Monthly Archives: October 2015

“Mouw’s Musings”

I was delighted to represent Oskaloosa Christian and to sit with Pastor Bryan Ochsner (Sully CRC) and Pastor Brad Meinders (1st CRC Pella) at the Vermeer Family Foundation’s annual fall ministry seminar at the Global Pavillion on Thursday, October 29, 2015.  The speaker was Dr. Richard Mouw, the former President of Fuller Theological Seminar.  The title of his multi-faceted talk was “Mouw’s Musings.”  This man is an American treasure.  He is brilliant.  You invested in me.  You invested in Oskaloosa Christian.  How so?  Hopefully, some of you will take the time to get a return on that investment by reading my summary of Dr. Mouw’s 4 messages in the following document.  There is no way I could do full justice to the ideas he presented for this day, but, if you would like to read my feeble attempt, please read on. . .

“Mouw’s Musings”
By Dr. Richard Mouw
Vermeer Corporation
Thursday, October 29, 2015
9:00 a.m. until 3:45 p.m.

Summary Notes of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

I’ll talk for awhile, but I also want to do some Q&A with you folks.  I like to talk about what’s on my mind.  Here are some things that I think are important in the church today.

How are we to be obedient to God with the complexity of the culture?

The language of the street has profound significance to churches.  Pardon my language: Do we ask, “What the hell is going on in the world?”  Or do we ask, “What in heaven’s name is going on?”

There are seismic shifts in our culture.  America is becoming as pagan a country as the countries we used to travel to in the world.  The established church is not aligned with the social-political order.  This used to be a Christian nation.  We’re in a post-Christian context.  We must still be faithful to the Gospel.

In Post-Modernism, there’s a whole different way of learning.  Education is being delivered online, even in seminaries.  The original thought was online education as “distance” education; but it’s not distance education anymore, because students are sitting across the street taking these courses online.  This generation gets their news and communicates with people electronically, and that’s a good thing.  There are new cognitive patterns; people are processing information and learning in new ways.  How can we be faithful to the Gospel, if there are heavenly signs to these new methods of learning?

We need to learn how to study the culture.  There is false doctrine and idolatry.  It’s as bad as the day of Pentecost!  On that day, the Spirit of God poured-out on all flesh, and there was tremendous growth.  God is capable of doing great things in times of cultural adaptation, success, and depravity.

I am hopeful.  We have a wonderful generation of young people coming up.  They care about the environment, sex trafficking, and what God is doing in the world.  They want to know how the church fits into larger Kingdom visioning.  Campus ministries are making a big impact on college campuses.

We have a lot to learn in this new context.  One of my favorite commentators is Kosuke Koyama, a Japanese theologian.  He spent a lot of time in North America.  He went back to Japan.  His church sent him as a missionary to Thailand.  He wrote a book on his experiences, WATER BUFFALO THEOLOGY.  He discovered what it meant to preach the Gospel as “good news” to people who spend most of their days standing up to their hips with water buffalos in rice fields.  He thought a lot more about how he would read the Bible, if he were actually in this context.  He discovered many references to water and wetness and safe places of “dryness” in the Bible.  He was engaging in two-way exegesis of (1) the Word and (2) the rice patty (culture).  His preaching sometimes brought judgment and encouragement.

We’re up to our hips in the culture, but we need to discover what God is up to, so we can bring good news to the people.  How can we bring the Gospel to Justin Bieber and the commentators of CNBC?   We have a lot of work to do, and that work has a lot of implications in our worship.  We should teach the catechisms, but we also need to equip God’s people to live-out the catechisms.  How do you get those truths from the head to the heart and to the hand?!

The book, HABITS OF THE HEART, focused on interviews and re-interviews of people with questions about the philosophies and worldviews and commitments of life.  They found two dominate themes:  (1) individualistic utilitarianism which led to return in investment of their time and (2) expressive individualism, which brought “self-actualization.”  On one occasion, the authors interviewed a man who had been successful in business but his marriage had fallen apart, and he had remarried.  In his first marriage, he was guided by this cost-benefit analysis, so he didn’t spend much time on relationships, recognizing that it was a real failure in his life.  His second marriage brought a greater expressive individualism; he felt more “real” and fulfilled with his wife.  But he didn’t have the language to express whether he would be able to stay with her if she became paralyzed, when he as asked about that life-altering possibility.   He was too much the individual with felt needs.  Individualism fragments.

As Christians, we should be very un-individualistic.  We need to find GOD’S work in the world.  And we need the language to express the hope of Christ.  The language of commitment should be found in the church.  We need to call people in worship to a larger vision beyond self.

I was asked what Fuller Theological Seminary was doing about the constant repetition of contemporary worship song phrases, and I sang back the constant repetition of traditional worship song phrases!

How is God holding things together?  Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a wonderful poem in 1939, “Upon This Age.”

“Upon this age, that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind —
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric; undefiled
Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still
Upon this world from the collective womb
Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.”

The age was endowed with power.  The age would not speak its mind.  A gifted age.  At a dark hour, a meteoric shower of uncombined facts.  (Sounds like 2015!)  We have the hope.  The Word of God!  In Jesus Christ, ALL THINGS hold together.  There is a knowledge of reality and worldview in Christianity.  In an age of fragmentation, we can point people toward Someone who holds all thing together in our global village.

Should we be asking more questions and giving fewer answers?  Understand the questions.  Don’t answer questions no one is asking.  It’s good to ask questions, but the answer is in our firm confidence in Jesus Christ.

We seek an integrated view of reality.  Students on college campuses are piecing unrelated fragments together in self-crafted worldviews — a little of this, a little of that — syncretism.

Jesus is THE way, but we come across as judgmental through such “exclusivity.”  How can we get people to embrace Jesus in such a politically correct culture?  It’s a huge challenge.  There is only one Savior.  There is only one revelation from God.  We need to listen to other people.  We want to bring seekers’ (and non-seekers’) beliefs to the Word of God.  And we shouldn’t distort what other people believe.  Listen.  Ask questions which are not judgmental.  You can’t draw hard battle lines, especially not initially; people need to come to their own conclusions in the power of the Holy Spirit.

How does the Pastor structure his time to read, pray, and be led by the Spirit, when he is bombarded by the practical demands of the ministry?

Not every Pastor must be a Pastor-Theologian.  But every Pastor must make theology come alive in people who should be fully submitted to and following Jesus Christ.

Past models have been “build it, and they will come.”  How do we “go out to them”?  I believe in the local church and weekly services.  And there are other ways of bringing people into the Kingdom.  In Texas, Christians are going into bars with their Bibles, engaging people in spiritual conversations.

I have given talks to hundreds of health care professionals.  I told them what they ought to be doing.  I thought it went well. So I was invited to give a similar talk to other health care professionals.  I even felt uncomfortable lecturing this next set of people in lab coats with stethoscopes; that was good for me.  We need to find ways of going “out there.”  Engage people where they are.  Listen to their questions.  Take time before you give answers.  “Shut up about it for awhile.”  Even Jesus “forbade people from talking about Him as the Messiah when Peter declared Him to be the Son of the Living God.”

It seems as though, by the time we figure out the answers, the questions change.  That’s why dialogue is so important.  Be ready for new questions.  It’s not a bad thing to fully understand the question.  There’s something about dialoguing.  Engage people on Mars Hill.

Society changes so quickly.  We are limited people trying to make connections.  Sociologists are trying to understand what it takes for people to make commitments to others.  Talk in churches about the essence of commitments.  Meet people where they are, but, if they are spiritually immature, don’t allow them to stay there.  Grieve over backsliding people and churches.  Pray to get the individual, church, community, and country back.  Discussions illuminate the pews.  We need to be struggling with these tough questions, and not telling others to avoid the questions.  We can’t be too sure about what we believe.

How do we engage in effective inter-faith dialogue?

I’m working with a group of Muslims, World Vision, and Jews; we’re going to publish a series of 5-minute YouTube videos with talks about what the world is like and what faith means to them.

John Ortberg pulled together an inter-faith dialogue at his church one Sunday; I helped him organize it; it was standing room only.  The first question was “What do you people believe in God?”  The discussions were wonderful.  We did it again the next year.  The Hindu woman who was involved, a scholar on religion from The University of Southern California, told me she had watched 52 sermons of Joel Osteen!  She thought he was “light on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.”  She enjoyed studying evangelical Christianity, even if she was not a follower of Jesus Christ.

A group of Jewish scholars discussed the question, “What do we mean about
‘a personal relationship with Jesus Christ'”?  And “What do you mean about ‘disciple-making'”?

I have been working with evangelical Mormons in Utah.  What did I want to say to Mormons when I was asked to preach at a service with a 200-piece Mormon choir?  They sang an arrangement of George Beverly Shea!  They sang, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver than gold,” and a woman in the front row wept.  What’s going on here?  What’s God doing in these unlikely occasions?  We are walking paths with these people.  Do we stop at some point when we can’t or won’t keep walking with them?

How can we be spiritual without being religious?  How can we effectively interact with people who consider themselves to be spiritual but not religious?

I find the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill to be an excellent model for engaging the culture.  The Athenians had covered all of the bases with all of these many gods — and even an “unknown” god.  Paul was rightly upset about this.  Idolatry is fundamental sin.  There were altars to all of these gods (other than the one true God).  But, when he spoke to them about a religion they knew nothing about, he pointed out the uniquenesses of their culture.  He affirmed their spiritual impulses.

We need to figure out what’s going on in our culture.  The spirituality is largely disconnected from reality.  San Franciscans are worshipping Satan; a researcher was quite surprised that these people were not thumbing their noses at Christianity; they were actually thumbing their noses at the sociology department of U-C Berkeley!  They were seeking a spirituality which was not so humanistic as college sociology course content!

What’s going on with TV?  Zombies, ghouls, super heroes with super powers, Harry Potter.  This generation is fascinated by life-after-death.  There is new interest in the “magical” stuff.  Like Paul, we need to say to these worshippers, “That’s interesting.  Tell me more about what you believe.”  Paul made a connection.  We need to make the connection as well.

I went to a Rolling Stones concert.  We had a box in the Rose Bowl.  A group of men joined me.  They were studying “The Gospel and Popular Culture.”  I was their spiritual advisor.  The first hour featured the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  That wasn’t worth the time.  But Mic Jagger was quite energetic.   The concert came to the point when 90,000 people chanted, “I can’t get no satisfaction!”  I couldn’t help but think about the words of “As the Deer Panteth. . . .” paralleling “I can’t get no satisfaction!”  Augustine was right:  Only Jesus can satisfy the God-sized vacuum in every human’s heart.  We need to think of ways to speak to a generation of people who do not understand that we are created by God, created in His image, and created for a purpose only He can fulfill through us.

Paul acknowledged that the literature of the Athenians.  He connected to them.  That’s Water Buffalo Theology, of which I spoke earlier.

Then, Paul talked about Jesus.  That’s when things got really weird for him.  When the Athenians heard of the resurrection of the dead, they scoffed.  Some said they’d hear more about this.  And there were some who came to faith as a result.  The seeds will not always fall on fertile ground. But some will.

I was on NPR with a liberal theologian once.  He was a good guy.  We were asked why Jesus was still so popular and fascinating in our culture.  The liberal guy believed he was an impressive personality, since his story lives on after the fiction of His resurrection.  I said it was true that Jesus literally rose from the dead.  If He has not risen from the dead, then our faith is in vain.  NPR opened-up the phones for calls.  Heather from Glendale wanted to talk about the Resurrection.  She was 15 years old.  He said “like” a lot.  She considered herself to be spiritual, but not religious.  She believed in witchcraft.  But Heather from Glendale wanted to agree with the President of Fuller!  She believed in witchcraft AND the Resurrection!  I wanted to talk more to Heather of Glendale; she represents a fascinating voice in our culture.  She had not  been taken-in by a secularistic worldview.  She wanted something sacred.  We need to have conversations with the Heathers of Glendale.

People are on quests for spirituality.  When interacting with these people we need to affirm the fundamental, positive aspects of this interest.  Delve into their poets and writers, so we are conversant with their questions and quests.  Find effective ways of talking about Jesus.  But we must always begin with a positive affirmation of their spiritual restlessness, seeking genuine relationship with these people.  Every human has a “seed of religion” in their hearts.  What an exciting time to be talking about the satisfaction we can receive at the cross of Calvary!  Why did Heather of Glendale even call into that NPR show?  She had a spiritual longing which hopefully could only, eventually, be filled by Jesus Christ.

How do we interact with a culture which is saturated with so much other than Jesus?  Conservatives are saying, “Marriage is falling apart.”  Why do people want to keep getting married, even after divorce?  People long for marital satisfaction beyond just a relationship.  As the deer panteth after water, so the soul panteth after Christ.  Don’t start with people’s ignorance.  I could have started with Heather’s ignorance about witchcraft, but, if I had the opportunity to interact with her, I would ask, “How do you explain your interest in the Resurrection of Christ with witchcraft?”

How do we get people to get the big ideas of the church, rather than the color of the carpet or the banner not getting hung on the wall?  We should not market religious goods and services.  We need to quit seeking to meet everyones’ felt needs.  Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek in Chicago was transparent and had to admit that Willow Creek was not truly discipling followers of Jesus Christ.  How do you pray for a hour?  How do you fast?  How do we engage in silence as a spiritual discipline?  We need to introduce practices which will allow people to reach a deeper personal relationship with Christ.  Worship and structure need discipline and substance.

It’s a sociological fact that the most significant liturgical development has been the “screen.”  The screen has transformed worship.  The hymn books are out of the hands, so we are freed to lift our hands and eyes in worship.  Worship should generate a sense of awe and wonder in the presence of God.  I’m on the Board of Dordt College, and I was in a chapel at Dordt the other day.  Here, at Dordt, college students were praising God with their arms high.  They were in the presence of God in a very special way.  Theirs was “sacred space.”

There’s an underground Catholic church in China.  The “approved” Catholic church is above ground.  The Bishops of the unapproved underground church are approved by the Vatican.  The cave dwelling is “sacred space.”  Americans give up the sacred space for blue jeans and a more flip style of worship.  There is something about sacred space which nurtures a sense of wonder and awe.

In the past 20 or 30 years, we are seeing more people on spiritual quests.  I was a Professor in the Philosophy Department of Calvin College.  One time, I was engaged in a discussion with an Art Professor.  The artist in Post-Modernism “de-constructs” art.  The artist is essentially asking you, “Is this a work of art?”  In churches, we are essentially asking, “Is this a hymn?”  “Is this a church building?”  “Is this a sermon?”  It’s not a bad thing to re-invent methods for reaching people.  Paul believed he needed to be all things to all people, that he might reach them for Christ.  We need robes and jeans and hymnals and PowerPoint, without seeking endlessly to meet the felt spiritual needs of individuals.

How do we effectively do cultural exegesis?  Watch a couple minutes of “The Walking Dead.”  Ask, “What’s going on here?”  Read Harry Potter, and ask, “Why are people so fascinated by these characters and plot lines?”  We can’t get past the plunging necklines of female characters and the salty language, so we dismiss the ideas outright, when we should be engaging people in the allure of these media.  We can have serious conversations.  These are important issues.

It’s not generational to complain about issues.  Some like to sing parts.  Some find it hard to sing parts.  Some are annoyed by singing the same phrases over and over again.  Some draw closer to God by so doing.  There are powerful images in the lyrics of classic hymns; we don’t get a whole lot of that in contemporary Christian praise music.  We need to find ways to use blended worship — to expose younger people to the great classic lyrics and to expose the older people to contemporary illuminations.  We need intergenerational dialogue, rather than constant griping about this.  Have the older generation say why they miss the hymns; have the younger generation explain why repetition is important to them.  We can do both the old and the new.  (It’s not either-or.)  There should be a diversity of expression of worship, while still maintaining unity in the non-negotiables of church.

What writers are writing about generations wanting the same end but reaching the end in different ways?  The mediating voices are Jim Belcher (DEEP CHURCH).  Another good book is NEXT CHURCH.  MUSTARD SEED VS. MCWORLD is another good book.  Listen to the new things, but hold onto that which we should not let go.

Can any of this be achieved without repentance?  Change means that you do different things with your eyes and money than you did before you embraced Christ.  People want change without having to repent or go through self-denial.  Paul brought the Athenians to a point that some of the people know they needed to repent.  We need to take claims of our judgmentalism seriously.  (Sometimes, we are.)

What are people finding so dissatisfying about “organized” religion?  There is something deeply legitimate about being in smaller communities, but there will ultimately be a connectionism which will come about from these small house churches.  God wires us this way.  Christ loves the church.  (The gates of hell will not prevail against His church.)  Structure eventually enters into structured organizations.  We need structure.  (God sees ardor AND ORDER.)  Organizational patterns and structures are important.  But we should also recognize when non-biblical practices and patterns are creeping-into the church.  We should be “always reforming.”

Gays and lesbians are “afraid” of pastors.  They do not feel safe around church people.  How can we keep them from being afraid of those they perceive as bigots?  Say, “I’m called to love.  I love gays and lesbians.  I’m sorry others have created such a negative impression of pastors.”  We need to talk openly about these difficult issues.  God will honor sincere confession.  To be honest, it cuts both ways with the gay and lesbian issue; we don’t feel “safe” when gays and lesbians attack us for our convictions.  We need to find safe places for these discussions, so these excessive, angry exchanges don’t take place.   Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we just dialogued, rather than hold up signs and yell at each other?  Ask the gay or lesbian person, “What is it about my views of marriage that you find so frightening?  Can we simply talk?”  We have a lot to learn.

How do we correct our past disenfranchising of people?  Be broken about our sins. Repent.  Go to people where they are.  Ask, “Can we talk?”  Invite people into a process of reflection on these issues.  Psalm 139 is a good starter.  Engage in self-reflection.  Ask the Lord to search you and your congregations.  Pastoral prayers can center on the harms which Christendom have done to people.  It’s not all about proclaiming the truth and denouncing people/sin.  Pastoral pray can lead to brokenness and repentance necessary for change.  In a larger sense, we have demonized Catholics.  Catholics have demonized Calvinists.  We have written-off whole generations of people who do not fit our mental model of Christianity.  Celebrations also need to include rituals of repentance.  Again, God will always honor genuine repentance for sin and accountability.

Inter-faith engagement is important.

How do we engage with and learn from people from other religious traditions without compromising our deepest evangelical Christian convictions?

I have engaged in intra-faith dialogue with Catholics.

Probably one of the most controversial and riskiest things I’ve done is to engage Mormons about faith issues.  Mormons have condemned Christians; Christians have condemned Mormons.  We’ve got to try to explore and understand other faith perspectives.  Mormons, for instance, have touched with the roots of Christianity in believing that they are saved by grace alone and the atoning substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross.  I have found that Mormons spend a lot more time in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon.  Within the Bible, they are paying much more attention to Jesus than in the past.  What about all of the stuff they believe?  (If past beliefs are dying-out, perhaps Mormons are moving toward evangelical Christianity.)

I have also had major dialogue with the Jewish community.  We’ve had wonderful conversations among Christian pastors and Jewish rabbis.  This takes time.  You have to build relationships, find things in common, share concerns, and create trust.  Safety is important.  It doesn’t have to be angry confrontation.  It can be the building of relationships.

Work with Muslims has been spottier.  A Muslim theologian I know has called himself a Muslim follower of Jesus.  He doesn’t believe Jesus is the Savior, but he believes Muslims should study Jesus more so they have the love of Jesus.  The Q’uran denies that the cross even happened, let alone that the Resurrection occurred.  Muslims filter their worldview through a God of one person (versus the triune God of the Christian).  Keep talking with Muslims, in this regard:  Ask, “What is it about Jesus that you believe more Muslims should study Jesus and the love of Jesus?”

Why have I been involved in such inter-faith experiences?  Why should we equip our people for such encounters?  We can learn from other faith persuasions.

I have written on the topic of Common Grace.  The root of this theology is a positive expectation.  When we have interactions with those of different faiths, we need to have a positive expectancy about learning from these folks.  There are ideas from Hinduism from which we can learn.  We shouldn’t just go into the situations to oppose falsehoods.  As we engage in these dialogues, you don’t put your best case against their worst case.  Our best theologians  should be dialoguing with the other side’s best theologians.  Look for ways of  better understanding different perspectives, so it is clear that the person holding the perspective sees you truly understanding the perspective.  Be open to surprises.

We are all becoming more Christ-like, if we are submitted to and following Him.  The Holy Spirit indwells us.  Mysteriously, we have a piece of the divine in us.  But we will never be gods.  There will always be a distinction between the Creator and creation.

If we are eager for more people to come to a saving faith in Jesus, we will be more inclined to meet people where they are, spiritually.

We should allow people from other faiths to critique us, and then provide answers to those objectives, not to win the argument, but to win the person — with gentleness and respect.  Karl Marx, for instance, does not “judge” our perspective of economics, but he should be allowed to “take the witness stand.”

Live with mystery.  We like to be sure.  There are so many issues, though, about which we cannot be certain.  In the end, though, I still must preach John 3:16; that is a certainty, no mystery.   Keep pointing people to Jesus, and leave everything else up to God.  Every Christian, when encountering God, must decide whether he is approaching a generous God or a stingy God.  I choose generous.

King Abdullah of Jordan, a devout Muslim, is a really good man.  He is actually working with Roma Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, to do a documentary film on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.  (God is moving.)

How can we help others develop teachable hearts?  Before John Calvin was a Christian, he studied the law.  He liked Seneca as a philosopher.  He paid a lot of attention to pagan writers, because he had a lot to learn from them.  Common grace allows pagans to be “clothed with brilliance.”  All truth is God’s truth.  We should not dismiss truth when we hear it, even when we hear it from pagans.  Pope Francis is being idolized and demonized, but I do not believe he is the anti-Christ.  God had not abandoned the Catholic church, according to John Calvin and, later, Charles Spurgeon.  Righteousness by faith, but taken to worship of doctrine, is less welcome than righteousness through works (Herman Bavinck, Dutch theologian, p. 37, The Certainty of Faith).  Hold to true doctrine not out of pride, but out of appreciation and gratitude that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  I argue theology all of the time, but that’s very different than seeing myself capable of learning from others.

Truth emerges in all faiths.  But Jesus said He was the way, the truth, and the life.  He was the Lord of all creation.  He has sent His Spirit into the world.  The Spirit is working just about everywhere in the world.

Everyone in the universe is either moving toward Jesus or away from Jesus.  We must name the name of Jesus.  In Calvinist terms, according to the Westminster Confession, God works where and when He pleases in His sovereignty, including those who were not able to hear or understand the “outward proclamation of the Gospel.”  That’s the Westminster Confession!  It’s a mystery.  I don’t know.  [Does anyone “know” for sure?]

For the Buddhist, Jesus is a respected teacher, but, in accepting Him, they are essentially condemning their ancestors to hell, which is abhorrent to them, thus preventing, in many cases, their embracing Christ as Savior.

I’m not a universalist.  The only way to the Father is through the Son.

How do we increase our global awareness?  What about all of the “diversity” in the world?

What’s God doing in the world?  What’s the church doing to align with what God is doing in the world?  And what are seminaries doing to help church’s align with what God is doing in the world?

We are to be faithful.  We need tools to align ourselves with what God is doing in the world today.  Spiritual discernment is so important.

Diversity is who we are as a church.  Jesus is King.  Christians are distributed throughout the nations.  Our true identity is in Christ.  We are to honor (treat with civility) all human beings.  We are to fear (be in awe of) God.  We are to love (agapeo) the church.  We are to honor the “emperor.”

Several years, I went to North Korea.  They took my phone away.  They took my passport away.  It’s a little scary.  A businessman, originally from N. Korea, who is a friend of mine, negotiated for delivery of aid to suffering villages in the country.  It was very moving.  Women were weeping.  A woman held her baby for my blessing.  Theirs were tears of joy, because we had “brought life.”  It was a good thing.  They danced and sang.  It changed my perception of N. Korea.  I’ve seen their faces and held their children.  One of the former Fuller students was asked to preach there.  The Christian faith was allowed there.  This wasn’t just a one-time show.  The choir sang “Jesus Paid It All.”  We closed by singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Tears were streaming down the worshippers’ faces.  That changed my perception of N. Korea even more.  I have “family” in Korea.  I don’t approve of the government; I think there’s horrible things happening there.  But I have an agape love for my brothers and sisters in Christ in N. Korea.  There’s a sense of bondedness of tribes and nations.

At Babel, God did divide people, necessitated by our sinfulness.  Yet these were still God’s chosen people.  In the diversity of nations, tribes, and tongues, God chose a people, and we are descendants of that lineage.  Now, we are to be a light to other nations.

In the Old Testament, to be right with God, you had to be a Jew or to become a Jew.  But God never intended it that way.  In Isaiah 2, the prophet indicated the Lord would decide the nations flowing to Himself.  In Isaiah 25, the prophet stated that the veil which covers the nations would be lifted, and a feast of fat things would be provided to all people.  The peoples of the earth — the nations of the earth — will gather as His people.  In Isaiah 19, the prophet pointed out that Lord would send a Savior to deliver even the hated Egyptians!  In that day, even the hated Assyrians would worship God with the Jews and Egyptians!  Egypt and Assyria and Israel would one day be blessed.  That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.  Babel confused and divided the people.  (Pentecost brought clarity and unity among the people.)  The Lord, through His slain blood, had ransomed all peoples — across all national, ideological, and ethnic lines!

We, too, need to internalize that same sense of identity.  By Christ’s blood, I am healed!  This is my identity!  I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom!  All other factors which make me different from people in other nations are essentially eliminated.  We have a rare opportunity today.  We can help people make connections in spite of the world’s tendencies to keep peoples separate.  Nurture that kind of multi-culturalism and diversity.

And we need to pray for people who are struggling with racism and division over differences.

We need to get outside the Christian bubble to interact with people who are not like us.  We get comfortable within the bubble of Christianity.  We experience awkwardness in the ways we Christians are being perceived.  There are also generational differences.  Younger Christians can often perceive older generations as judgmental.  We can’t put up billboards.  With a few people, we can overcome the perceptions.  Be transparent about discomfort.

We need to ask people to tell their “stories.”  We need to listen and understand better.

“Necessary Partings”

While in South Carolina this past weekend, Cheryl and I worshipped in a large church, Fellowship Greenville.  Pastor Charlie Boyd, the Teaching Pastor, did a very nice job of preaching expositionally and applying a difficult passage from Acts.  If you would like to read my notes from this message about the differences between Paul and Barnabas, “Necessary Partings: Disagreements, Conflicts, Shouting Matches, Ministry, Reconciliation, and Unity,” please read on. . .

“Necessary Partings”
By Teaching Pastor Charlie Boyd
Fellowship Greenville
Greenville, South Carolina
Sunday, October 25, 2015

Text:  Acts 15:36-41

Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

I have seen ministries dissolve in the past.  Men have gone their separate ways.  How can godly men experience such misunderstandings?  We don’t understand why the other person cannot see our way?

But conflict is not always a bad thing.

In this text, we are going to look at two men who disagreed and went their separate ways.  God wires us with differences and different convictions, which are not always “wrong.”

Can God be at work even in the midst of differences and partings?

Conflict is difficult, but not always bad, particularly as we think about the sovereignty of God.

Paul and Barnabas had planted numerous churches.  At one point, differences arose between Jewish Christians and Greek Christians.  There was a conflict of doctrine, regarding circumcision and salvation.  Paul and Barnabas stood united in their response to this controversy.

Not long after, Paul was concerned about new Gentile converts.  He wanted to return to some of those churches.  Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them.  Paul was concerned that John Mark had earlier deserted them in their missionary journeys.

Character and passion do not erase differences.  Barnabas and Paul had just battled together on an important issue, but now they differed about John Mark’s involvement in their continuing ministry.

Barnabas had advocated for Paul when Paul had become a new believer in Christ.  They had been through many trials together.  But here they were in profound conflict.

Which man was “right”?  We tend to side with the people most like us.  We tend to baptize our personality and call it our spirituality.  Barnabas was an encourager.  To Barnabas, the man was more important than the task.  Paul had a heart for task here.  He didn’t want a man who might desert them again.  This wasn’t a matter of forgiveness to Paul; Paul could forgive John Mark for his past mistake, but he wanted to be sure they would be effective in ministry here-and-now.  This disagreement was not sinful (although many disagreements do have sin at the root).

The outcomes show that sin was not in this disagreement.  Once Paul and Silas separated from Barnabas and John Mark, both the former and the latter were successful in their respective ministries.  .

Both Paul and Barnabas had been “right.”  In fact, later, John Mark and Paul again successfully partnered in ministry.

And both men were “wrong.”  The Greek word describing the disagreement is ugly.  The word means they got into a shouting match with each other.  In this biblical account, the blemishes of these early church leaders were not removed.

Still today, personalities and disagreements get into the way of ministry.  So we should not place our faith even in the most (seemingly) trustworthy leaders.

You don’t read later in Acts about a continuing  rivalry or grudges between Paul and Barnabas.  The Spirit led them into separate directions.

Believers can see things differently and not necessarily be wrong.  In fact, ministry can multiply in such circumstances.  The church is made up of multiple personalities, passions, and perspectives.

How do we avoid divisive disagreements?

Listen.  Realize your own perspective.  Pray for God’s direction.  Be open to compromise.  It may even mean that you might go separate ways.

This church would not exist without two separate disagreements.  New churches were formed from conflict.  There were harsh words and hard feelings.  Expanded ministry does not justify sinfulness.

But God continues to lead His church forward.  Disagreements need not destroy unity.  Unity does not mean uniformity.  We are a body.  We are one in Christ.  Unity is a reality of true Christian community.  Unity doesn’t mean we always agree.  Paul and Barnabas had differences, but, ultimately, they had unity.  We need to work hard to seek unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. We should never allow Satan a foothold.

Honestly, this is an odd passage.  I’m not sure what each of you will take away from this message.  But the real question is, “Will you allow for the possibility that God can use people in a conflict to do something new that was not used in the past?”  God, in His sovereignty can, by His grace, make good come out of a bad conflict.

“She’s Almost a Teenager: Essential Conversations to Have Now”

I helped raise two girls.  (Cheryl did most of the work.  God did the heavy lifting.)  Our first daughter was easy to raise.  Our second daughter was VERY HARD to parent.  As both of my kids were entering adolescence, I wish I had had an excellent book available to you now:  She’s Almost a Teenager: Essential Conversations to Have Now, by Peter and Heather Larson and David and Claudia Arp (Bethany House, 2015).

None us us really believes we are prepared to effectively parent our children.  Parenting is hard work.  Too many variables can confound situations.  Teenagers are even more unpredictable.  The Larsons and Arps take their combined parenting experiences and offer the reader excellent preparation for raising pre-teenage daughters.

In this book, the authors tackle significant issues with directness and practicality.  This is an extremely valuable resource for moms and dads who want to be well prepared for parenting adolescent girls.  How does the parent help a “tween” to navigate the social circles of her friends?  What should be expectations for the student’s academic work?  What about body image?  How will the child make faith a central part of her life?  Boys and dating?  Money management? Use of technology?

All of these are obviously important contemporary issues which are fraught with danger to the upper elementary school student who is about to enter middle school or junior high.  The Larsons and the Arps offer wise biblical counsel to parents in this book.  And the added bonuses are their explanations of Project Thirteen and the Birthday Box.

I wish I had considered the idea of Project Thirteen when I was parenting Molly and Hannah.  All young people should engage in some actual rite of passage in preparation for adulthood.  Project Thirteen challenges each 12-year-old girl to complete a project or course of study which prepares her for adulthood.  I hope Molly and Hannah pursue this practice with their daughters.

The Birthday Book is another great idea in this book.  The Birthday Box is opened on the girl’s 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and 18th birthdays, with a negotiated “strategic plan” of ever-elevating expectations and responsibilities, as the young woman prepares for release from her parents into adulthood.

These authors very definitely understand the roles and responsibilities of parents and children.  Parenting is not a popularity contest.  Parents must both protect and prepare their children during the pre-teen years.  This book is a quick read, filled with practical advice.  The “conversation starters” at the end of each chapter are worth the purchase of this book.

Parents of elementary-aged daughters, I heartily encourage you to read She’s Almost a Teenager: Essential Conversations to Have Now.

“YOURS Is the Kingdom”

Due to my own recent preaching schedule, I have too frequently been a no-show at my own Church, Waukee Community Church, so I was delighted to join the Sunday morning gathering of WCC on October 18, 2015.  If you would like to read my summary of Pastor Dave Brooks’ OUTSTANDING and IMPACTFUL message, “YOURS Is the Kingdom,” please read on. . . .

“YOURS Is the Kingdom”
By Pastor David Brooks
Waukee Community Church
Sunday, October 18, 2015

Text:  Genesis 11:1-9

1Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lordsaid, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused[a] the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
Summary and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School

The Lord’s Prayer is a hard prayer to pray.  At the end, we are praying for God’s Kingdom to come.  Honestly, we want our lives to be about OUR kingdoms.  We just want to be great.

We come to the story of the Tower of Babel today.  It’s the story of us creating our kingdoms, rather than seeking God’s Kingdom.

Will my life be about my kingdom, and will I ask God to make my life about my kingdom?  That is a question we ask every day.

These people want to “make a name for themselves.”  Do you see yourself in that verse?  If you do, you should pause in sober introspection today, but do not despair.  There is good news in God’s Kingdom purposes for our lives.

God wants to help us get back on track with His Kingdom purposes for our lives.

The first thing I want you to understand is that we were created to be a reflection of God and His Kingdom.  God created people in His own image.  God blessed people at the point of creation.  He commanded people to fill the earth and to subdue it.   His image was placed in people, which is linked to the special purposes of every image-bearer.  Fill the earth and subdue the earth, He commanded.  It’s more than reproducing children.  It’s about spreading God’s Kingdom throughout the whole creative order.  Filling the whole earth with people of God’s image is important to the world.  Adam and Eve sinned.  With Noah, God started all over.  He needed people to spread God’s glory around them.  We were made as instruments to spread God’s glory to the entire earth.

I bought a prism this week.  I shine light on the prism, refracting and spreading the light all around the prism.  We are prisms.  We were created to be prisms which refract and spread God’s light around the entire world and cosmos.  We are to shine like stars in the universe (Philippians 2:15).

We would rather create our own kingdoms.  We would rather that GOD be a prism for OUR glory.

In this biblical text, the people moved east to the Plain of Shinar, in the area of modern-day Iraq.  Shinar is associated with Babylon, a place of great sin, idolatry, and rebellion.  The people of Babylon rebelled against the one true God.

The people here in Shinar decided to make bricks to make a tower.  They said, “Let US. . . .”  God had created people.  God had said, “Let US. . . .”  These people were attempting to create God in their image.  They made their own construction material, bricks.

There would be a temple for worship.  People here gathered together to accomplish the purpose of building a ziggurat, a tower.  This tower would be a place of commerce.  There was a stairway 16 stories high.  A ziggurat was built not to ascend to the heavens, but rather for the convenience of the gods to come down to the plain and the level of human beings.   At the top of the ziggurat was a small room, with a chair and food to entice the god down to earth for a snack and rest.

The people are not saying they want to ascend to God.  They wanted God to come down to them. The people wanted to control and manipulate Him.  They were inviting God to help their kingdom grow.

Can you see yourself in that?  If I’m honest, I can see myself in that.  Through prayer, we seek to bring God down to ourselves to help us out.  Best selling books are filled with messages which bring God down to us.  We want God to come into our kingdoms to make our kingdoms better.

Pastors are the worst.  We look at our own little kingdoms; we want to make our kingdoms bigger and better.  The reality is this is not the way to grow a church; the way to grow a church is to invest in people so they reach out to others to grow God’s Kingdom.

We also manipulate God through “the great exchange.”  Karma is a patently un-biblical idea, yet Christians speak about karma.

We would like to fill the world with our glory.  God is our prism for spreading our glory.

Do not despair.  There is good news.  With the Gospel, God wants us to get back on track to fulfill His Kingdom purposes.  God wants to restore His Kingdom purpose in our lives.

Verse 5

“But the LORD came down. . . .”

God knew what the people were trying to do.  But God came down anyway!  Why?  Because God is filled with grace and mercy.   God has something better for the people.

Verse 6

God knew the people were attempting to replace His Kingdom with a kingdom of their own.  They were creating hell!

God had escorted Adam and Eve from His Garden until he brought restoration.

Here, God confused the people’s languages.  They didn’t understand each other.  They could not communicate.  The building of the kingdom stopped.

God did not destroy the people.  He had promised never to destroy the whole world.  In grace and mercy, He brought the people back on track.

Later, Jesus would come to earth to set the wrongs right — to forgive sin.  Jesus was a powerless, helpless child, but He could not be manipulated.  God allowed His own creation to kill Jesus.  The people had killed God.  Satan rejoiced.  But Satan was defeated, because Jesus rose from the dead!  Satan was defeated at the Resurrection!

God wants us to step out of our kingdoms to step into His Kingdom as His Kingdom-bearers.

What does this look like?

Global missions is important, because the Good News of Jesus needs to go everywhere in the world.  God has scattered people and languages around the world.

Look at Revelation 7:9.

“. . .a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

God will one day establish His Kingdom over the whole earth, representing every nation, people, and language of the world.

How can we get back to West Africa and be part of global missions?  Jane Johannesen is working on just that.

It’s not merely global.  It’s local.  We have a responsibility to build God’s Kingdom right where we are.

We tend to isolate.  We isolate to build our own individual kingdoms.  We want to go home, close the door, and not be bothered by others.  God gave me a wife who brings people into our home, and we have injected ourselves into our neighbors’ lives.  We also “isolate” by surrounding ourselves with people exactly like us.  Statistics show that Christians, over time, limit their relationships with non-Christians.  But we must intentionally be in the world without being of the world.  Our lives are about building God’s Kingdom, rather than building our own kingdoms.  Together, we build God’s Kingdom.

At every Life Group, we should ask, “Who’s not here that should be?”  Who in our spheres of influence could benefit from Life Group?  Who needs to experience the goodness of God’s Kingdom?  The Gospel is such great news.  It’s about God’s glory and our good.

One of the great ways of building God’s Kingdom will occur 7 days from now during Faith in Action.  We will walk into someone else’s yard next Sunday, and that will be uncomfortable for some of you.  We will be bearing God’s image.  We will be the prisms in this neighborhood.  We will shine the Gospel into people’s lives.  We point them to the cross.  That’s the work of Jesus.

I leave you with a hard question:

“Are you the prism for God’s glory, or have you asked God to be the prism for your own glory?”

Into whose life must you inject yourself to build God’s Kingdom?

Don’t build a tower for your kingdom.  Be a prism for God’s glory every day in every way.

We are going to sing a fantastic song which points us to praying that God would step into our worlds:  “King of Heaven.”

“Jesus,
Let Your kingdom come here
Let Your will be done here,
In us
Jesus,
There is no one greater
You alone, our savior
Show the ones You love

King of Heaven, come down
King of Heaven, come now
Let Your glory reign
Shining like the day
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save
In Your mighty name
King of Heaven, come

We are,
Children of Your mercy
Rescued for Your glory
We cry Jesus,
Set our hearts towards You
Every eye would see You
Lifted high

King of Heaven, come down
King of Heaven, come now
Let Your glory reign
Shining like the day
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save
In Your mighty name
King of Heaven, come

King of Heaven, come down
King of Heaven, come now
Let Your glory reign
Shining like the day
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save
In Your mighty name
King of Heaven, come

King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, come

King of Heaven, come down
King of Heaven, come now
Let Your glory reign
Shining like the day
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, rise up
Who can stand against us?
You are strong to save
In Your mighty name
King of Heaven, come

King of Heaven, come (oh, King of Heaven)
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, come
King of Heaven, come

King of Heaven, come down
King of Heaven, come now
Let Your glory reign
Shining like the day
King of Heaven, come!”

Songwriters: INGRAM, JASON / BALOCHE, PAUL
King Of Heaven lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

“EFFECTIVE”

The 2015 Association of Christian School International’s NEXUS | Live conference was the best-ever of the 5 which I have attended from 2011-2015.  If you would like to read my summary of “EFFECTIVE,” held at First Evangelical Free Church in Lincoln, Nebraska on Thursday-Friday, October 15-16, 2015, please read on. . . .

“EFFECTIVE”
ACSI NEXUS | Live Christian School Conference
First Evangelical Free Church
Lincoln, Nebraska
Thursday-Friday, October 15-16, 2015

Summary Notes of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School
Field Representative, Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI)

Rod Zach, Nebraska ACSI State Representative

Rod welcomed everyone to the conference and offered instructions regarding hospitality and conference details.

Video

Change.  Change has always been with us.  From the beginning, change.  Creation.  We stand and choose.  What needs to change?  What needs to remain steadfast?  We are bombarded by information.  Truth become fuzzy.  How do we respond?  We are people of the light.  How do we respond to change?  Is change our enemy or friend?  Do we embrace technologies which are becoming second nature to our children?  How do we help students use and not abuse these educational tools?  How can we help our students become ambassadors of the Gospel?

“A Pilgrimage to Servanthood: Wearing the Mantle of Humilty”
By Dan Egeler, President, Association of Christian Schools International

Dr. Egeler welcomed schools from all over the world.

Philemon 1:6 reads, “. . .and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”

We pray that our partnership in the Gospel will be effective for you.

We are stronger together — for the sake of Christian schooling around the world.

My session is entitled “A Pilgrimage of Servanthood: Wearing the Mantle of Humility.”

I want to tell you a modern parable of the monkey and the fish.  A monkey was flitting throughout the forest.  He noticed a fish in the stream.  The fish was struggling to swim upstream, because a swell was preventing his passage. A branch dangled over the fish.  The monkey walked onto the branch and snatched the fish out of the stream.  The monkey lay the fish down on the ground.  The fish was content to have been saved from the swell.  He lay down for a sleep from which he never awakened.  The moral of that parable?  What was right for the monkey was not right for the fish.  In fact, what was wrong for the fish did much damage.

We are pilgrims or nomads.  Nomads are loners.  Pilgrims support each other around their common goal.  Pilgrims are humble.  Humility is a virtue which is recognized throughout all denominations and even in other cultures.  With Jesus, through the example of the towel, and His death on the cross, humility and honor intertwined.  Christ humbled Himself to the point of death on a cross.  We either wear the robe of leadership or the towel of servanthood.  Humility unites us; pride divides us.

I’d like to link to my two past talks of NEXUS | LIVE.

I have spoken to you about hospitality, gratitude, truth telling, and promise keeping.

Learning is three-dimensional.  Education focuses on the HEAD and the HANDS.  We learn, and we do.  The teacher and students connect interpersonally.  The HEART dimension is an important part of the three dimensions of learning.  Love makes the difference.  The heart is the catalyst for the head and hands to be effective.

The work of the Holy Spirit pours out love and grace on the heart of a Christian school educator.  How do we hone the right heart of a Christian school educator?

There are five dimensions:

OPENNESS
Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe — extending love to those we don’t know and who are hard to love.  Hospitality is rooted in the word, hospital.  Connecting strangers for the sake of healing.  Welcoming people into our presence — just as they are and just as we are.  Jesus did this.  He brought physical and spiritual healing to others.  How are we “open”?  We suspend judgment.  We have a tolerance for ambiguity.  We think “grey.”  We don’t form an opinion until we have heard all of the relevant facts.  When we don’t understand a behavior, we intuitively assign a negative motive to it.  This is Negative Attribution Theory.  But we should withhold judgment.  We must not judge people by mere appearances.  We often don’t even realize we are assigning negative attributes to behaviors of people with unknown motives.  Openness should not be misconstrued as pursuing spiritual relevance.  We must still communicate the truth in love.

ACCEPTANCE
Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth, and esteem to another person.  We are created in the image of God.  Each person has dignity.  All day long, we are helping others to a point of dignity.  We should conduct all of our dealings with others through acceptance.  We never speak to “mere mortals.”  Each person is immortal.  Each has an eternal destiny.  There are no neutral contexts of life.  We are either nudging people toward glory in heaven or allowing their destinies to be horrific punishments in hell.  The Old Testament focuses on blessing and valuing and respecting others.  What hinders acceptance?  Poor communication, ethnocentrism, narrow category width.

TRUST
Trust is the ability to build confidence in a relationship.  Trust takes time.  Instant trust rarely exists.  Trust comes in small, incremental steps over time.  Trust emphasizes testing and resolution.  Trust involves clarifying misunderstanding, admitting sin, and asking for forgiveness.  We must recognize that we are seeking the same outcomes when disagreement occurs.  You’ve got to be willing to listen to the other person’s perspective.  Conflict provides opportunities to build trust.  Our ACSI Director in Africa was educated under a tree, and he has a Ph.D. today.  He was chosen as a witch doctor as a child, but God tagged him as a Christian, and he became a prominent leader in the Christian school movement and Gospel in Africa.  One of his sons was murdered.  He struggled over anger and bitterness.  That is when he learned to forgive.  Trust was embedded in his family.  He trusted his father-in-law; his father-in-law betrayed him; on his death bed, the father-in-law asked for his son-in-law’s forgiveness; he forgave.  Trust pursues relationship.  Do we want to be “right,” or do we want the “relationship”?

LEARNING
Learning is the ability to glean information about, from, and with other people.  We learn alongside our colleagues AND OUR STUDENTS.  We accomplish more learning through synergy.  Together, we create glorious music.  This is the photograph of a poor and primitive village in Africa.  Agronomists visited these people.  Ph.D.s in agronomy learned FROM these primitive villages.  We too often assume that poor people have nothing to bring to the learning.  The Ph.D.s “had nothing to teach them.”  Wear the mantle of humility to learn.

UNDERSTANDING
Understanding is seeing through others’ eyes.  All viewpoints are worthy of consideration.  We too often measure perspectives on the basis of how closely the viewpoints match our own.  We can acquire new perspectives.  Don’t overlook the wonders of God’s perspectives through other people.  I return to our ACSI Africa Representative.  He was going through a difficult time.  We were in a Florida hotel lobby.  He reached out to hold my hand while we walked through the lobby.   This was the symbol of ultimate trust and connection.  It was uncomfortable for me, but I held his hand.

I want to wrap-up by telling a story.  I was a soccer coach and administrator in Quito, Ecuador.  One of my players was one of the most rebellious students of the school.  I remember the try-outs.  Raymond couldn’t finish the wind sprints.  He crawled across the line.  I knew that kid wanted to and needed to make the team.  On a van ride to a game, Raymond sat next to me.  He stayed awake on the return trip.  The others slept.  I talked to him about his inappropriate behaviors.  I asked what was going on in his life.  He cracked-open his heart.  He told me about his pain and bitterness directed at his father.  Raymond made it all of the way through school.  He went to the university.  His father came to my office with an invitation to see Raymond at Christmastime. A vision had come to Raymond.  He had accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior!  Raymond told me his father had prayed for him and shown him unconditional love as a child, but Raymond was angry with his father.  That child was created in the image of God.  Don’t forget that.  There are no neutral human contacts in life.

“Motivating Students to Take Charge of Their Own Success”
By Cynthia Tobias, author of THE WAY THEY LEARN (published by Focus on the Family)

I still remember my excitement about the very first year of teaching.  But the kids didn’t think like me.  Why not?  How could I get THEM to be excited about who they were and what they were learning.  My own learning about learning styles revolutionized my teaching.  I could help students discover the sources of their joys and frustrations.

How do you work?  How do you thrive?  How do you help students understand how they work and thrive?

Students must know their strengths.  Prove that their strengths will make their learning work.  Figure out what students need to succeed.

Solid, empirical research indicates STRENGTHS associated with good learning.

CONCENTRATION
Student desks are uncomfortable.  The brain can only absorb what the seat can endure.  We ask students to sit for such long periods of time.  We should adjust the furniture and seating arrangements to allow for better concentration.  My identical twins are exact opposites.  Robert had a classmate, Sam, who would not sit still in class.  I assessed his learning style.  He was fixated on the temperature of the learning areas.  We bought a battery-operated fan, and Sam made 80% improvement!  Sam was hot!  As soon as he wasn’t hot, he achieved!  He was on the cusp of being held back a grade!  Students can sit on exercise balls, and they’re totally on-task.  Sometimes, it’s the time of day that inhibits concentration; scheduling should meet the needs of morning students and morning teachers (and vice-versa).  (There are two kinds of people:  morning people and people who want to kill morning people!)  Timing the learning at peak hours can make a huge difference on student learning.  Do what works for concentration.  The physical environment can make a difference.

REMEMBERING
Research indicates auditory learners learn best by hearing THEMSELVES.  You have to hear your voice “discussing” the new learning.  If the teacher prevents the discussing, that learner cannot move on.  Allow time for out loud discussions about new learning.  Visual learners are easily distracted by minor flaws.  The visual learner has pictures in his/her mind; you hope, as a teacher, that the picture you are communicating is the picture the learner is envisioning.  Visual learners are highly distracted by visuals!  Ask students why they are distracted, and account for those variables.  Don’t give too many instructions too quickly in sequence without pausing, because visual learners who are attempting to envision the steps need time to digest each unique instruction.  The kinesthetic learner is “born to move.”  The learner cannot sit still.  If you hold a kinesthetic learner down, s/he will think about moving!  It’s not practical to hold someone absolutely still, except in an MRI!  Exercise balls work for kinesthetic learners; they can listen, concentrate, and remember better.  Kinesthetic learners press the elevator button even when the button has been pushed and the light is on!  Kinesthetic learners want to do something while you’re teaching.

Give students something to think about, talk about, and do; if you can  cover those three bases, you will exponentially increase their learning.  This works.  Design learning for how learners are designed.  Don’t teach everyone the same.

We don’t become another style of learning in our lives.  Fifty percent of people are oriented to details.  The other 50% are equally intelligent and capable, but they are not analytic; they are global thinkers.  How do analytical, detail-oriented teachers reach global students?  Detail-oriented students get caught-up in the details.  Global students get caught-up in the big picture.  A detail person and global person go to the same movie; the detail person can remember specific information, and the global person can remember the big ideas.  When the student doesn’t match the teacher or the school, we can erroneously identify that student as not capable.

Help every student learn.  Pay attention.  Communicate ways that you can make students confident and successful.  That’s not nearly as hard as it sounds.  You don’t have to teach a thousand ways.  Learn what helps each student learn best.  Each person was placed in your classroom by God.  It’s not a mistake.  Every student has potential.  The God we serve can truly help us understand how each of our students learn.

Shannon Bomar, ACSI Director of Professional Development

Each of you are now receiving a single [Lego] building brick to remind you that each of you has the opportunity to build a building.  But you can’t build the building with your brick alone; you need the other bricks.  Build something as a group, take a photograph, and send the photograph to us through the NEXUS app.

We watched a 3-minute video in preparation for Jon Bergmann’s session on flipped classrooms (nice modeling of the strategies which would be presented).

“Taking the Flipped Classroom to the Next Level”
By Jon Bergmann, pioneer of Flipped Learning
(FlippedClass.com)

I want to refer back to ideas I presented during NEXUS | Live last year, emphasizing information from Dr. Bob Marzano’s study of 2 million teachers.  The study queried teachers about the methodologies they use.

58% of teachers lecture at school, 36% attempt to deepen content.

We have way too much “sit ‘n git,” and we need more interactive learning.

We send kids home with the hard stuff.  Think of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  We spend too much time in the classrooms with lower cognitive learning activities and then send them home with difficult higher order activities.

We need to flip Bloom’s Taxonomy on its head.  Ask students to digest lower-order content at home, with harder concepts addressed interactively at school.

We need to spend our class time in the middle of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

What should you do in your class time?

Re-think class time.

Increase class time for interaction with the teacher and with other students.

Classrooms need to be more active, engaging places.  Flipped classrooms get the teacher out of the front of the classroom.

Aaron Sams and I have written 5 books — flipping English, Elementary, math, science, and social studies classrooms

Top 20 Things to Do with Class Time Now That You’re Flipping the Classroom

#20  MORE GUIDED PRACTICE.  You already do that?  Now you can do it more!

#19  PEER TUTORING.  Kids are helping each other.  We teachers are “experts” who have greater difficulty getting into the learning space, when students can better enter each others’ learning space.

#18  SMALL GROUP WORK.  More time is available.  When I flipped my classroom, I was able to do 50% more experiments.  You don’t have to feel compelled to do classroom activities ALL of the time.  Time must be spent on activities AND PROCESS.  Have a proper balance of activity time and process time, with you available as an expert.

#17  STATION MODEL

#16  INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS.  These notebooks accompany the videos, so there’s an interactive quality to the “homework.”  I collect data on student viewing of the videos; I track quiz scores.

#15  MASTERY ORGANIZATION.  Different kids are on different pages of mastery.  Learning should be the constant, not the time.  Just because students learn more slowly doesn’t make them “dumb.”

#14  FLIPPING INSTRUCTIONS.  The video includes the instructions for the assignment.

#13  RECORDING EACH OTHERS’ ASSIGNMENTS.  Students explain their work.

#12  SIMULATIONS.  These videos are available all over the Internet, free or at a nominal cost.  Kids learn in different ways.  I frankly don’t care how they learn; I care that they learn.

#11  MANIPULATIVES.  You will have more time in classrooms for students to do this!

#10  RETHINKING THE TIMING OF HOMEWORK CHECKS.  Before flipping, the teacher spent 15 minutes on previous night’s homework; after flipping, less time is spent on homework and more time on practicing new content.

#9  STATION MODEL.  There are research, writing, and project stations in a social studies classroom.  The class is more of a workshop.

#8  FLIP THE WRITING WORKSHOP.  Teacher audio accompanies a digital image of the student writing.  All of the students are watching/listening to the teacher’s video.

#7  CHOICE BOARDS.  Give kids choices.  Give kids choices about how they learn.  Choices can be organized according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  There is power in giving students choice.  Not too many choices.  Some choice is good.  Students need to glean content and then apply the content through activities.

#6  CHOICE DAYS AND ACTIVITIES DAYS

#5  EXPLORE-FLIP-APPLY.  A video starts with a question for the sake of exploration.  Students explore.  At the point when students want help, the teacher introduces a video of direct instruction.  (cyclesoflearning.com)

#4  STAGES.  Stage 1: Learn to perform a task.  Stage 2: Students execute the task and collect data.  Stage 3: Students analyze the data and construct formulae.

#3  “IN FLIP.”  A third grade teacher plays an instructional video for half the class, and he works directly with the other half, reducing the teacher-student ratio.  The kids who need help the most get the most help.  Students get more individual time with students.  Parents can view the videos online.

#2  VIDEO STORY PROBLEMS.  How much money is being lost due to a dripping faucet?

#1  STUDENT-CREATED CONTENT.  Students make the videos (mathtrain.com).  When kids make videos, they understand the content well.

I want to close with a controversial thought.  The world has changed.  Every kid has a powerful computing machine in his/her hands.  If you could be replaced by a YouTube video, you should be.  I believe in the value of teachers, but, if all we’re doing is content dumping, there are videos for that.  Our value comes through the interactions we have with students in the classrooms.  Let’s quit fighting these powerful tools and infiltrate with these tools.  The way we deliver education must change.

“Walk a Mile in Students’ Shoes: Differentiating Between Low Motivation, Curriculum Casualties, and Learning Disabilities”
By Kristin Barbour, Executive Director, National Institute for Learning Development (NILD)

We are a community of educators.  We are connected by our heavenly Father through Christ.  God is present in the company of the righteousness.  We have no righteousness of our own.   Christ’s righteousness shines through us.

Understand the characteristics of an individual who struggles with learning.  What would it feel like to walk in a student’s shoes?  Science has been studying the brain for over 20 years with learning in-mind.

We must have a positive perspective of each student, including the unmotivated and distracted and misbehaving and transient and underprivileged student.

What are the learning processes?  Any student can be vulnerable as a learner at any of these stages.

INPUT
How do we receive information through our 5 senses?

ELABORATION
We attach sense and meaning to the input at this stage.  We are processing the information.  We pay attention to sensory experiences.

OUTPUT
A product verifies the understanding.

VISUAL PROCESSING
The ability to understand and attach meaning to what we see

Many children struggle with visual discrimination, an essential skill for reading and mathematics.

Here is the letter m.  If we discriminate incorrectly, it becomes an n.  Upside down, it’s a u.  A b can become a d or a p or a q.  An n can become a u.

We are adult readers.  Be ready for a comprehension quiz.  [The letters were flipped incorrectly, and the adult readers had great difficulty on the quiz.  She made people on the stage read aloud, individually, even though it was so difficult to read.]  This is what the printed page looks like to the student with visual discrimination problems.  Numbers, letters, and words become easily confused.

Letter of the week is an effective strategy, linking tangible items to the letter.

Students must also be able to see the object from the background.  Which is more important?  Students must have the ability to focus on THE most important information.

You’re going to see an image on the screen.  Write down the first image.  And how quickly can you shift to the second image?  A little girls’ face.  An old hag.  What does this look like in the classroom?  Workbook formats can be incredibly overwhelming for some students; they’re beautiful, but it’s sensory overload.  Students have difficulty shifting from one image to another, because they cannot recognize what is most important.  A child can lose his place or skip lines in reading.  Students know what to pay attention to on maps, charts, and graphs.

Be careful about how your room is organized.  Keep your walls and room free of clutter.  Use colors consistently for a certain type of information, i.e., blue always for mathematics homework.  Use bulletin boards to vary foregrounds and backgrounds for emphasis of important information.

Visual memory is the ability to recall a sequence.  I’m going to show a slide with a row of images.  Hold onto the sequence.  The next set of slides will include numbers, and put them in the right sequence.  2-5-1-6-3-4. [I did it!]  Good learners talk about their thinking.  Good learners name.  Good learners rehearse.  Good learners hook the meaningless to meaning.  Students struggle with sight words, because the words don’t follow a pattern.  Students struggle with the actual formation of letters when they are  writing.  Spelling does not improve over time without direct intervention; spelling can be taught.

In today’s push for rigorous education, we put pencils and worksheets in front of students who should be playing instead of completing worksheets.  Research indicates  that student who engage in imaginative play develop more robust cognitive skills than those who complete worksheets.  Imaginative play is not a “waste of time.”

Visual motor integration is a perceptual motor skill which is the most inhibiting in the classroom.  This is the ability to coordinate what is seen with a motor response.  On your papers, sign your full name in your best cursive handwriting.  Now, if you’re right-handed, put your pen in your left hand, move your left foot counter-clockwise, and write your name in cursive; do the opposite if you are left-handed.  Where was your focus while you were completing this activity?  On your leg.  Pencil pressure.  Spacing.  Can you imagine the level of concentration and lack of product coming from a student who struggles EVERY TIME with a writing assignment which is so easy for their peers?  What does it look like?  Difficulty copying or taking notes.  Difficulty using manipulatives.  What can we do?  Dot-to-dot with straight easy connections.  Allow students to doodle their notes, rather than write their notes; change the modality of transcription.  Graph paper can give visual background boundaries for better perception.

Auditory memory is a challenge for students with disabilities.  Here is a series:  “Professor.  Lawyer.  Baker.  Doctor.  Judge.  Write all but the fourth word.”  Doctor was missing.  Let’s go to math.  Here’s a new series. “5-8-2-3-5-9.  Write in reverse order.”  How’d we do?  It’s hard.  What’s your strategy?  Remember sequence, and see if you could make it work.  Try to memorize in pairs.  Give strategies for thinking, and allow students to think about the strategies of their peers.  Students have to use auditory memory a lot in classrooms.  Students have difficulty retrieving the words; this is dysnomia.  Students with these difficulties can’t follow oral directions.  Use rhythm and movement.  Learning states and capitals can be used with the states on the left hand and the capitals on the right hand.  “Bonus points” can be used:  I’m going to give you a series of simple math problems.  Don’t write these answers down.  Do the math in your head.  You can visualize in your head.  You build auditory memory in your students when you take them though such mathematical operations.

Not all apples on the tree ripen at the same time.

Our role?   Proverbs 1:1-5 (ESV).

I hope you have a new insight into students who have difficulty learning.

“The Top Survival Skill for Teachers: Critical Thinking Using the Web”
By Alan November, author of WHO OWNS THE LEARNING? PREPARING STUDENTS FOR SUCCESS IN THE DIGITAL AGE

I am presenting on technology.  I hate technology.  I’m convinced good teaching beats good technology every day.

Off we go. . . .

I want to show you some technology tools kids can use today.

If you asked kids if they know how to use Google, everyone kid will say yes.  I’ll show you some searches kids have done, and then I’m going to show you how I would use Google more effectively.

I also want to look at how students contribute to high-quality content to the Internet.

We must be balanced with our use of technology.  There’s a lot of “right.”  But there’s a lot of “wrong.”

Here’s an unfortunate search.  It’s critical for teachers to know what can go wrong.  Students look only at the first page of a search.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why do results show up?  Google’s algorithm assigns the most terms when the search terms agree in the web address.

This third hit reveals a website which is awful.  Looks okay on its face.  A sister website is owned by a white supremacist group.  We need to teach students how to be web-literate.  It is increasingly the dominant mode of information searches.  Textbooks are passe.  Professors have website.  Teachers are using content on the Internet.

What could teachers be teaching?

You can use advanced Google features in searches.

link:www.martinlutherking.org site:edu link: www.stormfront.org limits the search ONLY to universities.  You can’t indicate “only at universities” in the Google search.  “Link,” followed by a web address, goes to the website and Storm Front.

All of this commentary comes from a university.

Cross-referencing helps narrow the search to credible sources.  Students should be Advanced Google search functions.

Prior to the Internet, possible resources were print and pre-selected.  Teachers and librarians no longer have such control.  Kids can go anywhere in the world, technologically.

Guide has a guide to show the outcomes of my searches.

Students have not been taught to use the Dewey Decimal System of the Internet.  I’m concerned that students are using the Internet every day, and they are being manipulated, because they don’t understand the structure.

EasyWhoIs.com is a specialized search tool, showing who owns the website.  We need to know who is controlling the information we are accessing.

Kids know the authors of books, but they don’t know the authors of the Internet sites.

WayBackMachine is an Internet archive of the information which is regularly backed up.  You enter a web address.  You see the date of genesis.  You can see the history of the website, including hotspots with associated news stories on the calendar for all of the years of existence.  You don’t know the same things about books.  Once you know the tools of the Internet, you have much more information available to you than does a print resource.  It’s amazing what you can do on the Internet, once you know how.  If you don’t know how, it’s a phenomenally dangerous thing.

I have some very interesting people in my doctoral class.  Two of my students are professors at West Point.  West Point was the first university to give laptops to their students.  West Point knows how to teach students to use the Internet.

I ask students to show me an assignment given by a teacher.  Students will use the name of the assignment as the search words.  The Google algorithm brings resources closest to you.  That is a terrible search at West Point.  The search must be global, not local.  Students are not allowed to use Internet sources which lack credibility; the military academy teaches students how to find credible resources.  Google can’t read.  It doesn’t know anything from your search.

In elementary schools, we should teach students about standard references.  Wikopedia is not a credible resource.  We should teach country codes when doing searches.  Iran is IR.  Use the site command.  site:ir  I’m no longer in Maryland.  Now, I’m actually in Iran.  When you start showing this to kids, they love learning.  They want to know your “tricks.”

The Iranians called the “Iranian Hostage Crisis” the “Conquest of the American Spy Den.”

Teach grit.  Teach kids not to give up during their searches.  Do we blame them, or should we blame ourselves for not teaching the steps of not giving up.

If I want high-quality information, I search AC, IR, and conquest of the American Spy Den, and there’s no crossover with “The Iranian Hostage Crisis.”

The most powerful search tool in all of K-12 education is WolframAlpha, which reorganizes the Internet information for you.  What is more nutritious: a hamburger or hot dog?  You get graphs and charts.  Click on “sources” at the bottom.  The charts were generated, on the fly, just for me.  WolframAlpha looks at your query, and you get serious academic stuff.  WolframAlpha looked at several thousand papers and generated charts in less than half-a-second!

Do you want to block this, or do you want to teach kids how to use it?  It’s the most amazing “cheating” tool invented.

I enter a challenging math formula, and I get the parabola and the steps in solving the equation!  Kids can check their homework themselves, and they never get behind?!  WolframAlpha can answer just about 100% of all questions.

At the end of the day, I can take about 3 minutes to complete my homework!

It’s a moral question:  Should we block these tools?  OR should we redesign our assignments, so they can’t look up the answers.  That’s the real answer.  WolframAlpha is the equivalent of the printing press.

The teacher becomes more important with these kinds of tools.

Watch the TED Talk of Conrad Wolfram and Stephen Wolfram, who are behind this website.

I talked to Stephen Wolfram.  I think some teachers want this site blocked, because kids won’t use the site well.  I asked him what he thought.  Teachers should increase the difficulty of the problems.  The problems we are giving kids are left-over from the time when we didn’t have these resources.  The power of the problems must increase.

I enjoy watching teachers resist.  I’m patient.  I know they’ll come around.  You want to resist.  Resist.

Here’s a search.  What’s the perfect bunt in a baseball game in a particular situation?

Our problems must be “well-structured problems.”

A lot of problems in life are not “well-structured.”  Problems in life are messy.  Teachers should be writing messy problems, not well-structured problems.

“Solve” means every student gets the same answer.

“Involve” means every student must provide a creative response to the problem.  This is “The West Point Trick.”

Teachers underestimate the abilities of the kid, but the problem with opening this up to kids is they will come up with problems which the teachers don’t know how to solve!  Teachers should know every answer!!

The most powerful classroom is where students design the problems.

Let me wrap-up.  The Internet is not going away.  Cell phones are going to get more powerful.  Massive amounts of information are being loaded on the WolframAlpha engine.  Do you want kids to develop the problems which you might not be able to answer?  It’s a blast time to be alive as a teacher!

“Effective or Defective? Equipping Students for Life-Long Vision”
By Bill Brown, Senior Fellow, Worldview and Culture Colson Center
Former President of Bryan College in Tennessee and Cedarville University in Ohio

I have the privilege of wrapping today up.  You’ve got a lot of things to think about.  You have a lot of things you can do.  All of this converges in the context of Christian education.

The Bible opens with humanity in close fellowship with God.  The Bible closes with humanity in close fellowship of God.  Drama lies in-between.  We find ourselves there.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus established the beachhead for restoring all that had been lost in The Fall.

Several years ago, I was speaking for ACSI in Istanbul, Turkey.  Muslim students were coming to Christ at Christian Schools!  Every school which is watching today must determine their mission.  We don’t want our mission statements to get in the way of God, do we?!

How is God using you in your Christian school?  You are a part of a great movement of God.

Today, almost 80,000 people are coming to Christ.  They woke up this morning without Christ.  Over 10,000 of them are Muslims.  Bigger is not better.  Better is better.  God is on the move.  And you are part of that.

Are we effective or defective?

How do we know?  Grades?  Enrollment?  Behavior referrals?  These are important measures, but God calls us to be different in ways that matter.  If you’re different in ways that don’t matter, you’re just weird!

How do we measure our effectiveness?

We measure effectiveness 5, 10, and 15 years later.  Are our students still walking with Christ?  Do they believe they are prepared for the world in which they live?  How could the school have been better?

Students are receiving intellectual capital which they will invest for a lifetime.

Students are looking for people they want to be like.

Staying effective is a moving target.  Culture re-boots itself about every 5 years.  It used to be every 20-25 years.  Vocabulary changes.  How do you keep up?  We tend to educate our schools for world as it is.  [We should be educating students for the world which will be.]

We educate children, and we don’t even know them.

AXIS has a free cultural translator to find out what’s happening in the culture.  It’s worth doing that.  Your junior high and high school students will be amazed that you know more about the culture than they.

Distinguish between “agenda” and “vision.”  Agendas are short-sighted activities to accomplish near-sighted goals.  Visions are expansive plans to achieve ambitious aspirations.

At Bryan College, we put together a great long-range plan.  It was remarkable, because we kept referring to it, and things started changing in positive ways.  In the middle of the plan, about half of the campus was destroyed by a fire.  We inserted mobile units at tuition of $20,000 per year.  But enrollment went up 20%.  We were galvanized by the 20-year plan, which we accomplished in 7 years!  God did great things.

Take 37 seconds to tell the mission statement of your school.

[We did.]

That’s your DNA.  Who are you — for whom — and why?

In 24 seconds, what is the vision for your school?

[We did.]

At some point, write the vision FOR EACH STUDENT.  See where I’m going with this?

If God has such a great vision for each of us, why don’t we have a vision for each student in our school?

Your mission is here.  You vision is here.  In the middle is the strategic map.

Vision statements are so important.

Sony (1950):  Become the company most known for changing the quality of Japanese products.

Honda (1970):  We will destroy Yamaha!

Save the Children:  Every child attains the right to survival, development, protection, and participation

Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “I Have a Dream!”

Visions can be disturbing.

Adolph Hitler

Islamic State:  “Clinging to faith in Allah, conquering Christianity, and owning the world.”

John Lennon:  Imagine there’s no heaven. . . .

Imagine.  Vision is imagining a better future.

We must discover God’s vision for our schools.

An agenda is to cook supper.  A vision is to eradicate hunger and poverty.

An agenda is to buy the right shoes.  A vision is to eliminate disease through sound footwear.

An agenda is to be doctrinally correct.  A vision is to nurture students who understand biblical truth in all spheres of life.

Without a vision, we go from one agenda to the next.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you.”  (Steve Jobs)

The Nazis bombed London relentlessly.  Churchill never left the city.  While the British were being bombed, he was planning the invasion of Germany!  Alcoholism and suicide declined dramatically during the Blitzkrieg.  People were tuning into the radio to hear Winston Churchill’s vision for England.

How do we inculcate vision with our students?

Just because you know the Bible doesn’t mean you have a biblical worldview.  We need an education which is broad and deep.

Oswald Chambers:  My strong advice to you is to soak, soak, soak in philosophy and psychology until you know more of these subjects than every you need consciously to think. . . .”

Are we informing or transforming in Christian schools?  God gave us His Word to inform AND TRANSFORM!

We must equip our students.

Are we filling a bucket or lighting a fire?  Lighting a fire in them, not under them?!

Students must understand what they believe and what others believe, and they must be able to preach the Gospel with respect and gentleness.

One day in our Dayton, Ohio church, I was the Christian on stage with a Jewish Rabbi, Buddhist, and Muslim.  Each of us were describing what we believed.  I got to describe the vision of Christianity, including heaven!  What an education that was for us all!

We get bombarded by alternate worldviews.  How are we preparing our students to make a difference in that culture, as men and women of Christ?

Know God.  Know God’s Word.  Know God’s world.  Be known by Him.

Being a Christian is not about following the rules.  You can follow the rules and not know Christ.  Do your students know grace?  Not just teaching about grace.  Have they experienced grace?  Have they experienced it from you and your school?

Do your students understand the Word of God?  Have we equipped them to deal with questions from the world?

Here are questions I have been asked:

Doesn’t science prove that God doesn’t need to exist?
Why doesn’t He let his presence become more real?
Why evil in the world?
Why is biblical truth superior?
Why did Bible heroes have lots of wives?  Why can’t we?
Why are Christians so close-minded and mean-spirited?
How come Christians dislike each other?
Why do churches spend so much money on nice buildings but not on poverty?
Why do other religions think they are right and Christianity is wrong?

It’s not a matter of clever answers or solutions, but there are biblical resolutions from a biblical worldview, and all of you, as mentors, need to be diving into this, so you can equip our students.  We’re making navigators.

We must exegete the Word AND GOD’S WORLD.  Enslave yourself to everyone you meet, and build a bridge to Jesus for each man and woman.  The answer is Jesus Christ, who alone satisfies our deepest desires.

The issue is not unanswered questions.  The issue is unquestioned answers.

We press on.  Should we circle the wagons?  This is no time to withdraw.  This is the most exciting time to be a Christian.  That’s why what you do is so important.  Safe does not exist anymore.  Take ahold of that which Christ took hold of.  PRESS ON.  Passionately pursue Christ.  Your students should see you passionately pursuing Christ.

We must act.  [See p. 60 of the conference booklet.]

Develop your mission.  Does it fit what you’re doing?  Does everyone know the Mission Statement.

Develop your vision.  Do you have a bold vision for the future?  Does everyone know the Vision Statement?  Be brave!  Survey your parents and students and alumni.  What do they want from your school?  Are you fulfilling your mission?  Are you stretching toward the vision?

Change will happen.  You can’t stop change.  But you can intentionally influence the change.

Your walk with Christ is crucial.  You cannot give away what you do not have.  Some of you are having intense struggles right now.  You haven’t told anyone.  Sin.  Depression. Anxiety.   Doubt.  Even doubt about faith.  Pornography.  Unresolved issues.  Do not let Satan get a foothold.  Please.  It’s your responsibility to respond.  God expects it, and your students deserve it.  Your students are looking for people they want to be like.

Helen Keller said the only thing worse than being blind is to be sighted but have no vision.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. :  We face the difficulties of today and tomorrow.  I have a dream today.

What is your dream TODAY?  What is your vision TODAY?

I was invited to a school.  I went to the faculty prayer meeting of the Christian school.  Everyone was jammed in the room, many of them weeping.  I listened how they knew and understood their kids.  I walked out and asked how often they did this.  Every day.  Wherever you are in your own spiritual walk, for the sake of these schoolchildren, and for your sake, be open to God and how he can use you in the Kingdom.

If people ask you what you do for a living, tell them, “I deal with precious commodities every day.”

John Storey, Vice-President, ACSI

When a student is fully taught, he will be like his teacher.

Young people have changed.  Our culture is changing.  We must adapt within the sphere of truth.

“Head, Hands, Heart:  Three-Dimensional Education”
By Dr. Vernard Gant, Former Vice-President of Urban Schools, ACSI

A great day to all of you here and around the world!  It is such a pleasure to have the opportunity to share with you.  Let’s look at Christian education in an expansive light.

Jesus said, in John 8:12, that He is the light of the world.  His followers would not walk in darkness, and they would be the light of life.  In Matthew 5:14, he described his followers as light on the hill that shines to glorify our Father in heaven.

If we, as Christians, are the light, does that apply to Christian education?  Is our education the educational light of the world?  Education shining and encroaching on the darkness?!  Can we take Christian education and expand it from a defensive posture — protecting children from the darkness — to an offensive posture of spreading light into the dark world?  [OF COURSE!]

I travel extensively.  I hear the angst of educators discussing educational reforms around the country.  We seem to have no great solutions.  Are Christian schools the solution?!  Why you?!   Why these Christian schoolchildren?!

We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a special (peculiar) people — that you might show God’s most marvelous light!  I know that’s why those children and you have been chosen!  He has given us the opportunity to show the power that has been entrusted to Him and continues to honor Him!

To a very large degree, we may be under-performing, in this regard.  I have sat at tables with people of power, people who are seeking “world-class education” for students.  The world’s “best line” for world-class education should be our “base line.”  God wants us to provide “Kingdom class” education.  Don’t stoop to “world class”!

What is education today?  It’s three-dimensional.

The world believes in two-dimensional education.  Content is the first dimension.  We pour content into students’ minds.  Dimension 1 is instruction/content.  With the hands, we apply that content in Dimension 2.

Dimension 3 is the heart.  In Christian education, we take all three dimensions — which are God-infused — so students have been uniquely educated in God’s truth.  God’s truth of the world is interwoven with the truth of God’s Word.

Worldly content devoid of the Word’s content will inevitably lead to erroneous conclusions.

You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.  Truth liberates.  Truth sanctifies the people of God.  God’s Word is truth.  By such, you and I must become students of the Word.  We must have a steady, daily diet of the Word.  Content and knowledge without the truth of God’s Word does not do the work of sanctification.  We must not stand before schoolchildren as spiritually malnourished leaders, for those children will know that.  Filter the content of learning through the filter of biblical truth.

We are also empowered by God’s Spirit!  Not by power, nor by might, but by God’s Spirit do we take this content — this truth — the truth of our lives — showing the anointment of the Spirit on our teaching.  As the Father sent Jesus, we have the same anointing.  We have the power of the Holy Spirit upon us!  Content, professional development, and pedagogy can make us influential, but God doesn’t want us to be INFLUENTIAL.  The Spirit of God on our content, professional development, and pedagogy in Kingdom education will result in our being IMPACTFUL!

We let an educational light so shine to impact the world and roll back the darkness!

We sometimes come up short.  We make the mistake of whittling down to what is humanly explainable.  We give up on certain children, because we think God can only work with “certain” children.  The world is not impressed.  Christian schools cannot just admit only students who are highly educable.  [Public schools admit students of ALL abilities.]  We serve the God of Elijah!

We think we should only have children who don’t need grace!  Wouldn’t it be nice to have schoolchildren who do not sin?!  There are no situations beyond the reach of God’s power.  We have been empowered by God’s Spirit.

We have been equipped with God’s love.  The love of God has been poured out — shed abroad — in our hearts.  Take the stuff of the curriculum — which is “Christian” — written words on pages.  These words on pages are powerless to bring life.  In the beginning, we had the Word — His law — in writing — but it was powerless to impart life.  The law does not impart life.  When the Word became flesh in Jesus, and we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth, the Word imparted life!  You deliver content through your conduct.  YOU are God’s curriculum.  You are the living curriculum as Christian school educators.  You, as God’s curriculum, dwelling among the children with grace and truth, impart truth that is written on the hearts of the children.  Such is the power to transform!  The teaching is full of grace and truth.  Teaching without grace is condemning; teaching without truth, is condoning.

That is the power of Christian education.  Such is “Kingdom class.”  There are no conditions beyond the scope of learning.

I had the opportunity to meet with the U.S. Vice-President’s Chief of Staff.  He was chiding Christian educators in the room.  He claimed that Christian educators “cheat.”  He said we were very selective in the children we serve.  We are “playing a card game, he said, pulling out all of the aces, kings, queens — bragging about how good our hand is.”  He called that cheating.  I told him we pick up the deck of cards, take out the cards he didn’t want — the lame, the crippled, the blind come — and we infuse truth, the power of Christ — and the twos and threes have been transformed into kings and queens.  We call that a miracle!  People will say, “The Lord — He is God.   The Lord — He is God.  The Lord — He is God!  AMEN!”

Dr. Dan Egeler

Over 75% of the schools which ACSI serves are outside the United States.  Now, we are going to speak to a Christian school in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  God has used ACSI to bless schools for 26 years in Guatemala.

ACSI Director for Latin America

These teachers behind me are a sampling of Latin America educators we are serving in our region.  This is the largest block of people speaking the same language, and you are a part of that.  We believe Christian schools have the potential to change the future of Latin America.  It’s not just about academics.  Every student, under the influence of a Christian school teacher, has the opportunity to change our countries.  We can do it!  We believe Christian schools can make a difference.  Jimmy Morales is a graduate of a Christian school; he is about to become President of Guatemala!  These kinds of professional development are cherished in Latin America.  In Brazil, the ACSI convention takes place on a holiday, and more than 1,000 teachers gather on that holiday!  The conference is not boring to them.  It is worth it!  Teachers make all kinds of sacrifices; they will travel up to 14 hours in a bus to attend a professional development event.  Teachers stay late at school to take part in webinars.  It is worth it!  How many of you believe similarly?  It is worth it!

Dr. Egeler

Right now, we are living in an incredibly strategic time of history.  We have a pent-up demand with emerging leaders to lead their people groups throughout the world.  ACSI has 18 global offices in the world.  We don’t have the resources to address those opportunities.  We need to identify, equip, and empower leaders for the Christian school movement.  Education is the key issue to change society.  Christian school children’s lives are being developed under the power of Christ.  Our children take the love of the Lord to other people.  Monthly financial support will impact the leaders, who will impact others.  It’s is God work, God’s Kingdom.  As we have been blessed, we have an opportunity to be a blessing.  God is using Christian schooling to accomplish His purposes through a spiritual tsunami, and everyone of you is a part of it.  I give personally, because I know these leaders.  These men and women are making incredible sacrifices.  We have an opportunity this morning to give.  At this time, I call all of the volunteers to take the offering for our international Christian schools.

“Fueling Learning: Sparking Curiosity in the 21st Century”
By Dr. Kevin Washburn, Director, Clerestory Learning

Learning is movement.  And movement requires fuel.  Curiosity and fuel can accomplish great learning.

“I have no special talent.  I am only passionately curious.”  (Albert Einstein)

Curiosity fuels learning!

Think about energy, movement, and momentum.  What is the relationship among those three concepts?  Energy enables movement.   Movement sparks momentum.

Learning is movement.  In the brain, that’s literally true.  Any physical step toward a goal involves an active neuro-network of the brain.  Movement requires energy.  So what is the energy source of learning?  I would say it’s curiosity.

We are at a time when our influence as educators is critically important.  But we have a great challenge.  Susan Engel has said that CHILDREN are curious, but STUDENTS are not.  Between 40-60% of high school students are chronically disengaged at school.  It’s not as though they suddenly become chronically disengaged in high school.  As kids mature, the numbers of questions of students drop dramatically.  [Do we, as educators, contribute to that drop?]  By fifth grade, curiosity episodes are few and far between.  Why does this matter in 21st Century classrooms?

Business owners are looking for curious employees.  We need to be equipping students to be self-guided, curious learners.

Engagement does not equal curiosity.  Curiosity prompts learning.  If children are curious, but students are not, we face a major challenge.  How can we nurture a classroom atmosphere of curiosity?

FREEDOM
Curiosity flourishes in cultures of freedom.  Flexibility characterizes these classrooms.

ATTENTIVENESS
Curiosity is contagious and caught through conversations among students and teachers.  Teachers should be looking for teachable moments.

POSITIVE
Fear must be eliminated.  Scolding inhibits curiosity.  How an adult responds to students either nurtures or inhibits curiosity.  We are teaching children.  We are not teaching curriculum.

What strategies can we use to foster more curiosity in our classrooms?

MODELING
Model curiosity in your own life.  Describe your own fascinations, and you’ll do a commercial for curiosity.

QUESTIONS
Keep engaging students with questions which lead to higher order thinking.  The curiosity of our students is AT LEAST as important as the curriculum.  “Covering curriculum” is one of the greatest enemies of curiosity and learning.  Think like Rod Serling, who had the incredible ability in “The Twilight Zone” to pique curiosity through questions.  Raise questions in students’ minds.  Why? and How? questions generate more interest than Who? and What? questions.  Questions represent curiosity.

QUESTION AND SUPPORT, RATHER DIRECTING AND EXPLAINING
Teachers tend to fall into explanation mode.  When a student shows curiosity, start asking questions.  Questioning, more than directing and explaining, encourages more robust learning.  Questions spark curiosity and literal brain activity.  Dopamine enhances the learning, and recall is better.  If the question is too simple, keep asking more questions until you get to more meaningful questions.  If the question seems without meaning, contextualize it.  If the question is too general, make it more specific. If the question is too narrow, broaden it.  If the questions is too broad, narrow it.

BE CAUTIOUS WITH CAUTIONS.
Again, there should be some measure of freedom.  The learning must not be governed by rules.  Don’t try to make your classroom “fail-proof.”  Children need to learn resilience.  Resilience is learned through set-backs.  A student’s achievement is probably attributed to intelligence; the other 50% is related to curiosity and resilience.  Support students in their failures.

STAY ALERT FOR CURIOSITY MOMENTS.
Again, don’t jump into explanation mode.  Discovery is more important and effective than having something explained to us.

STORYTELLING
Tell stories related to content.  Leave the stories at good “commercial break moments.”  Allow students to ask questions.  Bring in elements of mystery.  Create anticipatory sets. Ask the students, “What do you think this mystery has to do with today’s lesson?”  Engage students in thinking which constructs understanding — through curiosity.

INTRODUCE CONCEPTUAL CONFLICTS.
How can paradoxes exist?  Raise questions.  Allow students to generate and record their own questions.  As soon as you’ve got them asking questions, you’ve got them!  A culture of questioning is a vineyard of learning.

Moses had a life-changing moment at the burning bush.  Why wasn’t the bush burning up?  Curiosity drove Moses into the presence of God.  We have an insatiable curiosity, because God created us to be curious.  Moses knew God better because of his curiosity about the burning bush.  Curiosity deserves an excellent reputation.  Be creative yourself.  Nurture your students to be curious influencers of society.  It’s only then that we can fulfill our mission as schools.

“Miracles”
By Eric Metaxas, author of the recent biography, DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

I get to speak to Christian educators all around the world.  It’s a humbling and thrilling thing.  The first thing I want to say is what you are doing is making a huge difference, and you are not half as aware of your influence as I am.

I went to Yale University.  People think that’s the greatest education.  It is NOT the greatest education.  It fails utterly.  The big questions of life are answered by Christ-centered schools, which is true education.  The secular world is afraid of the big questions.  People don’t think life has meaning.  Do you understand how bleak that is?  We are made in the image of the God of the universe.  That is at the heart of Christian education.  That should take your breath away.  We can’t begin to comprehend who God is.  It’s unfathomable that we get to be a part of God’s purposes for life and for our lives.  To liberal secular humanists, there is no God behind the randomness of life.  The concept of meaning itself is meaningless.  Meaning is a construct to perpetuate the species.

Christian educators say a loving God created us in our image, and He has a plan to bless us with a hope, a plan, and a future.  You are doing something so different than education everywhere else.  You are a fish swimming in the aquarium, and you’re not even aware of your profound influence.  Your work changes things.  The difference you are making is beyond belief.  I want to affirm you in that.  People outside Christian schools are not getting what you are giving.  In life, you struggle.  Good marriages are hard; bad marriages are harder.  Good parenting is hard; bad parenting is harder and damaging.

You are transmitting meaning connected to the God who brought us into this world and wants to have a relationship with us.

I want to talk for my remaining moments about heroes.

In the past, we weren’t afraid of heroes.  Every culture has heroes.  We transmit who is good through the choice of our heroes.  We teach about what is good and who is good through heroes.  We need to teach kids about heroes and what they did.  We need hope, because life is hard.  God gives us examples of people who encourage us.  It’s about Jesus, who was a person, one who came to live among us.  He lived among people, who, then, lived among people, who, then, lived among people. . . .

Each of us is called to be a hero to those around us.  We are called to transmit the life of a Christian to others.  People in your circle are looking to you.  You will either lead people closer to or further away from God.  Draw them to Jesus by being like Jesus.  Each of us is potentially a hero to those around us.  God calls us to live lives which reflect His glory, so others want to be like us.  We are each called to be heroes.

In education, we have to transmit the stories of the heroic.  Whoever wrote Hebrews inspired others in Chapter 11 with heroes of the faith.

In our generation, we are uncomfortable with heroes.  We reduce the great hero George Washington as a racist slave owner.  The stories of heroes and heroines are not told any more.

I write biographies as stories of heroes.  Wilberforce was a hero.  We forget how many Christians were abolitionists.  The fight against slavery came from Christian churches.

We have ceased as a culture to be able to affirm heroism.  We have lost our cultural confidence.  We have been taught that America is no better than any other country — not an exceptional country.  We’ve lost our confidence in what is right and wrong.

In Afghanistan, boys are given to exceptional soldiers as sexual toys.  That is evil.  Yet our military personnel have been told that Americans are not supposed to intervene, since this is “their culture.”  It’s evil!

William Wilberforce believe missionaries should be sent to India.  He was told to keep his religion to himself.  Wilberforce fought hard against the evil of India through missionaries.  If at Wilberforce’s time a prominent man in India died, his widow was burned alive on his funeral pyre; Wilberforce saw the evil; it wasn’t just “their culture.”  His religion applied, because each of these women was created in the image of God.  Christianity would change things, educating people about the dignity of every person.  We have a culture, too — a culture which hangs the people who rape boys and burn women!  We’ve got to be able to say to our military that they must keep a boy from being raped by an Afghani soldier.

What we believe matters.  We need to know these stories of heroes.  Wilberforce said — humbly and boldly — that he had to abolish the slave trade, send missionaries to India, and stand against other instances of evil in the world.  We are called to be an influence in the world.

Another hero about whom I have written extensively was Deitrich Bonhoeffer.   He stood up to the Nazis.   He knew he was going to die eventually.  He wanted to do something about evil.  Not to act is to act.  He acted against Nazi Germany.  We will be judged by a just God.  We need to tell the stories of these heroes.

The Lord wants to use these examples as encouragement.  I can’t tell you how many people tell me that my stories are “changing their lives.”  I didn’t change their lives.  My books don’t change their lives.  Bonhoeffer’s story changes their lives.

Susanna Wesley was “just a housewife.”  She was the 25th of 25 children.  That is unbelievable.  She married a pastor.  They had 19 children.  10 survived.  2 of those children were John and Charles Wesley.  Susanna taught her children out of the Scriptures.  Susanna taught John and Charles Wesley out of the Scriptures.  Without the sermons and the hymns, others would not have come to Christ.  George Whitefield would probably have not been George Whitefield.  Susanna was an extraordinary human being, mother, and teacher.  Do you think she would have believed her sons would have had such a profound effect on the world?

Do you realize that you have said things which have already affected young people to go a certain way?

Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball because of his Christianity.  Robinson gathered the strength to perform this historical act because of his faith in Jesus Christ!

Did you know that Rosa Parks was chosen to protest during the American Civil RIghts Movement because of her character and faith as a Christian woman?  Why are we not telling our young people about these heroes?!   We are afraid of offending someone.  Say it the right way, and you will not offend someone.  God doesn’t give blessing to ourselves alone.  He blesses us  to be a blessing.  The Messiah was not meant only for the Jews.  Jesus came for the whole world!

The stories of heroes bless people.  The world sees Billie Jean King and Oprah Winfrey as heroines.  We Christians understand that greatness doesn’t belong to a gender or a race; greatness is revealed by God.  This is a missing piece in our culture.

Young people are hungry to know how to live.  Have they heard the stories of these great men and women?  Hannah Moore will inspire innumerable young women to impact the culture for Christ.  However God calls us, we need examples of people who will show us how to live or Christ.

Look at what God is doing through heroes.  There are so many stories which need to be hold.

I’m writing a book about America right now.  Nathan Hale’s story must be told.  He deserves to be lionized as a great American hero.  Many people have never even heard of Nathan Hale.  He gave his life for his country.  People in an anti-heroic culture don’t get it.  Tell the stories, and change the lives of young people.

I finally want to say that we, as believers, must understand that what we believe is true, such that our faith is emboldened, so we tell others this truth.  The culture says we have a crazy idea.  It’s God’s idea!  You’ve got to share it.  What we believe is a gift from God only as a gift we must give to others.  I want to applaud you for sharing what you share and living out your lives in front of kids, and you are impacting them.  God bless you!

John Storey

ACSI is modifying professional development in response to the input of members.  Starting in 2016, 2-day regional gatherings will feature live speakers at 20+ locations across the nation.  For instance, Jay McTighe will present a live workshop on assessment.

“Why Our Students Are Leaving the Church and What You Can Do About It As a Teacher”
By Dave Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group and author of YOU LOST ME

I started with the Barna Group as a 21-year-old out of college.  My children attend Christian schools.

How many more days of church will we have?  Such may be a question being asked by young people today.

Look at the spiritual journeys of this generation.  The Barna Group has studied this generation for 10 years through over 10,000 interviews.

What are the barriers for this generation experiencing their faith?

CULTURE
The church is viewed as overprotective.

SEX
The church is viewed as repressive.

SCIENCE
The church is viewed as anti-science.

PEERS
The church is viewed as exclusive.

MIND
The church is viewed as doubtless.

CHURCH
The church is viewed as shallow.

We’re ministering to a culture mindset which is challenging.  It’s much harder to be a Christian.  We’re viewed as irrelevant extremists.

There are three different spiritual journeys from our research — for those who are walking away from the faith.

4 in 10 are spiritual nomads.  These people say they are still Christians, but they’re not involved in the institutional church.

1 in 10 are prodigals.  They are no longer Christians.  They have de-converted.  That’s a powerful spiritual conversation of identity.

3 in 10 are exiles lost between culture and church.  Faith doesn’t fit with them.  They ask how? and why? and what?  Christian schools have a real opportunity to help exiles understand life through a biblical worldview.

The faithfuls are 2 in 10 and faithful no matter what.

Let’s take a right-turn.  Let’s set a context.  We live in a complicated, accelerated culture.  It’s challenging to educate children in this era of technology, science, celebrities, marriage changes, economic challenges, sexuality, work, career, diversity, etc.

What does the Bible say about a young woman selling her eggs to a fertility clinic?  This is the question of a spiritual exile.

1 in 3 Millennials fact-check sermons.   Young people question authority and authenticity.

A teenager spends 7 hours a day with media, a significant shift in culture.  This is the digital generation.

The best human inventions are now in our pockets.  There are now more smartphones than toilets in the world!

In the digital age, we are hyperlinked, pop culture is influencing religion, we are craving meaning, grazing for information, etc.

Young people are narcissists who believe they will all be famous, and we laugh at them, but who raised them?!

We’re heading toward a Digital Babylon.

With our work for the American Bible Society, Americans are categorized in 1 of 4 ways, in terms of their views of Scripture:

ENGAGED
Reading the Bible 4+ times a week

FRIENDLY
Read often

NEUTRAL
Rarely read

SKEPTIC
Hostile to the Scriptures

Generations respond differently to the Bible.  There have been significant shifts from engaged to skeptical.

We just got new data.  Ninety-one percent (91%) of Americans believe the best way to find ourselves is to look within ourselves!  74% of Christians believe that!  That is wrong thinking.  That is a bad worldview.  We can become more than who we are through Christ.

What if we were to teach Ecclesiastes as a curriculum of meaninglessness of everything other than God?

No one is better by looking within ourselves.

Jerusalem had faith in the center, the pace was slower, there was self-control, and life was characterized by simplicity.  Now, faith is in the margins, pluralistic, the pace is accelerated, etc.

It’s really cool for us at this time, actually.  We have incredible opportunities to minister to the world in which we live.  How can we do that?

Christian school students are more likely to wrestle with their faith, more likely to engage with their church, want more from their church, less likely to say their career is irrelevant to their faith.  These are great indicators of the positive effects of Christian education.

Christian education is a way of life — a way of thinking about our counter-cultural experience.

We must seek meaningful relationships, cultural discernment, leadership development, vocational discipleship, and first-hand experiences with Jesus.  These are not formulas or steps.  These are different experiences for students.  Our students are experiencing institutions differently.  Students are very skeptical about people and institutions.

There are cool ways we can impact these students through vocational discipleship.

We have found 3 categories of callings:

Half of Millennials are interested in entrepreneurial careers; a third are interested in creative ventures; and half are interested in science careers.

In our vocational discipleship efforts, we have a great opportunity to awaken the aptitudes of our students.  All of us have a calling.  Our calling as entrepreneurs is abundance; for science, order; for creatives, beauty.   Adam and Eve were called to seek abundance, order, and beauty.  Let’s help them understand these concepts.

Practical Thoughts:

Be a learner yourself!

Emphasize purity from culture.  Daniel was salt and light in Babylon, and he was in the culture, influencing it.

Allow students space for doubt and brokenness.

Teach wise living.

Focus on cultivating discernment.  This generation is consuming media, but they must live differently in relationship to media.

Educate WITH young people.

Teach a rich theology of sexuality, work, and influence.

Show how the Bible intersects with vocation and changes us as people.

We must model discipleship in our own lives.

Pray like exiles!   It isn’t on us to do the work.  God is faithful to do the work in our culture.  Christianity is not extremist or irrelevant.

We have incredible opportunities to come alongside this generation.  It’s not easy to see the frustrating data about people.  But we are a part of the spirit of the age, so we must work hard to be counter-cultural.

In my closing moments, I want to talk about the history of basketball.  Naismith invented basketball in a cold weather environment.   Peach baskets were used.  That’s why it’s called basketball, not netball.  The baskets used to have bottoms for 10 years. It never occurred to people to cut the bottoms out of peach baskets!

It takes us awhile to catch up to new possibilities, doesn’t it?

It’s hard to mess with traditions.

My questions for Christian education are “What traditions are we keeping that need to be changed?  Do we care more about our traditions or our children?  How can we educate a generation of counter-cultural Christians?”

Dr. Egeler

As we close, we should thank our volunteers all over the world.  NEXUS | LIVE could not take place without those volunteers.

Surveys are coming to you.  Look for them.  We’re engaged in relentless reflective practices, as we look forward to 2016.  We need your input.  We are doing a meta-analysis of best practices with adult learning.

As we close, let’s consider the theme, STRONGER TOGETHER.

Jesus prayed in John 17:4 for those who would believe through His disciples’ messages.  That’s us!  We must be one in complete unity.  Then, the world will know that the Father sent Jesus.  Stronger together in unity is at the heart of God, and the world will know that Jesus came.

We need to lay down our individual flags and pick up the cross, so that the world would know that the Father sent Jesus!

These kids want to be Daniels in their communities.  Are the staff praying for all of your students every day?  Africans are praying for the unity of American Christian schools.  We are stronger together, so the world will know that we are one, and the Father sent Jesus as a witness!

“Sacrifice! Be Transformed!”

What a joy to combine the Word of God – Romans 12:1-2 – with the distinctives of Christian education for a message I delivered at Faith Christian Academy’s annual fundraising banquet in Kearney, Nebraska on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. If you would like to read the outline of my message, “Sacrifice: Be Transformed!” please read on. . . .

“Sacrifice: Be Transformed!”
By Dr. Bob Stouffer

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Faith Christian Academy
Kearney, Nebraska

OPENING


I marvel at the attitude of Abraham when he was called to sacrifice Isaac. . . .a literal sacrifice!
Paul addressed an important figurative sacrifice in Romans 12:1. Let’s look at this rich, familiar theological passage as it pertains to Christian education.
THEREFORE. . . .


Paul laid an amazing doctrinal foundation for right living in Romans 1-11. . . .

I BESEECH YOU [BEG YOU, APPEAL TO YOU], BROTHERS AND SISTERS. . .


Paul was passionate.  He called you and me to a different way of living. . . .
Perhaps he was pointing to another truth in Romans 12:  Never be lacking in zeal!

PRESENT YOUR BODIES AS A LIVING SACRIFICE. . . .


Don’t just think about it.  Don’t just say you will do so and then not do so.  Intentionally present your body as a living sacrifice.
Offerings involved sacrifice. . . .
Offering yourself must involve sacrifice. . . .
Your life is not your own.  God gave you life.  Offer yourself back to God as a living sacrifice.
The animal was “all-in.”  The animal had no choice.
You must choose to offer your body as a living sacrifice to God. . . .
Not just when it’s convenient or not too difficult.  All. . .of. . .the. . .time!

Jesus took His followers through a progression:

“Come and see.”

“Come and follow.”

“Come and be with me.”

“Come and die with me.”
We need to quit crawling off the altar!

HOLY AND ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. . . .


The Israelites were directed to offer their best bulls and lambs and goats and drinks.
You, too, must present yourself as holy and acceptable TO GOD. . . .

WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL ACT OF WORSHIP. . . .


What is worship?
We too often equate worship exclusively with singing hymns and other songs unto God.
Worship is singing, fellowshipping, giving, preaching, praying. . . .
Your heart must be humble in offering yourself and your service to God.
Every day, we should essentially sing, <“Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated to Thee”>!
Romans 12, verse 2:
DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD. . . .


The world is seeking to press you into its mold of non-biblical values.
Throughout our lives, we so want to “fit into” the world.
We allow peer pressure to keep us in the “norm.”
We do not want to stand out. So we Christians have equal percentages of pornography use, adultery, and divorce. . .
We seek too much to please men and women.
But we must seek to please God – exclusively – no matter the cost or inconvenience or difficulty.
Satan and the world are competing for your mind and the minds of our children.
We live in an age of Moral Relativism. Truth comes from human sources. Everyone is thinking, speaking, and doing what is right in his own eyes.

Non-biblical worldviews abound. I know. Before I became a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ at 36 years of age, I was steeped in the liberal views of education.
DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD. . . .
BUT BE TRANSFORMED. . . .


The Greek work for transformed pertains to “metamorphosis.”  From a larvae to a butterfly!
Change! If you are not changing, you are disobedient. We should never say or hear, “That’s the we we have always done it here.”
Be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29)
Christ must become greater; you, less.  (John 3:30)
Transformed how?
BY THE RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND. . . .


You will not change your behavior until you change your mind and heart.
Acknowledge your sin, and do an about-face away from your sin. . . .
Think biblically.  Develop a biblical worldview.  According to noted Christian pollster George Barna’s research, only 7% of born-again Christians give evidence of a biblical worldview. You cannot give away to the schoolchildren of Faith Christian Academy what you do not have yourself. The most frequent comment at your schools should be, “What’s the Bible say about that?”

Help students to develop higher-order critical thinking skills which demand perseverance.
Think “whatever.”  Philippians 4:8 — “Whatever is true, whatever is noble. . . .”
Righteousness in, righteousness out!  (Garbage in, garbage out.)

THAT BY TESTING YOU MAY DISCERN WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD. . . .


Abide.
Appropriate the power and discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Obey the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Be squarely within the will of God.
Not your will, but God’s will be done.
HIS GOOD, ACCEPTABLE, AND PERFECT WILL


Let’s work together to help students discover God’s callings on their lives. . . .
HOW IS A CHRISTIAN SCHOOL TO APPLY ROMANS 12:1-2?


Continue to make Jesus Christ the cornerstone and capstone of your school.
Love, value, read, study, meditate, reflect upon, and memorize the Word of God.
Make development of a biblical worldview a key distinctive of your school.
Never drift away from Christ-centeredness or biblical-directedness.
Make this school a place of worship at all times.
Lead as many students as possible to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Teach about the Holy Spirit.  Challenge the students, staff, and parents to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit.
Help everyone know what their spiritual gifts are.
Challenge everyone to use their spiritual gifts.
Challenge everyone to exemplify all of the fruit of the Spirit.

Make sacrifices, and don’t complain about those sacrifices. Life it not about you! Life is all about God!!
Everyone should seek transformation.  None of us can stay where we are.  We must become more like Jesus.

CLOSING


I ALWAYS marvel at God the Father’s plan of redemption by sacrificing the lamb of God. . . .

“I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship — In Spirit and in Truth!”

God laid in on my heart to preach about worship to the people of Crossroads Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in West Des Moines, Iowa on Sunday, October 4, 2015; the men of CrossTrainers in West Des Moines on Wednesday, October 7, 2015; and the folks of the Good News Chapel in Oskaloosa, Iowa on Sunday, October 11, 2015. If you would like to read my exposition on Nehemiah 8:1-12, “I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship!” please read on.

“I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship!”
By Dr. Bob Stouffer

OPENING BLESSING:

<Psalm 118:24-27a, 28-29>
OPENING

Have you ever thought to yourself, or said aloud, “I don’t FEEL LIKE going to church today”?

Have you ever said at the end of a worship service, “I didn’t get much out of that today”?

Are you sometimes distracted during worship?  Have you ever had difficulty keeping your mind from wandering away from what’s happening in this place?

Have you ever said to someone, “I come to the church because of the great music or the great preaching”?

Have you ever asked the worship leaders to sing more hymns?  To sing more contemporary praise music?

If we are honest with ourselves, we are guilty as charged by our answers to at least one of these questions I have asked.

I love to worship.

In the power of the Holy Spirit, I am able to worship with gusto.

When we sang <“Cornerstone”> during church on Sunday, September 27th, my volume and conviction were off-the-charts.
[Sing the chorus of “Cornerstone” once.]
When my heart and mind are right, I am prepared to receive God’s blessings in worship.

How about you?

Is your heart right today?

Is your mind right today?

EXPOSITION:

The Lord laid it on my heart to preach about worship today, and I have chosen Nehemiah 8:1-12 as today’s Scripture.

At first, you may wonder, “Why this text?”

I think you will quickly see why the Lord led me to this passage.
Would you please stand for my reading of God’s Word?
[Read Nehemiah 8:1-12. Emphasize key words and phrases.]
You may be seated. Thank you.
Nehemiah 8 involves a covenantal renewal of the law.

That ANNUAL covenant involved a reading of the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the Bible.

This scene is occurring during The Feast of Trumpets.  (Leviticus 23:23-25)  A “new year’s day.”  People presented themselves to the Lord.  The Feast of Trumpets was just before the Day of Atonement.  Prior to this feast, fasting, sacrifices, and reading of the Law were acts of submission to God.

This gathering carries additional significance with the recent rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. . . .

What’s going on here?
I would like to make 9 major observations about this particular text:
Unity:
“And all the people gathered as one man. . . .” (8:1a)
“. . .how good and pleasant it is when brothers [and sisters] dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)
Desire for the Word of God:
“. . .they told Ezra. . .to bring the Book of the Law. . . .”  (8:1b) What preacher wouldn’t love that?!

Public Declaration of the Law:
“. . .Ezra read from it. . . .” (8:3)

Reverence for the Law:
The people were standing.  In reverence, they stood (8:5).  They may have stood the entire time — “. . .from early morning until midday (8:3).”

Some churches have the tradition of standing for the reading of the Word of God, as I asked you to do today.

Teachability:
“And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”  (8:3)

The People Committed to Being Do-ers of the Law:
The people said, “Amen, Amen.”  (8:6)   So be it.  They were essentially saying, “Let our actions be consistent with the Word of God.”  They are giving approval of and commitment to the law.

Physical Posture of Submission:
They lifted up their hands, bowed their heads, and worshipped with their faces to the ground.”  (8:6)

God’s Spirit helped the hearers understand:
“. . .the people understood the reading.”  (8:8)

Repentance:
“. . .all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.”  (8:9b)  The people were lamenting. They were broken in their sin.  They realized they had assembled to obey the Scriptural commands they had so frequently disobeyed in the past.

Deuteronomy 28, verse 58 and following: Do all of the words of the law.  Fear God.  If not, He will bring affliction.  He had scattered the Israelites because of their sin.

When I am studying an Old Testament text, I like to ask, “Where is Christ here?”

A reintroduction of the law – such as in this passage from Nehemiah – signaled the covenant relationship between God and His people.

There was sin.  The law had been broken.  There was a need for repentance.  There was a need for a Savior to fulfill the law.  Jesus would one day bring completeness of the law.  He would complete the plan established by God.  A plan for restoration and reconciliation.

The people could not bring the fulfillment of the law.

Only Christ could bring the act of fulfillment, restoration, reconciliation, redemption.

Worship is only complete in the work of Christ.

In Nehemiah 8, GOD was the object of worship.  GOD was commanding this to be a sacred day.

Their focus was not on themselves.  They were focusing on GOD and His Law.

And, when they did so, they wept.

But Nehemiah said, “. . .do not mourn or weep.”  (8:9a)

It seems as though “Do not mourn” is a red flag.

We need to mourn.  We should mourn our sin.  We have nothing to celebrate in and of ourselves.  Our sin separates us from God.

We would continue to mourn but not for Jesus Christ!  Christ has come!  Christ has risen!  Christ is the joy of our strength!  (8:10)  Christ is our new life!

Mourning is about setting the heart in a right attitude of worship.  And Christ gives us strength!

It was a chore to worship in the Old Testament.  It involved a lot of gore and struggle with the sacrifices and admission of falling short of God’s standards in the Law.

Christ frees us from the gore and struggle.  Jesus has made the sacrifice!  As a result, we can celebrate this free gift and His substitutionary death on the cross.

“And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they understood the words that were declared to them.”  (8:12)

ADDITIONAL TEXT (SECOND SERVICE):

Let’s turn now to John 4:21-24.
Please stand for my reading of another passage of Scripture.

[Read John 4:21-24, emphasizing key words and phrases.]

This is an amazing example of evangelism – by Jesus AND by the Samaritan woman at the well. . . .
Jesus said – to paraphrase – I am the law.  I am fulfillment of the law.  I am truth.  I worship in the Spirit.  The fulfillment of the law is fulfilled in your hearing of the Word.

Samaritans were despised half-breeds.  They worshipped in the high places which were not established by the God of Israel.  Their place of worship defined them.  Jerusalem was the place of worship for Jews.  But Jesus opened all locations for worship — as long as the person worshipped in spirit and truth.

We worship in the presence of the Holy Spirit, rather than in the Temple or Jerusalem.  The people previously had to come to the Spirit.  The Spirit has come to the people.  The worship becomes internalized.

APPLICATIONS:

No matter where our heart is, God calls us to worship.

We should not base our worship on our own sincerity or emotional state.

The people came to worship, because they were commanded to do so.   It’s about who God is, not who we are.

On Sunday mornings, GOD renews His covenant with us.  We are not able to bring anything to that work.  We bring ourselves.  In Nehemiah, the people mourned over their sin.

Worship is more than singing.  We should also worship while we are singing, fellowshipping, reading the Word of God, listening to a sermon, praying, and giving.

God uses preaching, teaching, singing, and giving  — taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary in the life of the church.

Even if the Pastor is not preaching well, or the music seems lackluster, or the service isn’t “exciting,” that’s not the point.

The point is God!  God is here!  Did you meet God today?!
The Holy Spirit is IN you! The Holy Spirit is WITH you! Worship Him IN SPIRIT. . .and IN TRUTH. . . .
Good music and good preaching DO contribute to good worship.  But, ultimately, our good God is Who makes the difference.

In the Old Testament and Jesus’ time, people did not stay home when they were called to worship.  They went, even when they didn’t “feel like it.”

Motivation comes from inside each of us.  We should not be motivated by external sources, like singing and preaching.  We come to worship because of what Christ has done for us.  In gratitude, we keep coming back to express our appreciation to Him.

The blessing at the beginning of this service and the blessing at the end should be sufficient enough.  These are the very blessings of God!
YOU. . .ARE. . .BLESSED!!
We are losing the significance of worship because of a focus on us (versus a focus on God).

During worship, GOD is the audience.  WE are not the audience.  The Sunday morning gathering is not about US.  The gathering is about GOD.

Jonathan Edwards read “Sinners in  the Hands of an Angry God” verbatim — A LONG SERMON — and with little rhetorical “style” — but the reading ignited revival!
QUESTIONS TO PONDER:

  1. What or who causes revival?
  2. How long does revival take?
  3. How do you think differently about worship as a result of this passage?
  4. What will you do differently in worship as a result of the truth in this passage?

CLOSING:

If you have ever thought to yourself, or said aloud, “I don’t FEEL LIKE going to church today,” get up and go, because it’s not about how you feel; you are commanded not to forsake the assembly!

If you ever said at the end of a worship service, “I didn’t get much out of that today,” ask yourself, “What did I put into the worship service.”

If you are sometimes distracted during worship, or have had difficulty keeping your mind from wandering away from what’s happening in this place, be intentional about calling your mind and heart back to God.

If you have ever said to someone, “I come to the church because of the great music or the great preaching,” do a heart check, remember whom you’re coming to worship — God — and don’t create idols of preachers or singers.

If you have ever asked the worship leaders to sing more hymns or contemporary praise music, remember that it’s not about you.  Please don’t spiritualize your preferences.

Toward that end, let’s close this portion of worship by singing the Doxology, and REALLY MEANING IT, even if you do not FEEL LIKE IT.

Let me close with a passage on worship from Oswald Chambers’ devotional, My Utmost for His Highest. . . .

WORSHIP! WORSHIP IN THE SPIRIT! WORSHIP IN THE TRUTH!
Please stand.

[Sing the Doxology!]
CLOSING BLESSING:

<Ephesians 3:14-21>

RESOURCE:

The Holy Bible. 
English Standard Version.  2001.