jasonbwatson

February 29, 2012

The College Question

In recent days the political news cycle has been crackling with two sides of the question of how important college is in the United States. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum attracted attention–most of it negative–for saying in Michigan that President Obama is “a snob” for saying that he wants everybody in America to go to college. Eugene Robinson, writing in The Washington Post, went so far as to say that “[o]nly a fool or a liar is unaware that higher education is all but a prerequisite for success in the post-industrial economy,” and went on to call Santorum hypocritical because Santorum himself has both an MBA and a law degree, and two of his own children are in college.

Santorum’s comments in Michigan, however, included this further elaboration: “There are good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, and put their skills to test, that aren’t taught by some liberal college professor trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he (Obama) wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.” In other words, Santorum was espousing the position that a college education is not essential for success in America. He was, of course, also making the point that liberals may desire–abuse, even–the power of influence that comes with being a college professor, but I am not concerned here about the politics of this discussion. I am more concerned about the basic root issue of whether or not college really is important.

Marvin Olasky wrote an essay on this very subject that appeared in the January 14, 2012 issue of WORLD Magazine. Olasky asks several significant questions in the essay (i.e., “Do colleges help or hurt character formation?”) but he states, in his concluding paragraph: “I’m not at all suggesting that those called to be lawyers, doctors, professors, etc. should not go to college. I am suggesting that work as an electrician, landscaper, or X-ray technician, or in hundreds of other occupations that don’t require a four-year college degree, also glorifies God and should be honored by all of us.”

As someone who is a school superintendent, has three master’s degrees, and would gladly spend his life as a professional student if it were possible to do such a thing, one might (understandably) assume that I would come down on the side of urging students to go to college. It might surprise you, then, to know that that is not my position. On the contrary, I have seen more than enough evidence to know that college simply is not for everyone, and that pushing someone to go to college who either does not want to go or who does not know what he wants to do with his life is probably not a good idea–and is a potentially huge waste of money.

I am a firm believer that there are certain things that everyone needs to know in order to be, in the words of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., culturally literate. Beyond that, though, four (or more) additional years of education simply are not for everyone. Taking a year or two off to work and explore possible careers is not necessarily a bad idea for a high school graduate who is still unsure of the Lord’s calling for her future. Even if a student is certain he or she wants to get a college degree, starting in community college is not a bad idea, either. Classes are generally smaller, almost always are less expensive, and the credits will transfer to a 4-year school if a student does decide to go on for a bachelor’s degree.

It is also important to keep in mind that college is always going to be available. Perhaps now more than ever before it is easy for someone to take classes part-time, either in-person or through distance learning, and to get a college degree at any point. In other words, someone may get out of high school, work for a few years, and then decide that a college degree is essential in order to accomplish his or her career goals. I can just about guarantee you that that individual will be a much better student now that he has decided he wants to go get that degree than he would have been if he was forced/pressured to go to college when he was not ready or did not want to go.

I am certainly not anti-college, either. I think that if a young person knows what he or she wants to do, or at least has a strong idea, and is ready and desirous to go to college, then he or she should go, right out of high school if possible. I think college can be wonderful, both for the experiences and friendships as well as for the learning. The point is, we do not need to make this an absolute. Students who aren’t sure they’re ready for college should not be pressured to go. As Olasky suggests, there are plenty of positions in which someone can be very successful–and very happy–that will never require a college degree.

As an aside, I have not seen the full context of the remarks, but I don’t think President Obama was suggesting that everyone in America should have to go to college. More than likely he was simply suggesting that everyone in America who wants to be able to go should be able to do so. Just so happens, I agree with that, too.

February 28, 2012

Pray Without Ceasing

Filed under: Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 10:22 pm

My wife likes to chide me by saying that my brain has its own jukebox. She says I remember every song I ever hear. While that’s stretching it a bit, I do have a knack for remembering songs, and they do tend to pop into my head often, sometimes because something triggers a memory of a lyric or a song title, sometimes for no known reason.

This morning was one such time. I had a song in my head, and I don’t know why or what prompted me to be singing/humming it to myself as I went about my morning routine of feeding our cat and preparing my breakfast. The song was Daniel Whittle’s hymn from the late 19th century, Christ Liveth In Me. As I said, I was singing these songs in my head (I have been known to belt out a tune now and then, but not usually first thing in the morning when my children are still in bed!), and as I sat down with my waffles and coffee I stopped singing so I could pray. Suddenly in struck me that I was, for all intents and purposes, praying already. True, I had not bowed my head or folded my hands, I had not started with “Dear God” or “Dear Heavenly Father.” Yet my heart and mind were already worshiping through the song, and, in essence, praying to the Lord while praising Him. After all, the simplest definition of prayer is talking to God. Whittle’s hymn contains this first verse and chorus:

Once far from God and dead in sin,
No light my heart could see;
But in God’s Word the light I found,
Now Christ liveth in me.

Refrain:
Christ liveth in me,
Christ liveth in me,
Oh! what a salvation this,
That Christ liveth in me.

What else could I be doing while singing such a song but talking to God, thanking Him for His love, His forgiveness and His gift of salvation?

Paul wrote one of those easy-to-remember verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” Obviously no one can constantly be praying. We have many responsibilities and activities that consume our time and attention, and it is not possible to be constantly talking to God. Paul’s point, of course, is to be always in an attitude of prayer, always ready to talk to God. Talking to God should come easily and even, eventually, naturally as we grow in our relationship with Him. It isn’t necessary to close our eyes, be in any certain location, or assume any special position. We can pray anytime, anywhere.

Praying before meals, of course, is a good thing, and it makes sense to specifically give thanks for and ask blessing upon the food that is about to be received. But sometimes–like I did this morning–we may get caught up in the habit and ritual of saying a pre-meal prayer and forget all about the very point of praying.

February 27, 2012

The Impact of Worldview on Education

The word “worldview” is one that gets used a lot these days. It has become a buzz word of sorts over the past five to ten years, and to be honest I am not sure that everyone who uses the word has exactly the same definition in mind. When I talk about worldview I am talking about the lens through which a person sees the world and interprets events. A biblical worldview, then, means seeing the world through the lens of Scripture–interpreting events, past and present, with an understanding of what God has revealed in His Word.

The truth is, everyone has a worldview. I have blogged about what worldview means in an earlier entry, so I will not go into a lot of detail on it now other than to restate that there is no such thing as a completely neutral worldview. It simply is not possible to be completely neutral. The world will suggest that it is possible, and will even try to enforce neutrality on society, particularly public schools. The reality, though, is that in its effort to be neutral the world takes a position. Think about it, particularly in terms of public education. To say that prayer cannot occur in schools, that teachers cannot teach creation, etc., is not a neutral position but an anti-Christian, anti-God position. To be completely neutral on the topic of evolution versus creation a school would have to teach Darwin’s position, the Bible’s position, and several other positions in between, and do it in such a way that simply presented each position without trying to persuade students which idea was correct. That doesn’t happen, though. And in public schools where teachers have tried to teach both sides of the argument it has provoked a fierce and quick response.

I should insert here that I attended public schools for my entire life. I also attended a non-Christian college. Even after I began my teaching career in a Christian school I was not of the conviction that Christian parents should send their children to Christian schools. After all, I reasoned, I went to public schools, and I ended up okay. In the years since, however, I have become more and more convinced that public schools are a dangerous place for students to go. And I don’t mean physically dangerous, although sometimes that too is true. Rather, I mean psychologically, spiritually and intellectually dangerous.

I have good friends who disagree with me on this subject. They will suggest that the realities of the world are going to confront their children eventually, and they would prefer that their children be exposed to it while they are still at home and they can help to train their children to identify the errors of worldly ideas and defend biblical truth. Others will suggest that their children need to be ambassadors for the Lord, to be lights in the public school environment. I think that sincere people can disagree on these issues, and I am not going to say that it is a sin for Christian parents to send their children to public schools. I believe that each family has the God-given responsibility to provide for their children’s instruction, and that they are accountable to God for the decision that they make, not to me. If a family truly believes that God is leading them to send their children to public school, I need to respect that decision. Of course, in some instances, a family may not be able to afford a Christian school, or may not be geographically close enough to one to enroll their children there, and homeschooling may not be an option, either. Whatever the reasons, I think that Christian parents can send their children to public school and not necessarily be outside the will of God.

At the same time, however, I believe that if it is at all possible for a family to homeschool their children or to send them to Christian school that that is by far the better choice. Children are impressionable, and what they learn during their school-age years will necessarily shape their ideas about many subjects. I cannot think of any other endeavor in which a family would knowingly send their children to a place of instruction that they know is contrary to what they want their child to learn and believe. For example, if a family wants their child to learn to play the piano, they would not send the child to a teacher that they knew did not teach piano effectively and then re-teach the child at home. A parent who is experienced and knowledgeable about basketball or ballet will not send their child to a teacher with whom they disagree about technique and skill and then teach their child what they believe is the right way when they get back home. No; such a parent would either teach the child at home from the get-go or would ensure that their child went to a teacher who they were confident would teach their child correctly.

And Christian parents seem to recognize this in the area of spiritual development; I don’t know any Christian family who sends their children to a Muslim mosque or to a Kingdom Hall or to a Mormon temple for religious instruction and then teaches them what they believe after they get home. In fact, I am confident that if this idea was suggested to them most Christian parents would say that it is a ridiculous idea. Yet, many of those same parents see no harm in allowing their children to spend seven or eight hours a day, five days a week, thirty-six weeks a year in a school that undermines and distorts the very biblical truth that they want their children to learn and believe and embrace as their own.

Christians absolutely have a responsibility to be light and salt in a sinful world. But it is important that Christians are properly trained and equipped to handle that responsibility before being sent to do it. I once heard Cal Thomas say that no country has eight year old ambassadors, so why should we think that an eight year old Christian is adequately prepared to represent Christ in a hostile world? Matthew 5:13 says, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Until a believer is strong enough to know how to identify and defend against the world’s influences it is likely that their salt will lose its taste. Perhaps intentionally–the individual may knowingly reject the truth–perhaps unintentionally–the individual may simply be persuaded that false teaching is true because they are not knowledgeable enough about the truth to know otherwise.

Bottom line, God has given parents the responsibility to teach and train their children–not the state. The school and the church should be a part of that training, but can never replace the parent. Ideally, the parent, school and church are all in one accord and can support and reinforce each other–three legs of the same stool, or three strands of the same cord. And the reality is, this simply cannot occur in a public school. Public schools do not support and reinforce biblical truth. I know many of us long for the days when many public schools did do this, but we aren’t going to return to those days. So parents must prayerfully consider how to fulfill their God-given responsibility to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

February 21, 2012

It’s Not Okay

Last time I ended with this statement: “The question is simply what kind of education to provide, where and how to provide it.”  The discussion of “unschooling” led me to point out that there really is not anyone–at least not anyone who is mentally competent, I guess–who really believes that a child should be allowed to do whatever he or she wants.  After all, this could easily lead to very dangerous behavior.  I may want to allow my child to learn about electricity when he decides he is interested, but I also, as his parent, have the responsibility to protect him from what he does not know.  I would not allow him to stick a fork into an electrical outlet in order to learn about electricity.  Instead, because I know something that he does not know, and the information that I possess and he does not could seriously affect his health, I will protect him from his ignorance and educate him about the dangers of inserting a fork into an outlet.  So, in this instance, the answer to the question would be to provide the education in a very direct, firm and proactive manner, probably at home, and probably as soon as my son is old enough and inquisitive enough to consider sticking a fork–or any other object–into an electrical outlet.

Most parents who are supportive of the idea of unschooling would, of course, agree with the points I made about not allowing children to literally do whatever they want.  I stretched the point to its logical conclusion in order to emphasize that words and ideas have consequences, and it is dangerous to use words like “whatever” casually.  At the same time, many of those parents likely do feel that their child(ren) should be able to explore academic subjects according to their own interest, at their own pace, and for the duration of their own choosing.

Even this, though, is contrary to biblical instruction, I believe.  Perhaps the most well-known instruction in Scripture for parents is Proverbs 22:6, which reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV).  I have heard, as you probably have, several different interpretations of what this verse means.  Probably the most common is the suggestion that the instruction to “train up” means, in the original language, “to create a taste for.”  It is the idea of placing a small amount of something on the palate of a baby’s mouth to cause the child to want it.  By instilling the taste for what is right and true the parent will train up the child.  Dr. Bill Rice III has suggested that the verse refers to the same principle as aiming and shooting an arrow–parents have the responsibility to aim the arrow at the right target, to pull the bow string back with the appropriate amount of force, etc., in order to ensure that the arrow hits the target.  Either way, what these interpretations have in common is the conviction that there is, in fact, a difference between right and wrong, wholesome and unwholesome, righteous and worldly, and it is the God-given responsibility of the parent to set the child on the right path. 

Another oft-cited passage that directs parents in their responsibility to educate their children is found in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, which reads, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (ESV).  This passage doesn’t leave room for varying interpretations; it is clearly God commanding parents to teach His statutes and laws to their children.  This passage also makes it abundantly clear that this is not a one-and-done kind of responsibility; parents cannot just teach these to their children once.  Neither can they just ensure that their children get to church every week and trust that this will meet the requirement.  No, God instructs parents to teach their children diligently (meaning with intent and persistence), and to do it all the time–at home and while out, while walking, while resting, and while working.

Neither the verse in Proverbs or the passage in Deuteronomy leave room for parents to let children do their own thing.  In fact, Scripture also makes it clear, in many passages, that each and every human being has a sin nature, and it is not mankind’s natural desire to love, please or honor God.  Accordingly, letting children do their own thing is a clear and less-offensive way of suggesting that it’s okay for parents to let their children explore their own sinful tendencies.

I have (I think) sufficiently explained why it is not okay for parents to abandon their children’s education to the wish and whim of the children.  But that still leaves plenty of room for discussion about exactly what kind of education children should receive.  Specifically, it raises the question of worldview.  And that will be addressed next time.

February 17, 2012

Unschooling

Filed under: Christian Education — jbwatson @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , ,

I was introduced to a new concept last month by way of an article in WORLD Magazine. The article, in the January 14 issue, is titled, “Setting Their Own Limits,” and the concept is “unschooling.” Despite being involved in Christian education, having a master’s degree in educational leadership, and (I think) staying pretty current on trends in education, I had never heard this term or of the idea the term represents.

The first two sentences of the article, written by Grace Howard, should provide you with a good introduction of what unschooling is all about: “For Bethany Drury, an Iowa State University senior, school was whatever she wanted it to be. She was ‘unschooled’–a homeschooled child with complete control over her education.”

Howard describes Drury’s unschooling education as being focused on horses, the outdoors and veterinary skills, with Drury spending time watching National Geographic specials on television and reading books from the library on her favorite subjects. All of that was probably quite fun for Drury, I imagine, but the challenge came when she reached college. By her own admission, there were subjects that she had not been interested in or wanted to spend time studying as she grew up, so she was not ready for the challenges of math and chemistry in college.

While the concept of unschooling is difficult for me to fathom, what completely blows me away is that Howard quotes the National Center for Education Statistics as estimating that one-third of the homeschooled children in the U.S. are actually unschooled. That translates to somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000 children who are calling the shots on their education (or lack thereof) and spending all of their time doing whatever their little hearts desire.

Howard defines unschooling as giving “children complete control over their subjects, schedule and interests. If children do not want to learn science, they do not have to. If they enjoy art, literature, or computer programming, they can spend all their time pursuing that subject.” The article goes on to quote one unschooling mother who has written this on her blog: “The goals of unschooling are different than all the other methods. … The goal of unschooling is not education. It is to help a child be who she is and blossom into who she will become. … Learning happens as a side effect.” Howard goes on to explain that the most “radical forms” of unschooling carry this principle ever further, allowing children to exercise this same freedom in every aspect of their lives, including mealtimes, bedtimes, and chores. The unschooling mother quoted above, Joyce Fetteroll, has explained that parents should let children make their own decisions and thus “sculpt their own lives,” with parents “giv[ing] them what they want.” She continues, if “they are happy and free and are making these choices because it brings them joy, then we should trust that it really is what they want or need right now. … We need to trust that when it is enough for them, then they will stop. Their ‘enough’ may be different from where ours is.”

Well, I tell you what…I can pretty much guarantee you that their enough will be different. It would be for any child! I understand that there can be some compelling arguments made for letting children pursue things that interest or fascinate them, to follow their natural bent. But there can also be some compelling arguments made that children need to be introduced to things that are not naturally appealing to them, that parents need to train and teach their children certain expectations and requirements of life. Not only do I have two children of my own, but I have worked with children for my entire adult life, and I can only imagine the things that most children would do, and how they would spend their time, if they were left completely on their own to decide. I think it is safe to suggest that their eating habits would favor junk food at the expense of vegetables, their recreational activities would tend toward video games and indoor activities at the expense of legitimate exercise, and their sleeping habits would tend toward staying up quite late and waking up even later.

Since the very idea being discussed here is an alternative form of education, perhaps it would be helpful to define exactly what education is. Wikipedia provides this deifnition: “Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts. In its narrow, technical sense, education is the formal process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another, e.g., instruction in schools.”

Whether or not instruction takes place in schools–and I have no problem with the notion of homeschooling, by the way–I find it difficult to believe that aims and habits can be passed on by letting children do whatever they want, whenever they want. I certainly struggle to see how knowledge, skills, customs and values can be passed on. After all, unschooling mother Elissa Wahl has says she lets her children do “whatever they want. … If they want to learn about rockets for 5 years, or 5 minutes, that’s okay with me.” So, perhaps a child who wants to learn about rockets for 5 years–or 15 years, for that matter–would become a brilliant scientist or engineer, but at what cost? Would that child truly have received an education? Only in the very narrowest sense, I would suggest. Furthermore, I would go on to suggest that the child that is left to pursue his own interests to his heart’s content has been deprived of an education by not being exposed to other fields of study, taught how to interact with others, and trained in how to develop and use his intellectual gifts.

This notion of letting children pursue their own interests is another of those proverbial slippery slopes. After all, suppose a child decides he wants to pursue something that is not acceptable for whatever reason? Then what does the parent do? Because when someone suggests that a child should be permitted to do whatever he or she wants it is extremely important to think about just how big a word whatever really is. And, in case you missed it, the very nature of my question–about a child choosing to do something that is unacceptable–is built on the presupposition of there being a right and a wrong and that one or more persons will pass on to each generation some understanding of what right and wrong is.

One of the classic ways for political scientists to explain the concept of personal rights and how eventually the rights of the individual may conflict with the rights of another individual or of society is to say it like this: your right to swing your fist ends where my nose starts. But again: says who? Doesn’t that also presuppose a right and a wrong? Doesn’t that presuppose that parents and/or society will pass on to each generation the understanding that there is a limit to individual rights? But if we do that–if we limit anyone’s activity in any way–we are necessarily saying that it is not okay to do whatever you want.

In order to tell anyone that it is not okay to do something though we have to tell the person that there is a limit to what they can do. That is not a terribly profound statement because it is a restatement of itself, but it is important to recognize the consequences of our ideas. And since I suspect none of the parents who are “unschooling” their children would sit by quietly and let their child continue to choose to cause his fist to make contact with the nose of his sibling, neighbor or parent, there is no parent who really thinks his or her children should be allowed to do whatever they want to do. And…brace yourself…since no one really thinks that, there is no parent who does not believe that it is necessary and important to educate their children. In other words, unschooling doesn’t really exist. The question is simply what kind of education to provide, where and how to provide it. More on that next time….

February 14, 2012

God’s Valentine

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Today is Valentine’s Day. Depending on your age and/or your relationship status Valentine’s Day may have more or less meaning for you. After all, I know some people who look forward to it like no other day of the year, and go all out celebrating. I know others who think it is a ridiculous holiday made up by florists, greeting card companies and candy makers. And then I have other acquaintances who prefer to call Valentine’s Day something like “Single’s Awareness Day” or even “Let’s Make it Painfully Obvious You are STILL Single Day.”

Regardless of how you feel about it or whether or not you celebrate it, though, Valentine’s Day is, traditionally, a time when cards and/or gifts are given to express affection and love. And the truth is, God sent the world a Valentine more than 2,000 years ago when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Remember the simple little Valentine cards you would get by the box to exchange with all of your friends in elementary school? When I was in school I think G.I. Joe and the Transformers were popular among the guys. Now my children get cards with Disney’s Cars or princesses. But those simple little cards–often no bigger than half of a 3×5 card, could be counted on to contain a brief message, and space to write in who the card was “to” and “from.”

John 3:16 is God’s Valentine to the world. The verse tells us who it is “to” when it says “the world,” and who it is from when it says “God so loved.” It also tells us how God demonstrated, or showed, the world His love–“He gave His only Son” (ESV). God is the Giver, the world is the recipient, and His Son, Jesus, is the Gift.

Of course, a Valentine with my name on it only becomes mine when I accept it. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God desires that all should be saved, and His Son has paid the price of our salvation through His death on the cross…but only those who accept God’s Valentine will know salvation.

So, regardless of whether or not you have a significant other to celebrate Valentine’s Day with today, regardless of whether you wore every red article of clothing you own or you intentionally boycotted the color for today, remember the ultimate Valentine. Remember God’s gift, remember Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and remember that it all happened because “God so loved the world.”

February 13, 2012

Training for Godliness

Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend the better part of a day with former U.S. Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller. I remember watching Miller during the 1992 Olympic games and, particularly, the 1996 games in Atlanta when she was part of the group dubbed The Magnificent Seven. Miller is the most highly decorated gymnast in U.S. history, having amassed seven Olympic medals and nine World Championship medals over her career.

The time I spent with Shannon allowed for me to ask plenty of questions, of course, but the thing has probably stuck with me the most from our conversation was the amount of training that she went through. She would be at the gym for workouts each morning before school, then go to school, and then head back to the gym after school. There were many weeks when she was spending the equivalent hours of a full-time job in training in addition to a full load of school work. I remember Shannon told me about the time in 1992 when she dislocated her elbow in a training accident on the bars. She was taken to the hospital, and emergency surgery was done on the elbow–which included a screw being inserted to hold the elbow in place. Shannon told me that when her coach saw her at the hospital he asked how she was doing, and then told her, “You can take tomorrow off.”

I am sure I sounded incredulous when I asked, “He only gave you one day off? How could you do anything?” Well, she told me, she couldn’t do anything with her arms while the elbow healed, but there was still plenty she could do with her lower body. And after one day, she was back in the gym, continuing her training. Within just three months of the accident Shannon took first place in the compulsory portion of the U.S. nationals, and then won the Olympic Trials. Miller then went on to win five medals at the Olympic games in Barcelona, a feat that has only ever been matched among U.S. gymnasts by Mary Lou Retton and Nastia Liukin.

To become a world-class athlete, of course, requires tremendous dedication and commitment. It requires self-discipline. It requires sacrifice. Shannon Miller, and many others who have become Olympic or professional athletes, have worked incredibly hard to train their bodies to do incredible things. In my mind, the balance beam in gymnastics has to be one of the most difficult things anyone does in professional sports. Hitting a baseball is hard–the batter has only a fraction of a second to determine what kind of pitch is being thrown, where it will cross the plate, and whether or not to swing. The fact that a batter is considered successful if he gets a base hit only 30% of the time is evidence of the difficulty involved. But a beam is only 10 centimeters wide, and gymnasts not only maintain their balance while walking on the beam, but they flip, leap, tumble and roll. Beam performances combine elements of dance and gymnastics. And in 1996 Shannon Miller won the gold medal for the beam. Impressive…

As impressive as her accomplishments are, though, and as awed and impressed as I am by her dedication to physical training and practice, the Apostle Paul said that physical exercise has some value, its value pales in comparison to spiritual development and growth in godliness.

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.” 1 Timothy 4:7-9 (ESV)

Paul compares training for godliness to bodily training because it requires the same things: dedication, commitment, sacrifice and self-discipline. And, just like successful athletes have coaches, God has given each believer a coach in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will guide, prompt and convict as necessary. Like the athlete with her coach, though, the believer must choose whether or not to listen to the Spirit.

Bodily training has very real, but very temporary, rewards. Athletes can do things with their bodies that those who do not train physically cannot do, but eventually age and injury catch up with them. They may still be in better physical shape than their peers, but sooner or later the human body will no longer do the things it once did when it was younger. Training in godliness, however, is eternal value. It is valuable now, because the believer who is growing in godliness is continuing to become more like Christ–a deeper understanding of Scripture, increased wisdom in applying Scripture, and so on. This also has benefit for the life to come, because as the believer grows in godliness he is laying up treasures in heaven. Even as the physical body gives out, and even dies, the spiritual can continue to grow and will eventually graduate to heaven.

Am I suggesting that anyone needs to spend 40 hours per week reading the Bible and praying? No. I’m not saying that would be wrong, necessarily, either, but someone once said–D.L. Moody, I think–that we must not be so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. So reading my Bible and praying is valuable and important and necessary, but I never put into practice what I am reading I would be like an athlete who practices non-stop but never gets in the game. I believe I can say with certainty that it was knowing that she would compete and could win the prize that motivated Shannon Miller to spend hours and hours in practice and training, not the fact that she just loved training so much. She may well have liked training, but it was a means to an end; it was preparation for the contest. Likewise, reading the Bible and praying and spending time with believers and all of the other things that are necessary parts of spiritual development are valuable, but they are a means–their purpose is to help prepare believers for the contest, the daily spiritual battle. And, like the Olympic gymnast, the believer presses on to win the prize. But it is no material possession; no, it is the prize of hearing God say, “Well done, My good and faithful servant.” It is the reward of living a life that is honoring to God, and points others to Him.

February 10, 2012

Making Church Uncomfortable

I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t think churches should be trying to make people comfortable.

It crossed my mind to end today’s entry right there, but I suppose I should explain. Attempts to make church more user-friendly or seeker-sensitive has been going on for quite a while, and has been getting considerable attention for more than a decade now. And despite the bestselling books and megachurches that would contradict me, I have long been of the conviction that if I can sit in church Sunday after Sunday and never feel uncomfortable then there is a serious problem. Specifically, either the church is not preaching the whole Word of God or I am not listening to what is being preached.

Why do I say that? Well, for one, the Bible makes it pretty clear that the cross and the message of the gospel are an offense to the world. Have you ever felt comfortable being offended? I didn’t think so. If the church is preaching the gospel message, sinners will be convicted, offended, and uncomfortable. Second, even believers continue to sin and to have areas of their lives where improvement and spiritual growth is needed, so even individuals who are no longer offended by the cross should feel conviction in church from time to time. Quite frankly, we shouldn’t be able to read the Bible without getting uncomfortable once in a while, so why should I expect to be able to sit in church and be comfy?

Now, there are arguments–many of them–in favor of reaching out to people. Jesus did not just sit in the temple and wait for people to come to Him; rather, He went out into the streets and villages and sought out those who needed to hear His message. We need to meet people where they are, right? Right. I agree. But that is an incomplete idea. Jesus did go find people where they were, but He showed them their need and He did not leave them there. There may well be times when churches as corporate bodies and believers as individuals need to go to the world, or design events to draw in the world, but those should be limited strategies designed to expose the unbelievers to the Truth. I simply cannot find evidence in Scripture for the notion that we should become more and more like the world in an effort to reach the world.

Yet, that is exactly what many churches are doing. There was an article on USATODAY.com yesterday called “Churches go less formal to make people comfortable.” Right off the bat the article quotes Ron Williams, pastor of Church at the GYM in Sanford, FL: he says the goal of their church is to “remove the ‘stained-glass barriers’ for people who might not be comfortable in traditional church settings. ‘I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming. You can invite someone, and they will say, “I don’t have any clothes to wear to church.”‘” There is some truth in that, and I firmly believe that no church should turn someone away or look down on someone for coming to church in attire that may not measure up to what others in the church usually wear. There is no room for that kind of judgmental attitude in the church. On the other hand, to intentionally dress in an overly casual manner just because (1) it makes you comfortable, or (2) you want to avoid making someone else feel uncomfortable is not appropriate. My personal conviction is that I go to the Lord’s house to worship Him, and He is worthy of my best, so I will dress accordingly. To me, to dress better for work or a family reunion that I will to go to church just doesn’t make sense. However, I have learned to respect others’ convictions on this, too, and since I cannot show you chapter and verse that “thou shalt wear thy Sunday best” every time you go to church I don’t make a big deal about it. But please keep in mind that while you might be uncomfortable coming to church in dress pants and a tie, I might be equally uncomfortable coming in jeans and a t-shirt!

The USA Today article goes on to discuss the number of churches popping up in “non-traditional spaces” around the U.S., such as “movie theaters, skating rinks, strip malls and old warehouses, among others.” I don’t have a big issue with where churches meet. I think what the church believes and preaches and does is far more important than where the church meets. So this is a non-issue to me.

But the article goes on to discuss a church called The Bridge in Flint, Michigan that is in a strip mall. The church’s latest example of “want[ing] to be relevant to people’s lives” was to open a tattoo parlor. It likely won’t surprise you to know that I think that goes too far. Regardless of whether or not you or I personally have tattoos and/or have strong opinions on the increasing popularity of them, there is no denying that tattoos have traditionally been associated predominantly with people and behaviors who are not consistent with a Christian message. Maybe the church’s tattoo parlor has a policy of only providing Christian or unoffensive tattoos, I don’t know, but I don’t think that’s the point. Why does the Church feel the need to take what the world has to offer and “Christianize it” in an effort to reach the world?

I think there is plenty of evidence to support my assertion that more often than not, when the world tries to get more of the world by becoming more like the world it is the world that gets more of the church. More often than not the message of the gospel is compromised and watered down so as not to be offensive. (We want people to be comfortable, remember?)

I believe that you will find the strongest believers and the most effective churches are ones that are easily and clearly differentiated from the world. (Of course, we will have to define what it means to be an effective church in order to have that discussion, but that will have to wait for another day). And I think you will find that, generally speaking, the world is looking for something that is genuine and real, not something that has to disguise itself or adopt worldly methods in order to attract people.

So, think what you want, but my original statement stands–I don’t think churches should be trying to make people comfortable.

February 9, 2012

More on Marriage

Filed under: Biblical Worldview,Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 5:22 pm

I did not set out to spend a lot of time talking about marriage here, but it seems that everywhere I look lately there is something in the news that relates to this ongoing discussion of what marriage is, how it is defined, and how it might possibly be redefined. Unfortunately, most of that news is not good news. Yesterday’s posting about a young celebrity choosing to abandon a successful career as a lingerie model out of respect for her husband, her marriage and her faith is a rare gem in what is quickly becoming a garbage heap of stories about the efforts to destroy marriage as we have traditionally known it–and as God has designed it.

Another twist on the movement to make marriage more individually defined is the recent discussion on whether or not marriage vows should be binding when one member of the couple experiences severe illness–physical or mental. Traditional marriage vows, of course, have long included the statement that the marriage commitment was “in sickness and in health” and that the commitment would last “until death do us part.” Apparently, though, there are some who feel that perhaps that should not always be the case.

This issue first came to my attention last summer. Pat Robertson, former presidential candidate, founder and chancellor of Regent University, and well known religious broadcaster, said on his flagship show The 700 Club that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of death, and therefore is grounds for ending a marriage. His comments came in response to a caller. When asked what advice a man should give a friend who started seeing another woman after his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Robertson said, “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.” He went on to say that marriage vows are “until death do us part” and Alzheimer’s is a “kind of death.” (Robertson later said he was misunderstood, but it sounds pretty clear to me).

Last month The Washington Post Magazine ran a story about a woman whose husband had a heart attack and then suffered a serious brain injury. She eventually decided to divorce him, but she still takes care of him with her second husband.

There is a new movie being released tomorrow, called The Vow. The premise of the movie is a young couple getting in a car accident, and the wife suffering such serious injuries that she not only does not recognize her husband but does not believe she is married. Apparently the movie is based on a true story.

Darlene Fozard Weaver, an ethicist at Villanova University, suggests this when asked about marriage vows: “There’s always an obligation, I think, to keep faith with your spouse but the shape that that can take, morally speaking, can vary.” That, if you ask me, is code for “whatever works for you.” Again, relativism rules the day. After all, the woman in the story referenced above who divorced her husband, said this: “In the context of my faith, I am standing by him and with him. I am fortunate to have found someone who will share this with me.” So, in her mind, she is keeping faith with her spouse.

I haven’t seen The Vow, obviously, but my understanding of the story on which it is based is that the husband continued to love his wife, to care for her, and to help her through the challenges that resulted from the accident–and eventually he was again accepted by her as her husband. That, in my opinion, is as it should be. That is what love is. That is honoring a vow and a commitment.

I have never been in a position of having my spouse suffer an injury or a mental illness, and I pray I never will be, so I cannot relate to what it would be like to have a spouse who no longer knew me. I have no doubt that it is incredibly hard, frustrating and painful. What I do know, though, is that this entire discussion is simply further evidence of how we are slipping down that proverbial slope. When we start trying to find ways of redefining death in order to justify our wish to abandon one partner so we can have another–one who is more ideal, more able to meet our needs and doesn’t simply require us to care for him or her while receiving nothing in return–we are heading in a dangerous direction. It sounds very much like the idea of negotiating a personally-beneficial marriage contract, as some of the “experts” suggested in the discussion on open marriage. I can think of no support in the Scripture for the notion that once a marriage relationship is no longer what we hoped it would be due to a terrible tragedy that has robbed a spouse from the ability to know or respond to his/her mate that it would be fine to end that marriage.

The good news is that according to recent studies, the vast majority of married brain-injured patients remain wed even after the injury, according to a report in USA Today. My hope and prayer is that that will continue to be the case.

February 8, 2012

And now for some good news…

Filed under: Politics/Current Events — jbwatson @ 10:01 pm
Tags: ,

In light of my recent posts about the dangers of the push to redefine marriage, I thought it would be nice to share some good news, too. Model Kylie Bisutti, who in 2009 won out over 10,000 other contenders in a Victoria’s Secret Model Search, has announced that she will no longer model lingerie, because doing so is inconsistent with her beliefs as a Christian.

Bisutti told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column, “My body should only be for my husband and it’s just a sacred thing. I didn’t really want to be that kind of role model for younger girls because I had a lot of younger Christian girls that were looking up to me and then thinking that it was okay for them to walk around and show their bodies in lingerie to guys.”

Bisutti explained that modeling for Victoria’s Secret was her biggest goal in life, the pinnacle of success for her modeling career. However, she said, “[T]he more I was modeling lingerie – and lingerie isn’t clothing – I just started becoming more uncomfortable with it because of my faith. I’m Christian, and reading the Bible more, I was becoming more convicted about it.”

Bisutti did not appear in the December 1 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and after it aired, she posted this explanation on her Twitter page: “For all of you that were looking for me in the Victoria’s Secret runway show this year, I wasn’t in it. I have decided not to model lingerie because I personally feel that I am not honoring God or my husband by doing it. My marriage is very important and with divorce rates rising I want to do everything I can to protect my marriage and be respectful to my husband. God graciously gave me this marriage and this life and my desire is to live a Godly faithful life, I don’t however judge others for what they do. Everyone is convicted on different levels.”

Bisutti has not given up modeling altogether, but she has chosen to work only with companies that allow her to remain clothed during photo shoots. “My goal is just to be a better role model for the youth. I just want them to see me as somebody that they can look up to and somebody that’s going to be dressing appropriately and I’m not going to get into things that I wouldn’t want them to be getting into,” she said.

So, even though there are plenty of folks out there who want to have marriage redefined in any number of ways, and even those who seem to think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with open marriages, it is encouraging to know that someone who has what, in the eyes of the world, is the very definition of success–money, celebrity, sex appeal, etc.–is willing to give that up because of her convictions. For a young celebrity to speak out about the sanctity of marriage and honoring her husband is really good news. I think we could use a few more role models like that.

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