Monday, June 30, 2014

Walking in the Light

First John is one of the books of the Bible that I have memorized in the past and frequently go back to re-memorize. There's so much in there I love, but it is not always easy to read (or memorize) because of its structure. It's not like Romans, laid out in a court-style argument the Greeks would have praised. It's more circular, more poetic, thick with layers of meaning and depth. 

And he uses a variety of terms to represent the same idea, each of which sheds a different light on the concept. As I read last night, I was pondering the various possible meanings of Light and Darkness in the first chapter . . . and one I hit on flipped a lightswitch for me, pun intended. (I'm writing this out for my own benefit -- and hoping it benefits someone else, too.) Starting in verse 5:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light (truth, honesty, openness . . . light reveals everything as it really is); in him there is no darkness at all (no hiding, no lies, no deception, no pretending, no covering anything up . . . He Himself certainly never lies, but more than that, no lies are possible around Him . . . He sees and knows all).

If we claim to have fellowship with him (to be in a relationship with Him . . . a right relationship) and yet walk in the darkness (hide things . . . lie . . . try to deceive Him, or others, or even ourselves . . . pretend to be something we're not . . . pretend that He is something He is not), we lie and do not live out the truth (we don't really have a right relationship with Him, because such things are not compatible with His nature and can't happen with Him).

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light (if we put ourselves out there . . . all of our ugliness, flaws, and failures . . . let it all be seen by the world, by God, and especially by ourselves), we have fellowship with one another (how many relationships with others are messed up by our hiding, pretending, and deception?) and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin (when we stop hiding and denying our sin, we then realize we need someone else to make us clean . . . and we are in the place we need to be for God to apply Jesus' sacrifice to us -- something John expounds on next).

If we claim to be without sin (a sign of walking in the darkness . . . because at the heart of every sin is pride, believing we are more than we are . . . when you say you don't sin, you're deciding what is sin and what is not, making yourself out to be God, something you are not . . . you're lying about who you are and who God is), we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (the truth of the gospel -- that we are incapable of putting ourselves right with God on our own and need a Savior). If we confess our sins (live in the light, putting everything out there, not denying or hiding or deceiving), he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (again, the purifying can only happen if we put our sins out there to be purified . . . as long as we are lying to Him and to ourselves, denying our pride and wrongdoing, hiding it, God cannot purify it . . . He doesn't force that purification on us . . . it is an invitation, a gift, an offer to be accepted . . . but only if we want it, and we have to recognize our need before we will want it). 

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us (reiterating and summing up: if we don't own up to the truth about ourselves, about God, about who we are, about who He is . . . about how we are trying to run our own lives and be our own gods, deciding what is right and wrong for ourselves . . . if we don't face up to reality rather than inventing a reality that we want to live by, with ourselves on the throne . . . we do not understand the message of the gospel and Jesus' sacrifice cannot be applied to us).

God has been teaching me for quite a while that the gospel is not about making us good people -- it's about putting us back in a right relationship with Him, even while we're bad people. And a right relationship with Him is impossible as long as we are deceiving ourselves about who we are and who He is. The first step is accepting the truth. 

God will not . . . He cannot . . . meet us in the darkness -- in the place of deception and lies. We cannot make Him out to be a liar. He cannot lie about Himself to accommodate our lies about Him. There is no darkness in Him.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thank You for the Despair?

My mother died unexpectedly four days after my youngest daughter was born, and between my grieving and my post-partum state, I dove into a wicked depression for many, many months. One Sunday afternoon, I was in my bedroom with the door locked because I was afraid my husband would walk in and see me sobbing on the floor in this pit of despair and be at a total loss for what to do – which would frighten me even more. I finally realized, I couldn't stay there on the floor; I had to do something. And for some reason, my pastor came to mind.
He only lived a few minutes away, so I called and asked if I could come over and talk. I'm not sure what I expected to get out of this – I'm sure he didn't either – but I couldn't think of anything else to do.
Talking in Pastor Jeff's living room, I finally revealed to him the thought that was haunting me: I KNEW God could lift this depression if He wanted to, but He wasn't doing it – it was like He wanted me to feel this way.
“Well,” said Jeff, “what if He does?”

I thought, what the %($*# kind of question is that?!?? He went on to talk about giants of the faith who have struggled with depression, and my brain just turned off for a while. I couldn't deal with this crazy idea.
But later that night, and the next day, that crazy idea started to take some form and resonate with me. What if God really did have a reason for allowing this pain?
I downloaded a book the other day called The Anxious Christian, and the subtitle is, “Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good?” What a thought. What if this thing that we view as a curse . . . as a sign of abandonment . . . as a sign of our weakness or sinfulness . . . as something to be avoided or denied or eradicated at all costs . . . what if it is actually a tool God has given us if we're willing to accept it?
I've skimmed the book and need to read it again more closely, but the author seems to be saying that, in his own life, at least, God uses anxiety (and his was long-term and debilitating) to signal to him a need to move forward in boldness and lean on Him more. If we didn't feel that anxiety when change is pending, we wouldn't recognize how stuck we are and how badly we need the change. If we didn't feel the fear of failure, we wouldn't be driven to rely on God.
Something like that.
I never came to fully understand that day exactly why God would want me to experience such overwhelming despair. But I did come to understand that the despair wasn't going to destroy me (or God wouldn't have allowed it). And I've increasingly come to see my sad and fearful and angry feelings not as something to avoid, but as something to listen to and read and interpret . . . and walk in the midst of.
And maybe, just maybe, they are gifts. What a thought. Gotta think on that more.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

In the Progressive Christian Lair

As our church search continues, hubby and I also end up visiting a lot of different Sunday School classes. Sunday School is important, we believe -- or at least some kind of small group Bible study within the church. You need to have people that you have close relationships with, that you are accountable to, that you are digging deep into the Word with, all that.

But not all Sunday School classes are equal. We've been in some good ones. We've been in some silly ones. And we've witnessed a few real doozies over the years.

This past Sunday, we tried a new class at one church we've been considering. The minute we walked in, I suspected that this wouldn't be the class for us just based on the ages of the people present: we were significantly younger than everyone else. Not that I don't think I can fellowship with and learn from those older than me, but we need connections with people in our own walk of life, also.

Then they started talking.

One of the first topics that came up was the book they had originally planned to study for the summer: Ministries of Mercy, by Tim Keller. I haven't read the book, but Tim Keller is an author I have enjoyed in the past. However, this class apparently got about two chapters into the book and couldn't stomach his theology enough to read any further. This was the point when the teacher then turned to us and remarked, very amicably, "We're a pretty progressive class. If you're a more fundamentalist type, you'll probably decide this isn't the class for you."

Yeah. We could've made that decision right then.

But we stayed for the rest of the lesson, a lesson which confirmed her description of the group. The teacher had brought in a couple of articles to read and discuss, and the discussion generally revolved around the notion that fundamentalists are silly (if not downright unchristian) to hold so vehemently to the fact that the Bible is infallible and inerrant -- that such beliefs lead to hateful, unloving thoughts and behavior (!?!) -- that they all are so grateful to be free of the shackles of such ridiculous dogma and open to a belief system that makes so much more sense.


I listened very carefully, because as I said recently when I wrote about Facebook, I learn a lot from people who think differently from me, and I sometimes find that I've been wrong about things and need to change my thinking. That didn't happen here. I wanted so much to ask questions . . . like, "So, how do you decide what in the Bible is true and what is not? How exactly do you define 'The Gospel'? What if there is something out there that is absolutely, positively true but that doesn't make sense to our limited human reasoning and that we need to receive by revelation and accept by faith?" Not to trip them up or anything -- just because I genuinely wanted to know their answers and understand their thought processes.

But as hubby and I said to each other later, we could sense this wasn't an environment for such questions. We were visitors (and only one-time visitors, it was becoming clear), and it would accomplish nothing for us to stir up the pot like that. These people weren't just "progressive" Christians (a term I take some offense to, actually); they positively reveled in their "progressiveness". Their progressiveness WAS their religion. We doubted we would get sufficient answers to our questions in our short time there, and it was obvious that such comments from us would get us immediately labeled as some of those dreaded fundamentalists needing to be either converted or dismissed.

So we smiled and nodded when we could with a good conscience. We shook everyone's hand at the end and heard their names. Then we left with a sigh.

Cross another one off the list.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Stupidity of Crawling the Fence

A pastor we heard yesterday made an important observation about the Law, specifically the Ten Commandments. Note the words at the beginning of Exodus 20:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

This is what He says before He starts giving them the Law. "I am the Lord your God." Not "I will be the Lord your God once you get your act together and start following these laws," but "I'm your God now -- our relationship is already established. These laws don't create a relationship between us; they maintain that relationship and protect you."

You all know we got a dog in January. Wheatly. Cutest dog ever. Had there not already been a fence around our yard, we probably would have put one up after we brought him home. Not to make Wheatly our dog, but because Wheatly is our dog, and we want to keep it that way.

Say Wheatly got out of the confines of our fence somehow and ended up in the neighbors' yard. They may have called us to say, "Hey, we have your dog." We would not have responded by saying, "Oh, no, that can't be. If he's out of our yard, outside of our fence, he's not our dog. Any dog of ours would be inside of our fence."

No, inside or outside of our fence, we still claim him. He still belongs to us. The fence doesn't make him our dog. The fence allows us to take care of him, to protect him, and to enjoy him -- and allows him to enjoy us, which he does.

This is how the Law works that God gave his people. He didn't give it to us as part of a contract: you do your part by obeying all these commands, and I'll do my part by taking care of you. Our relationship is only intact when we both keep up the contract. Stop obeying the rules, and I'm no longer under obligation to consider you mine. The relationship will be cut off.

No, the relationship came first. The relationship came by His initiation, His invitation, and our acceptance. He loves us and claims us no matter what we do, because we are His and never stop being so. The fence -- the rules -- are not there to establish the relationship but to make the relationship work. To protect us and to keep us in a place where we can actually enjoy each other.

The fence-crawlers, those always looking for a gap where they can get to the other side of the rules . . . they would do much better to relax and realize the joy and peace of living in relationship with the Father. I am the Lord . . . your God. The world outside the fence ain't got nothin' on life with Him.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Please Explain . . . Like I'm Five

I'm an intelligent woman, in all modesty. But three times this past week I felt like a complete idiot.
Tuesday evening, I needed to pick my daughter up at a laser tag place which, the birthday party mom and GPS both told me, was “right behind Hobby Lobby and the movie theater”. That sounds simple. It wasn't. Apart from driving my vehicle right through the doors of these establishments and out the other side, I couldn't figure out how to get to the other side of the buildings. My GPS couldn't even get me there. I wandered in a labyrinth of parking lots until I finally found an outlet to an obscure street, and then I wandered down that street and a couple others until, by chance, I saw the sign for the place. I had to put the GPS back on to find my way home – I still couldn't get to that laser tag place again if I had to. Good grief . . . 
Then yesterday morning, I had to do some online training for a computer system our school uses. From the get-go, I couldn't find the link on the main page that the instructor told us to go to (never did find it). More than that, as he continued, I realized I wasn't following what he was saying at all. I could see his actions on the screen, but I didn't know why he was doing that particular action and why I might want to do it later. After a bit, I realized that this training was apparently for administrators rather than teachers . . . so, yeah, that's it. That's why I wasn't following. (At least that's my story.)
And THEN, I had to run up to my husband's office for a meeting explaining the benefits program to employee spouses that wanted more information. I was the only English-speaking spouse present, so I had the English-speaking presenter all to myself – a one-on-one meeting. This should be helpful, I thought. Nope. The words I understood individually, but the context and meaning behind them eluded me. I kept having to rephrase things and ask the guy if I was correct. “So, these expenses I pay with the benefits card. But these I don't . . Oh, I can? . . Wait, but you said . . . huh?”
As I said, I'm an intelligent woman. Really.
I'm not going to deny that my brain might be a bit off this week, or that I'm less intelligent in some areas than in others -- because both are certainly possibilities. But each incident reminded me of the writing lessons I've been preparing for the fall about how to explain.
Sometimes, you need to do a close-up on the info, to give them more details or specifics. “The laser tag place is behind the movie theater. There's a street (though it doesn't look like a street) running south of the theater parking lot called Embassy Oaks; take that to where it stops in a T and turn left. After a couple curves, you'll see the place on the left.”
Sometimes, you need to back up and give your reader a view with a wider-angle lens. “This box is where you enter the information about this assignment – which is under this larger category of assignments – which is in the info about this particular class – which can be found under the Gradebook tab.”
Sometimes, you need to focus the lens – define your terms – to make things more clear. “FSA stands for Flexible Spending Account – that's what your husband pays into from his paycheck. The HRA, or Health Reimbursement Account, is the employer-funded account where you get deductibles reimbursed from.”
And always examine your assumptions: your readers may not have all the knowledge you think they have. Better to explain something too much than not enough, because they may be like me -- embarrassed to admit how much knowledge they're missing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Makes High School, High School?

My daughter's school is a relatively new one: they add a grade a year as the current students grow into new grades. So next year, they'll be starting a high school with my daughter and four other ninth graders. Eventually, she'll be in the school's very first graduating class. She's hoping for her name on a plaque.
As a teacher AND a parent of this inaugural Freshman class, I very much want to make this high school experience . . . well, a high school experience. Already in the two junior high years, parents and students (and staff) were noting the need for the kids to be differentiated more from the elementary school kids. They wear different uniforms; they have different teachers for different subject areas; but there is still a need for them to develop an identity as junior highers . . . and now as high schoolers.
But how exactly to accomplish this? Our first reaction is to look to our own high school years as a model. Unfortunately, a lot of things that marked high school for most of us are not feasible in such a small but growing school. (And others are not desirable.)
Like, lockers. When my eldest started high school after years of homeschooling, her first “uh-oh” moment was when she was given a locker combination and had no clue what to do with it. (That struck me as particularly funny because when she was a baby and I was first introduced to the idea of homeschooling through high school, as my brain was turning this idea over in my head, I half-consciously said out loud, “But . . . she'd never have a locker . . ." My friend guffawed at that; so did I. Even as I said it, I realized what a ridiculous objection that was.)
I don't think the church we are meeting in would appreciate our installing lockers in their halls. And we don't have enough space to physically separate the elementary and secondary kids very far (although that may change next year).
The distinctions will need to be not in the cosmetics but in the culture. Which is probably better anyway because then we have to be more intentional and thoughtful about what culture we want to create among our high schoolers.
I have ideas. So do some others. We'll need to get together this summer and brainstorm. But I'm also curious what my readers would have to say about this. What events, behaviors, routines, expectations, environments, etc. would constitute the culture of a high school? And a healthy culture, of course – we all know there is stuff that defines high school these days that we'd just as soon eradicate if we could. Our school can hopefully nip that stuff in the bud now, if we're consciously doing so.
Suggestions, friends? I'll write about this again as I get more to share.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Lean On Me

A number of years ago, there was a family in a certain group of friends we were in who was going through some serious struggles. Major illnesses, job loss, hospitalizations, financial setbacks . . . serious struggles. Our group rallied around them in every way, providing emotional, spiritual, and material support as best we could.
Ultimately, there came a point where it was clear that their financial needs were going to continue for a while and were going to be beyond what we friends could help them with. That's when one of the group approached the couple, suggesting that they ought to look into some government assistance until the situation turned around.
They refused. They had no intention of being on welfare, they said. Their friends tried to change their mind – you would not be taking advantage of the system or of anybody. You've paid into the system over the years. And you are exactly the kind of people in exactly the kind of situation that these programs are intended for. Still, they refused.
This is pride, and not the good kind. This is not a demonstration of independence and self-sufficiency – this is a demonstration of foolish stubbornness. A person who refuses the help available when they are in genuine need of help thinks too highly of himself. He thinks he should be above the kind of interdependence that God has designed us to live in.
Yes, you just heard a conservative Republican say that: we are meant to be dependent on each other. The stereotypical self-made lone-ranger American is not a biblical model for living. On the contrary, the model we are given in scripture is that of a body, where each part does its job and subordinates itself to the Head, which is Christ. Arms need feet, and livers need eyeballs, and they all need the Brain . . . which interacts with the world through the other parts. As good as it may feel to folks to be able to say they don't need anyone else when times get tough (or even when times are good), they are distinctly out of the will of God when that is the condition of their heart.
What's more, such an attitude of self-sufficiency will send you straight to hell. Consider what this person is (consciously or subconsciously) saying to God. “Yes, Lord, I hear you telling me that I can't put myself right on my own, that you want to do this for me as a gift of grace. But see, I don't take charity. If I can't do it myself, I'd rather just do without. I'll muddle by as best I can on my own efforts. That's good enough for me. Give all that grace to someone else who needs it more. I'm good. Thanks anyway.”
You're not good. When it comes to your righteousness and salvation and eternal destiny, you're absolutely, positively not good. You're in desperate need of God's intervention, whether you realize it or not. And maybe creating us to be dependent on each other is part of the humbling process that brings us back to Him.

God, teach us that balance of interdependence and personal responsibility in our social realm . . . but teach us how to be child-like and completely dependent on You in every realm.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Facebook Dilemma

Recently, a Facebook friend posted a video of a guy urging people to quit Facebook. (Yes, a bit ironic.) The final straw for him: apparently FB has added (or is adding, I don't remember which) a new feature where they can listen in when you post a status, determine from the background noise where you are and what you're doing, and add that to your status. Something creepy to that effect.

The video post also had a link to another post explaining how to permanently delete your Facebook account. And another explaining how to "quit Facebook without quitting Facebook" -- how to set-up your FB so that you're not unwittingly sharing info with the scary world that could take advantage of it but still keep a very limited presence there for the times you need it.

Quitting Facebook without quitting Facebook. I've considered such a notion in the past.

Privacy wasn't my concern -- although now I'm wondering if it should be. I've always figured that I have nothing on my page that I want to hide from anyone, and I'm a pretty boring nobody in the world. Who would care about my life enough to stalk my page and go through the effort to find something there to use to against me?

No, my concern has been that Facebook has become far too much of a presence in my life. Especially since I got my phone that yells an ugly "DrroOOIId!" at me every time something of any significance happens on my account. I spend way too much time stopping to see who liked my last status.

I spend way too much time reading comments from people I don't know on things I've commented on recently.

I spend way too much time scrolling my newsfeed for the rare amusing or interesting item.

I spend way too much time reading articles my friends have posted that may be amusing or interesting, but most of the time don't add much of real value to my life.

But there are things I would genuinely miss if I quit FB altogether. Things that I really do think add value to my life. For one, my world on FB is much wider and more diverse than my world in real life. If I only interacted with the people I see face-to-face, I would for the most part only be interacting with other straight-laced conservative Christians in our own social class (especially since our move to Texas). Frankly, that may be very comfortable, but I don't think it's good for me -- not socially, not intellectually, not emotionally, not spiritually.

I would also have a pretty limited understanding of a lot of issues facing our country today. Hearing what my differently-minded friends think of what's going on in the world forces me to try to understand issues from another point of view and helps me solidify why I believe what I believe -- and sometimes change what I believe when I clearly need to do so -- and often have more compassion or respect for others with whom I disagree.

I would also miss the connection with scores of people around the country from multiple eras in my life whom I would never communicate with if it weren't for Facebook.

The other problem with quitting? The vast bulk of my blog readers come from the links I post on Facebook. Yes, I mainly blog for my own benefit, but it would stink to do all this writing and nobody read it.

I'm torn. Social media is like a drug. Even when I'm determined to only look at FB twice a day, I'm drawn back in by something that presents itself as important enough to be an exception. I can't partake in moderation. I'm afraid I need to go cold turkey or give up the fight.

Sigh. First world problems. (Note that I didn't put a hashtag on that. Thank God I never let myself even LOOK at Twitter.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Continuing the Great Conversation

I just watched a DVD from Netflix called “The Hobart Shakespeareans,” a documentary about a fifth grade teacher in a bad neighborhood who brings amazing things out of his class, including a Shakespearean production every year.
Being a Shakespeare fan, I was excited about that part of what he does – and inspired, again, to want to teach a Shakespeare extracurricular at SCA one of these years. In fact, everything about this man's classroom was inspiring. But there was a particular moment in the DVD that won't let go of me.
The class is reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Specifically, they are reading about the moment when Huck is deciding whether he should turn in the runaway slave Jim (what he'd been taught all his life was the good, righteous thing to do) or not. He has written a letter to send to Jim's owner, and he's stewing over what to do with it.
I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
All right, then, I'll go to hell”--and tore it up.
The teacher reads this passage aloud to the class, and the camera closes in on one student. A ten-year-old boy following along in his book . . . with tears rolling down his face.
The teacher then asks a girl in the class to continue reading aloud from there. She starts to read and stops, too choked up to continue, tears rolling down her face as well.
Ten-year-old kids, so moved by the decision Huckleberry Finn just made as to cry in front of their peers over it. And I was so moved watching them, I cried in front of my TV.
This . . . this is why I teach. And specifically why I teach English. Because there is a Great Conversation happening out there that has continued for centuries, that is part of what makes us human beings created in the image of God and not simply highly evolved members of the animal kingdom. A Conversation that requires knowledge and understanding and critical thinking and time and effort . . . and that is worth all of the work that goes into it. A Conversation that leads us to what is means to be human, which leads us to the God who made us humans, which leads us to a successful, purposeful life.

I so want to open up my students' hearts and minds to join that Great Conversation. God grant me the grace to do that.

Monday, June 9, 2014

No More Spiritual Than the Opera

Did I mention I got a Nook? For Mother's Day? Fascinating little device. I finished my latest evening devotional book the other day and decided to look to see what I could get for free on my Nook.

One of the works I downloaded (for free! so cool!) was a collection of sermons by C.H. Spurgeon, sermons he gave to students at a pastoral training school where he taught. The one I read last night is about the need for pastors to be spiritually sound and growing themselves if they expect to shepherd a congregation. Kind of a "duh" for me; he spent a lot of time expounding on the idea, which I'm sure was for the benefit of the pastors he was preaching to, to cause them to truly examine themselves. (Sermons are rarely as effective when read as they are when delivered orally.)

But one section really jumped out at me:

"People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time, all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickled with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners: the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera -- not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual. Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. How little has changed since the 19th century. I hope it doesn't sound arrogant for me to say that I don't feel convicted that Spurgeon is describing me . . . but I do feel convicted that I may, in the past, have contributed to a church environment that allowed people to be this deluded.

Listening to an orator . . . interesting that I think I find myself equating the quality of a preacher's oration with his being led by the Spirit in his preaching, when it is certainly possible that a man could be a fabulous speaker and completely devoid of spiritual power.

Having their ears tickled with music . . . by all means, we should be sure the music we offer in worship is the highest quality we can offer, but I have been in far too many situations when the musicians (even some very godly musicians) were more concerned with the audience's response to the music than to how it would please God (note the term audience) . . . and I KNOW I've been in churches where the congregation was more concerned with their personal enjoyment of the music than they were with the worship they were doing in response to it. I've done that myself.

Eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners . . . in our day, might we equate this with interesting "stage decorations"? Lighting effects? High quality videos? Trendiness? (I remember a sermon once where the pastor invited us to text him questions to be answered in the next sermon.) Not that any of these is wrong, per se, but when they serve no purpose other than to amuse the eyes of the one sitting in the pew, as Spurgeon says (to keep the audience interested and attentive, to make them feel like they're in a "cool" church, to make them want to come back to see what neat thing the worship team will think up next), then there's a problem.

The words that hurt me here? They congratulate themselves because they think they must be Christians -- must be, because they go to church every week and enjoy it.

It grieves me that so many of our churches are so concerned with getting folks in the door and keeping them there, and they forget that pleasure and entertainment are rarely the means to an encounter with Christ that leads to regeneration (frankly, they are more likely to get in the way) and that the only reason we want people there is so they can be regenerated. Not to stroke our egos about our big numbers, or the positive comments we get after the service, or the reputation we have around town. Not so folks can have an enjoyable morning in a family-friendly moral environment that encourages them to be better people. To be regenerated. How many of us really understand what "regeneration" means these days? And yet we think we're leading people to it because they smile at us from the pews as we tickle their ears.

I think this is why we are so reluctant to connect ourselves to one of the megachurches here in San Antonio. I would rather be part of a small congregation where the people are there because they actually meet God there, whether the aesthetics please them or not.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Just What Gives You the Big Idea that You Should Be Free?

My eldest got tired of listening to talk radio yesterday and pulled out an old Adventures in Odyssey cassette to listen to. Boy, did that send me back! My little ones buckled into their car seats behind me and John Avery Whitaker's soothing voice coming through the speakers. Enjoyed those years.

The tape she picked was the story of a boy who gets bonked on the head and goes back to Revolutionary War time (I never said the stories were realistic -- just fun). He ends up in the middle of the Continental Congress session where they are debating whether or not to declare their independence from Britain. John Dickinson from Pennsylvania is arguing vehemently and eloquently against the idea. When he realizes he can't convince them, he graciously steps down from his position so they can proceed with a united front. (Wikipedia tells me he then joined the Pennsylvania militia. Fascinating man.)

Listening to the story made the girls and I wonder: how exactly did the founding fathers, the leaders
who led our country into making this radical and dangerous move, get this all-consuming passion for "freedom"? I don't think any other country in the world had "freedom" in this way. Where did they get the idea from to begin with, and what made them so convinced they had to have it that they were willing to stake their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor on it? People all over the world lived contented lives under governments that controlled much of their lives -- why did the Americans find this so intolerable?

How Then Shall We Live by Francis Schaeffer compared the American Revolution to the French Revolution . . . but he first compares the Reformation to the Renaissance. He sees them both as reactions to the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church. In northern Europe, people reacted by separating from the church and forming the Protestant denominations, based on believers reading the Word for themselves and being accountable to God individually. In southern Europe, people reacted by rejecting the premises of Christianity altogether and celebrating the greatness of man on his own -- the Enlightenment and so forth.

The American Revolution grew out of the Reformation tradition, Schaeffer says, and that's why it succeeded. The French Revolution grew out of Renaissance and Enlightenment thinking, and that's why it failed within a few years and Napoleon took over.

Now, this may be a bit simplistic of a view of things (and I haven't read the book in a while -- I may be simplifying it too much), but I do know that even the founding fathers argued that America needed godly principles to keep it going. "Only a virtuous people is capable of freedom," Ben Franklin said. And John Adams agreed: "Our Constitution is made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

We know that the founding fathers were influenced at least some by Enlightenment thinking, and that they were rather mixed and varied in their religious views, some more orthodox than others. But we also know that they all came out of a tradition of Protestantism, and they seemed to operate on a public level as Protestant believers even when their private views were more murky. Am I right in surmising that their passion for "freedom" came from their understanding of their relationship to God? Hmmm.

Listening to Dickinson's arguments made me think a lot of the arguments I hear liberal friends make justifying what conservatives feel is dramatic over-reach of the government. Wouldn't we all love to hear that Constitutional Convention crowd discuss, say, Obamacare? I'd buy tickets for that show.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What To Teach

A friend in NJ has decided to start homeschooling her children this fall (yay!) and emailed me with a plethora of questions. It was such a joy to answer those questions for her! I remember when I started out, how foreign it all seemed and how unsure I was . . . to now have the experience to help others feels so good.
One of her questions was, “How do you know what you should be teaching?” It's kind of a funny question, really. I mean, we all went through school, right? We all know what we were taught, right? We all know what we adults know that our kids don't know, right? It's understandable that we'd be concerned with how to teach something, but it seems like the what should be obvious to us. But honestly, I am asked this question all the time.
I think most people that ask this are concerned with making sure kids are “on grade level”. Everyone learns about birds in second grade, so I need to make sure I teach them about birds in second grade. Everyone learns their multiplication tables in third grade, so I need to teach multiplication in third grade. And so on and so forth.
But the whole concept of being “on grade level” is silly. Educational research is quite clear: kids pick up different skills at different ages. Some kids learn to read at age 3 or 4; for some, reading never clicks until age 10 or 11. And all of those kids are normal. No learning disabilities involved here – just natural differences. Those kids who start reading later usually catch up to the others within a year or so and can be quite successful in their education . . . as long as they haven't been made to feel stupid by that point and given up on learning altogether.

This is one of the biggest problems with schooling as we know it: it requires teaching kids in large groups and therefore requires that everyone learn the same thing at the same time in the same way. And that's not a criticism of teachers! MANY teachers make valiant efforts to individualize the learning that happens in their classrooms. It's just too hard to do.
But back to the original question: "How do you know what you should be teaching?" There were two resources I used a lot. The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer is a huge tome about doing classical education at home, and if you followed her advice down to the word, you would make you and your children insane. But it is a great overview of what kind of learning tends to happen at each developmental stage (grammar, logic, and rhetoric), and if you will take the time to pay attention to what stage your child is actually in, whatever their age, it can be very helpful. It was invaluable to me.
There's also a series of books by Kathryn Stout called Design-A-Study. As I recall, she examined curriculums used around the country in various subject areas and boiled down their "scope and sequences" to these master lists. So, for example, Science Scope lists every topic taught around the country in science and divides it up into what is generally covered in elementary, middle school, etc. Again, invaluable. I could flip through that book and see "Magnetism" . . . oh, we haven't ever talked about magnetism. That'll be our next science unit -- and here are the specific details about magnetism that I should try to cover with my youngest and a few deeper ones for the eldest.
In general, I would take these books over the summer, skim them again for the umpteenth time, and ask myself, What is the next thing in this subject that my kid is ready for? That's it. What's the next thing. Considering the big picture, which these books lay out, what piece of the puzzle does my kid need to have now to move forward.
Those who ask me this question seem so stressed about the idea. Are you kidding?  I LOVE this part of homeschooling! I LOVE studying my kids this closely. I LOVE watching them progress. I LOVE figuring out how God made my particular child and nurturing that. I'm so excited for my friend to experience this, too!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why We're Not Starting a House Church

We had a houseful of family this weekend here to celebrate our eldest's high school graduation, most of whom left on Sunday morning. Because of the timing of their flights, we weren't able to get to any church service, so our youngest took matters into her own hands. For quite a while now, she has been telling us we need to start our own church. Invite friends over -- take turns preaching sermons and leading music -- hmmm.

So, yesterday, she prepared a sermon and chose some music and led a worship service for the family in our living room. She preached on a passage in 1 Chronicles where David is praying about the gifts the people have given for building the temple. Honestly, I was pretty astounded at her insight into the scripture and the quality of her delivery. Fascinating girl, my daughter.

But I keep trying to explain to her that holding our own worship services in our home, taking turns preaching to each other, is not really a good idea. At least, not in lieu of finding a real "church home". I admit, I can understand the appeal to her. She seems to have inherited my disease of seeing a thing and always thinking, "I can do that" . . . or even worse, "I can do that better." Sometimes, it is good to just acknowledge and use the gifts of others.

I'm struggling a bit, though, to articulate to her why our own personal church is not optimal. I understand why in my gut -- I've just never had to put it in words.

People are built for corporate worship, I believe. It's somewhere in our makeup. Even the non-religious find a way to worship something, and to do so en masse. Witness NFL football games. Fourth of July celebrations. Political conventions. Popular concert tours. You might contend that none of these are worship situations; I could make a case otherwise. We are made to worship, and if we don't worship the only Object worthy of our worship, we inevitably find something else. Sometimes that something else is a thing very intimate and private -- I've known people who hold their families as objects of their worship. But corporate worship is a powerful thing, and it's something I think we are driven to do on a regular basis.

That said, getting a few families together in our home every week might meet that need for corporate worship in our lives, but I'm skeptical. Primarily because of the other objection I have to the idea: we would need a shepherd.

God has called and equipped certain people in his body to lead and guide and teach his people. All we are like sheep, it says in Isaiah, and sheep desperately need a shepherd. Yes, Christ is the ultimate Good Shepherd, but I think we tread in dangerous waters when we presume to have the wisdom and discernment to just lead ourselves spiritually. We need gifted, spiritually strong elders to guide us. Unless we happened to find someone so called by God to join our little home church, we would just end up like Isaiah's stray sheep who have each turned to his own way.

And so, while we enjoyed a week of worship in our living room, we return to the church search next week. Prayers appreciated. I'm weary of this process.