Monthly Archives: April 2008

The myth of the “salt and light” argument

It typically goes like this: “We have decided to pull our child out of Christian education because we feel that the Lord is leading us to have our child be salt and light in the public schools.” At this point the teacher or building principal realizes that arguing this point with a parent will potentially jeopardize all future interactions with the student’s family. This is an increasingly common scenario, so let’s examine the “salt and light” argument used by many parents so those of us committed to Christian day school education can better articulate our stance and convey this information proactively with parents.

  1. Some initial questions: Are children called to be “salt and light?” Let us ask this another way: To whom was Jesus speaking when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14)? Was it not to his disciples and then by extension to his church? How about the Great Commission? Does Jesus’ commandment in Matthew 28 to make disciples of all nations override Yahweh’s injunctions to parents in Deuteronomy to teach their children to love and serve the Lord? Are parents to send children out rather than have them receive instruction? If so, wouldn’t the Deuteronomy passage go something like this: Teach your children so that they may go and be salt and light to the Canaanites and all the surrounding pagan nations? (In fact God through Moses and later Joshua told his people to do just the opposite—not to intermarry or intermingle.) If children are to be “salt and light,” why not send them over to the local mosque or Buddhist temple to be salt and light? On the other hand, couldn’t children attending a Christian school have the opportunity to be “salt and light” with the Saturday city rec soccer team—wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds? If children are out all day being salt and light at school, when is biblical training to be accomplished? Furthermore, some biblical scholars have pointed out that the “salt and light” metaphor is a corporate metaphor, not an individualistic idea (note the plural pronouns in “You [all] are the salt . . . You [all] are the light . . .”). Does it not take a community of redeemed persons loving one another as Jesus did (John 13) and exhibiting Christian unity (John 17) to give the watching world a foretaste and preview of what the kingdom of God is like?
  2. The Bible is clear that the training of youth happens on a daily, relational basis through the big and small events of life (see Deuteronomy 6:7–9) Since we no longer live in societies where most parents can do this on a daily basis, many of us need to entrust much of this training to other Christians—the Christian day school’s raison d’être. Is there any denying that those who spend the most time with our children have the most opportunity to impact them? Is there any denying that those who teach the students in their care teach from their own particular conception of how life functions, i.e., their “worldview”? What views of life and the world are kids learning, and can they effectively detect and counter those views that conflict with biblical values in their efforts to be salt and light? Do they have the training and level of discernment needed to defend their faith from attack? Can we afford a casual approach to a child’s education any more than a casual approach to church or home instruction? The “salt and light” argument seriously underestimates the power and volume of the messages—intentional and unintentional—that are conveyed hourly in a public school setting. Plus, a few hours of Sunday school, church services, and youth group activities hardly competes with the 30 or so hours spent in public school each week.
  3. Often the lack of diversity in a current Christian setting is cited as another reason why children need to go somewhere else to be salt and light. This assumes that students cannot develop an appreciation for diversity within a Christian setting, even though the primary value underpinning the virtue of tolerance is the biblical teaching that every person bears the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). Furthermore, should the opportunity for a child to experience diversity be valued more highly than obtaining wisdom and receiving instruction in God’s Word in order to develop a discerning spirit and a heart attentive to God and his creation?
  4. Going “out” assumes that there are few if any such opportunities to be salt and light in Christian schools. Not true—not only are there opportunities within Christian schools to be witnesses of Jesus Christ to kids there who are not believers, but the schools themselves help students to practice engaging the culture outside the school walls through a variety of means, such as service projects, community involvement, and other forms of outreach. Guided practice in these engagements is far more likely to produce better results than isolated “sink or swim” situations kids must face while trying to be salt and light on their own in a public school environment.
  5. Is there evidence that kids being “salt and light” at school is effective? Not according to Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching research (the largest-ever survey of U.S. teens ages 14–18): “Although most U.S. teens report that schools are not hostile to teens who are seriously religious, only about one in ten teens expresses their religious faith at school a lot. . . . Thus the visibility and perhaps the significance of religious faith and practice for U.S. teens seem to drop off markedly in spheres outside of religious congregation and family. . . . Nearly half take a live and let live approach to faith in which believers should not try to convert others to their faith—honoring the ‘seeker’ mentality.” (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, p. 70ff.) Having worked in public school settings at elementary and middle school, I believe that this research finding is an accurate assessment. It is tough enough in some peer groups in Christian schools for kids to be comfortable sharing their faith. After all, not all kids in Christian schools have committed their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ or are seeking to become his disciples. Yet in the Christian school there are dedicated teachers modeling their faith in the classroom every day.
  6. Are teenagers equipped to be salt and light in public schools? Again from the Soul Searching research: “We also found the vast majority of [U.S. teenagers] to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives. . . . Mainline Protestants were among the least religiously articulate of all teens.” (p. 131) “It became clear that most religious teenagers either do not really comprehend what their own religious traditions say they are supposed to believe, or they do understand it and simply don’t care to believe it. . . . The net result, in any case, is that most religious teenager’s opinions and views—one can hardly call them worldviews—are vague, limited, and often quite at variance with the actual teachings of their own religion.” (p. 134) In fact one of the most troubling themes coming out of this research is the confusion of teens about truth—among conservative Protestants half of the respondents said that many religions may be true, and more than one-third say that one can pick and choose one’s beliefs. Additionally, if there is no Christian school involvement, all of the equipping needs to come from the home or church. However, recent statistics indicate that students are spending less time in conversation with parents and that church ministries are fragmenting with changing adult attendance patterns.

Conclusion: It is the rare child who is well-equipped and effective as salt and light at school—the exception rather than the rule. Even in the best of these cases the parents are trading off the opportunity for their child’s Christian worldview development when they cut them off from the godly influence of Christian teachers who are eager to unfold to them the exquisite beauty and coherence of God’s creation. Add to this multiple opportunities to pray, worship, and connect with other believing students in the Christian school community. Removing Christian education from the child is a precarious and risky ploy that leaves the child’s spiritual and moral development hanging in the balance. Sometimes it is hard not to be cynical about the real motivation of parents who make the “salt and light” trade-off with their children, particularly when one senses that materialistic or selfish reasons are prompting them to spend money on themselves rather than on tuition. Our North American culture can be seductive that way. While the “salt and light” argument may be well intended, it is a deficient and marginally effective model. At best, a decision by parents for their child to be salt and light diminishes the child’s opportunity for biblical training; at worst it’s a lie that parents tell themselves to rationalize shortsighted, consumeristic desires.

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It just can’t happen in public schools!

In a recent New York Times article, two Jewish families sued to have prayers to Jesus stopped in the public school setting. Strange as it may sound, I am in sympathy with these Jewish families—if my family were in a setting in which Christian education was not available and my kids were in a public school, I would not want them to participate in prayers to other gods.

This situation points out the legal limitations of the public school in regard to issues of nurturing students’ faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ. As a former teacher and administrator in public schools I felt that to be obedient to my employer and the laws of the land, I could not pray publicly or engage students with my personal faith. Over time, however, I found this limitation personally untenable, and my frustration grew because of not being able to proclaim God as sovereign, to point to him as creator, and to point to the Bible as the source of truth and the basis for values. To constantly hit the mute button instead of naturally expressing my faith in the classroom was not something I could handle. How can a believing teacher not connect learning about the wonders of creation with its Source? How can one not shout about the mighty acts of God in creation and in redeeming my life and others? How can I not speak when I have such a great story to share?

Many parents have convinced themselves that as long as their child is with a Christian teacher in a public school, things will be fine. This is true only to a degree. As passionate as I was about my faith, I felt conflicted by my desire to not violate the separation of church and state in my public school settings. So therefore I did not, and could not, take advantage of those teachable moments with students and the opportunities to connect key ideas together, which I was free to do in a Christian school setting. I knew and accepted the circumstances that I was hired under, and as time went by I grew more and more uncomfortable because I felt like I had made a choice that forced me to deny my desire to be what I am—a witness of Jesus Christ.

So in view of the contrast between the frustrations of being a Christian teacher in a restrictive educational setting and then later being able to teach freely in a Christian school, here are a dozen reasons why I appreciate Christian education:

  1. Teaching students the joy and pleasure to be found in glorifying God by knowing him and enjoying him both now and forever.
  2. Showing the sovereignty of God over all things, understanding creation, man, and God in proper relationship—that there is no division between sacred and secular and seeing that all things belong to God.
  3. Helping kids understand how all things were created and broken but are now being redeemed and restored through Jesus Christ.
  4. Asking truly essential questions, discussing the difficult questions of life—no holds barred, no areas off limit, being able to relate it to the Source of Truth.
  5. Offering a holistic educational experience—no divorcing of body and soul, mind and spirit.
  6. Helping students understand that our desire for excellence in thought and behavior is motivated by a desire to please God, not just by economic or citizenship reasons.
  7. Applying a foundational knowledge of the Bible and faith practices together across all disciplines and aspects of life.
  8. Modeling faith for kids and working together with others who strive to do the same.
  9. Helping students see all of life as worship—and vocation as calling to serve God with excellence.
  10. Articulating a God-centered perspective on success versus human striving for excellence and a me-centered purpose for fulfillment in life.
  11. Examining all learning from multiple angles in the light of God’s Word versus only politically correct angles.
  12. Teaching students to memorize and engraft God’s Word into their hearts and lives.

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An Idol dilemma

Our family could hardly believe our ears last week as we watched the eight remaining American Idol contestants belt out the Christian praise and worship song, “Shout to the Lord.” We were both somewhat pleased and somewhat puzzled. Why an explicitly Christian song on the biggest show on TV?

The comments from our family went from something like “Is this for real?” to “Wow this is cool” to “I wonder how those who are not Christians [singers, judges, or fans—take your pick] are thinking about this” to “Hmm, another clever marketing ploy by the producers to cater to the audience . . . although they may have gone too far this time.”

As I talked with friends and pondered this unusual event over the weekend, I found myself wanting to come down with a clear judgment of whether the singing of a explicitly Christian song was a good idea or a bad one. I wanted to be very excited that Jesus’ name was being raised in such a wide international way (and well done, I might add, by the singers who were backed up by a gospel choir), but I kept wondering about a number of things. Were all those who were singing “My Jesus, my Savior” truly talking about their personal Savior and Lord or were they just performing? Shouldn’t this song be reserved for those who have professed him and truly want to worship him? Or was I expecting too much or being judgmental?

What about all those who are not Christians who were watching or participating in the live audience? How would I have felt as a Christian if the song were glorifying the god of another religion? Or has that already happened so much that it’s about time Christian songs got some air time? Is this the best way to reach non-Christians or is it perceived as one more example of the dominant Christian culture shoving its Jesus down everyone’s throat? Did this set back the cause of Christ or advance it?

As you might have guessed, the cynical comment in our family circle about the producers using “Shout to the Lord” to advance the show was mine. (Sorry, such is the price that comes with living under the sun more than a few years.) Whether we liked the singing of the song or not, whether we are Christian or non-Christian, the producers of the show have us buzzing (and writing) about American Idol—pure genius maybe? Or was this the result of a Christian in a position of influence on the show taking an opportunity to give praise to God?

As I consider my own difficulty in discerning this issue I am full of gratitude and empathy for all of you in schools and churches who are working hard to help kids develop a discerning and loving spirit. Discernment is just plain tough, particularly at a young age. When interacting with kids, maybe the answer is not always to come to a quick answer but to help them wrestle with an issue from all the angles, and then to help them consider how to answer an issue in terms of Christ’s law of love: How do we love God and love our neighbors better?

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Is it important for your students to apply a biblical perspective to course content?

(Post contributed by Michael Essenburg, Christian Academy of Japan)

Question: Is it important for your students to apply a biblical perspective to course content?

If you answered “yes,” keep reading.

You think it’s important for your students to apply a biblical perspective to course content. Three questions:
(1) What course content could your students apply a biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units could your students apply a biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments could your students apply a biblical perspective to course content?

Bottom line:
(1) What course content will your students apply a biblical perspective to?
(2) During which units will your students apply a biblical perspective to course content?
(3) On what types of assessments will your students apply a biblical perspective to course content?

Target biblical perspective. Today.

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A litany built on a Christian perspective of sport

This litany was developed for the dedication of a new sports facility at Rehoboth Christian School (RCS) in New Mexico—it reflects a great Christian perspective on sport. Thanks for sharing!

Dedication Litany

CREATION

Reader #1—Assistant Superintendent
Our world belongs to God—not to us or earthly powers, not to demons, fate, or chance.
The earth is the Lord’s!

Reader #2—RCS Sophomore
In the beginning, God—Father, Word, and Spirit—called this world into being out of nothing, and gave it shape and order.

Reader #3—Executive Director
God formed the land, the sky, and the seas, making the earth a fitting home for the plants, animals, and humans he created. The world was filled with color, beauty, and variety; it provided room for work and play, worship and service, love and laughter. God rested—and gave us rest. In the beginning everything was very good.

Reader #1
God wants us to play, to laugh, to rest?

Reader #3
Yes, yes, the playfulness of children, the sporting of young people, the recreation of adults is woven into the design of Creation. God made us that way!

All: For the LORD is the Creator, a great God—a great King above all gods!

Song: “This is My Father’s World”—Vs. 1 RCS Senior, Vs. 2 Audience

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world; I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas— his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world: O let me not forget
That though the wrong is great and strong, God is the ruler yet.
He trusts us with his world, to keep it clean and fair—
All earth and trees, all skies and seas, all creatures everywhere.

FALL

Reader #1
Early in human history our first parents listened to the intruder’s voice. Rather than living by the Creator’s word of life, they fell for Satan’s lie and sinned! They forgot their place; they tried to be like God. But as sinners they feared the nearness of God and hid from him.

Reader #2
All spheres of life—marriage and family, work and worship, school and state, our play and art—bear the wounds of our rebellion. Sin is present everywhere—in pride of race, in arrogance of nations, in abuse of the weak and helpless, in disregard for water, air, and soil, in destruction of living creatures, in slavery, deceit, terror, and war, in worship of false gods, and frantic escape from reality. We have become victims of our own sin.

Reader #3
And our play went wrong, our sports became an idol, our recreation became a god—we began to cheat and envy. We ruined our games with hatred and fighting. We disrespected our playmates, our schoolmates, the other team. We overplay, overeat, overexercise. We have forgotten that our living, moving, and playing are gifts from God. We now live in a twisted world of sport—arrogant winning and sore losing is in us, and all around us.

All: God be merciful to me! On thy Grace I rest my plea!

REDEMPTION

Song: “Amazing Grace”—Vs. 1 RCS Sophomore, Vs. 2 RCS 8th Grader

Reader #1
While justly angry, God did not turn his back on a world bent on destruction; he turned his face to it in love. With patience and tender care he set out on the long road of redemption to reclaim us as his people and the world as his kingdom.

Reader #2
The Spirit thrusts God’s people into worldwide mission. He impels young and old,
men and women, to go next door and far away into math and music, media and marketplace, gym and the fitness center with the good news of God’s grace. The Spirit goes before us and with us convincing us of a better way to serve Christ in all areas of life.

Reader #3
God has given the Rehoboth community a new Sports and Fitness Center. We give thanks for this remarkable facility where we can live out what you have called us to be. Help us in this place to bring redemption to the world of sport!

Reader #1
We give thanks for architects and builders, for electricians and plumbers, for landscapers and painters whose labor and discipline created this structure. For steel and wood, concrete and carpet, for tools and machines, we are grateful. We are thankful for creativity and cooperation that produced an attractive, useful building. For jobs and safety for our workers, we express our gratitude. We give thanks for donors and volunteers who generously supported our dreams.

Song: “Earth and All Stars”—Vs. 4, RCS Choral Director

Engines and steel! Come, pounding hammers!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams! Strong building workers!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things. I too will praise him with a new song!

All: Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.

Reader #2
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.’” (Zechariah 8:4–5)

Take our play and make it pure.
Take our games and make them good.
Take our excitement and make it sacred.
Take our cheers and make them charitable.

Song: “Earth and All Stars”—Vs. 5

Classrooms and labs! Come, boiling test tubes!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band! Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
He has done marvelous things. I too will praise Him with a new song!

Reader #3
On this day, November 10, 2007, we celebrate this harvest from the Father’s hand. We want to make our play and our games “Holy unto the Lord.” We want our witness to be true, that students and parents, friends and visitors, may come to know the Triune God and all his goodness. Toward that end, we dedicate the Rehoboth Sports and Fitness Center to the honor and glory of God the Father, Christ his Son and our Savior, and the ever present Holy Spirit.

All: Our God is an awesome God! Amen and Amen!

Song: “Our God is an Awesome God,” “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow”—Audience

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10 ways my parents nurtured my faith – a look back in gratitude

A recent magazine article prompted me to take a few minutes and jot down things that my parents did to nurture my faith – a good exercise and one that led me to a renewed sense of gratitude, especially now that I am looking back with adult eyes. I realized with fresh eyes all the little things they did daily and the big commitments they had made as a couple raising a family of four. The numbered items below are not exhaustive or in rank order, but rather simply list some of the more important aspects of how they nurtured my faith.

  1. Faith through tough times – farming itself is an act of faith that is further complicated by the unpredictable.  Natural disasters, droughts and floods, unexpected losses of livestock, machinery repairs and costs, and health problems are just some of the problems faced – yet I saw a strong faith demonstrated by my parents in God’s providence and blessing.
  2. Commitment to their marriage – it never entered my mind as a child that my parents would leave each other, even though they had some pretty good arguments from time to time.
  3. Respect for creation – animals and plants were treated with care, yet each in their rightful place as compared to humans.
  4. Christian education K-16 – my parents were the first in their families to enroll their children in Christian day school education and took significant criticism for that decision from their families. Their hard work to get schools established in our small community remains an inspiration to me today.
  5. Church participation – attendance at services was regular as clockwork and participation in available groups and classes not a matter for negotiation by us children.
  6. Eating meals together coupled with spiritual disciplines– regular Bible reading and prayer three times a day – sometimes it seemed too much, but I do appreciate the foundational knowledge that I now have as a result.
  7. Always helping neighbors and sharing – my mom was always sharing from our garden and bringing food, Dad lent tools and time, and listened to hurting people on his egg route into some very high poverty areas.
  8. Finances – tithing and Christian education – my parents always made it clear to us that church donations and school tuition came first, and then we lived on the rest, no matter how little or much that may have been from month to month.
  9. Encouraged my gifts – my mom did a lot of my chores so I could participate in sports and drama. My parents were always at every performance if possible.
  10. Loved those with special needs – having Joe over for Sunday dinner and watching him eat was not necessarily pleasant for us kids but showed us our parent’s heart for those with special needs. Their regular Sunday afternoon visits to a home for developmentally disabled adults modeled Christ’s love. My mom still continues these singing, prayer, and Bible study visits with the residents today at the age of 88.

I encourage you to look back on your own life and consider how your faith was nurtured. Sometimes the things that at first appear mundane are very significant in nurturing and modeling the kind of faith we desire in our youth.

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Using God’s good gifts well

Recently several helpful resources have come out relating to caring for creation and understanding stewardship responsibilities. These resources would be very helpful for use in Christian day schools or church education settings.

Is That ALL There Is? Stewardship Challenges for Young Christians is an excellent teacher resource manual for schools and churches to use with students in grades 7-9. It is the result of a collaborative project by Christian Stewardship Services, Foundation for Niagara Christian Schools, and the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools. Students are encouraged to consider their blessings of time, talents, trees, and treasures and how they can use these blessings to bless others and do the work of restoring God’s creation. Available via the OACS website @ www.oacs.org.

Earthwise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues
by Calvin DeWitt is another excellent teacher resource with ideas that could be adapted for classroom use. He discusses the seven provisions for creation and the seven degradations of creation and then offers a biblical and theological perspective on creation care. Helpful suggestions and a Q & A section answering by Calvin DeWitt is another excellent teacher resource with ideas that could be adapted for classroom use. He discusses the common responses/obstacles conclude the book. A topical approach with separate chapters about lifestyle, homes, food, clothes, energy, plants, work, and leisure by different authors is how Living the Good Life on God’s Good Earth, edited by David S. Koetje, invites readers to live their callings daily as stewards of creation. Helpful discussion questions and resources conclude each chapter. Both of these books are available from Faith Alive Christian Resources @ www.faithaliveresources.org.

Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth was living the American Dream until he began to wonder about how the maladies displayed in his patients related to how creation is being misused. This led him to turn to Scripture and then make dramatic changes in his and his family’s lifestyle. They gave away over half of what they owned and found in the process that they gained stronger relationships and a richer spiritual life. He shares his journey and challenges all of us through Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action. His book offers not only his compelling story, but also a practical guide for making those changes. Plus, it includes great end-of-chapter reflection questions, along with an energy audit for readers to take.

A personal challenge: take the Ecological Footprint Quiz to find out how many acres or hectares your lifestyle is taking up and how many planet Earths would be needed if everyone lived like you or your family. Eye-opening!

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