of weeks in a lot of these churches there are going to be AWANA clubs getting under way because they kick off in September. If there are parents who live in a community and they have never heard about AWANA but they want to find out more information so their kids can be involved how do they do this?
Larry Fowler: Well, in virtually every part of the country there is an AWANA club near them within driving distance. They are in virtually every community with some rural exceptions and they can find that out by going to awana.org and on the front of our home page there is a little spot that says “club finder.” If they will type in their zip code then they will be able to find the churches nearby them that have an AWANA club.
Bob: We have a link on our web site FamilyLife Today.com to your web site so if folks want to get the information about where a club is being held and find out how they can get their son or daughter enrolled for this fall again our web site is FamilyLife Today.com.
Dennis: I hate to correct our guest because occasionally when you find an error…I don’t think Art is the founder of AWANA. I think Ezra is the founder of AWANA. It says in Ezra 7:10 “for Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” So it could be argued that he was the first AWANA leader all the way back to the nation of Israel.
Bob: You didn’t need to read that. Larry has that memorized from Ezra.
Dennis: I should have asked him.
Larry Fowler: I will tell you that Art would certainly say that he is not the founder of AWANA but that God is. I appreciate so much being a part of an organization that has such a wonderful man of God that He has used through the years to develop this ministry. He is a man who is very humble and doesn’t take any of the credit. Art is always ready to give all the credit to God for the good things that have happened.
Dennis: I want to say thanks to a man like Art for his faithfulness over the years and for continuing to model what he is teaching to others.
Bob: On behalf of our five Timothy trophy award winners my thanks to you and the team at AWANA for helping me as a parent build in to my kid’s lives. That is really what this is all about Dennis. It’s about a tool that is available for parents to be able to press home scripture and biblical truth into the hearts and lives of their children.
Larry Fowler: You know we were talking about parents getting their kids into an AWANA program I would want to say to parents if you put your children into AWANA don’t you just depend on the AWANA program to train your kids to follow God. We have really found that the greatest success is if you will be involved in this process, too. Or if you are a parent who already has your kids there do that work right along with them because that is when it really makes a difference.
Bob: It wouldn’t hurt mom and dad to memorize a few verses would it?
Larry Fowler: It would not hurt at all. This is not a child’s activity. This is a discipline that is good for all of life.
Dennis: AWANA is not a substitute for the responsibilities a mom and dad have in raising the next generation.
Larry Fowler: That is exactly right, Dennis.
Bob: But it is a great supplement or at least it was in our family. There are hundreds of thousands of families that would say the same thing all around the country. I know a lot of churches are going to be kicking off their AWANA program this fall here in the next couple of weeks and if folks would like to go to our web site FamilyLife Today.com we have a link to the AWANA web site where you can find out which churches in your area might be hosting AWANA clubs and if you can get your kids involved in that program.
In addition we have some resources that are designed to help you as mom and dad get your kids involved in Bible memory. We have a great book for ages 3-7 that is the ABC Bible verses book—Hiding God’s Word in Little Hearts. We also have Bruce Ware’s book, Big Truths for Young Hearts which is for kids who are a little older. It looks at the key concepts of scripture but the point with all of this is we need to be working on the spiritual training and formation of our children and Bible mediation and memory is one of the ways we do that.
We also have a link to the Bible bee web site. We talked about the Bible bee a little bit earlier. The regional competitions are coming up next month and the national competition is going to take place in Washington, D.C. in November. Dennis and I will be there and we will keep you posted throughout the fall with what is going on with the Bible bee. Seventeen thousand young people have signed up for this event. If you need more information about where the regional competitions are being held you can find out details go to FamilyLife Today.com and follow the link to the Bible bee web site.
For a lot of us August is the month where summer is winding down, the school year is getting ready to start and it’s the launch of a new season of life. At FamilyLife August is the month when our ministry year comes to an end and we close the books on one year and start a new year September 1st.
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On our web site FamilyLife Today.com we have posted some videos that give you a snapshot of how God is using FamilyLife in the lives of lots of couples and families all around the country. These are interesting stories from couples and families who have been significantly impacted by this ministry. It’s great encouragement for us and we wanted to pass that along to you.
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With that we have to wrap things up. We hope you have a great weekend and that you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when Tim Hawkins is going to be with us. If you don’t know who Tim Hawkins is go to our web site FamilyLife Today.com and watch the clip that we’ve posted there. We are going to have some fun on Monday and I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.
On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another addition of FamilyLife Today.
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