jasonbwatson

September 3, 2014

Live It Out, part 2

Last time I addressed specifically the importance of living out our faith so that people will see demonstrated in us that which we say we believe. Several years ago I explored this idea as it pertains to Christians in the workplace. I had seen, as you no doubt have, an abundance of material in bookstores, online, at conferences and in graduate programs about what it takes to be a good and effective leader. Even within the Christian world, however, I was finding very little about what it means to be a good employee. While we are all called to be leaders (I like to say “if you’re breathing, you’re leading”) we are not all called to serve in formal leadership positions. Nevertheless, we all have responsibilities to do our best within whatever capacity we may serve. As a result of my studies and fleshing out some ideas that had been percolating in my mind I eventually developed a course entitled “UNTO THE LORD: The Roles and Responsibilities of the Christian Worker.” Through that course I (I hope) demonstrated what Christians are called to do no matter where they work or what they do because they are representing Christ. I hope someday to turn the course into a book, but that has not happened yet. I have been pleased to see that a few books related to this idea have emerged in the past few years, so perhaps others, too, are recognizing this often-forgotten area of the Christian life.

R.C. Sproul, Jr. addresses this idea in his “Seek Ye First” column in the September 2014 issue of Tabletalk. His column is titled “The World and All” and in it he points out that Christians are all too often guilty of separating the kingdom of God from the everyday activities of our lives. He explains that when Jesus told Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world, He was not suggesting that our Christianity is to be limited to what I will call church world. “It is true that Jesus distinguished His kingdom from the kingdoms of this world,” Sproul writes. “The difference, however, is not dimensional or geographic. Rather, the difference is in terms of our weaponry. What sets apart the kingdom of God is that the soldiers of the King do not fight with swords and spears.” In other words, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world only insofar as He was not planning to lead a rebellion against the Roman government (much to the dismay of Judas and others) and He is not calling us to use bullets or bombs to overthrow the United States government. But He is calling us to be about the business of His kingdom every day and in everything that we do.

Sproul goes on to write this…

When we forget the glorious truth that Jesus’ kingdom is everywhere, that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto Him, we end up dividing His realm. We think the real kingdom is where the church is, where it is doing ‘churchy’ things. When we are praying, when we are giving and receiving the sacraments, when we are preaching or hearing sermons, then we have entered into His kingdom. When, however, we are making widgets, buying groceries, or coaching Little League, then we have left the safety of the kingdom and have ventured into the world.

The truth is, of course, that His reign is universal. We do not move into and out of His kingdom so much as we vacillate between recognizing it and failing to recognize it, manifesting it or failing to manifest it. When we leave the church, and enter into that which is para–alongside–the church, we are not crossing some kind of border, entering into Pilate’s realm. Because we are still within the kingdom of our Lord, we are still to be about our Lord’s business. We are to do all that we do as unto Him.

In other words, regardless of where we live or what we do, every believer is called to full-time Christian ministry. We may not work for a Christian company or be paid by a mission board. We may not carry a Bible to work or be employed someplace where meetings start and/or end with prayer. Yet we all are called to do everything we do for God. That means whether we are stitching a wound, filling out tax forms, collecting garbage, mopping a floor, remodeling a house, selling a pair of jeans, fixing or serving food, investing money or answering phones we are just as much within the kingdom of God and called to live out our faith as if we were pastors, Christian school teachers or missionaries. Sproul writes, “The plumber, then, if he serves our Lord, is a parachurch worker. he is most assuredly in ministry. And make no mistake about it: there is a Christian way to do plumbing.”

This is a crucial lesson for all of us to learn. It is one that I strive diligently to communicate to the students at the school where I serve…they do not have to go to a Christian college or work in a church in order to live out their faith. We strive to show our students how biblical principles are connected to and relevant to every area of study, every occupation and every life choice. I am in a setting where I am privileged to have both that opportunity and responsibility. But it is not one that should be unique to me or those of us in Christian education. Every Christian should seek to apply the teachings of Scripture in their every day lives. Every Christian parent should seek to teach their children that the Bible is not just for Sundays, but is relevant and applicable every day and in every setting.

Paul says in I Corinthians 10:31, “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” He says again, in Colossians 3:23, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” Whatever you do is all encompassing; it excludes nothing. Wherever you are and whatever you do…live it out.

October 4, 2013

True Education

My plan is to spend the next several entries addressing education. For starters I would like to reflect on an article R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote for the May 2013 issue of Tabletalk entitled “The School of Christ.”

Sproul correctly points out that “it is not hard to complain about the government’s schools,” and that just about everyone seems to have something to complain about–atheists complain about prayers, Christians complain about sex education and everyone complains about graduation rates and standardized test scores. From there, though, Sproul makes an assertion that many will undoubtedly find startling: he says that American schools “are not actually designed to train up scholars…their goal is neither intellectual nor moral giants. Rather, they function to prepare men and women to work.” He continues, “The entire system looks at children as if they were widgets, entering the education factory as toddlers and coming out the other side when they are grown.”

Sproul takes issue with this approach and, whether or not you agree that schools operate this way, I suspect you would, too. “This is not how God designed the rearing of children,” Sproul writes. “To be sure, our children must learn things, but they are not so much widgets in a factory as they are plants around our tables (Psalm 128). They are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured.”

One obvious problem with the widget approach is that widgets are produced best and most efficiently when there is a system that treats every widget exactly the same, replicating the same process hundreds or thousands of times a day, day after day, month after month. Once in a while an improvement or adjustment comes along, and the improvement or adjustment is input into the system, calibrations are altered, and every widget thereafter has the exact same improvement or adjustment. The workers have no personal relationship with or attachment to the individual widgets; their sole concern is that the machinery works properly, the procedures are followed precisely, and the product output is maintained if not increased. Children cannot be treated this way. Well, they can be, actually, but treating children this way will have the exact opposite effect as treating widgets this way. Rather than increasing productivity, efficiency and consistency this approach will hinder learning, frustrate children and result in little if any learning.

Another problem with this approach though, and the one that Sproul dwells on, is that the Bible addresses the responsibility of raising and teaching children by using “natural and organic terms, rather than mechanical or industrial terms.” In other words, education, properly done, cannot be confined to the hours between the first and last bell of the school day like manufacturing can be restricted to the time between the first and last bell of the work day. Referencing Moses and Old Testament instruction for teaching children Sproul writes that parents are to provide their children with “an immersive educational experience–we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere. The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation.”

The greatest (read biggest) part of that responsibility for parents to recognize and accept that the education of their children is their responsibility. The education of children is not the job of the state, is not the job of the pastor, youth pastor or Sunday school teacher, and is not even the job of the tutor or teacher. Minus the state, each of those individuals can have a role and an influence on the education of children, but the responsibility is ultimately and preeminently on parents. As an educator I am obviously not opposed to schools or advocating that every parent homeschool their children (though homeschooling is a terrific option for many families). What I am advocating is the point that Sproul is making–that parents must see the school and the church the same way they see the doctor and the coach. The school and the church are important pieces of the education of children and they each play specific and necessary roles. So too does the doctor and the coach. These individuals have expertise (or, in the case of the coach, a willingness even if the expertise is lacking) that can benefit children when they are sick or are engaging in athletic activity. But those roles are finite and restricted. Parents, on the other hand, have a never-ending role.

Regarding the command in the Shema to talk to their children about the things of God all the time, Sproul writes, “in order to do this, of course, we who are parents first must be thinking about the things of God all the time. Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are particularly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while he is beside the point the rest of our days.”

This is true education. Dictionary.com defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.” As significant a chunk of the early lives of children as the 15,000 hours they will spend in school may be, it is not sufficient by itself to accomplish that task, regardless of how terrific the school may be. Many of the next few entries will address the formal education that takes place in institutions of learning, but I felt it important to state that education is, first and foremost, the responsibility of parents. It is an incredible responsibility but it is also a tremendous privilege. Think about it…God Himself knits together little lives and then hands them to human beings and entrusts them with the power of molding and shaping that life, of educating that human being. Between you and me, if I were God I think I would deliver the little ones pre-programmed. But I am not God (for which we can all be grateful!), and He has chosen to give the task of educating children to the parents. Do not take that role lightly, do not abandon it to others. Seize it!

May 28, 2013

Jesus Matters All the Time

In a recent article in Tabletalk, a monthly periodical with articles and Bible studies from Ligonier Ministries, R.C. Sproul, Jr. wrote an article entitled “In the School of Christ.” The article begins with this paragraph:

It is not hard to complain about the government’s schools. The government, at least during every election cycle, seems less than satisfied with its own product, ever promising us that it will improve. Atheists complain about prayers before football games. Christians complain about the teaching of sexual (im)morality. Everyone complains about graduation rates and test scores.

When it comes to government schools, Mr. Sproul is right; there is plenty to complain about, and the complaints come from all sides. And any efforts at improvement are met with new obstacles. Michelle Rhee faced overwhelming opposition when she tried to clean up the mess that was Washington, D.C. public schools. No Child Left Behind, a joint effort of the unlikely-combo of Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush did seemingly little to accomplish the goals it established for improving the education (read, test scores) of American school children, and the newest version, Race to the Top, is not any better. Now Common Core State Standards have been almost unanimously adopted in the U.S. to establish clearer expectations of what students in schools should be learning, and when, and these are encountering opposition and obstacles of their own–some perhaps legitimate, others seemingly concocted from thin air by Glenn Beck and others.

Private schools tend to fare better than public ones in the test scores and graduation rate areas. The school where I serve, for example, had a 100% graduation rate this year, and last year, and our high school students’ mean scale scores exceeded the national norm group in every subject area in our standardized testing this year.

However, that does not automatically mean that our school is successful. It does in a graduation rate and standardized test conversation, but that is not the sole reason why our school exists. Our school exists to invest in the entire student, body, mind and soul–spiritual, physical, intellectual, communal and emotional (SPICE). Sproul writes later in his article that children “are not products to be manufactured but lives to be nurtured.” Referencing the Shema, Sproul says, “Moses is talking about an immersive educational experience–we are to talk about the things of God with our children always and everywhere. The things of God are to be the very warp and woof of our daily conversation.” Sproul is specifically challenging parents to be instructing their children about God all the time. And that is what sets our school apart from government schools. The students at our school–and at many Christian schools–are receiving excellent academic instruction, but are also receiving intentional and intensive spiritual instruction, being taught about God in Bible class, yes, but also in science and history, in physical education and music, at the lunch table and after school. Effective Christian education destroys any boundaries that exist between the five SPICE areas outlined above.

Sproul continues,

Most of us are the products of schools that taught us to divide our lives, to separate what we think about Jesus and what we think about our work, to separate what we think about our work and what we think about our play. We give time to Jesus on Sundays, perhaps on Wednesday nights, and, if we are peculiarly pious, every day during our quiet times. These all may be terribly good things, but not if they are hermetically sealed. We dare not believe that Jesus matters only during these times while He is beside the point the rest of our days.

That is exactly right, and that is exactly what sets truly Christian education–whether it takes place in a Christian school or in a homeschool–apart from education at government schools or even most private schools: Christian education does not believe that Jesus matters only during specific times set aside for Bible study and worship, but that Jesus matters all the time.

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