Category Archives: worship

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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Filed under devotional, kids/culture, parenting, student outcomes, worship

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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Filed under devotional, encouraging the heart, student outcomes, worship

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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Filed under Biblical worldview, creation & environment, resources, worship

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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Filed under Biblical worldview, creation & environment, encouraging the heart, stewardship, worship

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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Filed under Bible memory, classroom, curriculum, student outcomes, worship