Tell the Story

Last week I walked into my colleague’s classroom and a student was reading “Harold and the Purple Crayon” by Crockett Johnson. I shrieked with delight. “That was my favorite book when I was a little girl in school.”   On Amazon, Harold’s story is told this way: “Harold and his trusty crayon travel through woods and across seas and past dragons before returning to bed, safe and sound. Full of funny twists and surprises, this charming story shows just how far your imagination can take you.”

When we tell God’s Story, God often takes us through woods and across seas and past dragons like Harold’s. From Genesis to Revelation, God travels with his people first in the Garden then across parted seas and through the wilderness until we see God himself walk on the very water that can drown us. We see a God who is Sovereign over creation and a God involved in our daily lives. God is like Harold creating gardens with trees, parting seas, building landmarks and memorials, sketching boats, talking to whales and drawing moons over prophets. In the end of God’s Story God sketches the stories fulfillment: God’s crayon comes to life in His very own Son.  When His Son dies on the cross we are reminded that when we are hungry we have our own purple picnic, the Lord’s Supper, to remember even though God left He is still with us.

Much of the world today doesn’t see God or know about God’s Story. Some know parts of it; more than ever before dismiss it. Movies such as “Zeitgeist” and “The God Who Wasn’t There” capture the culture while Christians cower siloed in churches and locked in complacency. We are Jonahs who flee to Joppa to find a ship to Tarshish. Instead of chasing after God’s crayon in wonder like Harold did with his, we flee from God’s presence because we tell ourselves we know Him. God is determined to get his message to the nations and he will because he is God. Meanwhile atheism is on the rise and people shun truth claims made in scripture in a mass cultural decay into modern individualism and we look the other way, write our own stories and use our own crayons.

Our nation is in cultural crisis and now more than ever we are not the United States but divided ones. Once a “shining city on a hill,” we were the promise of the world when in 1630 a tiny ship named Arabella brought settlers to a World that was new. Now, nearly 400 years later we are a flourishing nation with luxuries much like Nineveh in the first half of the first millennium. In what other ways are we like Nineveh? We’ve lost our vision. We know we’ve lost our vision because our children are being shot and killed in our nation’s schools.

Peggy Noonan, author of politics, religion, and culture and a weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal recently asked this question after the Parkland massacre in Florida: “What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?” Noonan answers it this way:

We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution. The family blew up—divorce, unwed childbearing. Fatherless sons. Fatherless daughters, too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished. Porn proliferated. Drugs, legal and illegal. Violent video games, in which nameless people are eliminated and spattered all over the screen. (The Columbine shooters loved and might have been addicted to “Doom.”) The abortion regime settled in, with its fierce, endless yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life. An increasingly violent entertainment culture—low, hyper-sexualized, full of anomie and weirdness, allergic to meaning and depth. The old longing for integration gave way to a culture of accusation—you are a supremacist, a misogynist, you are guilty of privilege and defined by your color and class, we don’t let your sort speak here. So much change, so much of it un-gentle.” (View Noonan’s article here: The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe What’s gone wrong with our culture that produces such atrocities? It’s a very long list. )

Jonah knew what God called him to do and Jonah knew himself. He wanted neither of it. God was at work drawing the Ninevites and pagan sailors into His Kingdom. Jonah ignored the crayon and fled to Joppa. Noonan says, “Here, to me, is the problem. A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem: You can see the dirt in the air. America’s air looks clean but there are toxins in it, and they’re making the least defended and protected of us sick.

Like Jonah, are we being called? Our children get shot and we get angry. This is our story. In God’s Story, Jonah was angry too but anger wasn’t the only problem. Jonah wanted to live his own life. He cared about that and God but He didn’t care for the world God made and cares so deeply about enough to want to do something about it. Worse, Jonah showed concern for a plant while the pagan sailors, their captain, and even the king of Nineveh all showed concern for human beings. Are Christians any different than non-believers? Does the world know we are Christians by our comportment of love or by our corporate retreat?

We don’t live as apologists defending God to the world and we need to every single one of us. We need to tell God’s Story and in new ways that ignite the imagination. Michael Horton, Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, says “Doctrine has often been taught in dry and stale and irrelevant ways and that’s to be pitied. It should never be boring.” Today our nation’s children are overwhelmed, lonely, and socially isolated and in response we isolate ourselves. The home of the brave are now the brave at home.

In “Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God,” Henry Blackaby says that knowing and doing the will of God begins with our relationship with God. When we behold Him and love Him we hold his book in our hands like Harold held his crayon. We live in the Story and we see everything in light of this Story. We see who God is and who we are not. We walk with Him and we talk with Him and we see His book is not a collection of words but a Person. We see the Word is a person who became flesh. When you meet the Person of Jesus you encounter not only a Person but the Word which is the Story about God and what He is doing in the world. You see a God who is active. You meet a God who watched the world kill each other and He grieved for it so much so He responded and what God did in response was unthinkable: God didn’t isolate himself. He became a man and chose to die. Our God too holy to look upon sin entered sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21)

C.S. Lewis once said “It cost God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.” Our commission is to count the cost and seek the lost. Jesus told us to baptize, teach, and equip the world and to shepherd others to observe and behold an invisible God who is with us always to the end of the age. Are we doing this?  Are you? Do you write your own story with your own crayon or do you believe that apart from God you can do nothing? Jonah tried to write his own story; he was self-centered and hypocritical. Are we? Do we watch our screens in horror while we sit comfortable on our couches? Do we turn off the television only to return to own narrow agenda? Do we respond in arguments over gun control instead of the argument for God’s own Son? Are we immersed in our own stories or God’s? “Sure, you can keep yourself busy. You can immerse yourself in activities, programs, meetings and events but they will not have any lasting value for God’s kingdom. The apostle Paul warned that one day every person’s work would be tested by fire to see if it was done according to God’s will and divine power (1 Cor 3:13) The activities God will commend in the final judgment will be those He initiated.” (Blackaby)

God is writing a Story. Jump onto the pages. Wake each morning and look at God as a Creator and yourself as an actor in His Story, a Story He is writing and not you. Travel with God’s trusty Purple Crown of Glory Jesus Himself as you embark across woods, seas and past dragons before returning to bed, safe and sound. Life will be full of funny twists and surprises. He may take you to Nineveh. He may draw you into the belly of a whale. When you emerge, tell God’s story and as you do remember this: God only sends the one into the deep waters of sin who He knows will hold onto Him. Hold onto Him. If we all do it, maybe then the air we breathe will begin to change.

 

 

Raising The Next Generation

Originally Published on “Raising Them Up: A Resource for Christian Parents.” View Original Post here:

Raising Disciples in a “Digital Babylon’

In many ways today’s world feels like a world turned upside down.  The results recently released by Barna Group (The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation) soberly speak for themselves: 51% of U.S. adults believe that our nation’s culture has an overall negative influence on the lives of children under 18 years of age; more than ⅓ of today’s teens believe it is not possible to know for sure if God is real and those who do believe aren’t convinced; atheism is on the rise; ⅔ claim to be Christian yet 4% hold a biblical worldview. David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, says “We are raising disciples in a digital Babylon.”

At Annapolis Area Christian School (AACS), all grade levels learn about the AACS Biblical Worldview Statement – a four-chapter guide and summation of God’s Grand Story to fulfill His covenant goal: God with us. Students at AACS find themselves in God’s Story everyday in every classroom and learn about a Creator God who created us for relationship with God, each other and creation; how we are fallen in these relationships because of our own choices; how Christ redeems these relationships and how one day Christ will restore them when He returns. This is our distinctive. It is how we interpret all of life.

To live in the Story we need to know God’s Story and the stories of the people of God to better understand God’s Word and God Himself, His pursuit of us and His goal – His own Glory.  Bible education does this. However for the Christian school to be “sustainable and spiritually vital,” as Gene Frost and Glen Schultz argue, “the home, church and school must be united.” (Pivot: New Directions for Christian Education) Josh McDowell in his forward to Kingdom Education: God’s Plan for Educating Future Generations says “The ideal way to help our kids not only reject the postmodern worldview but also embrace deepened Christian convictions is to align church, home and school into a unified whole that arms our children with the truth and protects them from distortions.”

This is vital and true. We believe, however, we can and must do more than unite: Each one of us needs to be swept up into God’s Story ourselves. If we are our children will be. James K.A. Smith in Imagining the Kingdom says, “It is not enough to convince our intellects; our imaginations need to be caught by – and caught up into – the Story of God’s restorative, reconciling grace for all of creation. It won’t be enough for us to be convinced; we need to be moved.” (James K.A. Smith, Imaging the Kingdom)

Today’s teens need to be moved. Why? Because we are in battle with the enemy for our son’s and daughter’s hearts. Albert Mohler in “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism–the New American Religion” (View article here: Albert Mohler: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism) talks of the decline of America’s moral and theological landscape. He says researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.” The obvious conclusion: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

This data, and the recent points released by Barna, are a call to action and demand that as adults, teachers, educators and parents, we look inward at how we are or are not staying in God’s Story ourselves with our children in our daily words, actions and choices.

“The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. Does this mean that America is becoming more secularized? Not necessarily. These researchers assert that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.”

David Murray, the author of Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (2017) and Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Seminary and Pastor of Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church, has one answer. In an article he wrote for Crossway he says, “There’s nothing more infectious than an enthusiastic teacher or parent.” View the article here:  How To Help Get Your Kids Excited About Reading the Bible by David Murray

Together we need to remember that “The journey out into the world has to develop out of an ever deeper journey into Christ.” (Craig Bartholomew “Contours of the Kuyperian Tradition: A Systematic Introduction”). Let’s partner together to delight in Christ and the Bible with our chidren and be infectious, enthusiastic teachers and remember Murray’s sober call to realism: If we are not excited about this Book, we can’t expect our children to be.

Partner with us and stay in the Story. How? Commit to regular church attendance, joyfully get caught up in God’s Word, model sitting at the table and choosing to read the Bible with your cup of coffee instead of turning on the morning news and ask your child to sit with you and say, “Come, let me tell you a story, the Greatest Story ever told about a God who loves you.” Show your child how a passage applies to life, and how it changed yours. Schedule deeper spiritual conversations on your Google calendars, planners, and phones. When things happen, don’t point fingers across rooms but point upwards to God in heaven. Stay in the Story. Our eternal futures depend on it.

See the Story

When people ask me what I write about it, I like to tell them my husband and I share similar hobbies: We both chase wind, he on his sailboat racing on the Bay; me tracking the Holy Spirit. My husband’s may be a bit easier with telltales at the top of the mainsail. Still, I long for the chase no matter how difficult because it is after all a chase after the Father’s heart.

Chasing the Father’s heart is a bit like running through a crowded sidewalk dodging elbows, ducks, twists and turns of the head. You have to look to your left and your right at the same time you look forward while all the while knowing from whence you came and if there is anyone or thing on your tail. To use an old sailing adage, you “trim the front of the jib and back of the mainsail.” Without telltales, sailors sail blind. Telltales challenge sailors to think about how to use their eyes, when to ease when a sail luffs and how to find the sweet spot. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus walks on water. Peter tries but fails. “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  (Matthew 14: 22-33) Paul Miller in “Love Walked Among Us” writes as if Jesus said this to him after he saved him: “Peter, when you look away from me and at your circumstances, you will become afraid and begin to sink. You must keep your eyes on me. I am enough.”

Every day we are in a battle and the enemy is real. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (Ephesians 6:12) Every day is a war waged against the waves and the winds of life. Some of us are terrified, others older in the faith are assured by passages like this one from Isaiah: “When you pass through waters, I will be with you, rivers shall not overwhelm you; through fire you shall not be burned. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43) This is faith’s navigation. We learn the telltale signs from a young age and as we age we learn from experience how to navigate stormy seas. We get beaten by the waves and in the fourth watch we learn how to see the Holy Spirit leading us to Jesus who says “Take heart it is I. Do not be afraid.”

How many of us though actually see Him? Do you? Or are you like Peter Pevensie who in Prince Caspian says to Lucy,  “You’re lucky you know.”  Lucy asks him, “What do you mean?” Peter replies, “To have seen Him. I wish he’d given me some sort of proof.” Are you like Peter? Do you need proof?  

If the enemy prowls and Glory is close than why do we see the enemy and not Glory? Is it possible to see Glory even though we are blinded by our own sin? Jim Gilmore, author of “Look: A Practical Guide to Improving Your Observation Skills” says, “Challenge yourself to think about how you use your eyes. ‘Look’ is everywhere in the Bible.” Like the sun that blinds our eyes when we cast our eyes upwards to the telltales on the mainsail, the danger is we look upwards to heaven and we don’t see because we think we know. Part of seeing however is not knowing  – and rests solely on nothing else other than seeing Him.

One of the ways we can tell whether we see or not is to ask ourselves what we see when we see others. Miller in Learning to Love Like Jesus talks about how Jesus sees when he looks and how the disciples (and us) don’t. When Jesus looks, he sees a human being like himself. In the story of the healing of the blind man, Miller says, “The disciples see a blind man; Jesus sees a man who happens to be blind. The disciples see an item for debate; Jesus sees a person, a human being like himself. They see sin, the effect of man’s work; Jesus sees need, the potential for God’s work. The disciples see a completed tragedy and wonder who the villain was; Jesus sees a story half-told, with the best yet to come.” When life’s seas get stormy, and you look at others, do you see sin or the potential for God’s work? When others hurt you, do you see need, or do you see yourself and your own needs? When you look at both sides of a story do you see yourself as the victim and the other a villain, or do you see a human being like yourself, or a story ‘half-told?’ If not, you’re missing the other half of the Story. The other half of the Story is the Story of God. When you look and see the whole Story, you don’t need telltales. You see Jesus and you don’t need proof.

Leah Baugh, Associate Editor of Bible Studies at White Horse Inn, writes that the enemy “can appear to people as an “angel of light” to deceive them (2 Cor. 11:14). He is sneaky and crafty, using any means to achieve his ends. He lays traps and snares for people, afflicts people with sickness and physical disabilities (Luke 13:16), asks God to let him test people’s faith (Job, Luke 22:31), and tempts people to sin (Acts 5:3; 2 Tim. 2:26). Any angle he can find he uses to turn people away from God.”

When the enemy prowls, trim the front of the jib and back of the mainsail and stay in the Word. Challenge yourself to think about how you use your eyes. Cast your eyes upwards to heaven. Ease out and trim in. Read the telltales found in God’s Story, the stories of God’s people who wrestle with faith, doubt and even God himself. See the whole Story: God’s Grand Redemptive Program to bring us back into right relationship with God, each other and creation. Don’t look away from Christ at your circumstances, or you will become afraid and begin to sink. 

Find yourself in the Story, live in the Story, see the Story and stay in the Story. Find the sweet spot. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is enough. 

Stay In The Story

 

In many ways today’s world feels like a spiritual Babylon. New research released by Barna Group (The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation) soberly speak for themselves: 51% of U.S. adults believe our nation’s culture has an overall negative influence on the lives of children under 18 years of age; more than ⅓ of today’s teens believe it is not possible to know for sure if God is real and those who do believe aren’t convinced; atheism is on the rise; ⅔ claim to be Christian yet 4% hold a biblical worldview. David Kinnaman, President of Barna Group, says “We are raising disciples in a digital Babylon.”

Jesus knew what it was like to live among negative influences, idolatry and unbelief. In reaction, Jesus told a story. He told God’s Story and invited others to find themselves in God’s Story from creation to God’s final restoration: God’s Grand Plan to fulfill His covenant goal of Immanuel, ‘God with us.’ With each encounter, God’s Story changed a person’s life: The bereaved widow of Nain, the outcast woman of Samaria, an accosted woman caught in adultery, the man born blind, the father and child of Capernaum.  Jesus equal to God in full authority multiplied bread and walked on water.

Christians know the story. God performs miracles because He can: He’s God. We marvel at phrases such as  “I was blind but now I see;” “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.”  We read familiar Gospel accounts and reduce Jesus to a human magician even as we exalt Him as one with God.

What if we dared to make familiar stories new again? What if we asked ourselves and each other, “What happened to the widow, the adulterer, the woman of Samaria?” If we really believe Jesus is the Son of God – if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that he was raised from the dead (Romans 10:9) – then we know that when Jesus interrupted someone’s story with God’s that moment for that someone was only the beginning of the story.

The Gospel of John doesn’t tell us what happened to the woman of Samaria. All we know is that she left her water jar at the well, and “went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” When I read this story I think about a woman who like me met the Son of God when she least expected it. I believe the woman of Samaria went back again and again to that well, but not to get water or reclaim her jar. She didn’t need water anymore. She’d found the wellspring of life. What she wanted was to see Him again. She wanted to remember what it was like to stand in front of the one who gave her Life and gave her her life back. I imagine she stayed there and wept and filled the well with her own tears because life without the Light of the World was unbearable in a world filled with darkness. Each day she came back to the well a changed woman as the Holy Spirit now in Christ’s absence nudged her towards wholeness with each new rising of the sun.

Paul Miller in “Love Walked Among Us” writes about the story of the widow at Nain and her son who died. A widow now bereaved Jesus raises her son. Miller writes “Jesus’ eye is on the widow. He takes her son by the hand, helps him off the basket, and walks him to his mother. He isn’t distracted by his own miracle – he remembers the person.” The Son of God, the one whom angels worship, the Creator who now sits in Glory at the right hand of the Father, who exists outside of time and moves in time in one moment of time remembered one person formed of dust from the ground. The woman and her son reunited in life by the Author of Life now live liberated from grief but in grief at the loss of Him because what we know about the God who walked among us is this: When God remembers the person, the person remembers nothing other than God.

We live in times analogous to Babylon. God though has a story to tell and through the power of the Holy Spirit God is telling it. Are you living in it? Are you in the Story or is it too familiar to be new all over again? Stay in the Story even if you know it. Remember Him, even as he remembers you. Tell others how a passage applies to your life, and talk about how Jesus changed yours. Schedule deeper spiritual conversations on your Google calendars, planners, and phones. Recount what it says in the beginning of the Story about how God looked at Creation and saw that it was Good. Tell the Story’s end: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more.” (Revelation 18:21)

Stay in the Story.  Our eternal futures depend on it.

Live In the Story

 

Each school year we begin the first week in Bible class answering the same question: “What’s your favorite story?” Inevitably, we hear “Star Wars” “Percy Jackson” and “Hunger Games.” We discuss the Elements of Plot and the four basic Parts of a Story: exposition, complication, climax and resolution. Over time we learn to find ourselves in stories and that all stories trace to one story: God’s.  Next, we learn about the greatest Story ever told and its four chapters: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.

Michael Horton says, “The whole Bible is to be read as one unfolding story from promise (Story of Israel) to fulfillment (Story of Jesus).”1 To find ourselves in the story means we learn that God is a personal God and His Story is alive.

Today, pitching a personal God and the Living Book Argument to thirteen-year-olds is a bit like selling spinach at an after-school snack shack. Truth is not objective to this audience. Truth is relational and the Good Book doesn’t relate – to my life or anyone else’s. Students look at the book sacrificially waved in the air and say, “That’s not alive. It’s a book. Books don’t talk.” Some go along with it; most doubt. Our students are like Nietzsche: God is nowhere to be found, as if God played hide-and-seek and pulled the great hijinks at the end of the game: He stayed hidden, even after the streets lights came on and everybody went home.

Moses tried to do this. He tried to pull Israel into knowledge of the super-personal God.2 Like our students do with us, Israel quarreled with Moses. And like Moses (and Aaron), we fall on our faces. We cry out from the wilderness of our classrooms “Hear now, you rebels” and with each new lesson we hope we strike rocks so our students will see water and come to know the refrain that pours forth from Zion: “The Lord, The Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love for thousands…”3 As the lay mediators of God’s law, however, we’ve been forewarned: God will not allow our own disobedience. We are to trust God is present in our classrooms even if our students are in rebellion.

James Emery White in “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World” says we can reach our students when we remember our own stories.  “Much of the problem rests with what has been called the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it.” White says. “Have you forgotten what it’s like to be apart from Christ? The world needs you to remember.4 God strikes the rock but as educators, we’ve got work to do. Every day, we are there for our students so that we can respond with God’s Story. Moses witnessed something miraculous, and as a result God spoke to him.

Have you witnessed something miraculous? I have. Like the waters of the Jordan, God separated my life into two: Act I and Act II. Act II began twenty years ago. In the middle of the night, I was pulled in by the super-personal. I saw a veil tear over my head. I saw a man tap the back of someone else’s shoulder whose back was to me, as if he was saying “Turn: This one.” I woke with a shrill cry. I was freezing cold. I heard another voice say, “Hold onto him. His faith will heal you” referring to my husband now awake. I did as I was told. In time, my husband slowly felt warmth return to my body. While he held me, I told him I wanted to go throw up. He said no.

When I woke the next day, I was sore. My husband went to work. I got up, took a shower and got the mail. In the shower, I heard a voice say, “My water.” At the mailbox, I heard “My wind.” I sat down to write and wrote at the top of my page “Miracles” and I heard a voice say, “My word.” I then gave it a new title, “My Wind, My Water and My Word” and started to write about how miracles are not extraordinary but only extraordinary to human beings because human beings don’t see Truth. I wrote at least a page about Truth and threw it out. When my husband came home, I told him I needed to go to a church. I needed to learn God’s Story. More, I needed to learn how to stay in it.

In one of my favorite stories, The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Sam tells Frodo not to give up the quest to get rid of the ring. Frodo wants to go back to the way things were. Sam entreats him to stay in the story. “It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy…But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.”5

That night I believe I met Jesus who tapped God’s shoulder and turned God’s face towards me, the sinner I am. God turned to look at me only because when God turned He knew He’d see Jesus, not me. Like Israel there were times I wanted to turn back to a time when life seemed easier because to meet God means to confront your own sin. When you do this – when you come close to your own sin – the end of the story doesn’t seem near or happy.  Jesus however sent the Helper from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, and He guided me to Truth. Then, my sorrow turned to Joy.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, the children plead to return to Narnia. Aslan says, “You will never come back to Narnia…You must begin to come close to your own world now.” Lucy sobs and asks, “How can we live, never meeting you?” Aslan says, “But you shall meet me.”

“Are — are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.  “I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.

Now many years later, Act II is still being written and because it is I often forget about Act I. When I look back it helps me to look forward to the end of the story and the Resurrection. The Resurrection will be like this. We will look back at Act I and when we do we will see our faces and what we looked like. By rights, we will think to ourselves, we shouldn’t even be here. We will remember what we loved to do and who we loved. What we won’t remember is what we were like because what we were like was not like Him.

Dr. VanDrunen, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at Westminster Seminary California, says “If you want to explain what justification is, don’t just give definitions, but as the Apostle Paul does, show it at work in stories.”7 Do you remember your story? The world – our students – needs us to remember. 


1Michael Horton, White Horse Inn

2Lewis, C. S. 1898-1963. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, With a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. 1st HarperCollins ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Lewis writes,

“If you are looking for something super-personal, something more than a person, then it is not a question of choosing between the Christian idea and the other ideas. The Christian idea is the only one on the market.” He goes on, “I warned you that Theology is practical. The whole purpose for which we exist is to be thus taken into the life of God.”

3 Numbers 20; Ex: 34:6

4 White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Print. 111-112.

5Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. Print.

6 Lewis, C.S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader New York : Macmillan, ©1952.

7 VanDrunen, David M. Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics,  Westminster Seminary California WSC Annual Conference 2018 http://www.wscal.edu

 

Biblical Worldview in the Classroom

This year the 8th grade team challenged the 8th grade students to find themselves in the Story – God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation. In Bible class, everyday students begin with the same foundational refrain from our school’s Biblical Worldview Statement: “You are in God’s Story. Here, God created us for relationships with God, each other, and creation; We are fallen in these relationships because of sin.; We are redeemed in these relationships through Jesus Christ.; We will be fully restored to these relationships when Christ returns.” As James K.A. Smith puts it, “Stories that sink into our bones are the stories that reach us at the level of the imagination. Our imaginations are captured poetically, not didactically. We’re hooked by stories, not bullet points.”2

As teachers, we long for our students to be hooked by the Story. Everyday our students come to the classroom to draw water and what we do in these moments define who we are as teachers, a school and whether or not we sowing and reaping crops of believers who one day will be gathered into God’s kingdom. Our work is eternal, heady and demands our pedagogies be consistent with the One who came to save the lost. When the woman of Samaria came to draw water at the well she met the Christ. We want the same for our students: We want our students to graduate and give thanks on that final day to the Lord and “Call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted” as each one enters the world. (Isaiah 12:3-4) We want our work in the classrooms – our fields – to be free from the curse and for each student to enjoy richly the endless supply of salvation.

Stanley Hauerwas said “All education, whether acknowledged or not, is moral formation.”3 At AACS, our mission and culture is our distinctive. We teach to the whole child. Our Biblical Worldview Statement is the result of our strategic school-wide plan: five core principles (foundational values and strategies) developed as part of our vision for holistic Christian education. Ours is not mere moral formation, but moral transformation. Our mission is to engage students in an education of excellence enabling them to impact the world through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. “A holistic Christian learning environment doesn’t just fill the intellect; it fuels the imagination. This requires serious intentionality not just about curriculum and content but about pedagogy and teaching strategy.”4

Being serious not just about curriculum and content but about pedagogy and teaching strategy means that we seek transformation and teach from a biblical worldview to our students, or in other words we get students to think biblically about everything in their lives. Moreso, it means that we impart a knowledge about the Gospel that students “carry in their bones.”5

In “Teaching and Learning from a Christian Worldview— A proposal for the next step,” Kori Hockett, history teacher and curriculum coordinator at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago, Illinois, says that one way to get students to think biblically is to frame instruction at the macro level in the Bible Department. The Bible Department then becomes the “overarching structure” to teach the four chapters of God’s Story and “principles like creation, the fallenness of man, redemption, the primacy of Scripture, the notion of reality, and the ultimate purpose of all people.” From here, she recommends applying this teaching in all disciplines, from science to math to fine arts. 6

We framed the school year for our students in the narrative arc of God’s Story in Bible Class on Day One in part due to the Christian Schools International Curriculum. The CSI Bible Curriculum “Walking With God and His People” begins with the Unit “Why A New Testament” and this essential question: “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of both Testaments?” In notes to the teacher, it says, “This lesson concludes with students asking themselves how they fit into the story of salvation, especially as it pertains to God’s interaction with his people.” Students learn the relationship between the Old and New Testaments “in a new way” and are tasked with making a Bible timeline of the story of salvation that “places you – the student – in the story.”

Now our own hallways are reminders that we are written into God’s unfolding drama filled with artwork that depicts biblical scenes from Creation to Restoration. In the classroom,  students recite passages from the Psalter – our ancient and present reminders of a God who is Sovereign and interacts with his people. We read one Psalm each day tied to the number of days we’ve been in school. A few months ago, one student raised her hand and said, “I didn’t realize you could go to God for things like this” and another “I’m amazed at how these people trusted God.” Michael Horton says the Psalms “define who God is, who we are and why we should trust him.”7 In “Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story,” Horton explains: “The laments, praise, wonder and worship [in the psalms] are all tied to God’s words (the drama) as he interprets them. And they lead to a new way of living in the world.” Daily liturgical readings from the Psalter supplement the Bible curriculum in this way: Students are charged not only with the CSI essential question “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of both Testaments?” but another, more personal one: “What is God doing as the plan of salvation unfolds throughout the course of my own life?”

In English class we apply this teaching through “The Julian Chapter,” a sequel to their summer reading of the novel “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio. In “Wonder” Julian transforms hearing a story and chooses to be kind. The Bible teaches kindness can not be willed but is a response to our knowing, following and loving God. In a final essay, students are asked to write on transformation. Students pair the biblical language of repentance in God’s Story with this story and learn that even conceptions and interpretations of morality are influenced by language and the power of the word and Word. In Math, students focus on absolute truth and God’s created order; in Science, the focus is on the implications of Psalm 24:1-2, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (all Hockett’s recommendations). A final research project for the year is titled “GENZ” and asks students to find a problem in the world and a solution. Students are reminded we live in the “already but not yet” and asked to consider our school’s response to our Biblical Worldview Statement in their proposal:  “Therefore, we respond in worship, love and obedience by seeking truth, serving others and stewarding creation.”

One month into the school year at an off-campus retreat, we guided our guest speakers to help our students apply our biblical worldview statement to their lives and we watched as students transformed into disciples. No longer were students like Nicodemus hearing the Word literally and asking questions like “How can a man be born when he is old?” Instead, the wind began to blow where it wished and students heard the sound and knew who it was. Three months into the school year our students planned a worship service and decided to tell the story of their retreat to the Middle School community as part of the Story. This was the first time students asked to liturgically frame student-led worship in this way. They read passages from Genesis and said in the beginning of the retreat “none of us wanted to go.” Next, they read Genesis 3:5 and told of their own fall from grace and how they lost their patience with each other. They read John 1:14 and talked about redemption and how the Holy Spirit called them to follow Christ. They read Revelation 21:1-5 and said one day Christ will return and restore our relationships. Until then, they charged each other to use right language and resolve conflicts biblically. Our students knew the Story and how to find themselves in it.

Why not simply transfer content in purely didactic ways? Why bother with biblical worldview in other disciplines? Why use story and seek to transform? Because our post-Christian, post-modern times demand it. According to Barna Research, the current generation known as “GEN Z” is a generation that is spiritual but doesn’t go to church (yes, even Christian school students.) Truth is no longer viewed as rational, but relational; Morality is not propositional but personal.9 This generation distrusts authority and as parents and teachers we need to wake up: We are the authority.

James Emery White in “Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World” helps us to understand the current research and this generation. He says this:

“Paul surveyed the cultural landscape found a touchstone–an altar to an unknown God. The culture was so pluralistic that the only thing people could agree on was that you couldn’t know anything for sure. ‘What if I could tell you that God’s name? Would that be of interest?’ Paul began. He then went all the way back to creation and began to work his way forward–laying a foundation for an understanding and acceptance of the gospel. Different culture, different approach. This is precisely where we find ourselves today. We are not speaking to the God-fearing Jews in Jerusalem. We are standing on Mars Hill and need an Acts 17 mindset with an Acts 17 strategy. Which means our primary cultural currency is going to need to be explanation. It’s not enough to move from a King James Version of the Bible to Eugene Peterson’s uber-contemporary paraphrase The Message in our speaking. We have to begin by saying, ‘This is a Bible. It has sixty-six books. There’s an Old Testament and a New Testament. It tells the story of us and God.’ And then we need to explain that story.”

Why are we not reaching this generation? Because White says, “Much of the problem rests with what has been called the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Have you forgotten what it’s like to be apart from Christ? The world needs you to remember.”10

Do you remember what it’s like to draw water from empty wells and be thirsty? I do. The Gospel of John doesn’t tell us what happened to the woman of Samaria. All we know is that she left her water jar at the well, and “went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” When I find myself in the Story, I find myself in this one. I think about a woman who like me met the Son of God when she least expected it. I read the story from time to time and I play the story out for myself not with my intellect but with my imagination. I believe the woman of Samaria went back again and again to that well, but not to get water or reclaim her jar. She didn’t need water anymore. She’d found the wellspring of life. What she wanted was to see Him again. She wanted to remember what it was like to stand in front of the one who gave her Life and gave her her life back. I imagine she stayed there and wept and filled the well with her own tears. The risen Jesus met her there each time and restored her. Once restored, she got up and went back to teach and found Him in her students and the Greatest Joy: Seeing others come to faith.

Jillian N. Lederhouse, professor of education at Wheaton College, in “What Does It Mean to Teach Like a Disciple?” says, “We are called by God to instruct and encourage students in the ways He has called them to live. You can’t find more significant work than this profession. You never know when you might have a Mary Magdalene, a Peter, a Martha, a rich young ruler, or even a Saul sitting in front of you.”11

May we leave our old pedagogies and practices behind – our water jars – and help our students and children find themselves in the Story so that God Himself will water the fields where we labor, our churches, classrooms and homes, as we help him to make disciples for the new temple where God Himself dwells. “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.” Maybe one student or child, yours or mine, is a Mary Magdalene, a Peter, a Martha, a rich young ruler or even a Saul sitting in front of you and with our help and God’s will learn how to carry the Gospel in their bones and “This one will say, “I am the Lord’s.” (Isaiah 44:3-5)

 

 


1AACS Biblical Worldview Statement from our school’s beliefs. http://www.aacsonline.org/foundation_beliefs.
2 Smith, James K.A. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2016. Print. 107.
3 Stanley Hauerwas, State of the University (Oxford: Wiley, 2007) 46.
4 Smith, James K.A. Ibid. 155. Smith argues, “What difference does this make for how we teach? There is no compromise on content or curriculum. Instead, the content is reframed by being embedded in this narrative framework that invites students to connect their learning with living out the character that God has called them to be.”
5 Smith, James K.A. Ibid. 142.
6 Frost, Gene. Learning from the Best: Growing Greatness in the Christian School 2010 CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL (CSI) Grand Rapids, MI and ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL (ACSI); Hockett, Kori “Teaching and Learning from a Christian Worldview— A proposal for the next step.” Kindle Locations 1624-1625
7 Horton, Michael. Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2006. Print. 18-19.
8 White, James Emery. Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Print. 111-112.
9 Barna Group. Meet the “Spiritual but Not Religious:” Research Releases in Faith & Christianity • April 6, 2017 http://www.barna.com 10 White, James Emery. Ibid.
11 What Does It Mean to Teach Like a Disciple? Jillian N. Lederhouse, PhD. ACSI Blog | December 20, 2017

 

 

 

The Ideal Kingdom Player: Living As God’s Image Bearers

More than half a century ago, the National Union of Christian Schools (now Christian Schools International) sponsored the publication of Francis D. Breisch Jr’s. “The Kingdom of God: A Guide for Old Testament Study.” His book became one of the most popular books used by Bible teachers. Breisch centers his text around the kingdom of God theme as a portal to understanding who God is.  “To trace the growth of the Kingdom of God,” Breisch explains, “is to keep one’s finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program.” God longs to renew creation and be “God with us” (Rev 21:3). To hold a finger on the redemptive program of God is to hold a finger on the beating pulse of God’s very own heart.

As educators, most of us don’t do this and we know it, if we are honest. It isn’t easy to keep a daily finger on God’s pulse and heart when we are immersed in lesson preps, grades, and faculty meetings. We plan, but the job demands that we also react. Pulled in different directions, we talk nominal Christian talk to ourselves and each other and we sign our emails with happy platitudes such as “In His Service,” or as I do, “Joyfully in Him.” Our platitudes are our foothold and because we are Christian we move into the next moment confident in Christ. Swept up and into the micro, as teachers we exist in silos. We teach in classrooms walled off to each other, and the metanarrative of God’s unified story – His Grand Redemptive Program. Information is ours to dispense like a deposit to a faceless bank account. We seek relationships with our students and colleagues, but feel disjointed. Assured in ourselves and our mission, we wear security badges around our necks that become necklaces of pride. (Ps. 73) We fight our own battles, whether they be competing attentions, demanding schedules, daily frustrations or employee schisms that rise and fall like winter wheat. We gather strength from our refuge that our students will one day remember us.  Everyday we close the day with the same epic refrain, an echo of the opening narration from the movie Troy:

“Will our actions echo across the centuries?

Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were,

how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?”

This isn’t unique to our own Christian communities. The same thing happened to Israel. Israel’s community was broken.  Pointing fingers at each other, they ended up pointing one at God and cried out for a king  – and God granted them one. As Christian teachers, we have much to learn from the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and the broken lives of men like Samuel, Saul and David.  In these books, God has something to say about how we are to be the ideal Kingdom player. God, not our Administrations, speaks best on how to live and work as image bearers because it is God whose image we bear. When we look here in the Bible (or anywhere in the Bible for that matter), we encounter not only the tragic lives of others but we discover an essential question for ourselves as teachers: Do I go to work everyday and practice living like someone in training for God’s kingdom? Because that’s who we are and what we are doing, isn’t it? If we are truly living in God’s story, our own “inner ring,” (C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring) then aren’t we called to work every day in the “already but not yet” waiting for Christ to usher in His kingdom and sweep us into Glory? Should our orthopraxy look different than secular schools? “It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

As teachers, are we choosing to please God? Are we (are you) ready for God’s examination?

Years ago, I used to think I was. Before I was a teacher, I worked as a political appointee in the White House and later as a member of a small band of young underdog campaign staffers who slayed the opposition party for the first time in 50 years. The other political party was our enemy champion, our Goliath, and we teamed together with a single mission to regain the House of Representatives. No one expected us to win, except us. Our young fearless female leader trimmed the budget, and fired an inflated staff. Our inner ring was a dwindled down staff of less than 30 from a staff of 90. Bonded together in like mind and purpose, we needed only one thing: courage. We muscled together our own sticks of wit, smarts, and strengths and became a team that beat the odds. With synced departments, clear lines of communication, a stealth field and research staff who hit the campaign trail in David-like leaps with slingshots ready, we were small but mighty. We were a team. By Patrick Lencioni’s descriptions of the ideal team player in his fable “The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues,” every single one of us was ideal. Each one possessed all three virtues: We were humble, hungry and smart, and we were about to control history. If we had a lyre, we would have played it.

Last week, I may have been hungry and smart, but I wasn’t humble. I got tired. Confident in myself and my background, I saw problems in our Administration. I’d forgotten the things of this earth stand next to God like a candle to the sun. (Hillsong, Behold Then Sings My Soul) Comfortable in my silo, hidden from the world, I went to work as if I am unknown to God, out of sight, and I cried out for a king. Like Israel, I wanted a king like “all the nations” instead of God. The question of what I wanted compelled me then and now to confront the weight of my own sin as a Christian educator: Do I want a leader to fix what’s broken in my organization, or do I work with others to build change from the bottom-up? Do I long for the day people in my department or on my team get along and come to see what I see, or do I recognize the harder truth, the part I play in team dynamics and how I may be part of the issue? Do I think if I only was given a new title or role I could fill gaps and solve problems singlehandedly? Do I want a leader to lift the weight of my burdens or do I keep one finger on the pulse of God’s redemptive program and remember I am not the King, but God is, and find the pulse of God’s own heart?    

When Jesus came to usher in the kingdom of God he said, “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right, then you can see God in the outside world.” (Beatitudes, The Message) What I’ve come to learn is that the Ideal Kingdom Player is someone who seeks to please God, first, and works everyday like someone who is training for the Kingdom Draft to be picked up to play on a Kingdom Team. “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the Divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a son— it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain.” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory) Is it impossible to please God? Can I be a teacher and be a real ingredient in the divine happiness? Does God delight in my work as an artist who delights in his work or a son?

On the last day of the school year last year I watched Jonathan King, our Choral Music Program Director, along with a group of faculty members, led us in opening worship. King is highly trained, an impressive background with national distinction. The staff gathered for a final day of professional development. As I watched him, he held his gaze on the other musicians, all with less expertise and notoriety, and looked to them for their lead. Because he did, the worship team made more than music; together they made a song. It was a moment of pause where I held my finger on God’s redemptive pulse and found His heart. When I did, I thought to myself, “I want to be a teacher on a team like this worship team: Musicians who know when and how to let others lead to make a seraphim-like hymn of praise before the throne of our King.”

Joyce Baldwin said, “It is in the stubbornness of human individuality that each man and woman encounters God or ignores Him, responds to or resists Him.” (Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel) It must be hard to be a leader of sinners and fools. You can’t step in and fix things, because then there is no learning and owning.  This is how Jesus led. He led us to see ourselves, despite ourselves and to teach us how to play on a Kingdom team, when to move in and lead and when not to, and when to listen, wait and watch for a King. “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight,” he said, “That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” (Beatitudes, The Message) This is our call to repent as teachers: To be the Ideal Kingdom Player means that our necklaces of pride be removed to make room for crowns of Glory.

Will our actions echo across the centuries? Yes, but only if we live and work like an Ideal Kingdom Player who traces the growth of the kingdom of God not only in our students, but in ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Habits: The Legacy of Leaping

Speech Delivered to the National Pastor’s Conference,

Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, October 2005

 

Former New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite writers. After George Bush was first elected she wrote a column titled, “Happy Leader, Happy Nation.” Her main premise was that despite what may come to define Bush’s Presidency, if a President is happy, the nation is happy. Reagan and Clinton both exuded a “pride of place” and were men who despite unpopular policies and personal behaviors, won over the nation because they were “wild about the job.” For a quotidian illustration, she writes about a street juggler named Serge. He smiles and juggles and juggles and smiles while all the while he’s about the pointless act of throwing tennis rackets in the air. Why does she include a street juggler in her article about presidents? Because she says no matter who you are and what you do, “There is nothing so grand in all the world as watching a person who loves what he does, do it.”

King David’s political memoirs in the Old Testament are the words of someone who loves to be King. He tells of the drama of what it means to be human and King, its pains and losses, glories and breached confidences. When we read about a man who can say, “By you I can crush a troop and by you I can leap over a wall,” we read about a man who is, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “in the arena,” cast in the nation’s center where leadership bears not the mark of glory but also darkness and isolation. This is our human condition, and what we choose to do about it as leaders in elected office, the church, our nation’s classrooms or streets makes all the difference in and to the world.

As a Seminarian, I walk side by side as a Student Pastor with its leader. I think about leadership all the time, whether I am engaged in Calvin’s Institutes or Shultz’s Peanuts. Traits and situations count I tell myself, but after my own political career in Washington, D.C.,  I’ve learned it’s not the overriding factor. What matters is if we know about ourselves what Quindlen knows to be true about Serge: how to smile and juggle and juggle and smile, despite what befalls us.

My pastor Dr. W. Terry Schoener asked me to speak before you today about Seminary. Seminary is holy ground, at least for me. It’s where God trains God’s leaders. Here ancient texts come to life and we are called out of the world and into a sacred vacuum only to re-enter the world when we earn our last credit, as if a set of divine parentheses surround our matriculation. Here inside the parentheses we live out pieces of King David’s drama wherein notions of truth, justice, compassion and mercy are hyper-exaggerated for our inspection. The profane and pious, temporal and eternal converge in textbooks and in our daily student experience. We watch David’s dance with pride and providence as we live out our own, and we learn how and when to rely on our own traits and how and when to draw near to God and rely on His. Mostly, we learn what it’s like to delight in God.

If we are honest most of us identify more with the David who didn’t leap over a wall but the David who fell before it. We find ourselves not after God’s own heart but after the hearts of the ones we need to please, whether it be our Presbytery committee or Church Elders. Sit down to lunch at a Seminary round table and you’ll not hear about delight in God but about hurdles to get the leadership position to talk about God. Speak little and carry a pen and you can take notes on how to study for Ordination exams, where to find old tests, what groups to join to dissect faith statements and how to sit properly poised before examination of your Presbytery lest you fail. Because of this, most of us don’t think about how to leap over walls but how to straddle them. As we are asked to secure our pride and position in the face of scrutiny, we find we forget the only thing we ought to secure is our own humility.

When David fell, he learned how to balance piety and position, duck spears, crush troops and leap over walls – not by his own doing but by God’s. Girded with nothing more than linen, he performed his most glorious act as a leader: he danced madly for the Lord. David learned how to smile and juggle and juggle and smile while all the while the brokenness of the world turned inside and around him and he turned upside down for God.

There is much to learn from David’s life and the infallibility of eyes that look backwards over a career as I and other Seminarians look forward to ours. Last week I asked Pastor Schoener if it will be hard to retire. He told me the hardest part will be to end what he called his “happy habit,” those mornings he poured coffee and wrote sermons. Over the last two years as his assistant, I’ve watched a man move in and out of meetings, visit the sick, heal the broken hearted, and teach his intern: me. What did I learn? All the while the brokenness of the world turns and he handles it with a Serge-like grace. With each new obstacle, he smiles and juggles and juggles and smiles.

An ancient text is brought to life for me because of it and because of Terry I now know how to leap over walls despite what befalls me. My success will rest not on my traits nor situation nor even my Seminary degree, but whether or not I pass on the legacy of leaping, as David did for all of us and Terry for me. My success as a leader will be determined by whether or not there is someone in my midst who watches me lead and says to themselves as he or she watches, “There is nothing so grand in all the world as watching a person who loves what she does, do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worthy of Gold

 

Without Our Knowing, The Gospel Dropped From Our Hearts

to Our Laps and Onto Our Shoelaces.

Originally published in The Anchorage Magazine Fall 2013

 

On the first day of practice in hot August, we looked at a team of nearly 30 who needed to learn how to run 2 miles with only a little over 2 weeks before the first meet. We wanted each and every one to cross the finish line with dignity.  We rallied the parents for popsicles & water, ice & wet rags, & quickly defined a new benchmark of success. Day 2 we said, “No one runs alone.” We told the children “If you come in first, run to the last runner and run them in.” Our idea was that if the first ran to the last, then the last would feel encouraged to run harder & stronger. Equally we told the fastest runners that by doing so the first only gets stronger. “What good is it to come in first and sit on the ground?,” we asked, as each ran in and dropped at our feet.  Over time the lines began to blur over who was first, or last, as the first was last and the last first. Coaches began to lead without leading, as children taught each other to run.  In an individual sport like Cross Country, we found this team philosophy to be paramount to building individual strength, but more it built and coalesced a team. Without our knowing, the Gospel had dropped from our hearts to our laps and onto our shoelaces.

The moment we realized the idea crystallized was at practice. A middle schooler, on their own volition, ran back to a surprised parent who decided to run with the team that day (we had several parents join us, and often), and said, “I’m going to run with you, because no one runs alone.” But it was at our first meet at Rockbridge Academy that the MS XC team proved themselves. This first meet was a trail run on a tough course. Most of our runners crossed the finish line with white forlorn faces, many gasping without breath, one needed to be carried to the tent as she had sprinted the whole race. Spent, our team disbanded to the Eagles tent for water, and in some cases, under shaded trees for first aid. But within minutes, one by one and on their own, our team began to run back to the course to find the last runner and run him in to the finish. As adults, we held our faces as tears streamed and as other teams stared, took pictures, and in some cases looked curious and confused.

Week by week, meet by meet, the runners became stronger, inside and out. At our Host meet at AACS Upper School we expanded our team philosophy to encourage runners from other teams. We believed as Hosts it was our biblical duty to show the community what it looks like to embody Jesus Christ. Several stood at the finish and encouraged runners from other teams, while others confused runners by jumping in the race and running side by side with them at the end shouting, “You can do it.” After this meet, we committed ourselves to not only run in our own, but to encourage all runners, on our team or not.

We placed 6th, then 5th, then tied for 4th, and finally ended the season in 3rd place. One team member exclaimed at our end-of-season team party, “If only we had a few more weeks! We’d get first!” Our biggest victory however came not only at that first meet at Rockbridge or even at the last at Indian Creek when our team came in 3rd place and shepherded in our final runner in a spade of gold at the finish, but when a stranger from another team called us to say “Thank you.” He was a father of a runner from a competitor school. He called to say “Thank you” to the team because our team ran in his daughter. He shared many personal details of her difficulties and struggles in sports and in life, and explained how his daughter often finished in last place and in tears. This time though she finished not with tears but with a smile. He asked her why and she told him what the AACS team did for her was “awesome.” Other children she never met ran her into the finish line because “no one runs alone.”

Our Middle School Cross Country Team showed each other, this young girl, and the wider community what Grace looks like, and in doing so, became stronger athletes.  The children at the end of our season picked bible verses that embodied the Spirit of their team. Here are a few: “So I run with purpose in every step.” 1 COR 9:26; “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” 1 COR 10:31; “They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31; “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules.” 2 Timothy 2:5, “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24.

Congratulations to a team worthy to wear gold, and to God be all the Glory!

“Empires of Grace”

 

Some Things Can’t Be Explained, Only Witnessed.

Originally published in The Anchorage Magazine Fall 2015

 

This week the 8th grade gathered at Camp Wabanna in Edgewater for a retreat on leadership, to discover what it means to lead and how to influence the world for Jesus Christ. The students studied world leaders, from Mao Zedong to Ghandi, Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King Jr, and biblical ones like David, flawed, but after God’s own heart. Guest speakers Eric Hansen and Doug Scheidt rallied them to think about big things like identity and legacy; Daniel Giddings asked them to look at the small, themselves, because leadership is about who we are more than what we do. It was heady, sometimes droll, and by nightfall it was dulled by antsy middle schoolers who shifted in chairs, looking not at us but outside, anxious for things that are real, like Capture the Flag, s’mores, and dorm room pranks.

We’d been together for the whole day in one room, but we weren’t one. The students were annoyed with one another today and over the past several years, irritated by differences, irked over being forced to play nice and be nice to people they didn’t like, and didn’t want to. They were distracted, disinterested and divided. In time, we were distressed: we learned that while adults spent the day intent on teaching students how to lead, a group of students spent the day intent on schemes to bully another student. They had succeeded once, and planned more for later. Now, with the day coming to a close, we knew we had a decision to make: Do we continue to teach them what it means to be a leader, or do we show them? With our minds spinning like the fan blades over our tired heads, our most pressing question became this one: If we choose to show them, what do we do?

We decided to answer our question not with an answer, but with this realization: We are all the same before God, whether we are the teacher or the student. Every day, we are annoyed with one another, irritated by differences, irked over being forced to play nice and be nice to people we don’t like and don’t want to like. We are distracted, disinterested, and divided. We are no different than our students. We’re just older. We know how to hide it.

With this realization, we dropped our fig leaves and threw off our conceit. What happened next is one of those things in life that can’t be explained, only witnessed. For reasons we may never know, the people in that room were there to witness the bending of skies. Four teachers, five parents and 70 plus students became still as the Holy Spirit swept in and defined leadership for all of us. Eighth grade boys sobbed like babies and the girls wept and held each other, as one by one students stood and praised the very student they once bullied; the human target not just at this Retreat, but all last year. The adults said nothing and watched as students took over, and for over one hour admitted failures and weaknesses, poor decisions, bad judgments, wrong thoughts, mistakes. One student said he was ashamed to think of what God thought of him. Another, with tears streaming down his face, his chest swelled and his hand placed on the back of the bullied student now bent over and sobbing, looked out at his class and barely uttered, “How do you call yourselves Christian?,” before He cut himself off to cover his face to tell His Lord, “We all are sorry.” By night’s end, everyone wanted to be the one to close in prayer and thank God for the weakest among them, whom God chose to humble every single one of us.

There is a song by Hillsong called “Empires” that says “We are worlds, we are bodies, empires of dirt and grace.” At the end of the Retreat, a few boys walked over to a father at pick­up. They knew him from last year. One by one they shook his hand and told him from now on they’d protect his son, that they’d “have his back.” The rest of that song goes like this: “The night is done, our chains are broken. The time has come. The wait is over. The King is here and his name is Jesus. Singing Hallelujah. Breathing in a brand new world.” If that night we all were empires of dirt, the next day the 8th graders were empires of grace, new creations, 8th graders “called to lead” helping to breath in a brand new world into a broken one for Jesus Christ.

Circles of Learning

Originally published on the CLC Network Website CLC Network Official

After Jackie arrived at our school, it became clear to us at Annapolis Area Christian Middle School  (Annapolis, MD) that differentiation is first-century pedagogy. Jesus, the Master Teacher, believed his “students” were more than passive recipients. He taught them to reveal and image God’s character to a people made in the image of God. Jesus taught us to include others around us not for inclusion’s sake alone but to reveal the character traits of God: The first is last and the last is first. Leaders aren’t served by others, but others are served by leaders. Knowledge is not to be lorded over others, but used to bring glory to God. God is a God of relationships.

As Christians, we are intended to live as God’s “created analogies.” Our calling is to teach like Jesus, but sometimes we feel more like Sisyphus than the Master teacher, condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again. We discuss and plan ways to best accommodate low and high-flyers, mitigate exclusion and build relationships. But if we are honest, it’s hard to build relationships in a classroom where there are wide gaps in each student’s ability and aptitude.  C.S. Lewis once said,

“What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.”

Students working on computers
Jackie working on Quizlet Live with her eighth grade team.

Jackie meets with her “Circle of Friends” each week, but how do we accommodate a student with Down syndrome in the classroom and build relationships? How do students who don’t share equal abilities and aptitudes share truth?

In the first semester, the eighth graders studied the history of God’s salvation story from Creation to Restoration. We divided the Bible into fifteen topics ranging from Creation to the Fall, the Flood, the Tower of Babel and continued to the “Already but Not Yet” of the Gospels and the “Final Restoration.” Students memorized the books of the Bible and as a final semester project were tasked with this question: How can you tell the story of God’s history of salvation in a creative way and include the fifteen major topics?

Jackie leading the class in sign language
The eighth grade Bible class followed Jackie’s lead as she signed the major themes in God’s history of salvation.

Students responded with colorful floor puzzles, radio scripts, music raps, and poetry. Jackie told the story of Creation to Restoration in hand and body motion. She acted out each topic, raising her hands in a circle over her head for the world to represent “Creation,” and then dropped to touch her toes for “Fall.” She performed fifteen hand and body signs using both fine and gross motor skills, echoing a choral response from the class for each topic. Students made props to aid Jackie’s memory, such as stars for the “Call of Abraham” and a crown for “Kings.” Students handed her a prop and shouted the topic in order, and she repeated it back in circle-like fashion.

One day the class screamed with delight when Jackie remembered half of the topics on her own, both verbally and in signs. To our amazement, however, this wasn’t the only “aha” moment. What we’d stumbled upon was a “Circle of Learning.” Jackie taught the class the fifteen topics and God’s salvation story, even as she learned them.  By signing the story together with the students, Jackie showed us a more vivid picture of the character of God:

Learners teach, and teachers learn. Inclusion isn’t including someone for inclusion’s sake, but for God’s. This is first-century pedagogy, and now our twenty-first century practice.

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The Unseen Genius

Coming Soon.

 

Angel of Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber:
“Where in the world
Have you been hiding?
Really – you were perfect
I only wish
I knew your secret
Who is this new
Tutor?

Father once spoke of an angel
I used to dream he’d appear
Now as I sing I can sense him
And I know he’s here
Here in this room he calls me softly
Somewhere inside, hiding
Somehow I know he’s always with me
He, the unseen genius
Christine, Christine you must have been dreaming
Stories like this can’t come true
Christine, you’re talking in riddles
And it’s not like you
Angel of music, guide and guardian
Grant to me your glory
Who is this angel?
This
Angel of music, hide no longer
Secret and strange angel
He’s with me even now”

“You Do You”

Click Here to View Video: Biblical Worldview + Gen Z

This month our students will deliver their first speeches to an audience. Students identify a problem in the world, research and develop a solution and write a speech from a biblical worldview lens. Students learn our Biblical Worldview statement, a four-chapter guide and summation of God’s Grand Story to fulfill His covenant goal: God with us. Our students find themselves in God’s Story everyday in every classroom and learn about a Creator God who created us for relationship with God, each other and creation; how we are fallen in these relationships because of our own choices; how Christ redeems these relationships and how one day Christ will restore them when He returns. This is our distinctive. It is how we interpret all of life.

Before students deliver a speech, we teach this statement is not a mere school “thing.” We explain alternate world views, show videos, discuss apologetics. We hold group discussions that center on this question: “Would you share our biblical worldview with others?” After one semester, the resounding, unanimous answer is “No.” When we ask why, students tell us this: “Generation Z wants to make a difference in the world but we are not willing to listen to others. We are a ‘you do you’ generation. In other words, we say ‘you do you’ and that means ‘I do me’ or ‘whatever works for you.’ We won’t get into an argument. Too many people are arguing in the world. We’ve seen so many unnecessary arguments. We just want it to stop.”

On Tuesday there was another shooting at one of our nation’s high schools, this time in my own home state of Maryland at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County. Two people were injured and the shooter died. Governor Hogan in its aftermath said, “We’ve got to take action. Prayers are not enough.” 

Today we live in a whatever-works-for-you world. Truth is viewed as relative and not objective and we hold our own truths to be self-evident and accepted by all because we are all created equal. “You Do You” (and “I do me” in turn) is our new national refrain and retreat. It is our nation’s cry to not engage the other even as we watch in horror as another student engages others with a gun. Every single one of us live in fear of verbal triggers while our students go to school and fear the real trigger of a fired gun. It’s no wonder. All we do is argue. Our national motto is no longer “In God We Trust” but “In My Own Argument I Trust.” We argue on social media, in store lines and wave fists at each other from behind the wheels of our cars. We plug our ears with noise as we cast our faces to our phones. How we use our smart phones is metaphor for how we live: We no longer see nor hear others. We are tuned in to only ourselves.

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer puts Jesus to the test. He asks Jesus a question but he knows the answer. He wants to argue. He asks, “Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replies with a question. He asks the lawyer, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” The lawyer answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replies with affirmation: “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor is and who he is not. Like we do today, he wanted to be able to say you do you so I can do me. What does Jesus do? He doesn’t argue with him. He asks the lawyer a question and he tells the lawyer a story.

In Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through The Stories Jesus Told, John MacArthur observes “Even though the man’s sole motive in the first place was to elevate himself while putting Jesus down, the Savior replies to him with tenderhearted, long-suffering kindness. It’s not the harsh rebuke the man deserves. Jesus tells him a story. And the story our Lord tells is one of His most poignant, powerful parables, a story told to a religious nonbeliever, a self-righteous man, as evangelistic effort to bring him to the true sense of his sinfulness and his need for mercy. It was Jesus’ appeal to a doomed soul.”1 Even in parabolic, punitive justice, Jesus is merciful. He breaks open the barrier to heaven and distills an objective truth to the lawyer even as he appeals to a soul ‘doomed.’

There is much to be learned from this parable about Jesus and his “preference for narrative devices” as MacArthur notes. For, this form “has been duly noted and emphasized by every competent teacher in the history of the church, the gospel writers, the best of the early church fathers, down to every important Protestant biblical commentator of the past four centuries.” But he notes, “the fact that Jesus showed such a preference for narrative forms still doesn’t nullify the didactic purpose of the parables or the unchanging truth content they were meant to convey.”2 The truth conveyed in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is clear: All stand guilty before God’s law. The law demands perfection: Only Christ Himself can fulfill it.

Today our students long for arguments to stop even as more and more students pick up guns and start new ones. Are they angry? Do they not know how to say it and speak it? Or, is there no one who will listen? If we are to heed Governor Hogan’s advice to take action along with the half a million people expected on the National Mall this weekend, what do we do? What if one way we take action is to unite in a national pause to model for our children how to argue and, more importantly, how to listen. If we do and did, what does that look like? Do we even know how to sit at the kitchen table and talk? Do we even sit at one? Are we able to engage one another in restrained, charitable discourse on social media? What if all our children need is for us to model tender-hearted, long-suffering kindness?

When we are tender-hearted and show long-suffering kindness we listen and when we do speak we use irenic speech. We don’t argue; rather we ask questions and we tell each other stories. Eugene Peterson said, “People are not problems to be solved. They are mysteries to be explored.” What does it look like to explore people? Children? Do we know anymore or have we forgotten? If we forget how to listen, how will we ever be able to share the Good News? Who will listen? Who will try? Irenic speech demands of us distinct thinking and is the antidote to argument. More, evangelistic winsomeness – a requirement if we are to share the Gospel with our students and others – requires cerebration and repentance on our part, for these are not things that are instinctive to us but only learned from Jesus Himself through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our nation’s children don’t need us to win arguments; our nation’s children need us to be winsome. We are winsome when we listen deeply. Deep listening usually causes a person to feel – with deep empathy – the exact feeling or situation of the other. It says in the eyes to the listener, “Let me carry your pain for you and give you a break.” Deep listening puts down the phone and unplugs the headphones. Deep listening says I will lose an argument but never the person.

Our nation’s children need a break. “He was subjected to persecution but held his tongue.” Do you hold yours?


 

1 MacArthur, John. Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through The Stories Jesus Told, 2015 Nelson Books. 81

2 MacArthur, John. Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through The Stories Jesus Told, 2015 Nelson Books. 199

Biblical Worldview: What Is It?

Originally published on Raising Them Up: A Resource for Christian Parents Biblical Worldview: What Is It?

Biblical Worldview In the Classroom

Dr. Sean McDowell, Associate Professor in the Christian Apologetics program at Biola University and a Resident Scholar for Summit California, says that biblical worldview is “a lens through which we understand reality. It’s the narrative or the story that we believe we are living in.” He says,  “If young people don’t build a worldview 1. They’re going to walk away from their faith; and 2. They will live a defeated Christian life that makes no difference in the world.” To reach the current generation, he says, we need to teach “Truth in the context of relationships.”

At Annapolis Area Christian School (AACS) , we teach from a biblical worldview and seek to teach Truth in the context of our relationships every day in the classroom.  We aim to do what McDowell and others are doing at prestigious institutions such as Biola, and teach students to “think biblically about everything.” (McDowell) We are committed to building a worldview in our students and establishing the trust needed to communicate this narrative in authentic ways.

This means we live inside the Story – God’s – and that we interpret everything from within this Story. This impacts not only our interpretation of meaning and events in life, but our view of morality, good and evil, interpretation of current events and systems. Biblical worldview impacts our daily lives and how we live as well, how we conduct ourselves and how we treat others.

Look for more articles to come and get an inside look at how this is communicated at AACS from inside the classroom as you meet and hear from more AACS Bible “specialists” (Faculty who are our Seminary graduates in Grades 8-12) and many others who are committed to transformative, holistic Christian education. In partnership with AACS families, we are not only building a Kingdom, we are on the Kingdom building offensive.

Beautiful Student Work

All schools, independent and public, can teach knowledge. Few access Wisdom from the Creator of Life Himself.

At AACS, our mission is to engage students in an education of excellence enabling them to impact the world through a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. The 8th Grade Academic Showcase affords students an important public opportunity to learn how they can impact the world. Ron Berger, author of “An Ethic of Excellence” and “A Culture of Quality” has said, “Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom — work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful — that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.”

At the Middle School, we wanted the wider community to see what we see and marvel at every day in the classroom: A distinctive of Christian education which embodies not only classical education but also the deposit of Wisdom by the Holy Spirit, taught only by the Creator and Author of life. All schools, independent and public, can teach knowledge; at AACS we see both. And so we created an event we call Showcase, a Gallery Walk, Art Showcase, and Live Program that features our own “sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful” student work.

This year’s 3rd Annual 8th grade Showcase live program debuted “STEM on Stage” with an air vortex demonstration of the Bernoulli effect. This is the second year students delivered our own AACS version of a “Ted Talk” we now call “GEN Z” for Generation Z, the generation after millennials known for being “more global, “entrepreneurial” and hooked on the digital world. With access to a global community that breaks through the barrier of cement classroom walls, these GEN Zers need only their curiosity and teacher shepherds who teach classical education as well as 21st century skills, skills such as communication, creativity, and collaboration. In other words, it’s not simply about access to information, but what we do with the information we access.

This year GEN Z topics included everything from gum to games to God. Topics included: Technology and Jobs for the 21st Century; GEN Z and Technology Addiction; Cancer in Our Homes; Gum in Schools; Human Creativity; Why We Shouldn’t Wipe Out the Deadliest Animal on Earth; and Trusting God.

The Gallery Walk included snippets of sentences from essays, tiny morsels of perspicacious prose etched on boards, easels and music stands for all to see plucked from all core academic courses including American History, English Language Arts, Bible, Math and Science and Electives such as Creative Writing, Media Literacy, Math Enrichment, Inquiring Minds (STEM), Yearbook, Music Exploration and Spanish Language and Culture. These examples of deeper learning we intentionally aligned with our AACS Educational Goals: Growing Believers, Responsible Stewards, Active Learners, Compassionate Neighbors and Effective Communicators.

Congratulations to our 8th graders for confidently showcasing this year’s important, accurate and beautiful work and for demonstrating for all how to impact the world for Jesus Christ.