Monthly Archives: March 2007

Please – awesome only applies to God!

Sometimes for me it takes a plane flight or a trip away…other times it can happen at the shore of Lake Michigan…or when I view a web page such as this one.

Such a picture brings to mind several verses or chapters of the Bible: Psalm 8: “Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth, who has set your glory above the heavens! From the lips of babes and infants you have established strength, because of your adversaries, that you might silence the enemy and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him? What is the son of man, that you care for him?”

Or how about Job 38 when God begins to give Job perspective about who Job was addressing by asking questions that reveal God’s unimaginable majesty, power, and creativity? For example verse 4: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” It is the overwhelming existence and power of God that leads David to exclaim in Psalm 139:6 “Such knowledge is a wonder greater than my powers; it is so high that I may not come near it.”

How do we begin to comprehend such an awesome God? (A mini-rant: my bias on the word “awesome” – I think that the word awesome is overused in a casual way today and only appropriately can be used as an adjective for God! Who or what besides God truly qualifies as awesome? Who or what else even comes close? Is my recent trip to Disney, my pet cat, a recent restaurant experience, a concert or movie I attended really in the same category of description as the divine Creator of all things?) How can we not tell of his mighty acts in our work and life? How do we help our students to understand God as both incomprehensibly all-powerful yet interested in a personal relationship with us through Jesus Christ?

“Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

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Filed under worship

Faith Enhancing Practice* #3 – Narratives and Faith Stories (Classroom)

Why is story such a significant way to teach? It may be that we all enjoy stories because they engage us in the very personal aspects of our lives or the lives of others and convey a level of meaning in a way that facts cannot begin to imitate. Stories engage us because of the expression of emotion, passion, and commitment – thereby engaging both our heart and our head. Subsequent actions that flow from our hearts to our hands have been formed by the lessons and ideals of stories heard and experienced. Smith and Short state it this way: “The stories that surround us help to make us what we become. They shape our attitudes to life, form our ideals, and supply our visions.” (The Bible and the Task of Teaching)

In our postmodern world there is a lack of buy-in to the larger story and an overvaluing of personal experience/story as most significant. However as Christians we believe the ‘Big Story’ we see in the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Len Sweet (The Hardest Three Words in the World to Get Right) believes that with our current culture’s focus on personal spirituality and the rejection of the Big Story, the two dominant stories that have emerged are “the marriage of money and pleasure” and “fundamentalist idealism” (“stop the world I want to get off – clinging to the past.”) He believes that our Big Story tells us “not only who we are, but also who everyone else is – helping us understand and live well in relationship with the ‘other’…it is the story of ‘I love you’ like no other story.”

As a teaching method, Jesus used story a great deal – yet as Brian McLaren points out (The Secret Message of Jesus) he (Jesus) resists being clear or direct in his stories. Instead Jesus’ stories were full of metaphor and usually raised more questions. I wonder why we so often, as teachers, take the mystery out of stories for our listeners by moralizing or “driving the nail through the wood?” Do we lack confidence in the hearer or the power of the story?

I have been personally inspired by the stories of those who have been public heroes of faith such as William Wilberforce (whose life story is told in the new critically acclaimed movie, Amazing Grace) but even more by the “home-grown” stories of those who are not famous. One of the most powerful assignments I have seen recently has been the interviewing of parents and grandparents about their faith journey, captured on video by students. These are true stories of inspiration and a powerful witness for students to hear first-hand accounts of God’s faithfulness and leading.

“The stories which frame the knowledge purveyed through schooling are not innocent; they are grounded in wider beliefs and priorities, and they offer to learners a certain way of seeing the world and our own future role in it.” – David I. Smith and John Shortt, The Bible and the Task of Teaching.

How are we using the Big Story and faith stories to encourage faith? What are ideas for further progress in this area?

*(For an explanation and definition of Faith Enhancing Practices see my post of February 3, 2007 entitled “What’s the difference between teachers?”) If you are interested in seeing all 12 Faith Enhancing Practices modules at once, you can go to the Member Community Center and access them there.

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Filed under book, classroom, distinctively Christian

What happens at a Christ-centered school?

(Blog post written by Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy in Japan)

Shortest answer:  The “4 differences.”

Short answer: At a Christ-centered school, students learn “different content” for a “different purpose” from “different people” in a “different environment.”

Longer answer:
(1) At a Christ-centered school, students learn “different content, skills, and values.” They learn to…

  • Understand Bible stories, the plan of salvation, and a biblical perspective of what they study.
  • Apply a biblical perspective to what they study.
  • Respect themselves and others as image bearers of God.
  • Use their learning to serve God and others, and to take care of God’s creation.
  • Value and maintain spiritual, moral, physical, social, and emotional health.

(2) At a Christ-centered school, students learn for a “different purpose.” They learn in order to impact the world for Christ. They learn in order to be Christ-like. The primary purpose of a Christ-centered school is not to help students get into college or get a job.

(3) At a Christ-centered school, students learn from “different people.” They learn from God’s people. People with new hearts who live for God. People who bear the fruit of the Spirit. People who are passionate about helping all students increase their understanding and application of a biblical perspective.

(4) At a Christ-centered school, students learn in a “different environment.”
A Christ-centered environment. An environment that is safe, healthy, and nurturing. An environment that is characterized by love, gratitude, trust, respect for differences, and high expectations.

What’s on my heart? I’m passionate about helping students apply a biblical perspective to what they study. So one of my answers to “What happens at a Christ-centered school?” is: Students learn to apply a biblical perspective of what they study in every class so that they are equipped to impact the world for Christ. Students learn from teachers who are passionate about being Christ-like, helping students develop the mind of Christ, and cultivating a Christ-centered environment.

Please consider this question: “What’s one thing you can do in the next five school days to help your students increase their proficiency in applying a biblical perspective to what they are studying in class?” After you consider this question, use your answer.

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Filed under distinctively Christian, mission development

Seeing on multiple levels

What are we seeing?

Are we seeing what we think we are seeing? Click here.

Are we seeing the image of God in each person before us?

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Filed under image of God

A tool for serious consideration

It was about a year ago that I stumbled across the Spiritual Transformation Inventory. It was listed on the CCCU website as a tool for assisting colleges with the answer to the question, “Is the work we are doing to encourage faith development in our students making any difference?” Admittedly skeptical but very intrigued I pursued the matter further with the author of the instrument, Dr. Todd Hall of BIOLA University. I worried at first that this was just one more “worldview test” that carried a strong political bias, but discovered that worry was unfounded. I asked Todd if he had a high school version of the instrument and then, to make a long story shorter, proceeded to discuss this with our high school Bible department. We decided to pilot the instrument and did so this past fall with our seniors. The STI is really a self-assessment tool that focuses on the relational aspects of their connection to their faith.

What I like best about the instrument is two-fold. First it helps the student reflect on not only the head side, but also the heart and hands side of their relationship to Jesus Christ. Todd has put together a very helpful “Furnishing the Soul Pack” follow-up that discusses various areas of discipleship and is challenging on a personal level. The individual student report can be very helpful as a guide to the student and as they choose to share it with parents or teachers. Second, as an administrator I get a summary report back that indicates areas of strengths and needs with the students. This gives me some helpful data to share with my staff so that they can be aware of helping the student body as a whole by focusing their energies in their teaching, chapels, and interactions with students. In summary I think this is a tool that merits serious consideration for our work.

While I do not intend to use this blog for advancing commercial ventures, I do want to share resources that you may not be aware of and that may be helpful to meeting our missions to nurture faith in youth. I have found Todd to be someone who has a great heart for Christian education and is genuinely trying to help answer the kinds of questions we wrestle with – are we making a difference with kids and how can we be more intentional in these efforts. If you are interested in learning more about this instrument you can click here or on the graphic above. If you have additional questions, you can also drop me an email. I encourage you to check it out.

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Filed under classroom, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Stacking wood

Growing up in a rural farming community I soon learned the significant role that wood played in our life. Wood was a four season task – cutting the trees down in the winter and splitting the logs, stacking the wood in late spring/early summer into piles, letting the wood dry over the summer, retrieving the wood from the woods via tractor and wagon in the fall and putting it into a shed so it could stay dry, and then retrieving the wood armful by armful on a daily basis throughout the winter. Fortunately for me as the baby of the family we installed a gas furnace when I was in fourth grade and so my wood carrying days were cut shorter than my siblings time of service, much to their chagrin!

It struck me that I am still in the “wood business” in Christian education, as are many of you who are reading this. John Piper’s word picture is helpful: “The fuel of worship is the truth of God; the furnace of worship is the spirit of man; and the heat of worship is the vital affections of reverence, contrition, trust, gratitude, and joy. But there is something missing from this picture. There is furnace, fuel, and heat, but no fire. The fuel of truth in the furnace of our spirit does not automatically produce the heat of worship. There must be ignition and fire. This is the Holy Spirit.” Desiring God, p.82.

We help students to discover truth and discover the greatness of God through the study of creation and his word – all truth is God’s truth. As educators we engage students on this journey of discovery and link learning to the Creator and his intentions for us. When we grow weary of our stacking (and wonder if the wood will ever burn) we need to remember that our job is to stack, not light the fire. We may not see the fire lit in our lifetime, but need to be faithful to our work. Our family faithfully, and in hopes of a warm fire, cut, stacked, transported, and readied wood – in anticipation of the match to light it. However the match also needed the wood to burn for a long time. I guess that in Christian education our call is to stack wood – we cannot predict when the Spirit lights lives on fire, but we seek to point out God’s truth to students so that, when lit by the Spirit, their lives burn brightly and with great warmth as they obediently worship and work for the kingdom.

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Filed under book, encouraging the heart, student outcomes

For those who don’t have time to read much in this busy time of year :)

“God forgive us for all those we have lost because we made the gospel boring. I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult”.
from The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne

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Filed under book, encouraging the heart, kids/culture