Category Archives: worship

I just need time to think!

Mark Eckel bookI am not really a big fan of “devotional” books. I sometimes find them less substantive than I had hoped for or a bit forced and trite. Despite that reservation, today I am delighted to be recommending a book to you that at first glance might fall into that category, but let me explain. Mark Eckel has put together a wonderful book entitled I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice. It is a collection of fifty thoughtful essays organized into these ten topics: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place.  They are written in bite size amounts – perfect for use in a daily reflection time, and rich like cheesecake – even though tasty, you shouldn’t try to eat too much at once, but just savor it instead.

Let me tell you a bit about Mark: he is an outstanding Christian educator and a master weaver as a writer. In fact, the name of Mark’s blog (which I highly recommend you read) is Warp and Woof , which he describes as “the vertical-horizontal weaving of threads that create fabric. The intersection and unification of everything is the tapestry of life under the Lordship of Jesus. Wholeness begins with Him.” One of the beauties of this book is that he weaves together extensive reading he has done and study of the Bible and great books with practical insights about living out one’s faith. He expertly synthesizes historical Christian perspectives and has a knack for finding just the right quotation to underscore his points. He is a bridge builder – helping us to reflect on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to move to concrete ideas that we can implement (not to mention dozens of possible books to read!) His passion is to teach others how to think Christianly and to honor Christ through reflection and learning. We need more thoughtful weavers, bridge builders, and translators like Mark. It is evident that he has made the spiritual disciplines of reading, writing, and reflection a priority in his life – and you as reader get to benefit!

With Mark’s permission I want to share a poem that appears in his reflection entitled: Retreat: Cutting Wood on Sunday. His subtitle for the chapter is “Rest is doing something other than what we would normally do.” As someone who has looked for a good way to describe what Sunday is about, his statement that “we need to rest from our giftedness” struck me.  I know that when I do not do this, I do not rest well and I also violate what God intended for me when he gave me a day of rest. Here is Mark’s poem that he wrote to remind himself that rest is crucial:

Lord, when the alarm clock, stove clock, and time clock demand my presence,

When the pace of life is hectic,

When I wish there were six more hours in a day,

When the traffic light is stuck on red

And my family’s schedule demands I be in three places at one time,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when people expect too much of me,

When the boss has forgotten about the eight-hour day,

When I am constantly at others’ beck and call,

When the cell phone, Twitter, fax, and email all go off at once

And I begin to hate the human race,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when work occupies all my waking hours,

When television commercials say I must have more,

When my neighbors flaunt their newest toys,

When alcoholic does not apply but workaholic does

And I decide to go to the office on Sunday to catch up,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when money means more than people,

When I read The Wall Street Journal more than my Bible,

When overtime becomes my primetime,

When promotions and pay hikes are my ultimate goals

And looking out for number one has become my slogan in life,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, may I refocus my life on you.

May I restore my thoughts in your Word.

May I refresh my schedule by meditating on all your blessings.

May I relax my activity every week to enjoy the life you gave me.

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Eckel, Mark D. (2013-12-24). I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice (Kindle Locations 585-599). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, book, devotional, encouraging the heart, resources, worship

Walking among the giants

burned treeA recent speaking engagement near Yosemite National Park afforded me the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful parks in the world.  One of the most striking features of the park is the Mariposa Grove containing ancient, giant sequoias. The enormity and majesty of these trees left me speechless, in awe of their beauty, size, and age, and lifted my heart to worship. My mind began to continue down this worship track as I walked down the trail on a perfect, sunny day for hiking. My first thoughts were of comparing these physically imposing giants to the spiritual giants/mentors in my life and how grateful I was for both such beauty and strength before my eyes and the beautiful, strong saints God had placed in my life.

One of the first signs along the trail talked about the humble beginnings of the sequoia trees. Both Douglas squirrels and boring beetles play a role in the egg size cones getting their start in life. Fire also plays a key role in opening space for seeds to start and in their spreading. I thought about the humble and sometimes trying beginnings of many giants in my life.

Grizzly giantAt the center of a sequoia, the wood is called heartwood – the structural support of the tree. Next is the sapwood, where the “veins and arteries” of the tree move the precious water and nutrients throughout the tree. The next layer, the cambrium, is the growing part of the tree. Finally the outer bark is quite thick and while protecting the tree, is renewed from within. The idea of “from the inside out” is a great metaphor for protecting our hearts so that we may continue to grow and also have the protection for our “outer bark” that encounters the outside world.

On my hike I saw many enduring giants, but none more impressive than the Grizzly Giant. The sign told me that this 1,800 year-old tree stands about the height of a 19 story building, a 747 jetliner, or the Statue of Liberty! What impressed me is that this tree has survived fires every 5-20 years. I wondered about the testing that great saints of the faith have endured and if the frequency of fire/testing in their life was similar. What an impressive tree – one of its limbs was estimated to be 7 feet in diameter and its trunk showed the centuries of fire scars.

One of the most interesting trees was one that I could walk through – the surviving Tunnel Tree. It was one of two trees that a tunnel was cut through for cars, to be used in promotional pictures of the park. While the more famous Auto treeWawona Tunnel Tree fell in 1969, this tree somehow has survived the tunnel carved through it in 1895. I wondered if the park would be here if these two trees had not suffered this fate. The sign at the tree indicated these trees were very helpful in building understanding of the uniqueness of this area and to eventually have this area preserved as a park. In this sense, these trees gave their life and suffered a near fatal wound so that many other giant trees could be preserved.

Visiting the Mariposa Grove was a deeply spiritual experience for me. In addition to assisting me in worshipping God for his truly awesome creation, it led me to consider with gratitude the giants of faith in my life. Many came from humble beginnings, developed strong cores nurtured by faith in God and spiritual disciplines, were tested by many life difficulties, and served as Christ types for those around them – giving their lives so others may flourish. Praise God for such giants in our lives!

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Filed under creation & environment, devotional, encouraging the heart, leadership, worship

I wonder as I wander

I can’t seem to get my head around it!  No matter how many times I talk to someone around the world and it sounds like they are sitting in the same room with me, I am filled with wonder. When I look at anything in micro and see how color and design pop forward that I previously hadn’t observed, I am amazed. No matter how many times I fly, I am still amazed at how such a large object is able to leave the ground, how quickly it moves me from distant place to distant place, and how infinite the places, spaces, and quantities of people, relationships, and details of life spread out below me as I gaze at large metropolitan areas below. My head starts to hurt when I imagine what God’s job must be like listening to all the people below and then adding in all the others around the world who live beyond the narrow strip of earth I am flying over at that moment.

Sometimes part of our problem in education is that we are too outcome focused – I imagine some of you are surprised to hear me say that! Life is meant to be a journey, and life is full of learning. We are on a journey/quest of learning and wonder – it is how we are wired as image bearers of God – we are wired for questioning and discovery. The role of science in this journey then is not to nail it all down, but to continue to expand our wonder. Robert Sapolsky, a distinguished scientist, reflects this sentiment: “The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.” Sapolsky captures the sense of wonder and complexity in these words: “. . . an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.”

Part of the purpose of learning is to gain a greater sense of wonder. Well known physicist/genius Richard Feynman suggests: “The purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more.” Our process of learning then is not to produce certainty through a command of factual information, but to produce a greater appreciation of wonder, to be increasingly motivated to learn more and more and to engage in the study of complexities yet not understood. In the learning process the student should have questions multiplying rather than being answered – and sometimes this might mean the questioning of things we thought we knew…or had an answer for.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr suggests that wondering connotes at least three things: 1) standing in disbelief, 2) standing in the question itself, and 3) standing in awe before something. He suggests that it is spiritually healthy to remain open to all three things inside of you as long as you don’t let skepticism and negativity gain the upper hand. To remain in the question keeps us spiritually humble and open to what is possible.

Despite concerns about “science bleaching the world of wonder,” Phillip Ball suggests in his article “Why Science Needs Wonder”  that “science today appreciates that the link between curiosity and wonder should not, and probably cannot, be severed, for true curiosity – as opposed, say, to obsessive pedantry, acquisitiveness or problem-solving – grinds to a halt when deprived of wonder’s fuel.” I believe we simply cannot detach our emotions, our enthusiasm, our fervor, our aesthetic and moral impulses, our sense of awe and wonder – it is our innate response to worship, to bow in humility before a God whose “glory is beyond the heavens, whose ways are past finding out.”

It is the task and the joy of the Christian teacher to balance the two extremes – to not too quickly give religious answers to questions of wonder so that a student’s curiosity for further inquiry is dampened, and on the other hand to not advance the idea that we must be in doubt about everything and that what we do know is simply the result of man’s discovery.

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Filed under Biblical worldview, classroom, creation & environment, curriculum, staff development, student outcomes, worship

Some sweet tweets for Thanksgiving feasting!

Go ahead – eat till you are full and come back for leftovers at a later time! I have enjoyed the stimulation of Twitter and have benefited greatly from the wisdom of many others. The things that others have learned from, and then shared with me, spontaneously encourage my own learning on a daily basis. I share some of the feast below and if you like a particular Tweet source, sign up to follow them!

Wisdom!

C. S. Lewis ‏@CSLewisU

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

walter kirn ‏@walterkirn

I just finished reading the Internet today. It took a while but I can now report that there’s not much there.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

I’m all for celebrating war heroes but also want to celebrate peace heroes? Doesn’t peace demand equal if not greater heroism than war?

Pasi Sahlberg ‏@pasi_sahlberg

In the U.S. question is how much education increases private earnings. In Finland we ask how much lack of education will cost to the nation.

Robert Sommers, PhD ‏@RDSommers

I’ve met teachers that use Scantron tests that don’t like state assessments with multiple choice questions. Hmmmm.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“There’s never been a sinful heart that’s said I’ve had enough success, enough love, enough approval, or enough comfort.”

Rob Jacobs ‏@RobJacobs_

Leaders must convince people that status quo is extremely dangerous for any organization.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

For some, most important thing is “What’s your salary” or “Your religion?” For Jesus, most important thing about life is “Whom do you love?”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

When asked what’s due emperor, Jesus tells what’s due God. Money bears image of its owner: state. YOU belong to God. YOU bear logo of Logos.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Every advancement in science, human learning, and work of art is also God opening his book of creation and revealing his truth to us.”

Karen Duke ‏@krnduke

A word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. F. Buechner

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

If every teacher asked every kid “What are you passionate about?” & recorded & used the answers, our education would improve overnight.

Mike Morrell ‏@zoecarnate

“Talent is not in short supply. Passion is.”

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

Technology provides tools (nouns) to do things (verbs). FOCUS ON THE VERBS & use the most up-to-date nouns you can.

Miroslav Volf ‏@MiroslavVolf

The first act of God (ad extra) was not resistance, but creation; the first word of God was not negation, but affirmation.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Accepted in Christ, we now run the race ‘for the joy that is set before us’ rather than ‘for fear that comes behind us’.”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

Do you bear the “Maker’s Mark?” One “mark” of the Maker–do people become better, or feel inches taller, when they are in your presence?

Wonder!!

Shazam for insects – an app that identifies insects by their call!

25 incredible camouflaged insects 

World’s largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos 

Inspiration!!!

Sometimes the “Tough Teen” is Quietly Writing Stories

From the Center for Faith & Work – Humanizing Work: Xu Bing and the Phoenix

Landfill Harmonic- The World Sends Us Garbage… We Send Back Music

So, if you have digested all this in one sitting, move away from the screen and take a good long walk outside! Happy Thanksgiving! @DanBeerens

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Flourishing – Determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Tenth and final post in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

One of the most significant flourishing outcomes that we hope for our students is our last item- a determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others. In order to do this, we must be able to bring together all aspects of head, heart, and hands – our cognition, passions, and behaviors. It is not that a people with this determination are saccharine sweet, out of touch with reality, or constantly smiling; rather, they know what they believe, who they are, and have a sense of their impact on others as they go through life. This determination comes from a sense of deep faith, gratefulness for God’s gracious gift of salvation, and a desire to live out a life of grateful service to others, to be Christ to them in small and large ways.

What we are really talking about is what attitude we choose to demonstrate each day, in each situation and circumstance. One of the most helpful quotes that speaks to the significance of a positive attitude is this famous one by Chuck Swindoll:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is I have a choice every day of what my attitude will be. I cannot change my past. I cannot change the actions of others. I cannot change the inevitable. The only thing I can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Swindoll is saying that attitude is more important than most anything else in life:  it is a critical issue to address with our students. We can help students realize is that they have a choice about their attitudes. A broken or difficult past may haunt us, but we have a choice about whether we forgive and move on or not. We have the opportunity to choose our attitudes each moment and in each circumstance. We see this modeled by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-28) as they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and chose to spend their time praying, singing, and eventually giving witness to that hope and joy that was spilling out of them. All students have the potential to flourish in this way – it is not dependent on intellect – in fact, some “special needs” students often can be the best bringers of joy and hope.

Our ultimate hope for our students is summarized in this final Flourishing Index statement – that they learn to become Christ-like – giving evidence of the hope that they have through Christ, being grateful in all circumstances, being humble in times of blessing, and living selfless lives of service to others, which is the faithful presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

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Flourishing – Demonstrating effective life habits and practicing spiritual disciplines

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Ninth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

If we desire that our students flourish, we must seek for our students to develop effective life habits and spiritual disciplines. All educators work with students to develop effective life habits, but in Christian education we emphasize with our students that their work is done for God’s glory and not for their own success. Working with students to develop spiritual disciplines can only be done in a Christian school, and is an important part of our work.

We want our students to learn effective life habits so that they may flourish in their lives now and in the future – simply put, people with effective life habits know how to get stuff done! A reasonable goal for our students should be that they know how to manage their time and respect the time of others. Their organizational skills will help them to not feel overwhelmed in their own lives and allow them to effectively give their time to lift the lives of others. The kinds of effective life habits I am talking about have been widely written about in books such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and my intent in this post is not to reiterate those but to consider our role as educators in helping to form these habits.

What role do spiritual disciplines play in a flourishing student’s life? Our desire is that our students not only believe in Christ, but seek to become like him – to connect what is in their hearts with how they live out their lives. In that sense, since we don’t know whether our students truly believe, our best opportunity as believers is to model spiritual disciplines for our students and encourage our students to understand the value of such practices to help us connect belief and action. We should consider both individual and corporate ways we could teach spiritual disciplines to our students so that they may become flourishing Christians who are more like Christ.

What spiritual disciplines might we as Christian educators want to model for our students? In Dallas Willard’s excellent book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, he suggests two categories of disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth:

Disciplines of Abstinence – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement – study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission

Where do we naturally begin when we think about developing a desire to love and serve Christ in students? In James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, he suggests that story and worship practices are critical to a truly Christian education:

1) Spirit – imagination – narrative – body – heart: “In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story. And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment— by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.”

2) Practices focused on worship – communal practices – formation of habits: “Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the “core” of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship.”

Are we up to the modeling challenge this year? Let’s work with students on life habits and spiritual disciplines so that they may flourish.

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Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

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Take one step back please!

Watching the thought processes of our one-year-old grandson has been fascinating! I try to guess at what he is thinking as evidenced by his facial expressions, his eyes, and his movements. I marvel at all that I cognitively know is happening – the formation of brain synapses, the sorting out of the huge volume of sounds and letters and facial expressions, and the barrage of environmental stimuli he processes moment by moment. I seem to have missed some of this wonder the first time around with our own children – so busy with work, responsibility, and activity that seemed important at the time. It seems my grandson and I are united at times in wonder – his the wonder of a child experiencing all things as new, and my wonder in re-seeing reality at different levels and understanding the limits of my understanding and God’s complexity.

Could I ask you to take a step back to wonder? I fear that our structures form us and our school structures are especially designed for efficiency, not wonder. It is simply not efficient to engage too long in wonder – yet wonder is a key element of a truly Christian education. Wonder arises from a deep and attentive observation of reality – not through a quick skimming – the survival habit we are currently developing in our fast-paced world. It is the difference between raising kids or teaching students versus really entering into their world and their reality. Quality wondering takes a commitment to time and a willingness to ponder deeply – it must become a habit of our heart and mind. Religious scholar and educator Sofia Cavaletti put it this way:

“When wonder becomes a fundamental attitude of our spirit it will confer a religious character to our whole life, because it makes us live with the consciousness of being plunged into an unfathomable and incommensurable reality. If we are disposed to reflect on reality in its complexity, then it will reveal itself to be full of the unexpected, of aspects we will never succeed in grasping or circumscribing; then we will be unable to close our eyes to the presence of something or someone within it that surpasses us. Even calling it “the absurd”  is also a way of recognizing its immeasurability. But the religious person will break out in a hymn of praise and admiration.” (Cavalletti, Sofia. The Religious Potential of the Child. New York: Paulist Press, 1983.)

One major concern regarding children’s wonder raised by Caveletti is that we run the risk of extinguishing the emotional capacity of the child when we offer children too much stimuli too fast – the child loses the sense of surprise.  In her experience, spending time on worthy objects of attention and wonder such as the Gospel – in particular, the parables of the Kingdom of God, serve “to offer the child’s wonder an object capable of taking the child always farther and deeper into the awareness of reality, an object whose frontiers are always expanding as the child slowly proceeds in the contemplation of it.” In his book Eyes Wide Open, Steve DeWitt suggests that “wonder is what image-bearers feel when they glimpse a reflection of God’s beauty,” and that wonder reminds us of how God designed us to live: in shalom and harmony with God, man, creation, and ourselves. (DeWitt, Steve. Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything. Grand Rapids, Mich: Credo House Pub, 2012)

Our greatest gifts to our students this year may be to help them wonder deeply at how the image of God is made evident in them, to sustain and teach the habit of wondering, and then to teach them where to direct their consequent worship – toward the Creator.

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Filed under early faith, encouraging the heart, student outcomes, worship

Seeing and being seen: a devotional for a new school year

One of the things that summer does for us in the education profession is to restore our sight. We can easily lose our perspective as we near the end of the year – it is a challenge just staying focused as the tasks mount up. Summer gives us time to reflect – to see into the future, to look back, to see through some past problems/people, to soul search about any “blind spots” and “logs” (see Matthew 7:5) and to “look into” things that help us gain our balance and give us new hopes and dreams.

At the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to think about seeing. Will you take the time to truly see your students, parents, and colleagues and enter into their worlds? Will you recognize Jesus when he shows up in your school? Are you seeing the good or the bad in others? It likely depends on where you are focusing. Are we seeing beauty all around? It is essential that we help students see it, as beauty engages us and entices us to learn more – beauty is critical to the learning process. Will you take the time to see the needs of the world around you and through your keen sight provoke the missional imaginations of your students – to help them truly see as Jesus saw? Do you have a vision for the future impact, the ways God can use, each of those whose hearts and lives you have the opportunity to deeply impact?

At the beginning of the year, I encourage you to think about being seen. Not in the showy, attention-getting way that we first think about when we use the words “being seen.” Let me give you an example of what I mean. In his wonderful book, Nudge, Leonard Sweet tells this story.

Many decades ago some men were panning for gold in the state of Montana. The prospectors organized themselves into an informal cooperative and agreed up front that if they should strike gold they would tell no one about their find.
    After weeks of hard panning and digging, one of them found an unusual stone. Breaking it open, they were excited to see that it contained gold. Soon the prospectors discovered an abundance of the precious metal. They began shouting “We’ve found it! We’ve found gold! We’ve struck it rich!”
    They then proceeded to go to a nearby town for additional supplies. Before leaving camp, they reminded each other of the pledge of absolute secrecy. While they were in town, none of them breathed a word about their good fortune. However, when they were getting ready to return to camp, they were horrified to discover several hundred of the local townsmen preparing to follow them. And when they asked who had revealed the secret of their discovery, the answer came: “No one had to. Your faces showed it.”

How do you wish to be seen this year? What will students, colleagues, and parents see in you?

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Filed under devotional, distinctively Christian, encouraging the heart, image of God, resources, worship

Articulation is not an art, but a passion!

I have sung in many choirs with different directors over the years and without fail, and regardless of the skill level of the choir, each director has encouraged the choir members to articulate more clearly. Bottom line, even though the choir members have spent hours learning the notes, phrasing, intonation, timing, and expression, if they don’t articulate the words carefully, they are failing to communicate. Singers may be aware of the importance of clear enunciation and even have the desire to communicate the message, but articulation requires sustained, focused, and passionate energy to succeed.

According to David Kinnaman and Barna Research, teens are not articulating their faith with clarity. Even though kids like the concept of being Christian, the researchers are finding that kids are having less conversations about what they believe. What is more surprising is that among Protestant teens, the Barna study states “they are more likely to pray, go to worship services, read the Bible and attend youth group meetings than were Protestant-affiliated teens a dozen years ago.” It appears that our kids have bought the idea that we are to inclusive and not offend anyone – even when it comes to our deepest convictions of faith. Where would they get this idea?

Christian Smith, in his impressive Soul Searching study of 13-17 year old students, tells us that we get what we are – in other words, our kids are emulating our behavior. In a recent study by the Christian Reformed Church (the church out of which many CSI schools were born), the devotional habits of adults are in serious decline. For example, the percentage of families having daily devotions has declined from 60% in 1992 to 43% in 2007. If we don’t engage in regular spiritual disciplines, how can we expect our kids to? If they don’t see us sharing our faith with others, how can we expect that they will?

In a video clip I use in workshops, the avowed atheist entertainer, Penn Jillette, speaks about an encounter with a businessman who gave him a New Testament after a performance. Penn respected that gesture and believes that everyone who feels strongly about their faith should be proselytizing. He likens the lack of sharing one’s faith to seeing a truck bearing down on someone and not trying to push them out of the way. In other words if you believe that a person is going to hell and you have a way to save them, but don’t tell them, you are acting as if you hate them.

Are we teaching kids how to have conversations about Jesus? Are we modeling that for them in our own lives?

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Working and walking by faith

I have enjoyed reading Thomas Merton over the years and found this poem to be inspirational as I thought about working in Christian education. Often we do not get to see the fruits of our labors – maybe that is why house painting is such  popular summer job for educators! Our daily work is an act of faith in a sovereign and loving God. . .

This excerpt is from a letter that Thomas Merton wrote to a social activist (from: The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton):

“Do not depend on hope of results.

When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on,

essentially an apostolic work,

you may have to face the fact

that your work will be apparently worthless

and even achieve no results at all,

if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect…

The big results are not in your hands or mine,

but they suddenly happen,

and we can share in them;

but there is no point in building our lives

on this personal satisfaction,

which may be denied us and

which after all is not that important…

All the good that you do will not come from you

but from the fact that you have allowed yourself,

in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love…

If you can get free from the domination of causes

and just serve Christ’s truth,

you will be able to do more

and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments.

The real hope then is not in something we think we can do,

but in God who is making something good out of it

In some way we cannot see.”

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Thank you, Lord!

In this week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I encourage you to take some time to really slow down, reflect, look, taste, and see the goodness of God. (Canadian friends, you have already had opportunity to do this since your Thanksgiving Day is earlier – however, if you didn’t take the time to reflect well, then do it now!)

Below is a wonderful short video that captures well the joy we feel in being a part of God’s created order. I encourage you to read the next post as well which beautifully articulates the joy of the life given to us and our appropriate response.

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The real SAT test

(Thanks to my friend Mark Eckel, Director of the Mahseh Center for allowing me to re-post this blog post which originally appeared as “Genesis: ‘The Real World’ (Part 7)” on his Warp and Woof blogspot.)

Bright, shiny copper pots: I have never seen anyone so excited about cooking utensils!  Jon was explaining his historical finds that coincide with his love of preparing gourmet foods.  One of the cooking pots had actually been “resurrected” from an underwater shipwreck.  Jon’s love of cooking is displayed as decoration in his home.

One expedition for book boxes prior to a move found me in a bar. While there, the manager showed me his latest technique for dispensing drinks: a gravity system that worked from the room above.  Exact specifications created the beverage ordered by patrons below.  I’ll never forget the excitement of the owner.  He was so pleased to offer exceptional service.  Loving his vocation meant enjoyment of his life within the world.

I received a text from a former student the other day while he was in a tree stand hunting deer.  Back and forth electrons flew as I expressed amazement that he could hunt and text at the same time!  Guy told me that when you spend 200 days a year in the wild you learn to do many things at the same time.  Visiting his website I saw the pure joy in Guy’s eyes as he taught people lessons about life through hunting.

When God created “the heavens and the earth” He had such human enthusiasms in mind.  God’s assessment of His work speaks for itself: “And He saw that it was good.” The word means “beautiful” setting the standard for human excitement in creativity and aesthetics.  The material world is good.  We are not Gnostics, legalistically binding ourselves to human-centered regulations. To enjoy God’s good gifts of life is a sign of gratitude; thankfulness to One outside of ourselves.  The Psalmist is blessed by astronomy, agriculture, biology, law codes, wildlife and human life.

Delight in this God-given life is one of the reasons why I disdain certain gospel songs.  Growing up, one of the little ditties we sang in church was “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A Passin’ Through.”  I have been teaching a seminar for some time with the title “This World IS My Home!  I’m NOT Just Passin’ Through!”  I love the smell of crisp fall air.  I love the smell of the air just before it rains.  I love the smell of wood fires in the night air.  I love the smell of a bakery, sautéed onion-pepper mixture on the stove, and Kentucky Fried Chicken®!  And that’s just a few smells!  The list is endless of what I enjoy in this life!

So it is with great admiration that I mention a hymn which perfectly explains my joy:

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour, Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon, and stars of light.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye, For the heart and mind’s delight,

For the mystic harmony, Linking sense to sound and sight.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

Satisfaction, Appreciation, and Thankfulness is the most important SAT test we will ever take. To be ungrateful for the gifts given to us is to reject The One Who has given those gifts to us. We ought to give thanks for the reality of this life since He has given everything for us to enjoy.

E. M. Forster would cringe when people would tell him to “face reality.”  Turning round in a circle he would ask, “Which way should I face since reality is all around me?” In a similar vein, Cornelius Plantinga rightly takes to task those who think paying bills, going to a 9-5 job, and balancing work with leisure is “the real world.”  He says, “Someone who lives in the ‘real world’ lives with an awareness of the whole world, because the whole world is part of the kingdom of God.”

“The whole” compels me to contend “the real world” includes the seen and the unseen.  The five senses do not make sense apart from the sixth sense.  There is another world to which I must give an account.  The supernatural creates the natural.  The invisible God made the visible creation.  To neglect our responsibility to live under Heaven’s authority creates a disjointed view of life.  We succumb to naturalism, materialism, and pragmatism.  We begin to think that success is based on production.  “The bottom line” becomes our “finish line.”

God draws “a line in the sand.”  Unless we are careful, Deuteronomy 4:15-19 declares we are prone to worship, honor, and subscribe to the standards of this world.  I would encourage us all to ask ourselves this question: Is our Christian distinctiveness informed by “the real world’s” accountability to Another World?  As much as I enjoy this God-given life, I am constantly reminded that the creation has a Creator.  I will continue to revel in sights, smells, tastes, and human ingenuity as I remember that earth depends on Heaven.

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Top 10 best practices in Bible teaching

A friend recently posed the question to me of best practices in Bible teaching and we had a great discussion about what we believed were the most effective pedagogical strategies.  We were not aware of any empirical research in this area, and so I submit a partial list to you drawn mostly from experience, and invite you to suggest other practices or disagree with one I have listed! The only criteria is that your suggested practice must be applicable across the grades and must be something that could be done (for example, a trip to the Holy Land would be wonderful, but not possible for all!)

Category 1 – The Basics

1. Storytelling

2. Scripture memorization

Category 2 – Application

3. Questions

4. Dilemmas/case studies

Category 3 – Personal Response

5.  Journaling

6. Worship

7. Service

What else would you add?

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Edging toward amortality

Aging Not So Gracefully

Aging Not So Gracefully by Cayusa on Flickr

Maybe it is the constant barrage of AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) letters in the mail, or the fact that my upcoming birthday pushes me closer to the name of a local bank (there really is a bank called 5/3 Bank!), but I can’t help but wonder if the concept of amortality is happening to me. Note that I said amortality, not amorality!  If you are not familiar with the concept of amortality, you should know that it is #5 on Time magazine’s list of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now, and is described by its inventor, writer Catherine Mayer as:  “. . . the intersection of that trend (resisting the onset of age) with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion.” Yes, the Boomer generation seems to be both re-inventing age and walking away (or running or “spinning” away) from the concept of organized religion (see Barna’s book Revolutionaries and my 12.18.06 post.)

As I write this, my body is recovering from a spring break filled with painting, yard work, sod moving, and closet cleaning. I want to function at the same pace as I did in earlier years, and am disappointed if I can’t. As Mayer states: “The defining characteristic of amortality is to live in the same way, at the same pitch, doing and consuming much the same things, from late teens right up until death.” We somehow expect to live forever on this earth and expect/hope that medical science will have the answer by the time we need it, to allow us to live indefinitely. These attitudes fly in the face of “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12. We are in essence saying we are not interested in learning another pace, to develop character and understanding toward wisdom, but instead are saying “just give us our Botox and Viagra and let us go on our paths of consumption.”

My sister’s recent struggles with long-term cancer have again inspired me to number my days and do things that really matter, as I have seen her do. Her grace and ministry to all around bear witness to a heart that holds no illusions about the power of amortality. I only hope that I can live however many days that are numbered for me with half the grace and focus that she has demonstrated. Perhaps our personal mantra should be something like, “Modeling what matters so that the wisdom of Christ is seen through me.”

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High School Worship Team/Calvin Worship Institute Symposium reflections

(Recently you received the February Christian School Teacher that referenced the opportunity that worship teams from CSI high schools had to attend the recent Calvin Institute of Worship Symposium. Thanks to Gale Tien, from our CSI office, who shares this report of the day’s activities.)

On January 23, 2009, I had the privilege to participate in the Calvin College Symposium on Worship.  My role was to be an observer at the day-long gathering of nearly 25 Christian High School Worship/Chapel Committees.  This group of nearly 150 students, teachers, and administrators from across North America, was brought together to discuss the role of worship in Christian high schools and to explore best practices in this area.  It was inspiring to see more than one hundred high school students gathered to discuss and explore the role of worship in Christian high schools.  It was a blessing to hear so many of these students express their love for Jesus and their desire for their classmates to come to love Jesus more dearly.

The day began in corporate worship with the larger group of symposium attendees.  The Fine Arts Center on the Campus was nearly filled with people from around the globe.  The multi-age, multi-denominational, multi-ethnic, multi-race, multi-worship style group and the worship that occurred set a beautiful tone for the remainder of the day.  My prayer is that the high school students, some of whom were at times critical of their church worship experiences, gained a sense of how wonderful multi-generational worship can be.  A consistent “thread” of their criticism related to worship with older people who don’t share the same taste in music or worship style.  I pray that an added blessing for the high school students was the multi-cultural element of the opening worship.

(I feel I should add a bit of confession, lest it seem that the high school students were the only ones who learned and grew from the time of corporate worship.  When the main speaker, Craig Barnes began talking, I noticed someone “talking” in a low voice in the row behind me.  I began to feel my blood pressure rise as I anticipated having to deal with this distraction during Barnes’ comments.  When I turned to give a disapproving “look” at the person who was talking, I realized it was an interpreter who was translating for a number of non-English speaking attendees.  A wave of guilt caused me to sheepishly turn back around when I realized that what was taking place was a wonderful situation similar to what is described in Acts 2.  I offered a “bullet prayer” asking God to forgive me for my myopia.  I felt God’s forgiveness immediately and returned to experiencing a wonderful day.)

Following the corporate worship, the high school students, teachers, and administrators moved into a separate time to consider the role of worship in a Christian high school.

Ron Rienstra set an excellent context for the remainder of the day.  He did a remarkable job of presenting substantive and theoretical ideas in a way that the group could digest and process these ideas.  Ron provided so many wonderful ideas and thoughts.  (I felt like I was being asked to “take a sip out of fire hydrant”.)  I thought one of Ron’s greatest contributions to the day was the challenge to “find the fine line” between acknowledging the need for passion and emotion in worship, but not allowing worship to only be passion and emotion.  I loved the quote that Ron referenced that “God does not always ‘move’ us . . . and all that ‘moves’ us is not always from God.”  I also appreciated exploring the concept that worship includes three aspects; all of life, what happens on Sunday morning, and the intimate sense of God’s presence.  I strongly agreed with his comment/quote about how people who report that Sunday worship is uninspiring often come to realize that the problem is not with their Sunday worship.  Rather, there is no connection between their “Sunday worship” and their “all of life” worship.  It was great to hear and see that the young people at my table understood and embraced Ron’s presentation on the Complexity of Worship.

Following Ron Rienstra’s presentation, Jack Postma and Sharon Veltema of Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Michigan, presented the role and implementation of chapel/worship at Unity Christian High School.  Chapel/worship plays a large and frequent role at the school.  Jack and Sharon described the history and progression of the plan, the philosophical foundation for worship at Unity, as well as practical advice for the other schools.

Following a “networking” lunch, which afforded attendees the opportunity to discuss and dialogue with other participants, the group moved into the afternoon session.  The teachers and administrators gathered to discuss topics pertinent to high school leaders.  The students participated in a rotation of three workshops.  The topics were: Music and High School Worship, The Spoken Word (Prayers and Scripture Reading) and High School Worship, and The Visual Arts (Dance, Drama, and Use of Media) and High School Worship.  The workshops were led by Calvin College students who are Worship Apprentices.  Each sectional included a discussion of the philosophy and role of each area, as well as practical advice about implementing each of the areas.  I was very impressed with the sincerity and maturity of the Calvin College Worship Apprentices.

Following this rotation of worships, the entire group; students, teachers, and administrators, gathered for a closing session, led by Bob Keeley.  This closing session served the dual purpose of putting “closure” on some of the topics of the day but also allowed for some new thoughts and “next time” topics to be introduced.  The most significant “next time” topic in my opinion (and a consensus expressed in the group discussion also) is to explore the role and interaction between the church and school regarding worship.

I left the symposium inspired and thankful.  I was inspired to see the passion and fervor of the high school students and the adults that accompanied the students.  It was so wonderful to see the students’ love for the Lord and desire to include expanded worship in their school.  I was thankful for the work of John Witvliet, Bob Keeley, and the Worship Institute staff among others, who organized the gathering. I strongly commend the organizers of the day and would urge that there be a “next meeting”.  I would suggest if at all possible it be a “cohort” type gathering and bring back as many of the young people who were at this first meeting to hear how the day impacted them and influenced worship at their school.  Along with these returning students, new students should also be encouraged to join.

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Walk on

walking-to-the-sky-by-chasqui(Post contributed by Mark Eckel, educational consultant and director of the Mahseh Center.  Thanks, Mark for sharing this encouraging article!)

Putting one foot in front of the other is difficult some days.  Robert Robinson was the 18th century Cambridge pastor who penned the famous hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  The positive nature of the song seemed not to reflect his hard, later life.  The story is told of his encounter one day with a woman who was studying a hymnal.  She asked how he liked the hymn she was humming. In tears, Robinson replied, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who penned that tune many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”

When I hear that story I think of the phrase in Robinson’s song “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it / prone to leave the God I love.”  Another hymn writer, William Cowper, seems to have been cut from the same cloth.  Depression dogged Cowper all his days.  “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” is one of Cowper’s songs.  The phrase “Behind a frowning providence / he hides a smiling face” reflects, perhaps, the two-sided perspective of a man battling his own inner turmoil yet trusting the “fountain filled with blood, flowing from Emmanuel’s veins”-the hymn for which Cowper is best known. (See John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God.)

Response to suffering and agony take many forms.  We feel what we feel intensely.  We cry out with the Psalmist as he did four times in a row “How long, O Lord?!”( Psalm 13:1-2.)  The writer does not question God’s intervention but His delay–why are you taking so long?!  We suspect the loss of God’s nearness.  God has not left but we do not sense the shine of His face on us any longer.( Numbers 6:24-26.)

“I have suffered much.”(Psalm 119:107.)  Let that statement hang in the air for a moment.  There are those of us who feel that suffering every day: fingernails scraping across the blackboard of life.  Screeching matches our latch on to the Psalms in our cries toward heaven.  “I have suffered much” comes from Psalm 119:105-113 capturing some of Robinson and Cowper’s sentiment.  While the source of suffering comes from without, this verse indicates an inner unrest: an affliction eating at us which was caused by others.

Note the context.  The previous verses suggest there are “evil” and “wrong paths.”  (Psalm 119:101, 104.)  Indeed, the wicked set snares on them. Fighting internal turmoil because of external havoc, the writer says he takes his life in his own hands.  Earlier he declared “I am laid low in the dust” after “they almost wiped me from the earth.” (Psalm 119:25, 87.) We face opposition, hatred, suppression, or oppression from others.  Walking this life is hard.

So how do we make it down the road?  The “lamp” which is our light from the famed Psalm 119:105 is not a general comment about Scripture’s illumination.  In my study, I have a set of lamp reproductions based on finds from various archaeological digs.  All these lamps would fit in the palm of a normal human hand.  The single wick gave off scant light; perhaps enough to see the next step or two on a moonless night.  Sitting on a lamp stand, the candle-like quality could function as a nightlight for us, at best.  In contrast, our 21st century mindset thinks “lamp” equals a halogen headlight, casting a beam hundreds of feet into the murky darkness.  The Psalmist celebrates no such thing.  All we have is a lamp which gives enough light for us to know the next step we take.

Our life’s walk is based on Scriptural trust in things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1-16.) If we are serious about walking down the path set by God, we must have no illusions about understanding why our present circumstances may be so hard.  This section of the Psalm (119) concludes with the writer saying he will follow God’s Word “to the end.”  Until our mission on earth is complete, we continue walking with the light of Scripture that tells us only what we need to know.  In theological terms “the perseverance of the saints” teaches in part that we bear the responsibility of obedience without expectation of certain outcomes.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese activist who protested her government’s treatment of its people.  While marching with some of her supporters one day, soldiers blocked their path, leveling automatic weapons at the group.  Suu Kyi kept walking, despite orders to stop.  John Boorman made the woman’s suffrage a focal point of his 1995 film Beyond Rangoon.  The famed Irish rock band U2 created a title commemorating Suu Kyi’s simple action: “Walk On.”  No phrase better represents Robinson’s, Cowper’s, Suu Kyi’s or my passage on earth in the midst of suffering than that we walk on.

Image: Photo by Chasqui

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The revolution – moving out of the conventional church

How is the church continuing to change and what impact will this have on the faith development of youth? The latest survey coming out of George Barna’s research organization, The Barna Group, puts additional weight behind his contention that people will not be worshipping via the conventional church in the future and that they are moving to alternative means.

A recent random sample phone survey of 1,005 adults taken by The Barna Group in December 2007 reported the following:

Each of six alternatives was deemed by most adults to be “a complete and biblically valid way for someone who does NOT participate in the services or activities of a conventional church to experience and express their faith in God.” Those alternatives include engaging in faith activities at home, with one’s family (considered acceptable by 89% of adults); being active in a house church (75%); watching a religious television program (69%); listening to a religious radio broadcast (68%); attending a special ministry event, such as a concert or community service activity (68%); and participating in a marketplace ministry (54%).

What does this trend mean for postmodern youth? Should we be concerned about this shift away from conventional church gatherings or be encouraged that perhaps kids (and adults) want to express their faith in more action-oriented ways?

Barna has now taken the revolution a step further. In his latest and controversial new book, Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Christian Practices, coauthored with Frank Viola, he suggests that much of our current institutional practice is not biblical but can be traced back to third- and fourth-century pagan roots. Naturally, this is causing a firestorm within the organized church. Yet some are saying this book is potentially the most important book on spirituality written this century. Since I have not read the book, I can only suggest that you check out reader reviews of the book and consider prayerfully reading it.

If we who value the Reformed faith really believe that we are to be “always reforming,” we certainly need to take a good hard look at this book. Hopefully, it will serve to drive us back to the Word, to the study of history, and to the reexamination of our thinking about church. Perhaps this book, like Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 15:1–20, will help people rethink what is truly biblical in the practices of our church life and what is merely man-made tradition.

We should not be afraid to fully discuss these things with the young people in our care. Hopefully, we will be able to demonstrate a spirit of humility—a “seeing through the glass darkly” attitude—to teens who sometimes are turned off by their perception that we have all the answers. Could it be a helpful exercise for us, together with our students, to investigate a particular church tradition and see how it lines up with Scripture as well as how it has been adapted to reach culture? If we love truth more than tradition and believe the Holy Spirit is guiding believers into all the truth, what have we really got to lose by it?

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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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Filed under athletics, community, mission development, resources, stewardship, student outcomes, worship

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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Filed under Biblical worldview, creation & environment, stewardship, student outcomes, worship

Teaming up to assist schools in worship

A significant part of building community in a Christian school includes coming together to worship. In recent years we have increasingly realized the significance of involving students in worship planning and bringing thoughtful intentionality to that process. Christian Schools International and the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship have teamed up to publish a new resource written by Robert and Laura Keeley entitled Together We Worship. This resource is designed for use in grades 4-6 and is focused around worship as dialogue – “a time when we gather together to talk to God, where God talks to us, and where we talk to each other” – an exchange of listening and speaking. Teachers will find this helpful as a means of assisting in classroom worship and building common ground across the many worshipping communities represented by our students.

The curriculum is available in print form and CD for purchase on CSI’s online store. Member schools have already received one set of materials free of charge due to the generous support of a grant through the Worship Institute.

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A Christmas devotional – Celebrate Immanuel!

If you wanted to tell the greatest story ever told what would you emphasize as a writer? As I reflected on the introductory thoughts by Eugene Peterson before each of the gospels in his translation, The Message, it became clearer to me what each writer was trying to get across. It also became a comfort as I considered what that emphasis meant on a personal level. How is the gift of Immanuel – God with us conveyed in each case?

Matthew – God has been at work a long time – a master plan – we are in the middle of this plan – we are not accidental or incidental – Christ’s birth gives us meaning, orientation, connection to past and future.

Mark – doesn’t even talk about the birth – gets right down to business – God is here and he is on our side, he is passionate to save us – we can live in reality with hope.

Luke – as the only non Jewish New Testament writer, Luke the outsider shows how Jesus came to include all who were previously excluded from the “in club” – women, the poor, the racially different (the Samaritans), and those of lower status (shepherds). Jesus came to make all of us belong and fit in and breaks down all earthly and man-made barriers.

John – emphasizes the word – creation is spoken into existence, God speaks salvation into existence through the person of Jesus, Jesus speaks to us and invites us into a relationship with him. Are our words back to him “ I believe – I want to live in relationship with you?”

The words of hope and comfort in summary from these four gospels are:

We are part of God’s plan – he has a plan for each of us.
God is passionate to save us – we live in hope.
Through Jesus we are made to belong and are here to extend that gift to others.
The Word most of all wants relationship with us. How are we responding?

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
John 1:14 in The Message.

Prayer:
Jesus,
Thank you for coming to be with us, for giving us hope now and for the future, for including us, for desiring a relationship with us – how can we begin to say thanks for these unbelievable gifts.

You have been and promise to be with us through all our trials and the brokenness of this world – thank you for being with us, for being our comfort. Despite the worst that this world can hand us, we thank you for the deep down joy we know from knowing you and living in hope. Amen!

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A powerful tool for engaging students with the Bible

I recently came across YouVersion.com and realized it was a totally new tool unlike anything I had seen before. I believe it has great potential for engaging our online kids in Bible study and also provides a way for our kids to share their faith with others.

The site claims in an intro message I received after signing up: “Whether you’ve been studying the Bible for years or are simply curious about its claims, YouVersion will allow you to read, share, ask questions, and learn from others in an exciting and interactive new way.”

It has four features (info in italics taken from the YouVersion site):

Discover
Easily find a passage in one of many translations. Search by reference or use the Table of Contents to locate a specific scripture.

Contribute
Share what God’s Spirit is showing you, and read how He is moving in the lives of others. Contribute images, video, text or links to passages, or email something meaningful to a friend.

Reflect
You can journal about what you’re reading, as you’re reading it. And even better, what you write is linked directly to what you are reading so you can easily reference back to those special passages.

Remember
Mark references with tags that make sense to you, and find what you want, when you want. It’s like your own personal concordance. Or you can star anything you’d like to remember.

Here is an informational video and an explanation of how to use the site. (You may need to wait a minute while video loads.)

What is compelling is linking both personal thoughts and visual/text web resources that each have found helpful around certain passages of Scripture. See the video above for a good example of what I mean. I think this could be a great tool for personal use or to encourage students to use. Think of the possibilities for student engagement with the Bible!

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Filed under curriculum, student outcomes, uncategorized, worship

Nurturing those who nurture

Over the past month I have been involved in three teacher conventions – Heartland, Midwest CEA, and OCSTA in Ontario. What a great privilege this has been to connect with so many committed teachers and administrators in times of worship and learning together. Highlights include singing together in Dordt College’s beautiful chapel, connecting with so many friends from various stops along my journey, being inspired by Tony Campolo as he delivered a “greatest hits” message about being passionate Christians, seeing teachers in all three places being honored for 25 and 35 years of service (wow- so many years of dedication and so many who have done it!) and hearing speakers like James Schaap and Gideon Strauss who brought the need for reverence of God and his creation to light in fresh ways. Standing up in front of the Midwest CEA and singing “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” held special meaning – I could barely look at my wife while singing this song that was sung at our wedding and holds a special place in our hearts.

If you are a board member or administrator let me emphasize to you how much these times of worship, fellowship and learning together mean to teachers – please do not underestimate how the intangible aspects of this experience of community can inspire teachers who spend much of their time alone in their work. The community that happens at these conventions does much to encourage the hearts of those who encourage the hearts and minds of our students. Hats off to Anne Maatman, Brenda VanderPloeg, Diane Stronks, their committees of helpers, and to all presenters who helped to pull these large and important events off.

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Excellence as a word: overused or distinctive?

Excellence… we seek it and celebrate it, yet in our culture the word excellence is often overused. In a Christian ministry setting we are sometimes wary of this word – does it smack of ambition and success? Yet on the other hand should we be settling for mediocrity? Is this word helpful to us? Does it help move us in the right direction?

We need vigorous discussion about what this means in a Christian ministry – this is one of the best debates we can have because if we seek excellence for the right reasons we can gain a clearer understanding of our mission and are led into doing passionate ministry.

I love the word excellence and consider this verse as a key to understanding the proper context for excellence: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for men.” Colossians 3:23

Therefore Christian excellence is:

  • Motivated by a desire to please God and fulfill his purposes.
  • Demonstrated by offering one’s best to God as an act of worship.
  • Demonstrated by doing something great for God and being faithful to his call and claim on your life. Some examples: Solomon building the temple, Samson destroying the temple of the Philistines, Paul’s missionary journeys.

Our context in Christian schools is often framed in competitive and quantitative ways by our public school counterparts, NCLB, and business. If we define excellence in simply reductive, results oriented ways we are missing a critical dimension of excellence in Christian education (see my blog post of 2/09/07 – Generation (and re-generation) through Christ.)

What is the true standard of excellence? In their book Resurrecting Excellence, Reclaiming the Church Jones and Armstrong state: “Fidelity to the crucified and risen Christ …Christian ministry, lived faithfully and well, is beautiful.” Excellence is cultivating the eyes and ears to see and hear the beauty of God, his world, and his people.

The motivation for excellence in our ministry flows from a heart of passionate love – we understand this best when we are in love and want to give the best to another …the finest diamond we can afford to one we love, the most beautiful flowers, and doing the best we can at a task that we know is valued by the other.

Beautiful ministry is inspired by people who have lived and are living out their lives in the beauty of Christ – this in turn inspires standards of excellence. “Learning to attend to God’s beauty and to see and hear through God-inspired eyes and ears calls forth the strongest patterns of feeling, thinking, and acting. This is an excellence that is not about our efforts or culturally defined expectations. Rather, it is an excellence that is shaped by God’s excellence, nurtured by the new life in Christ to which we are all called in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Jones and Armstrong, pp. 20, 21)

Let’s focus on fueling a passion among ourselves and a beauty of ministry in our midst…is there a richness of character, of grace, of virtue, of faithful actions, of restoration and reconciliation, of creativity? If the kids see this attractiveness in us as examples of excellence, they may also be inspired to serve the Lord with excellence.

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Filed under book, distinctively Christian, mission measurement, worship

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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Quality worship experiences (Community)

Just before the Christmas break a couple of us from CSI had the opportunity to meet with John Witvliet, Kristen Verhulst, and Betty Grit from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. They have excellent resources for schools interested in improving the quality and intentionality of their worship experiences for students. They shared with us a model called Vertical Habits, using childlike language based on the Psalms. Click here for a further explanation. There are a couple of CSI schools using this model – Muskegon Christian, MI and Unity Christian in Hudsonville, MI. The Institute has been, and will continue to, offer workshops for school worship leaders and also has a helpful blog devoted to worship thoughts/needs/ideas.

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Filed under community, distinctively Christian, worship

Developing Revolutionaries?

Is it our desire in Christian schools to develop Revolutionaries? George Barna, in his latest book, Revolution, has coined this term to define a “new breed” of Christians who are responding to our age of revolutions (information, technological, sexual, global, etc.), to our materialistically focused society, and to our “whatever” postmodern mindset.

He defines Revolutionaries as:
“…devout followers of Jesus Christ who are serious about their faith, who are constantly worshipping and interacting with God, and whose lives are centered on their belief in Christ.” They demonstrate “complete dedication to being thoroughly Christian by viewing every moment of life through a spiritual lens and making every decision in light of Biblical principles. These are individuals who are determined to glorify God every day through every thought, word, and deed in their lives.”

At the same time he presents evidence that this group, 20 million strong and growing, does not particularly find the institutional church where they want to be. He wonders why the local church is not more transformational and why these Revolutionaries may not opt for involvement in the local church. He notes some troubling signs, according to his research, about churched Christians (a few selected highlights):

  • 8 out of every 10 believers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God during the worship service.
  • Only 9% of all born-again adults have a Biblical worldview.
  • Fewer than 10% of churched Christians donate at least 10% of their incomes to churches and other non-profit organizations.
  • The typical believer would rather give money to an organization than personally assist in alleviating the needs of the disadvantaged.
  • A large majority of churched believers rely upon their church, rather than their family, to train their children to become spiritually mature.
  • Most Christian parents do not believe they are doing a good job at facilitating the spiritual development of their children. 

What is significant for us, as we consider how to strengthen ties between the school, home, and church, are his predictions about the future:

  • By the year 2025, only one-third of the population will rely upon a local congregation as the primary or exclusive means for experiencing and expressing their faith; one-third will do so through alternative forms of a faith-based community; and one-third will realize their faith through the media, the arts, and other cultural institutions.
  • Unfortunately, as far as we can determine, the family will remain a mere blip on the radar screen when it comes to serving as the conduit for faith experience and expression, remaining central to perhaps 5 percent of the population.

What do these predictions mean for us as we nurture faith with students and seek to partner with churches and homes?

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Filed under Biblical worldview, kids/culture, mission development, student outcomes, worship

Distinctiveness (community) – Worship

Getting kids more involved in leading worship has been a positive and recent development in Christian schools. Beyond the obvious delight of worshipping our God, this involvement serves to develop student understanding of our distinctiveness through a sense of Christian community. In a phone call follow-up to an email, I had a wonderful conversation recently with Suzanne Van Engen, principal at Covenant Christian in Mishawaka, Indiana. She related what a powerful difference it made at her school to have students involved in worship and to have someone gifted in this area to guide them. She states in her email: “I find it interesting that we find money for sports, cheerleading and the like, and worship is done by whomever we can pull in or it is put on the teachers. It is one of the most important things we do as a Christian community and yet we don’t find monies to have someone lead us. We think anyone can do it. But, we don’t think anyone can teach art or second grade or middle school math!”

Worship is a key distinctive of the total educational experience at Christian schools and as Suzanne illustrates beautifully below, should be different from church in that it is in a setting specifically designed for students – a place where they can learn and practice leadership: “For our Open House at the beginning of the year I tried to think of a way to make this different from attending any old Open House at any school. What do we do at a Christian school that demonstrates who we are? We worship together. So we had open house for 45 minutes and then we all assembled in the church next door and had a fifteen-minute time of worship. Our young students led us. We had a fifth grader on the overhead. In moving the transparency down it fell off the overhead. Later on when I did a little talk about what we are about, I told parents that we wanted to train our churches’ future leaders. What better place then at school for the transparency to fall. This is where we make mistakes and learn. When they lead in church they will already have had practice. You get where we went from there.”

What has been your school’s experience? Is worship a way that students and parents understand your distinctiveness as a school? What are your needs in this area?

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