Careful Bible Quoting and Tired Teachers

I love God’s Word. I love to read it. I love to sing it. And I love when people quote the Bible. It can be wonderful to hear God’s words on the lips of God’s people. But the Bible is a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), so it can also be disturbing and dangerous when Bible quotation is misused. Let me share an example.

Over the course of this week, I have shared with friends and family that I am tired. It is the end of the school-year and this is a busy time. Events are often. Grading piles are deep. Emotions are strong. During a one of these conversations, someone quoted the King James Version of Psalm 118:24: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” He used it to remind me that God made today, and we should be joyful in the fact that He made it for us. This is a good sentiment. And I am joyful. However, there is a big problem with this interpretation—basically, that is not what the text actually means. And it is less than the text means.

Psalm 118 is a celebration of God’s saving plan and power. It extols Him for bringing salvation to his people through hardship. To get a picture of the true message of this psalm, look at what verses 20-24 say in the NIV translation:

20 This is the gate of the Lord
   through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
   you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.

When we read the context, it is difficult to miss that this is actually a messianic prophecy about Jesus. In Acts 4 there is even more clarity when we read Peter quoting this passage correctly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. He said,

Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected,
  which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

The danger of misreading Psalm 118:24 to be about rejoicing today without having a gospel-motivation is two-fold: 1) When we do that, we are not actually letting God speak through the Bible—we are putting our message into God’s Word instead of hearing his message. We are missing out on hearing his voice. 2) When we do that, we remove a clear declaration about Jesus, our Messiah, and replace it with a moral challenge. “This day” in the text is not today, but the day of salvation. But the day of salvation should make us joyful today.

As a tired teacher, there is something much more encouraging than a call to be joyful because God made today. There is something deeper, richer, better. There is real Good News. What actually can make a tired teacher joyful? The gospel. Jesus has saved me. In the words of Psalm 118, “I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice and be glad.” Why should a tired teacher be glad? Because of the gospel.

Please hear this call from one teacher to another: work hard to read the Bible in order to grasp what God really says in it… his message is better than whatever we could replace it with. And let’s work hard together to share the true message with our students.

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GQ Magazine vs the Bible

GQ Magazine recently published an article called “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.”  In it, they point out why many famous books are unnecessary, evil, boring, etc., and suggest books to read instead. You may not be surprised to see the Bible come in at #12. They say we don’t need to read the Good Book because some parts may be good, but “overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” They go on to call it “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”  We are going to note three important questions that differentiate between GQ’s view and the understanding that Christians hold.

1) Who Produced the Bible?

GQ is correct that the Bible is “not the finest thing that man has ever produced.” We can heartily agree with that statement because man did not produce it—all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). Of course, GQ’s words may be technically correct in this case, but their intent is disastrous. The secular, man-centered perspective that the famous magazine offers is in direct contradiction with what Christians know to be true. However, they make their point with confidence and without any apparent need to support their view. The magazine presents their perspective as authoritative.

Questions: How would you go about refuting GQ’s claims? How can we effectively share the truth about this with a culture that leans away from the Word’s unique authorship?

2) Why Do We Read the Bible?

The article in GQ offers several reasons for us to avoid reading the Bible. A red-flag should go up in the mind of the believer, not just because of a challenge to the Bible, but because many of the reasons are self-centered preference issues. But should we choose not to read truth because it doesn’t fit with our desired style/content? The author of the article calls the Bible repetitive and filled with moral lessons (that’s what “sententious” means… just in case you are prepping for the SAT) as if those are negatives. The argument is something like: “We don’t like being reminded of how we should live.” But not liking something does not mean that we do not need it or that it is bad. An individual with an illness may choose surgery. Why? Not because they like the experience, but because it can sustain life. Likewise, mothers do not like the pain of childbirth, but it is a good thing. I love the Bible because it is God’s words and I love Him. But when it corrects me, I don’t always want to hear it. The issue here is not that there is a problem with the Bible. I don’t like what it might say at times because there is a problem with me.

Questions: Why do you read the Bible? Why should we encourage others to do so?

3) What Guides Our Lives?

This is where we get to the real heart of the issue (magazine pun intended). GQ exists to report on and analyze men’s fashion and style news. It claims to be an “unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man.” Here we can see why it might have issue with the Bible. The Bible also claims to be an unrivaled guidance and companion for a successful man. Psalm 119:105 says that the Word of God is a lamp to guide our feet and a light to show our path. Proverbs 2:6 points out that the Lord gives knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. 2 Timothy 3:17 declares that the Bible prepares men for every good work.

In other words, GQ can’t approve of the Bible as the sufficient guide because it is itself claiming to be an unrivaled guide. GQ is trying to fill the shoes that the Bible has worn for past millennia. Just like a sports-team might talk negatively about a rival, this magazine has reason to put the Bible down. GQ has set itself up as competition for God’s Word. But God has no rivals (Rom 11:33-36). Psalm 115:3 says it so well: “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” And of course the Bible explains this well: the Word is how He speaks.

Questions: What does our culture look to for guidance? How can we explain that the Bible is better?

Why “Integration” Is a Valid Term

In my book, I speak in detail about biblical integration as overcoming three artificial divides: heart and mind, general and special revelation, and word and deed. In much of Christian education—especially as it has been iterated over the past several decades in America—these areas have been divided. It has been asked, “Isn’t math just math?… It doesn’t really speak to God or his ways, does it?” Or, as Tertullian asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Some people think that the term “integration” is not a good one when discussing worldview teaching because it denotes the coming together of separate things. I agree wholeheartedly that this can be an issue. We must recognize that biblical integration is “not creating biblical connections, but noting, investigating, and celebrating the connections that already exist through Christ.” However, we must also understand that, while these things are not disconnected by nature, they have been disconnected through practice… our practice. A separation has occurred. It is real. It is not healthy, but it does exist.

And so, it is by practice that these artificially divided concepts must be reunited. Putting the pieces back together will take work. What should this academic jigsaw called? This reconstruction can be termed integration, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The idea of integration refers to the intermixing of those things that were previously segregated. Segregation is the act of division—setting things apart from one another. Biblical integration is necessary because the sacred and secular have been segregated. They do not naturally exist as separate entities, but have been taught and understood as such by many for some time.

The work that must be done to bring divided subjects back together is rightly called “biblical integration.” When we speak of biblical integration, we are not saying that teachers must work to integrate the content. All created things point to their Creator. So, if we are not integrating the content, what are we integrating? Our teaching—not our what, but our ways.

When we integrate, we are pressing back on the idea that nature can be taught without its supernatural Maker. We are letting the Word of God have a voice and a place of authority in the classroom. (It is God’s classroom after all!) We are restoring, reuniting, rebuilding an understanding of the world and ourselves with God at the center—teaching all things from and toward his glory. That is an integration that we should all want to be a part of.

Christian educators need not fear the term “biblical integration,” but should instead look to understand it, practice it, and live it. This is a way we can be about our Father’s business. One day, He will integrate (bring together) Heaven and earth and, in the process, make everything new (Rev 21:1-5). The segregation of the heavenly and material—the celestial and Terran—will end. He will bring together mind and hearts, special and general revelation, and word and deed around Him. He will restore. He will rebuild. He will make his glory known. He will teach us perfectly about who He really is and how his world shows his glory. Let’s jump in and teach in a way that anticipates that glorious day by practicing biblical integration every day.

Conflict, Worldview, and “Reckless” Love

I was very encouraged by the way one of the teachers at my school shared the truth of Scripture during a weekly devotional time. She was speaking about the awesome love of God in her life and from Luke 15—the parable of the lost sheep. And her teaching was especially memorable because she included a moment of conflict. Introducing conflict is a helpful means of biblical integration.

This moment arose out of a definition. You see, a song called “Reckless Love” is immensely popular right now: popular and moving, but not accurate.  That song uses Luke 15 as a supporting text to say that God’s love is reckless. The teacher who was leading our devotional time thoughtfully and appropriately played the song as a part of her message. However, she was careful to make the point that God is not reckless. She said something like, “We know that God is not reckless, but the shepherd in the story does seem to be acting recklessly.” Reckless means acting without thinking or caring about consequences. God is clearly not that way. In fact, in Luke 14 (the chapter before the parable of the lost sheep), Jesus emphasizes the importance of counting the cost before beginning an endeavor: the opposite of recklessness. It is clear that He does not endorse reckless action. And his love is certainly not reckless. It is much better than that!

Recklessness implies not having a full grasp of the situation or the cost. However, God did not seek us out recklessly. He planned it. He saw the situation. And He pursued us because He had always wanted to do so. His was never a reckless choice. Look at this truth from Ephesisian 1:4-8:

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

When did He choose us? Before the creation of the world. And what did He choose us for? Adoption into his family. Why did He do it? It was his pleasure—we are his desire. And how did He plan to do it? Through his blood. The Bible is clear that his love is not reckless, but it is lavish. He counted the cost and then pursued us; not out of reckless love but knowing love.

The point of conflict that was made in the staff devotional was excellent: God may seem a certain way to us, but we must seek to know Him as He really is. Why? Because the way He really is will always be better than the way He might seem. God is, in reality, more than He is in our imaginations.

The seemingly small moment of conflict in the devotional was really helpful in developing worldview-thinking. What are the areas in your class where you can challenge preconceived ideas about God? How can you help your students move from understanding Him as He might seem to seeing Him as He is?

Biblical Integration Peels Off Dragon Skin

A.W. Tozer memorably noted, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.” We want our students to be blessed which means, among other things, we must try to create opportunities for God to hurt them. This does not mean that God is doing something bad; nor are we. Quite the contrary! He is doing something needed in tearing away the bad. In C.S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, one of the characters is turned into a dragon, but desperately wants to be a boy again. Aslan, the great lion, came and pulled the dragon-flesh away. Look:

“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.”

There is pain in transformation—even in worldview transformation. Transformation means the advent of something new, but also the end of something old. Who we were must die so that we can become who we ought to be. God is in the business of breaking down our idols, even when our hearts are tied to them. Listen to this expressed in Hosea 6:1-3:

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
   but he will heal us;
he has injured us
   but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
   on the third day he will restore us,
   that we may live in his presence.
Let us acknowledge the Lord;
   let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
   he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
 like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Biblical integration must, at times, put students in a place to be “torn to pieces.” This is not evil. This injury is needed. The Surgeon must cut in order to heal. And we have myriad idols that need to be cut away. As we press our students to acknowledge Him, there will sometimes be difficulty and pain. But do not be alarmed. After they have been hurt, they can be used.

In what areas is your course uniquely positioned to peel back the dragon skin of worldiness? Where do you need to press your students toward the truth… even if changing directions causes them to fall down for a moment?

How Does the Holy Spirit Speak in the Classroom?

I recently asked a student, “How can you know what God wants you to do? How can we listen to the Holy Spirit?” The answer was fascinating. The student answered by pointing to prayer, talking to parents/mentors, and turning off the smartphone. While those are helpful and needed answers, the foundation was missing. Even after much prodding, the student could not seem to get there. Of course, the key to knowing God’s will is listening to his words… the Bible.

It is amazing that many seem to miss that God is speaking still today through his ancient words. Scripture is living and active (Heb 4:12). It is fully equips us for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). It comes down to this: you cannot know the Lord if you don’t listen to Him speak. And, while there are variations between English translations, there are about 800,000 words in the Bible we read. There is no question in the believer’s mind that these 800,000 are God’s own words. This is the objective message of God. So we must hammer home that in order for students to hear the voice of God, they need to listen to Him speak through his Word. Do we want to hear the Spirit speak? Do we really? If so, we must go to the Word.

And, of course, we know that. How did the student know that it is important to pray, speak to wise mentors, and eliminate distractions? From the Word.

A pastor painted this picture beautifully for me from the Bible. Ephesians 5:17-20 (NLT) says, “17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do we understand what God wants us to do? By being filled with the Spirit. But how do we do that?

Look at the parallel passage from Colossians 3, “16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Here Paul replaces his statement about being filled with the Spirit with being filled with the message. So how do we know what the Spirit says? How can we become filled with the Spirit? Become filled with the Spirit’s message. Become filled with the Word. He is the Author of the Bible, after all.

So do you want the Spirit to speak powerfully in your classroom? Then give the Bible, the Spirit’s own words, a prominent voice in your teaching.

The Rubric and Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case that if biblical integration is in the syllabus and the assessments, it will be much easier to ensure that you really teach in an integrated fashion. As teachers, we want our students to be prepared for their exams. We want them to accomplish what is mapped out in the syllabus. However, as with most things, integrating assignments/assessments is often easier said than done.

Here is one area that can help you make great strides to integrate your class: Include integration in the grading rubric.

The purpose of a rubric is to assess student performance against stated expectations. Therefore, if you regularly include an integration component into your rubric, you will then teach students to integrate everything they do. Look at the (incredibly basic, bare-bones, lightweight) example of a rubric that might be used in any class that assigns papers, presentations, etc.

Style/Grammar (40) Good: … Fair: … Poor: …
Content (40) Good: … Fair: … Poor: …
Biblical Engagement (20) Good: Accurately, thoughtfully shows connection to biblical ideas/themes/principles. AND cites/references specific Scripture passages. 16-20pts. Fair: Makes some effort to show connection to biblical ideas/themes/principles. OR cites/references specific Scripture passages. 10-15pts. Poor: Does not engage biblical ideas/themes/principles. OR presents inaccurate/shallow understanding of biblical teaching. 0-9pts.

Notice that all students are expected to participate in biblical integration. It is not something that they consume, but something they contribute. They are expected to practice thinking about their topics from a biblical worldview. This means that they are growing in their critical thinking, Bible study, and gospel communication. That sounds like a win for Christian education to me!

PS: This really can be done across subjects and in many different ways. Here are some examples using themes from the book of Jeremiah. In English, a student might note the brokenness of the heart (Jer 17:9) that arises in so many literary themes. In Anatomy/Biology, they might note design that God employed in making his people (Jer 1:5). In Music, they might talk about the different ways that God has given us to express emotion (Jer 33:11; 48:36).