Saturday, June 26, 2010

Heart of Christian Education

What is the difference between Christian education and what children receive through the public system? The argument is that both venues may have Christian teachers who love their students and the subjects are pretty much the same, so what is the big deal? Perhaps one of the key points is that Christian education integrates the Bible into our subjects in a way that shows how this subject relates to Scriptural truth. This article considers a more complete picture of the role that revealed Biblical truth provides in genuine Christian education.

Bible integration is a well-meaning term used to show how the Word of God is brought into every discipline. However, on a practical level that term is often a euphemism for a frantic search to find Scriptures that fit into various aspects of our curriculum, similar to the student who has finished a science project but needs to have a Scripture on it to make the presentation complete. The question is, does finding an appropriate Bible verse do anything constructive for developing a Christian worldview?

Developing a Christian worldview requires something so much more pervasive. The solution is not finding the right verses, but rather having a paradigm shift in what is reality. Consider this truth: Jesus reveals Himself as the way, the truth, and the life. He further points out that eternal life is to know Him and the One who sent Him. The goal of our life and teaching likewise must be to know Him. We are not teachers that happen to be Christian, we are Christians, people who know Jesus Christ personally, that have been entrusted the gift of teaching. In other words, we are to teach Jesus, His ways, His life, and His truth in order to let the Holy Spirit reveal the nature of God to each student. We teach Him through our subjects.

Reality is that all subjects are the reflections and handiwork of God and thereby demonstrate various aspects of His character, nature, and life. John Dewey deliberately established religion as separate from other subjects in the Dewey Decimal System. God didn’t. All creation demonstrates God eternal and invisible attributes according to Romans 1. Indeed the whole process of life shows God’s patience in desiring all people to understand their need for and come to know God. Therefore, genuine teaching is about God, who He is, what He is like, and how great is His mercy and goodness. Subjects just happen to be the physical examples and illustrations that allow human nature to grasp some understanding of the infinite, all wise, almighty, personal God.

For example, mathematics helps us perceive the three in one, the strength of unity, the ability to calculate and multiply, and a system that can evaluate the incredible order and vastness of all creation. Math further provides a method for man to marvel and to understand the greatness of the indescribable God who designed such an awesome precise universe in which each part has its exact place and value. Not one hair on our head is unaccounted for nor is one jot of the law left unfulfilled. Mathematics falls short in its ability to approximate or even define infinity but God rests eternally knowing the number of the stars and the thoughts and intents of the heart. The “teaching the greatness of God” point of view is infinitely greater than just finding a Scripture where David numbers his army to identify Biblical integration in math.

Unless we as Christian educators understand this perspective we will always be falling short trying to discover a verse or principle that might apply to what we want to teach. However, if we marvel at who He is and what He has done and how incredible His creation reflects His glory, then our history, literature, science, and even music or art lessons will naturally point to the greatness of the One who authored it all. Learning will be an opportunity for Holy Spirit revelation and the process will be life-giving in its perspective. Jesus will be the all in all.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Everyone Wants a Bowl of Porridge

“How utterly stupid can you be!” we scream at Esau, as he nonchalantly casts away his birthright for a mere bowl of porridge. Understandably he was hungry and the fresh cooked stew smelled so good, but …at what cost? Perhaps that is the question of life, at what price do we sell out? For what are we willing to compromise our values or ignore godly standards? When is the goal so precious and important that nothing is able to sway our convictions?
Let’s consider a couple specific situations.
Alexander, a junior in high school, has a solid workload from her classes and enjoys texting with her classmates and keeping up with friends on facebook. She has to write a three-page paper about some current event that is due tomorrow. Even though the assignment was given much earlier, somehow the urgency of this paper did not come to her attention until this afternoon. When she updated her facebook page, she noticed one of her “friends” shared a web site that has some well-written, excellent quality articles available to download free. After dinner and taking a little longer than usual on the Internet, she finally got down to doing her homework. She could do the math and history questions in less than a half hour, but she just didn’t have a clue on what current event she could write about. So out of curiosity, she checked the web site, and to her amazement there was an article about the oil spill that was the right length. Who would know if she downloaded it and made a couple changes? Alexander has to decide what she will do.
Ryan, an associate at a retail store, has been given a monthly cleaning project in his department area. It takes extra work and effort to move the products around and complete the dusting, sweeping, and mopping. Even after completing the assignment, there is not much noticeable improvement and rarely do the customers even notice. Plus, chances are that his manager wouldn’t even know if it wasn’t done this time. The store is large and there are many distractions and customer interruptions that could take his time and would serve as an excuse for the project not being done. Ryan has to choose whether to go to the extra bother to do it this week or take the easy way out.
Susan, who has two small children, works an 8 to 5 shift as a medical assistant at Children’s Hospital. After picking up the youngsters at the daycare she begins preparations for dinner. She knows that Melissa and Jamie would benefit from some one-on-one time and has even checked out a book from the library that she could read out loud to Melissa, the four-year-old, and that Jamie, the two-year-old, would be happy to sit with them. However, it would be easier to just sit the kids down in front of the television and take some “me time” with the magazine she picked up at the grocery store yesterday. Which will she do?
Apparently everybody does it. The high bar has been dramatically dropped many times. Business executives bilk the system for millions, or athletes indulge in steroids to beat the competition, and students in college cheat on a regular basis to get higher grades (around 75% of them according to Gallop surveys). Not to mention the politicians who decide which way to vote on a measure by the amount of money or influence that is used to persuade them. The integrity of many people is quickly cast aside for the immediate payoff.
However, since the Word of God is a mirror rather than a window, this question can be brought closer to home. It is not always the other guy. We like to live in our dream world and act as if everything we think and the way we do things is beyond reproach. Yet our own ways of dealing with situations, justifying various wants (as needs), and making choices may also be based on immediate personal rewards rather than the truth or principles that we know are right, truthful, and have more eternal significance.
Each of us generally contends that we are a good person, but what is the standard of comparison? The more we commit to maintain high standards of truth and integrity, the more we discover just how sold out our flesh is to having its own way. Paul shares his struggle with the flesh in Romans 7 concluding with the comment, “who can deliver me from this body of death?” Yet there is hope because the next line is “Thanks be to our Lord Jesus Christ…” Furthermore, in Ephesians 2:1-4, God, who is rich in mercy, delivers us from being a slave to the desires of body and mind. Naturally with any of the promises of God, the essential provision is for “whosoever will,” meaning for each person that chooses to receive the promise and then proceeds to obey the condition.
How do we choose to walk in freedom from the desires of the mind and body? The key is keeping our eye single or focused on something better. Without a vision the people perish or as some translations state, without a vision the people cast off restraint. God told Joshua that the way to prosper and walk in God’s blessings was to keep the word of the law in front of his eyes and on his lips. The word of God contains the vision and hope. It is up to us to let it become what we earnestly desire and the goal we think about reaching each day. Jesus states in John 8, “if you continue in My word you will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” or in John 15, “if you abide in Me and my words abide in you,” you will bear much fruit.
The point is simply this: everybody wants a bowl of porridge (satisfying the immediate appetite or pleasure) over holding on to the things that really matter. Unless we deliberately choose to hear His Word and desire to please Him by obeying it on a daily basis, we will by default follow our selfish ways and take the easy way out too. Each of us needs His help if we are going to live above the desires of the flesh. So let’s start every day by asking God to help us keep His thoughts in our minds and hearts, and then have the motivation to do the things that make a difference forever.