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.

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Sin, Satan, and Biblical Integration: Our Arguments Matter

Here is a very small sampling of the messages that our students hear regularly:

“Follow your heart!”
“You just do you.”
“Struggle is bad.”
“You’ll never be any good. There is just no point.”
“More is better than less.”
“You are the captain of your fate.”
“The most important thing about you is what others think.”
“You would be happy… if only you were taller/smarter/better/etc.”
“Just do it. No one is watching. No one will know.”
“The only person you have to please is yourself.”
“The most important thing about you is your grades/happiness/sports/popularity/mentions.”
“Things will just work themselves out in the end.”
“You are on your own.”
“Only you can give your life meaning.”
“You’ll have time later. Put it off.”
“If you have less than me, you are less than me.”
“Whiter teeth, newer cars, trendier clothes… these are the building blocks of happiness.”

Satan and the world argue that these things are true. And they argue ferociously. There is no better advertiser than the devil. He pretends to be an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). Satan pretends to be something that he is not to sell something he doesn’t have. Couple his work with the what the world uses — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) — and we have an even more difficult situation. The sinful nature uses the power of love to lead us astray by aiming hearts designed for pleasure in God toward pleasure in the flesh, the eyes, and in this life (1 John 2:15). Satan and sinfulness are always arguing to convince our students to buy into a lie. They are making their cases without rest. And their cases lead to destruction. This is why the teacher must enter the fray too. We have been tapped to represent God, his ways, and his truth. We have been chosen to combat the lies of the enemy with better arguments.

Thankfully, our Lord has not left us here to fight for Him on our own. He has given us his Spirit. He is working through us. John didn’t just describe the power of worldliness, but also of God in us, saying, “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” (1 John 4:4). And God is not interested in fighting to a draw. Our God never ties a match; much less loses. He cannot be stopped. And He chose us to accomplish his unstoppable plan. We were chosen for his work, “having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,” (Eph 1:11) we know that He will do it.

So, make his case. Argue, argue, argue with your students on behalf of God. (Remember that arguing is not about an ugly exchange, but making a logical case.) Lovingly argue. Compellingly argue. Consistently argue. Biblically argue. That is what integration is all about. You are arguing from math, science, English, and art that God is God. You are using the evidence of your subject to show your students the truth. Truth. The world doesn’t have that. Satan doesn’t have that either. But you do. You do. The enemies of God are making their case. Are you giving your life to making God’s case? Does your classroom reflect that?

 

Thanksgiving and Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case that Christian teachers, among other things, should be incarnational. Simply stated, being incarnational means putting flesh and bones on the gospel for your students. Jesus, God incarnate, brought the perfections of God to earth when He came as a man. We can never do this as effectively as Jesus did, but, as his followers, we want to show the goodness of God in the clearest, best way that we can. We imitate Him.

The Thanksgiving holiday is right around the corner and it should remind us to demonstrate gratitude to our students. Do they see us as thankful people? Christian education can be hard, but 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

No matter how busy we are… No matter how tough a certain student might be… No matter how many other stresses we have going on in our lives… we are called to gratitude. Our piles of grading in no way diminish the reality of the gospel. When we allow our circumstances to dictate the level of our thankfulness, we are implying that our situation shapes our lives more than the gospel does.

It is okay to struggle.  Life is often hard. But let’s struggle while thankful. Show your students the power of the Good News through your attitude of thankfulness. Your integrated lessons will sink in deep when the ground has been saturated by your integrated life.

Worship Music and Wolves: Biblical Integration and Critical Thinking

Some of the most popular Christians teachers and theologians are musicians. As Christians, we might listen to a sermon podcast. We might study a book by a professor. But we sing and memorize the theology of musicians. This means that they must be held to the highest standard. Songs are in our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. James 3:1 says that not many should desire to be teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly than others.

One of the large issues facing the believers today is that our most popular worship musicians are often not from churches with a strong, biblical theology. For example, I believe that “Living Hope” by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson is one of the best worship songs released recently. It has excellent, moving, and accurate words that poetically express the gospel. However, Brian Johnson’s church, Bethel, is known for errant theology and practice . Likewise, Hillsong pastor Joel Houston stated that “evolution is undeniable,” in reference to a questions about the popular song “So Will I.” (I wrote about that song a few months ago in light of their lyric on evolution.) Hillsong produces many of the most popular worship songs sung today. The list continues. “Death Was Arrested” is a fantastic and valuable worship song. It came out of North Point Church where Andy Stanley is the pastor. He recently made waves by saying that we should “unhitch” from the Old Testament. Let me repeat: many of the most popular Christian, worship songs are coming out of churches that are not teaching in accordance with the historic, Christian faith.

As biblical integrators, we must be working hard to develop the critical-thinking skills of our students. I am not contending that we should stop singing all the songs from churches like Bethel, Hillsong, or North Point. However, I do think that we need to stop singing them uncritically. We don’t want to raise up a generation that trusts a church or band simply because they are  able to write catchy songs. We want our students to develop into young Bereans who test every teaching against the Word (Acts 17:10-12).

This is where we come in. Yes, Bible class and chapel should assist in helping students trust the Bible and navigate its ideas, but much of the work is done in other classes. An English teacher helps students discover which sources are credible. A math teacher assists students in sniffing out faulty logic. A science teacher shows students how to measure and understand reality. A history teacher helps students learn from the mistakes of the past. An art teacher equips students to note the ideas conveyed in various styles and forms. A speech teacher shows brings to light the art of arguments and persuasive techniques.

We are not trying to shield our students from the ideas that these churches and church leaders are promoting. But we must be investing extreme effort to help our students develop the skills needed to assess the situation themselves. They will face dangerous and errant theology throughout their lives. We must prepare them. They need to know what to do when the most popular teachers are peddling attractive heresies. We all know that devil can attack from the outside, but he is even more dangerous when the attack comes from within. As Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matt 7:15). Let’s teach our students to critically apply the Word of God to detect falsehood. Souls are on the line.

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.

The Power of Out-of-Class Interaction: Biblical Integration

In Every Bush is Burning, I make the case the biblical integrators should be “incarnational, intentional instigators.” The idea is that Christian educators should model a life of discipleship on purpose while showing conflict between a Christian worldview and others ways of understanding life. While much of this takes place in the classroom, biblical integration must not be caged up there.

Christian educators can show students an important picture of Christianity in the real world at lunch, in meetings, during ceremonies and chapel, in sports or clubs, and wherever else students and teachers interact. And there is inherent power in this out-of-class connection. This power shows up in what I will call the ACDs: application, credibility, and definition (I know, it’s not as good as the ABCs).

In Deuteronomy 6:4-7, we read, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This passage helps us see the need for ACDs. It shows that teaching must happen at home (the usual confines of learning) and on the road (outside of the regular instructional location). Why? Because the rubber always meets the road on the road.

Application – How does this play out in real life?

It is valuable for a parent (or teacher) to instruct a student in the classroom to love God. However, when you speak about these instructions at home and on the road, the student is able to see how these commands look in the world. The teacher who engages with students at lunch, on the playground, before or after classes, and in the halls has the chance to show the intersection of biblical teaching and biblical living.

Credibility – Do you really believe what you say?

Students can spot an artificial person. They have a radar for the fake. When we show them that we believe what we teach through our actions, they will be more invested in listening to us. In other words, if what we teach in the class doesn’t line up with what we are like out of class, it is a problem. But when it does line up, it is beautiful.

Definition – What does a clear picture of your teaching look like?

In Deuteronomy 6, the call is to impress the teachings of God on our children. They need more than vague ideas. This is one of the reasons why Jesus did not just come out of a hidden cave to teach before disappearing. He taught often, but he married his teachings to his actions and called his disciples, “follow me.” It was not enough for Him to say, “You have heard it said… but I say…” His students needed to hear Him speak and watch his life. He said, “Love your neighbor,” and then He showed that command by laying down his life.

So in order to impress God’s teaching on our students, they need the ACDs. They need to see us in our regular instructional areas, but they also need to see that instruction playing out in our lives. Maybe think of it like this: if your classroom interaction is the text, let your out-of-class interaction be the illustration. Together those two things can form an engaging and persuasive textbook for students to learn from.

Hearing the Voice of God: Biblical Integration and Listening to the Spirit

After reading the recent LeadLikeThis article on prayer, a few people came to me saying something like, “Your article helped me to better understand how to speak to God and how to help students do that… but how can I hear Him speaking to me?” This is an important question, so I wanted to answer thoroughly and biblically. If we are followers of Christ, it is necessary that we are able to confidently hear his voice so that we can know Him, love Him, and follow his direction. So where can we turn to hear God’s voice? The first place we go should be Scripture.

Scripture is God’s words (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Therefore, anyone who wants to hear God speak should open up the Bible and read. While popular pastors like Andy Stanley may be telling us to unhitch from parts of the Bible, we recognize that Scripture is filled with God’s own endorsement of his written Word. Psalm 1 says it brings joy. Psalm 18 calls it flawless. Psalm 19 says it is perfect. Psalm 119 says it is a light for our path and the way to purity. Isaiah 40 testifies that it lasts forever. 1 Peter 1 calls it living. And the list could go on and on.

The Bible is only place that a person can go to be 100% sure that he is hearing from God. While the Spirit of God can and does actively lead us, there are others who would as well. Scripture is the key in knowing the voice of God as He leads us. The sheep know the Shepherd’s voice to us (John 10:4) because it is always consistent with his Word to others (Titus 1:2). His voice is always calling us to “crucify the flesh” so that we can walk “in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-25). We know we are in step with the desires of the Spirit when we live according to the Word of the Spirit. The Bereans pleased God and were called noble because they tested Paul’s preaching against Scripture (Acts 17:11). As a result of their use of the Word, many believed (Acts 17:12).

As evangelical Christians, we call this trust in God’s Word the sufficiency of Scripture: that everything we need to know in order to follow God in this life is found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:17 says that Scripture thoroughly equips God’s servants for every good work. “Every good work” includes your work as a biblically integrating teacher. The Bible is sufficient for leading you because it is God’s own words.

What about the Holy Spirit? Doesn’t He speak today? Yes… notably through the Bible. Look at 2 Peter 1:20-21:

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the Author and Originator of the Bible. Those who want to hear the Spirit’s voice need only open his book. He has given it to us. And He wants us to go to the Word since it is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). There is no distinction between the words of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Bible. Hebrews 4:12 says that the Word of God is living and active, and that Word is the Spirit’s Word.

So how does the Bible lead the Christian teacher? Through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Not only did the Spirit of God inspire the text of Scripture, He also applies it to us. He reminds God’s people about the Person and work of Jesus (John 14:26). In that way, the Holy Spirit points away from Himself and to the glory of Christ (John 16:14). This is not because He is lower or less than Christ (He is not), but because each Member of the Trinity has different roles. We see these differentiated roles in the gospel: the Father sent the Son (John 3:16), the Son lived and died (Romans 5:8), the Spirit raised the Son from the dead (Romans 8:11). We can also clearly see the roles of the Trinity in creation, in Jesus’ baptism, and in God’s work of drawing us to Himself. Likewise, each Member of the Trinity has a different role in speaking to us. The Spirit “carried along” human writers as He authored Scripture through them. But the Bible is complete (Revelation 22:18-19), so what does the Spirit do now that his canon is closed? One pastor sums it up well:

“The Holy Spirit’s role is to empower us as we preach, teach, write, talk, witness, think, serve, and live. He does lead us into God’s truth and direct us into God’s will for our lives. But He does it through God’s Word, never apart from it.”

The Spirit works all the time in our world in real ways. He guides us. He convicts us. He reminds us. He encourages us. He is alive and active. And He does all of those things in conjunction with his perfect Word. The Spirit has said all that need be said in his Word, and the complete faith has been handed down once and for all in the Bible (Jude 3). Thank the Spirit for that! And ask Him to bring his own words to bear on our lives through his active ministry.

And, of course, a strong belief in the sufficiency of Scripture does not in any way diminish our confidence in the supernatural God’s ability to do supernatural things. The message of the Good News is a perfect picture of the supernatural Word in action since the gospel is the power of God for salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16). Faith is a supernatural gift that the Spirit gives through the hearing of the Word about Christ (Romans 10:17). Our God works in wondrous ways and He does as He pleases. But any miraculous works we see are servants of the miraculous Word since Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), and God does not contradict Himself. Those who love to please the Spirit should love to honor his priority on the Word.

The Spirit may use any number of means to illuminate and apply the Scripture to our lives as He pleases. Through the Word, the Spirit tells us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). He then shows us how to love our neighbor, convicts us when we don’t, and gives us the power to love like He does. Therefore, we must recognize that all of God’s supernatural works are meant to point us back to his voice as revealed in the Bible. The Bible is the Spirit’s voice and He is invested in letting it ring out clearly in our minds and hearts.

So to close: What kind of person pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word (Isaiah 66:2). What kind of teacher pleases God? The one who trembles at his Word and rightly handles that Word (2 Timothy 2:15). If you want to hear God speak, look to his Word and tremble. The Spirit of God will work through his Word in you and in your class. If you want to lead your students to hear God’s voice, call them to tremble at his Word as well. How do we hear his voice? We go to his Word.