Month: August 2013

That Reminds Me of a Story…

I have a story for everything.  I relate most things in my life to a story.  Most of my day consists of constant reminders of different stories.  Whether it’s a story I’ve heard or one I’ve lived, almost every situation I find myself in causes some kind of “recall” button to be pressed in my brain initiating the “That reminds me of a story…” sequence.  It can, at times, be troublesome in my classroom when I have a point I am trying to reach and every statement I make or question my students ask takes my brain to 40 different stories.  It’s gotten so bad that now I allot time at the end of every week for those random, off the wall, hilarious stories that I don’t always have time for during a lecture or class discussion.

Similarly, one of the best ways I learn is by example.  Explanations are certainly helpful and I retain a lot of information through dictation, but when a lecture is neatly tied up with some grounded and real examples, the little old man that lives in my head runs around turning all the lights in the house on.  It makes things click for me.

So this is who I am.  I relate to life in stories and examples.  Show me with your words, then show me with your hands.  This is how God speaks to me.  God knows that if He sent an angel to split the sky and descend into my living room as I type this very word and told me that I was supposed to be a servant and missionary to the city of Morgantown, I would probably: a) ignore it, thinking I was hallucinating, b) laugh hysterically and look around for the hidden camera, or c) back away slowly muttering, “I don’t think so…” However, if God were to tell a story about a man serving his neighbor and loving his city and then show everyone what He meant with an example, I would get it immediately.  It would leave the little old man in my head huffing and puffing. . .which is a good thing.

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’“ (Luke 15:4-6 ESV)

“And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:35-36 ESV)

God, the Author, lovingly and beautifully wrote Himself into this story with us.  And what character does He assume?  A storyteller!  And not just any storyteller, but one that lives out real, concrete, examples for us as well.

I like to think of my life like the story of Esther or Ruth and Boaz.  Not because my life is overly dramatic or because I constantly deal with sticky situations that need to be wrestled with, but because throughout both stories you don’t see God revealing Himself in an explicit way.  The story simply unfolds.  It’s not that He isn’t there.  He certainly is.  You can’t argue from the way the events occur that God isn’t there.  It’s just not evident until after it’s over.  And isn’t that the beauty of both of these stories?  God lovingly and sovereignly wrote these stories so that His involvement was only visible from the rearview mirror.  This is how my life feels.

I’m anxious about the future.  I stress over decisions that I need to make.  I try to take everything onto myself.  And God whispers, “Let me tell you a story.  Remember when…” and we both gaze into the rearview mirror.  And I’m comforted and at peace.  God comforts me with stories of His faithfulness.  God teaches me with stories of Jesus’ perfect example.  I love stories.  And God knows that.  And I’m glad.

What is the unique way that God comforts, teaches, and speaks to you?  Does He wrap you up in a story like He does me?

Youtube Hermeneutics

Let’s talk about Youtube hermeneutics.  Don’t know what that is?  It’s possible that it’s the second word that’s throwing you off.  Generally defined, heremeneutics refers to a method or theory of interpretation and it is usually associated with the Bible.  So when I say “Youtube hermeneutics” you understand what kind of method or theory of Biblical interpretation I’m referring to.  It’s also affectionately known, in my house at least, as “Jeremiah 29:11ism.”  And now the light bulb goes off over top of your head.  “Oh!  That’s what he’s talking about.”  Yes.  That’s what I’m talking about.

Let’s be honest with ourselves.  We love Youtube hermeneutics.  It’s so easy and the splices are so clean and I learn everything I want to know in 5 minutes or less.  What does it matter what Jeremiah 29:10 says?  What does it matter who Jeremiah was writing to and why?  Verse 11 makes me feel good!  And so does Youtube with all of its kittens, autotuning, and people falling down!  So who really cares?  Well, God does.  And if God does, so should we.

We are so quick to quote Jeremiah 29:11 when someone is graduating or when someone is looking for a job or when. . .we don’t know what else to say.  “Well, God has a plan for your life and it’ll be a good-un.  See!  I have chapter and verse.”  But have you ever thought about why Jeremiah had to convince his hearers that God’s plan was good, pleasing, perfect, and not intended for harm?  Because in verse 10 he tells them that God is sending them into exile for 70 years!  Read it in context.

“For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

While I won’t argue the point that God has a plan for us and it’s good (even if our definition of “good” may not align with His. . .ask Stephen), I don’t think this is the verse to communicate it.  We use it to paint for ourselves a very mystical, mysterious, ethereal understanding of God’s will.  Why aren’t we as quick to quote Psalm 37:3 when talking about God’s will for our life.  “Trust the LORD, and do good.”  What about 1 Thessalonians 4:3?  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

God’s will is not a mystery.  He wills that we trust Him.  He wills that we do good.  He wills that we become sanctified and conformed into the image of His Son.  But we become bogged down and concerned with questions all about ourselves.  We ask who we will marry, where we will go to college, what job we’ll have next, where we’ll live, how many kids we’ll have, what kind of house we’ll have, and what church we will go to.  All the while, we cling ever so tightly to our precious Jeremiah 29:11 waiting for God to act and reveal to us His plans for “welfare and not for evil, to give [us] a future and a hope.”  But what our Youtube hermeneutics have failed to show us is that God’s plan for us isn’t a mystery.  The fleshing out of it may look different between the two of us, but His will for humanity is the same.  There are literally thousands of options you could choose in how you go about living your everyday life.  But the beauty of God’s will is that you can accomplish it and please Him by choosing any of them!  The reality is, it’s not about who you marry, but marrying wisely.  It’s not about what school you attend, but being able to project cause and effect.  It’s not about how many kids you have, but about being a faithful parent.

Our Youtube hermeneutics has led us on a continual search for God’s perfect will for us.  But no matter what our circumstance or stage of life, God’s will for us is to live a holy life defined by the Scriptures renewed by the Spirit who gives us the power to apply them.

“Woah woah woah,” you say. “What about my ‘calling’?  What about my ‘purpose’?”

In Christianese, when we find something we want to do or think we’re supposed to do, we talk about calling.  “Well, I feel called to this.”  Majority of the time, however, we use this to get out of doing things.  “That’s not what God has called me to.”  Ironically, God never “calls” us to do anything we don’t want to do, because His plan for me is not going to harm me, but give me a hope and a future.  So I can’t do anything hard or that I don’t want to do.  This language is misleading, unhelpful, and potentially harmful.

Again, I won’t argue that God hasn’t called you to something.  He most certainly has!  But his calling to you is the same as His calling to me.  It’s the call of a disciple.  Being a disciple means that you evaluate your passions and talents in terms of how they can best be used to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  Christians don’t need to be “re – called” to be missionaries to their city and to their friends and neighbors.  The call has already been issued.  If you are a Christian, you are a disciple of Christ and He has sent you out to be agents of regeneration bringing about His Kingdom.  Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31.  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  Jesus sums up the entire Law and Prophets by telling us to love God and love our neighbors (Matt. 22:27-29).  Jesus ends his ministry on earth by sending his disciples out to make more disciples by teaching others to obey everything Jesus taught (Matt. 29:19-20).  You and I must evaluate how God has best equipped us to fulfill the call on our lives that already exists.  But the call is clear.

“Woah woah woah.  Are you saying God doesn’t give specific callings or directions?”

Not at all!  God tells Paul in Acts 16:8 to go specifically to Macedonia, but this was given in the context of Paul’s active participation in God’s initial call to be a sent disciple.  The Holy Spirit tells the Church at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for a church planting mission in Acts 13, but both Barnabas and Saul were already active in completing the call to teach and serve.  So many Christians are sitting around waiting on warm fuzzies or a goose-bump inducing vision from God before they ever start doing anything for the Kingdom.  Is it possible that we have invented Youtube hermeneutics and the language of “calling” to mask the fact that most Christians don’t want to live like missionaries in their cities and neighborhoods?

Think of walking through your city or town one day.  As you walk, you come upon a small, handicapped child laying on some railroad tracks.  The child cannot move and you hear the sound of the train coming in the distance.  Do you stop, get on your knees, and ask if it’s God’s will for you to pick up the child?  What happens if you don’t get a clear sense from God?  Would you move on having done nothing?  The thing is, I don’t need a special word from God here.  God’s will is clear in Scripture.  Save and preserve life.

I often think about this in regards to the question of whether or not we need to be missionaries in our city or overseas.  Jesus made it clear that we are a sent people and that his Gospel is for every people and every nation.  Why are so many Christians waiting on a warm sensation and God to spell out “India” in their Cheerios before they even considering acting?  So many people say, “As soon as God calls me, I’ll go.”  Perhaps we should say, “If God tells me to stay, I’ll stay.  He’s already told me to go.”  Every disciple must consider what his role is in obedience to Jesus’ command.

God created the world (Gen. 1:1-3) and continues to sustain it by his Spirit (Ps. 104:30), watering it with rain (Ps. 65:9-13) and meeting the needs of every creature (Ps. 145:15–16; 147:15–20).  The Holy Spirit is not only a “preacher” that convicts people of sin and draws them to repentance, but also a “gardener,” an “artist,” and so much more.  Wouldn’t it stand to reason, then, that we can accomplish His will in a variety of ways as well?

So let me leave you with a few questions that may cause you to rethink your “Jeremiah 29:11ism” and your Youtube hermeneutics.  What do you love to do and find joy in (Ps. 37:4)?  Are there any Scriptures prohibiting this?  Can I proclaim the Gospel of Christ in doing this?  Will God receive glory if I do it well?  Once you have answered these questions and aligned yourself with Scripture, you’ll discover a newfound freedom in the Spirit that liberates you from the fear of missing the “perfect” will of God.

This is Christianity.

Expensive, Flashing Pacifiers

Houston, we have a problem.  For those with a Biblical worldview, it’s unsettling to see how content American Christian parents and teachers are to allow technology and media to do their job for them.  The problem, of couse, is that being a parent or teacher isn’t what technology was created to do.  Certainly it aids us in these responsibilities, but these responsibilities were granted to us by a gracious God and remain our own despite the many tools we have in our hands.  And yet the cultural trend among Christians is a continual abdication of those responsibilities and careful placement of them on the shoulders of the latest, greatest gadget we have on our laps or in our pockets.

When you think about the scope and sequence of history, television hasn’t been around that long.  Large scale television sales only began in the early to mid 1950’s.  With how fundamental it has become in our lives, it’s strange to think that there are people alive today who didn’t have this technology when they were growing up.  It’s a similar story with computers.  The personal computer wasn’t available in homes until the 1980’s and even then, they weren’t functional for recreation.  Laptops, like the one on which I type this blog post, didn’t show up until the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  When having a conversation about the impact of these technologies on our children and their education, we must realize that what we know is very limited when compared with other aspects of our daily life because, quite simply, they haven’t been around long enough for us to know.  Not only that, but they haven’t been around long enough in the same form for us to know their impact.  Certainly we can know, in part, the impact that Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers had on children who watched them on television in the 1980’s, but we can’t yet know of the impact newer shows (Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora! The Explorer!, etc) will have on children who use a different medium to watch them (3D TVs, laptops, Smart Phones).  The rapidity of change alone should modify the conversation.

While I think there are great benefits to introducing media to children during developmental stages, I am definitely a skeptic when it comes to the overall changes they really make.  I was only one generation removed from the introduction of the television.  I was one of the first groups of kids that grew up watching PBS programs specifically designed for children.  As I grew up in the public school system, we had a computer rotation in elementary school every week in conjunction with gym and music.  I remember going through typing lessons.  As I look back at all those experiences as a current teacher and soon to be parent, while those exposures certainly taught me something, I don’t know that any of them were a “game changer.”  Technology or mass media exposure wasn’t the silver bullet that solved developmental or educational problems.  Radio, television, and filmstrips were all supposed to dramatically change education in years prior.  And while each did, in it’s own respect, these advances have had little effect on the central practices of learning that were established hundreds and thousands of years ago.  This isn’t to say that mass media doesn’t have a role in the modern day development and education of children.  What I’m arguing against is the overemphasis on these technologies when the reality is that we don’t yet know what the overall impact is going to be one hundred years from now.  But, oh how content we are, even as Christians, to put all of our eggs in one basket and it’s not the basket of faithful parental obedience to a holy God that has been proven through the ages.

However, I do believe that mass media is useful for educational purposes when wielded correctly.  Majority of parents and families may be missing this point.  It’s certainly a running joke that while mom is doing laundry or making dinner, Barney or Dora or Elmo is the “baby sitter.”  Parents are using these technologies not to teach or interact with their children more, but as a tool to shut them up when they are crying or the parent has something to do.  These new technologies are flashier, more expensive pacifiers under the guise of “educational television.”  I am certainly not against using technology or mass media to educate our children, but I don’t believe they will be any more willing to share, be obedient, or be nice to their younger sibling if Mike the Knight, Caillou, or Little Bear tell them to.  And this all has seeped over into our schools, both public and private, as well.

Majority of schools are missing the point when it comes to inserting technology into the classroom.  Most people realize that if schools cannot change fast enough to keep pace with advances in learning technologies, learning will leave schooling behind.  In an effort to change this, schools are training teachers to understand and use new technology in the classroom, but only as a ornament to add to the dying tree of an old system in the hopes that it will attract the attention of their students.  I am certainly not against using technology in the classroom or against the efforts schools are making in trying to do so, but to be most successful at using technology in their classrooms, teachers do not need to learn to use it themselves.  Teachers need to know how technology can and should be used by students to enhance their own learning.  Students won’t want to read the book you assign them on a Kindle or iPad any more than they would want to read a paperback version.  I may have been trained in “Kindle and iPad Class” to add books to the library, highlight important sections, and define words with one click, but if I haven’t changed the way I relate the information to my students or how they relate it to their own lives, all the technology in the world won’t give me the results I desire.  The current school system does not help students develop intrinsic motivation to learn even if technology is used to make that current system flashier.

I don’t have a complete solution to the problem, but I think I have a few starting points that some Christian parents and schools could adopt when it comes to rearing and educating children with regards to technology in our modern context.

1. The first few general assumptions that children have about media and technology should be educational.  While their education should be entertaining, with positive and active mediation from their parents, children should see mass media as a tool for education and learning.  All too often I see a toddler or even older child being fussy or disobedient and a parent will hand them a phone to play Angry Birds or watch Youtube videos.

2. A lot of this stems from our use of technology as parents.  We don’t primarily use everyday technologies for educational purposes.  We use them for entertainment and so, despite the best efforts of Word World, The Little Einsteins, and Team Umizoomi, children are still being reinforced to use the television, computer, laptop, tablet, and smart phone for recreational rather than educational purposes.  I don’t disagree with using technology for recreational purposes, but I believe that we should primarily be teaching our children how to use them for educational purposes first.  Once they are older and understand the value of the tool, then we can begin to expose them to other aspects of the tool beyond education.  But the reality is, it starts with us as parents.  If we don’t want our children to solely use television for recreation, we need to model that behavior for them and be willing to correct them.

3. The emphasis we put on technology and media is either far to0 extreme or very misguided.  If we look back over the past 150 years at some of the greatest thinkers, philosophers, scientists, and similar brilliant minds, majority of them have come before the advent of television and the reliance on mass media for the education of children.  If our reliance on technology for the education of our children is supposed to dramatically increase learning, retention, and things like this, why haven’t we seen brilliant thinkers like C.S. Lewis (b. 1898), Albert Einstein (b. 1879), Stephen Hawking (b. 1942), or Alexander Flemming (b. 1881)?  If exceptional minds like these occurred before our reliance on mass media for education, then surely we should expect even more brilliant minds to come as a result.  But I don’t see anyone of their caliber taking the stage.  To this day when you ask someone who the smartest person in the world is/was, Einstein’s name is almost always mentioned.

Could it possibly be that we have too strong of a reliance on television for education and we neglect doing it ourselves and prefer to simply trust the technology?  Could it possibly be that we would rather use these advanced pieces of equipment for recreation than education and we would rather teach our children to do the same?

At the end of the day, I think more parents and teachers need to realize that God’s commands to us are not to be burdensome or laborious, but to give and preserve life.  Put in the proper place, mass media and technology could have a profound impact on learning and education.  I’m confident that one day everyone will be awoken to the wisdom of God found in his Law.  However, with the way we have ignored it and treated technology with more respect than we do other people, we haven’t seen any overwhelmingly positive impact on learning, education, or cultural reform over the last 70 years and if we continue down this broad, paved, easy highway, I am skeptical about the next 70.