Times of Trouble: Showing Biblical Integration

The end of the school year can be full of challenges — full schedules, important ceremonies, time-crunched grading, performances, meetings, testing, and more are happening throughout time. This is an important and good part of the year, but it also comes with particular hurdles and stresses. However, discussions about these times of trouble are not missing from God’s Word. Psalm 46:1-3 says:

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
   and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
   and the mountains quake with their surging.

And the end-of-year teacher’s psalm might go like this:

God is our refuge and strength,
   an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the classes misbehave
   and the piles of grading are as deep as the sea,
though the emails roar and fill our inboxes wave-after-wave
and our schedules quake with their surging.

The end of the year is not the ultimate rough season. It cannot be compared to family struggle, cancer diagnosis, personal failure, loss of a friend, or many other immense pains. But it is a real time of trouble — not a Category 5 hurricane; perhaps a Category 2. But it is a storm nonetheless. And this time of trouble opens a wonderful door for us to model biblical reliance, trust, prayer, and seeking for our students.

You see, each of them experiences times of trouble too. And they need to see how to weather those storms through the power of God. They need to know that they can run to God, our Fortress, when the overwhelming armies of busyness and inadequacy are laying siege. They need to see that they can run to God, our Refuge, when life’s winds blow hard. And they get the opportunity to see that in us.

The end of year is a season that comes with inherent challenges. Show your students what it looks like to turn to God in these times. Times of trouble = opportunities to trust God.

The Sons of Korah penned Psalm 46 to show the people how they ran to God. We can trust that the Lord is our help too. Beyond that, we can show that awesome truth to our students. This is a chance for us to show and tell. And we can help them clearly see that the Sons of Korah spoke truth for all God’s people in verse eleven:

The Lord Almighty is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Biblical Integration at the End of the Year: 3 Keys

The school year for most of us is coming to an end within the next few weeks. That statement might stress you out or invite your soul to shout with joy. But, in any case, the end is near. And, as is the case with most things, the end is just as important as the beginning or middle. So how can you finish your year of biblical integration with a bang? Here are three keys:

1) When you review your content, remember to review your biblical integration too.

If you highlight academic content apart from integration, you are dis-integrating the material and undermining yourself and your students. The end of the year is an inflection point. Students can see if you were serious about what you said all year by seeing what you prioritize at the end. Show them that you prioritize their relationship with, understanding of, and love for Jesus.

2) Include key integration on your end-of-year assessments.

What are the big takeaways about God, self, the world, and following Jesus that you want your students to walk away knowing? Think back on the big ideas of your integration and prioritize the most important truths, questions, processes, etc. Then, put those in your final exams, projects, or activities. This is how you can signal that these are keys. This is how you can ensure that your students understood these ideas. And this is how you can see how well they learned the year’s integration objectives(which will allow you to improve your integration next year).

3) Encourage, personalize, challenge, and tease.

Let your students know that their pursuit of God and godliness does not end at the end of the year. Thank them for growing and learning with you. Share how you were challenged personally. Ask them to keep growing with you over the summer. Point them to a good resource or two that they can follow up with (a website, an article, a conference, a church event, a video, etc.). And then, engage their curiosity with a tease. Offer them a trailer that makes them excited for sequels like American History: A New Democracy or Third Grade: Multiplication Strikes Back or English 103: Return of the Essay. Obviously, those titles are silly, but the point is that their journey doesn’t end at the end of this year. Try to keep your students excited about learning God’s world and God’s Word as they move ahead.

Finish your year with intentionality. It will go a long way in the discipleship and growth of the students you have cared for all year long.

WRONG WAYS TO THINK ABOUT BIBLICAL INTEGRATION: PART TWO

This is the second post in a short series about some of the mistakes that we can make concerning biblical integration. The goal is not to point the finger at those who struggle in these areas, but to address some real struggles so that we can serve God and our students more effectively. False dichotomies are at the root of these issues—we think that we must be this or that. However, as you will see, that is not always the case. (Note: this list starts at #3 because it is a continuation what was started in the previous post.)

Wrong Way # 3: Biblical Integration requires the teacher to be a Bible-expert.

The false choice here is between knowing something and knowing many things. A teacher does not need to be an expert in order to be an excellent teacher. Parents don’t have to be world-class cyclists to help their kids learn to ride bikes. Math teachers do not need to understand the deepest, most intense new ideas and theories in the field to help students thrive in geometry class. Likewise, you do not need to be a Bible expert in order to be effective in helping your students to know and follow God more. Conclusion: Yes, we should all keep learning, but we do not need to know everything in order to successfully teach something.

Wrong Way # 4: The point of biblical integration is Bible knowledge.

Knowledge is important in education, but it is far from the only important thing. Art and music classes are excellent examples of courses that often prioritize application and understanding over information. A student may learn a certain musical technique in ten seconds, but spend the next ten weeks perfecting it. In the same way, biblical integrators in all subjects can feel free to focus on how their material illuminates, expresses, or applies worldview issues. In your class, teach the knowledge that the students need for your subject area. This will mean that a specific set of biblical truths and ideas will be discussed. However, the scope of the biblical knowledge you teach  should not outdistance the academic content that is being integrated. Science class must remain science class, and music class must remain music class. The biblical knowledge/principles/foundations should support the class-material so that students can understand God’s world better through God’s Word. Conclusion: The point is not Bible knowledge, but biblical understanding that leads to biblical thinking and living.

Wrong Way # 5: The teacher needs to do all the integrating.

We can fall into the trap of an unnecessary dichotomy here when we think that, in integration, the instructor must always tell the students how to integrate. As you know, the point of a class is not for a teacher to teach, but for students to learn. We don’t celebrate the moments where we taught well unless we recognize that the students are learning well. Therefore, as you approach biblical integration, your goal is to help the students become integrators themselves. You won’t be there to do it for them over the long-term. They need to see how things fit together in God’s world—and you can show them that at times—but that is not the end goal. The ultimate goal is that they would learn to see and understand the world, their own lives, and everything else in light of who God is and what He has said. Therefore, it is appropriate to ask questions that make them become integrators. You can  require them to explore the Scriptures and seek truth. Conclusion You don’t need to approach biblical integration ready to teach all the good answers. Instead, you can come armed with good questions and wrestle alongside your students.  

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part Two

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? This post is part two of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

Some teachers shared joy in their biblical-integration experiences, saying things like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God.”

These responses encouraged me because they demonstrate that these teachers are listening to their students. Teachers must be good at delivering information, but we must also excel at receiving it. Our students feel loved, noticed, and cared for when we hear what they have to say. Essential questions are powerful because they open the door for student engagement and response. In the same way, biblical integration that gets students thinking and speaking is powerful because it allows them to be full participants in the conversation. We must allow students to be heard. Then we must, thoughtfully, respond to what they share.

Another survey response related to the question, “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

This is an important question. If biblical integration feels tacked on or supplemental, students will recognize it for what it is — extra. Therefore, the best way to make biblical integration feel natural is to build it into the DNA of your course. It is not ideal to plan all of your units, lessons, assignments, etc. and then try to add biblical content. When we do that, we are doing something unnatural. If that is where you are, don’t be discouraged. But do recognize that there is room to grow.

Instead of adding integration to our material, we should show how the biblical worldview informs and directs our work. Ask questions like:  Where did our subject come from? Why do we study it? What does this unit demonstrate about our world, humanity, God, the church, etc.? How can we use these skills be used to honor God? Where might our subject be affected by sin? Once you have identified some important questions and ideas, consider how you can best get your students to engage them as a part of the course material. Strategizing in this area can make it feel more natural. A few ideas would be:

1) Engage in a worldview-driven introduction at the start of each unit. When you begin the conversation on Lincoln, help the students connect some biblical dots related to his life, beliefs, work, etc. When you start to talk about the design of the eyeball, speak about the qualities of the Designer. Or speak to how we can wisely use our eyes.

2) Include worldview-reflection at the end of each unit. This can be as simple as asking the students to write (or speak) about what they have learned about God’s power, presence, kindness, brilliance, etc. from that particular unit. This kind of work invites them into a natural reflective type of integration.

3) Write the rubrics for your assignments that invite/require the students to integrate. If they create a paper, presentation, project, report, etc., they can show how it relates God’s Word and God’s world. This helps the students start to explore the reality that all things are God’s things. Integration will seem more natural to students when it is more usual for them to be integrators themselves.

4) Have your key integration ideas planned in your unit so that you can assess them. Teach them just like you teach the rest of the content. Biblical integration will seem natural when it is included (and tested) in a way that is congruent with the rest of the material.

Part three of this series will interact with survey responses like, “Integrating my syllabus and the design of my course really helped me as a teacher,” and “How do I deal with the unbiblical ideas or conflicts that arise from time to time in our worldview discussions?”

Biblical Integration in Real Life: Part One

Recently, I sent out a short, anonymous survey to the some educators. My goal was to collect information on how real teachers and administrators are perceiving their growth and struggles—What’s working? What continues to be a burden or weight? I will use that valuable insight to shape some of the articles and resources that I point teachers toward in the future. (Please know that you can reach out to me with any thoughts or questions! I am excited to serve you as you serve the kingdom of God.) This post is part one of a short series that interacts with a few of the successes and struggles that came through in the results.

I was encouraged to see some responses that said something like, “Working on biblical integration is changing the way I (the teacher) think.”

This is great news! In a few years, few students remember the specific lessons from our classes, but many will remember what we are like. They are impacted by our character and our way of thinking more than anything else. Therefore, if you are a biblically-integrating thinker, they will learn to be biblical integrators too.

Academic disciple-makers, like all people, have limited time. They may wonder, “How do I find the time in class to integrate without limiting other important content?”

Time is a valuable resource; we don’t want to waste a moment of our precious in-class time. Therefore, we need to integrate wisely. However, I would encourage all educators to recognize that quality, tight integration should enhance your students’ understanding; it should never detract from it. “A tightly integrated course, unit, or lesson is one where course objectives (not just content) and integration objectives overlap significantly.” I often say that it would be hard to teach MacBeth without mention of Shakespeare. Talking about the author helps students grasp his work. Likewise, it helps students understand the natural world, humanity, art, science, and more when they grasp more about the Author. So I would contend that integration should help teachers manage time better in class because it is a tool for deep understanding.

However, since time is especially limited in the classroom, I would encourage you to thoughtfully plan how your integration will work within your assignments, assessments, and reviews. If you planned for the students to write a paper, ask them to integrate in the paper. This will take no additional time. And, since we want them to be thinking biblically, this is logical. If you are playing a review game, include review questions about the biblical ideas that you have discussed. This helps students see that the biblical worldview that informs and directs your subject is as important as anything else that they could learn.  If you are going to have a discussion, include some biblical prompts or ideas. Ultimately, if there are learning activities that you think cannot be used to help students think biblically, you may want to consider replacing those activities with others that will help the students more.

Part two of this series will interact with survey responses like, “I love hearing and interacting with what the students think and feel about God,” and “How can I make integration feel more natural?”

5 Strategies for the Middle-of-the-Year Struggles

As schools enter the middle of the third quarter, things can seem to slow down. We are nowhere near the start of the year, but we aren’t near the finish either. Paperwork, grading, meetings, and other time-consuming tasks keep piling up. In times like this, it can be easy to become frustrated, worn down, or disenchanted. However, the middle of the race is just as important as the start or finish. Here are five steps to take to fight well in the long middle:

1) Remember your purpose. You are serving in a Christian school to point students to Christ. The students have just as many needs in now as they did in September. The newness of the year is gone, but the needs are the same. You are here to love them, point them to Jesus, and show them an example. Don’t get tired of doing good (Gal 6:9).

2) Wait on the Lord. You may have had big plans for the year. And many of those plans may have never gotten off the ground. Others may have not worked the way you wanted. But remember, God does not operate according to our schedules. While teachers love to manage our time well—with bells, quarters, periods, etc.—we must remember that, ultimately, time is not ours; it belongs to God. And He is not messing things up. He is not wasting this year. So be patient. Wait on the Lord (Ps 27:14).  

3) Seek his face (Ps 27:8). Prayer and Bible reading are keys to a vibrant relationship with God. Have you let these essentials slip as the year has continued on. Find a colleague to pray with. Lock into a meaningful Bible-reading plan. You can’t give the students something that you don’t have. We all need to be filled so that we can fill others.

4) Reflect on God’s grace. We are not successful because of our ingenuity or systems or effort. We are successful in ministry when God moves. Revival is when God uses ordinary means to bring about extraordinary results. Salvation is when God uses his gospel to bring dead hearts to life. Transformation is God applying his perfect power to our imperfect lives. Do you notice the theme of all these things? They are all the gracious work of God. Remember that.

Remember. Wait. Seek. Reflect. And finally, expect.

5) Expect that God will do a mighty work for his name and for his glory. As Asaph prayed in Psalm 79:9:

Help us, God our Savior
  for the glory of your name.

Christmas Confidence for the Struggling Teacher

Teaching in a Christian school can be hard. There are all the usual challenges of teaching (discipline, time-management, grading, communication, etc.), but there is something else too: the heavy weight of hard-hearted students. One of my most persistent struggles as a classroom teacher has been with lost students who see the gospel as old, boring, played-out, and dry. They think that, because they have heard the story often, it is normal for them to be innoculated to its worship-inducing effects. It crushes me that those who are quickest to yawn at the gospel are those who have never grasped the goodness of the gracious God who has offered Himself to a lost and needy world. It is hard to watch a starving soul push away the nourishing meal that is so desperately needed.

However, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb,” (Rev 7:10). His ways are perfect and He is in control. 

David’s words in Psalm 18:28-30 are some of the most encouraging in the Bible:

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
   my God turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
   with my God I can scale a wall.
As for God, his way is perfect:
   The Lord’s word is flawless.

Our hope is in God. His ways are perfect. They may not always seem perfect to me, but that simply means that I am not rightly or fully understanding what He is doing or how He is doing it. Isaiah 55:9 reminds me that his thoughts are infinitely higher than mine. So, when we see a student not grasping the goodness of the gospel, we must remember that God is working out his perfect plans. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16) and the Lord knows how to wield his power. He is not limited by our inadequacies. 

The Lord’s ways are not only good and right — they are unstoppable. Listen to the words of God:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
   I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
   from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, “My purpose will stand,
   and I will do all that I please,” (Is 46-9-10).

He cannot be stopped! He never tries to save a student, but then fails to do so. God never fails. His word is power. For God to attempt something is to accomplish that thing. John Piper helpfully elaborates, saying,

The risen, reigning, King of kings and Lord of lords reigns over this world and over his mission with absolute sovereignty. Nothing is outside his sovereign will. If he meets with resistance, he either allows it for his purposes, or he overcomes it for his purposes. His sovereign purposes are never thwarted.

We see this in the Christmas story when the angel speaks to Joseph with these words: “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins,” (Matt 1:21). Do you see the promise here? “He will save his people from their sins.” There is no maybe or might. He will save his people.

But who are his people? The angel again answers — this time speaking to the shepherds — “Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,” (Luke 2:14). He brings peace to those He graciously favors. There is no stopping God from keeping his promise to save his people. There is no way for his favored ones to get away from his kindness. Remember David’s words?

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
  for darkness is as light to you, (Ps 139:7-12).

Of course, knowing that God is a gracious and powerful Savior does not make hard-heartedness easy to handle. But it does bring confidence to the situation. I can’t save my kids. But God can. And He can use any elements He wants to bring about that salvation. If He can use a census, a stable, and some shepherds, He can use the situations in my students’ lives too. 

It is a horrible injustice for his gospel to go unappreciated in the classroom (or anywhere else). However, I take joy in knowing that He is a God who has planned to use even the worst evils to accomplish his good plan. Think back on the crucifixion of Jesus. Acts 4:27-28 shows us that even the conspiracy of evil leaders to kill the Christ was God’s perfect plan: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”

It was his plan from the beginning that his unjust death would justly save his people from their sins. This is what the angel meant when he spoke to Joseph. Even the most heinous crime against the Holy One was to be a part of God’s saving mission. He is so good! He is so strong! And just as the Lord planned to die for the world before He breathed it into existence, He chose to save his sons and daughters. Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:4-6,

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.

God saves his people. The Christmas story is clear: his name is Jesus and He will save his people from their sins. Those who belong to Him will believe in Him. We can be confident of that. And we can rejoice in the role He has given us in his saving mission. But why don’t all believe? If God’s missions never fail, why do some people fail to follow Him? In John 10, some skeptics came to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. They didn’t believe in Him, and the Lord explains why some people believe and some people don’t:

Jesus answered, “I did tell you [that I am the Messiah], but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one,” (John 10:25-30).

I am so encouraged by the Messiah’s words here. His sheep listen to his voice. His sheep will have eternal life. His sheep can never be taken out of his hand. And the Shepherd made no mistakes in assembling his flock. Further, He makes no mistakes in using us to declare his truth.

God has placed us in the lives of students to be his voice. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:14-15) We have have been sent to preach to them in and through the classroom.

So, if you are discouraged at the hard-hearts (as I am at times), keep telling your students the Good News. People are included in Christ when they hear the message of truth (Eph 1:13). Preach, preach, preach. God can replace the stone heart and bring life (Ez 36:26). And He can use you to do it.

And keep praying. John tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him,” (1 John 5:14-15). Pray, pray, pray. Pray that God would save your students because only He can do it. We can’t save our students. Our students cannot save themselves. Only Jesus saves. Ask Him to exercise his sovereign power and bring dead hearts to life.

Christmas lifts up my heart when I am discouraged because my lost students sit un-enamoured by the gospel. God’s ways are perfect. God cannot be stopped. God will save his people from their sins. Glory to God, He brings peace to those He favors. And He uses his people to share his Good News. Salvation belongs to the Lord (Rev 7:10), but who knows but that you have come to your [teaching] position for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14).