Cheesecake, Pie, and Biblical Integration

No one makes cheesecake like my grandma. For years, she would make a cherry cheesecake for me on my birthday. It was a highlight that made me excited for the next year to zoom by so that I could get to the next cool, smooth, rich cake.

My friend Ashley makes phenomenal pies and brings them to our church small group. These are pies that I rave about for weeks after having a slice. They are day-dream inducing delights that have the power to grow a small group into small church. They are nothing like my grandma’s cheesecakes. The two desserts have different ingredients and are made in different ways, but they are both blue-ribbon, gold-medal, Nobel Prize level foods.

Biblical integration is the same way. Two people can teach the same math class, but do in vastly different ways. And they can both be great classes.

The most important variable in biblical integration is you: the teacher. Every integrating teacher is coming to the course with similar (if not identical) tools. We all have the same Bible. We have the same Holy Spirit. We have the teacher manual and the textbooks. We have the same internet. So how is it that classes that bring together all the same resources can be so diverse?

A huge part of the diversity has to do with the unique way that God has designed us. He has given each of us different gifts, different personalities, different weaknesses, and different passions. And, in his wisdom, our Lord did this on purpose. A hot dog might be the perfect food at a baseball game, but it wouldn’t be fitting for a fancy wedding reception.

In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Your Lord has crafted you as a teacher specifically for the task of God-glorifying, student-impacting biblical integration. But please know that the way you integrate should be a little different than those around you. Not only is this okay, it is necessary. Yes, all of us should be doing some of the same things. For instance, every chef should keep the kitchen clean. However, there is room for diversity and uniqueness in how the chef utilizes that clean kitchen. There is room for your unique gifting at your school as well.

Don’t compare yourself to other integrators and think, “Wow, they are so much better designed for this than I am.” Yes, they may be doing things differently, but your goal is not to be better than they are. Instead, you are aiming to complement what they do. You can bake the bun for their hot dog or churn the ice-cream to go with their pie. If you are a Christian educator, you are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the work that He has prepared in advance for you to do. He didn’t mess up when He designed you for this. You just need to find out how to best leverage his design for his glory.

I love my grandma’s cheesecake. I love Ashley’s pie. They are different. They are wonderful. Different chefs have different gifts and styles. The integration you bake up for and in your class might not look like mine, but that is not only good, it is God’s intention for us. Be who He made you to be. Use the gifts He has given you.

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Reflective Teaching and Biblical Integration

Yale University’s Center for Teaching and Learning states that reflective teaching is “a self-assessment of teaching, wherein an instructor examines their pedagogy, articulates reasons and strengths for their strategies, and identifies areas for revision or improvement.” As teachers, we are always looking to improve. We want students to learn and grow. We love it when things “click,” and when the “light bulb turns on.” We recognize that, even in areas of success, there is space for bettering our practices.

Since we are a few weeks into the new school year, I think that this is a great time to be reflective about our practice of biblical integration. If you can, carve out about ten minutes for a mini-reflection. I will guide you through it with three E’s–emotions, evidence, and encouragement.

First, concerning integration, examine your emotions: how do you feel integration has been going in your class so far this year? Have your students benefited from it? Have things fit well together? Is it rewarding to you? Has there been a moment or two that stand out in your mind as integration success-stories? The nature of your feelings about biblical integration this year should tell you something about how it is going in your classroom.

Next, let’s look to the evidence. Have your students engaged with biblical worldview concepts in your class? What types of integration have been the most thought-provoking, conversation-generating, or ongoing over time? Have you included biblical integration on any assessments (formal or informal)? If so, how have the students done with that? Has the Bible and its truth had a voice in your classroom on a regular basis? Or is integration only a once-in-a-while thing? If the evidence shows that students are engaging with biblical truth in your classroom regularly you are on a good track.

Lastly, let me offer you encouragement. When we reflect, it is important to let our reflection be broader than ourselves. We must note our situation, our task, and our King.

Teaching is hard. Christian education is hard. Biblical integration has challenges as well. However, Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is active and sharp. God has given you an effective tool to use in the classroom. You can’t change a heart, but his Word can. But He hasn’t stopped there. He has done even more than that. He has chosen you for this task of Christian ministry. I love Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” He can advance his gospel in any way He wants, and He chose you to do it. Why? Because it pleases Him. It pleases God when you make Him known through your subject. It pleases God when you represent Him through your attitude. It pleases God when use your classroom for his glory. Be encouraged if you identified areas of improvement in your biblical integration. Those improvements are simply future opportunities to worship God through our teaching. And they will please Him too.

Be a Leader Worth Remembering: Biblical Integration and Example

As a biblical integrator, you are speaking God’s Word to your students. In the classroom, you help them see that Jesus is Lord and that all things are his. Every Christian educator is a leader because we are leading our students to rightly see and savor Christ and his gospel in many different areas of life. And as leaders, our lives are meant to be on display.

Hebrews 13:7-8 calls Christians to notice the lives of their leaders, saying, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Students should be able to look to your life and remember the ways that you have taught the Word to them. Further, they should be able to see the outcome of the way we live out our faith and want to imitate it because the true Christian life is attractive. This does not mean that they see a cushy, no-problems life when they look to us. The author Hebrews points back to Jesus here to help us see. Just one chapter earlier, he called believers to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2).

Jesus’ life was hard and painful, but it was aimed at the joy set before Him. We too might experience hard things in this life, but, like our Ultimate Leader, we are aiming for joy. Our students should understand how to follow Jesus because they see us doing it.

In Hebrews 13:6, we read: “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’” Martin Luther answered that rhetorical question in the closing lines of his most famous hymn with a challenge:

Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

That is the kind of leader that students will remember and emulate. Why? Because that is a picture of the Christ-like leader. Jesus let goods and closeness with the Father go when He left Heaven to pursue us. He laid his mortal life down and allowed mere mortals to kill Him. He did this knowing the power and truth of God. He was confident that his kingdom is forever. Jesus has accomplished everything for us, and He calls us to follow his example. He is the Leader of leaders.

So how do leaders follow Christ? Verses 15-16 of Hebrews 13 offers part of the answer:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

We give Him praise continually. We openly profess his name. As a biblical integrator, your course becomes an auditorium of worship as you point students to his greatness, goodness, and presence. And we put these truths into action when we do not forget to do good and share with others.

Students will not quickly forget a teacher who openly professes Jesus with words and follows Christ’s example with action. This is the kind of leader worth remembering. Will you follow Christ by being that teacher this year?

Five Steps for Understanding the Bible

The Bible is a book written over thousands of years on multiple continents in several languages by many people. It includes parables, history, prophecy, poetry, letters, and more. There is significant historical and cultural distance between believers today and those who initially heard the Word. These are just a few of the realities that can make understanding the Bible difficult. Since the Bible identifies itself as a sharp sword (Heb 4:12), it is necessary for those who read it to know how to handle it correctly. The following list contains five steps (and some follow up ideas) that can help you read and grasp what God says through his Word.

1) Careful Reading
Ask yourself, “Have I carefully and thoughtfully read through this passage? Can I sum up what the author of the text said in a clear/concise way?”

Tip: When reading, we are striving to understand the author’s intended meaning. When we comprehend what the author meant to say, we are on the right track.

2) Context
Ask, “Do I understand where this fits in the big story of the Bible? And do I grasp what was going on immediately before and after this passage?”

Tip: Never read a Bible verse… always read a paragraph at minimum.

3) Characters
Ask, “Who is involved in this story? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?”

Tip: When the Bible uses the words you, we, us, etc., we need to know who is involved. For example, in 2 Tim 4:13, Paul says, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” But we know that this is a command to Timothy, not to us today.

4) Consistency
Ask, “Does my understanding of this passage line up with the truths from the rest of the Bible?”

Tip: If our understanding does not align with the character of God, the nature of the gospel, or the greatest commandment/commission, we are off track.

5) Connection
Ask, “How should I act, think, or be in light of what this teaches about God, his world, and my relationship with Him?”

Tip: Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7), so one of the best connections that we should always look to make is to improve our understanding of who God is. We will respond in a life of worship when we see Him for who He really is.

PS: Some people find it helpful to organize this under a three-step inductive approach:

I propose reading in three steps—information, understanding, and action.

1) Information: What does this passage say? Sum it up in your own words.
2) Understanding: What does it mean? Why does it matter? What does it say about God? What universal principles can be found here?
3) Action: What should I think, do, or be in response?

Mark Strauss recommends these four questions: 

(1) Where is this passage in the larger story of Scripture?
(2) What is the author’s purpose in light of the passage’s genre and historical and literary context?
(3) How does this passage inform our understanding of the nature of God and his purpose for the world?
(4) What does this passage teach us about who we ought to be (attitudes and character) and what we ought to do (goals and actions) as those seeking to reflect the nature and purpose of God?

Mark L. Strauss, How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011), 78-79, Kindle.

Simmer over Summer: Valuable Time for Biblical Integration

Life is different for teachers during the summer. It is a sort of forced procrastination. All of your teaching is put off until school starts again in a couple months. And this forced procrastination can be a great and powerful gift to the Christian educator.

In a TED Talk, Adam Grant, a Wharton Business School professor, shared, “Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in non-linear ways, to make unexpected leaps.” This summer you have time before you start to teach your classes again. I hope that you are taking a restful break from the daily grind of teaching. However, I hope you are not turning off your brain. The year might be over, but you are still a teacher. Therefore, it is a good idea to take the time you have to allow your course (especially concerning biblical integration) to float around in your brain.

When you read that novel at the beach or watch that blockbuster movie, see if any of the themes connect or illustrate God’s work or ways. When you go to the doctor with your child, notice things about the situation that teach us about ourselves, our world, our God. When you are pushing your lawn mower each week, use the isolation that the droning motor offers to think about what you can do to help you students better see how your class content is from and toward the glory of God.

Dr. Grant says, “Procrastination can be a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.” Since school is out, the summer months have forced you to slow down as a teacher. You might be very busy with other responsibilities, so you are not necessarily going to sit down for long hours with your curriculum and lesson plans. But as you go through this busy time, keep your course on the back-burner—simmering over summer. You might be surprised at how sermons, VBS concepts, vacation plans, family time, and any number of other elements can offer ideas for excellent integration.

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.

Portraits of Teamwork in Biblical Integration

One of the best parts of being a teacher at a Christian school is being a member of a team. Different team members might have different roles, but we are all called to work together to accomplish the mission. At my school, we are working to “produce academic, social and physical excellence through a program where minds and hearts are coming fully alive in Christ.” We need each other, and we can rely on one another. Since biblical integration is what makes Christian education Christian, we are called to support each other in this most important endeavor. Here are a couple examples that I hope will encourage you to engage with your team more:

The Guy Across the Hall

On our spread-out campus, I have the privilege of being one of the few that works in a building with other teachers around. There are only are four teachers in our area, and we are all different. However, my building-mates are all excellent instructors and often teach me by setting an example. Their skillful instruction, thoughtful assessment, and improvement-focused feedback show me what a strong teacher does in real life. One of them recently asked this conflict question in class as a part of of biblical integration:  “How is being entertained without thinking dangerous?” He was helping them grow in worldview thinking. The students were challenged by the fact that all the media they consume has a message—movies have motives, Snapchat posts have intent, songs have underlying assumptions, books have agendas, etc. Therefore, we must think about what we are taking in. We must be aware of it and respond to it.

This teacher shared this great question with me. As a result, I have been able to have similar conversations with students, or follow up with his students on the topic. We have been able to start discussions related to 1) Does all media have presuppositions? 2) Does watching/listening/sharing affect me? If so, how? 3) What can we do to more effectively use media to share the Good News with others?

This teacher helped me practice integration and I love it!

The Moment of Need

Throughout this year, I have gotten numerous emails from fellow teachers about biblical integration. Many teachers find themselves in challenging subjects and feel stuck at times. But, when this happens, they usually just need a starting point. They need a little spark, and then they use that spark to burn down the forest.

For example, this is the content of an email from last week: “I need your help. I am going to be teaching Probability, Tree Diagrams, Line Graphs, Bar Graphs, etc.  Do you have any insight on what I bring in to the lesson? In Science, we are studying the ecosystem (producers, consumers, the food chain, food web). Any ideas that I could use?”

I cannot tell you how much I love to receive these types of emails. Why? Because this teacher is working hard to engage the students with biblical integration, and is not afraid to seek out some help. I responded with a couple of quick ideas:

Math: Probability/Graphs/Diagrams

– Probability: You could share about mutual exclusivity in regard to our faith… That if we are new creations, the old is GONE and the new is here (2 Cor 5:17). It is mathematically impossible to be both new and old.

– Graphs: You can show how these might be used to for self-assessment to chart growth. How often am I reading the Bible/praying? (make a chart for the week)

– Tree Diagram: Make a diagram that shows how amazing it is that God is able to be in perfect control even when it seems like there are so many possibilities. Use the graph to show that with Him, nothing is left up to chance.

Science: Ecosystem

You might make the connection that in an ecosystem everything works together (because God designed it), and everything has a role. We are like that too, in fact, 1 Cor 12 talks about how we are like different members of a body that work together too. But, we are not like animals because we are made in God’s image, so we should look out for the needs of others (Phil 2:1-4).

This teacher may have used these ideas, or she may have developed other, better ones. She may have been able to work out some questions/thoughts that worked better with her long-term unit-planning… or these might have fit well with her class goals. The important thing is that we were able to work together.

Being a part of a team is big. You can contribute when you have help to offer, and you can receive assistance when you need it. God has brought us together, and we can model cooperation, humility, creativity, and commitment to our students and peers as we grow as integrators.