More About Formation than Information

The kids are back to school and the bustle begins: schedule, curriculum, books, assignments, all the fantastic accoutrements of learning. As this process picks up speed and the details of life in a classroom come flying at students and parents, it’s important to remember what is actually happening in this thing we call education.

What did you learn in eleventh grade? What classes did you take? If you can remember half the classes you took that year, you would be better off than most. If you can remember and put into practice particular skills you may have acquired or facts you memorized–equations from physics or calculus–it’s almost certainly because you use them today in your vocation or you happen to have a photographic memory. Or you cheated and just looked them up on Wikipedia.

I think it was Dorothy Sayers who pointed out in her essay The Lost Tools of Learning that a student is expected to forget most of what he learned in school by the time he is an adult. I feel better already. Of course she wasn’t talking about the ability to read or do basic math, but rather the vast minutiae of information we acquired and dutifully divulged on tests. Three years of college French left alone for ten years will be as forgotten as a campaign promise, n’est ce pas? Okay, at least the French can be recovered with review. But the point is that more is going on in education than a transfer of data. More is being learned than information.  Continue reading

Holy Week Rhythm

For those looking for a litte rhythm to Holy Week, here is routine we do after dinner. We have lots of small people, so the green eggs are plastic eggs they can open with some theme-related item inside. Voss refers to The Child’s Story Bible

 

Palm Sunday Scripture: Psalm 24, Zechariah 9:9

Green Egg: Palm Branches

Vos: pg 311 (Jesus entering Jerusalem)

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Monday Scripture: Zechariah 11:10-13

Blue Egg: Silver (Judas and the thirty pieces of silver)

Vos: pg 313

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Tuesday Scripture: Exodus 12:12-16

Purple Egg: Bread and Wine

Vos: pg 314 Last Supper

Toast: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”  “Hosanna in the highest”

 

Wednesday Scripture: Psalm 41: 7-9

Orange Egg: Roman Soldier

Vos: pg 317 Jesus is arrested

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Thursday Scripture: Zechariah 13:7-9

Egg: Rooster

Vos: pg 318 Peter’s Betrayal

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Friday Scripture: Isaiah 53: 7-9

Egg: Lamb

Vos: pg 319 Jesus’s Trial

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Saturday Scripture:  Psalm 22:1-2

Egg: Cross

Vos: pg 322 Crucifixion

Toast: “By His wounds,”   “We are healed!”

 

Easter Sunday Scripture: Psalm 16:9-11

Egg: Empty

Vos: pg 325

Toast: “He is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!”

One piece of candy by each spot Mon-Fri, no candy on Sat., tons of candy on Easter Sun.

Still Christmas

By now, many are having PCDS, Post Christmas Depression Syndrome. If the American Psychological Association hasn’t classified this one yet, they probably will soon, in time for a happy new year.

The good news is that no one should be sad to see Christmas go because it hasn’t. You may have stopped, but Christmas continues. The Twelve Days of Christmas or Christmastide or Twelvetide (take your pick) has long been celebrated by most branches of the church, though less by churches in the United States. Christmastide begins Christmas Day and concludes on January 5th, leading up to Epiphany which celebrates Jesus’ manifestation to the wise men (and thus Gentiles) and the world on the 6th.

If we’re celebrating Christ, then clearly the we’re just getting started on December 25th. This is how it was for Mary and Joseph who began chaotic life as a family with Jesus in Bethlehem, but continued it as a blessed and hunted bunch from there. Celebrating Christmastide reminds us what the early life of Jesus was like both for him and those around him. Sometimes we miss these things in the hustle and joy of Advent. After the graveyard-shift shepherds heard the greatest rendition of the Messiah (front pasture, box seats standing room only) ever performed (Matt. 2:14), a couple years later the Magi came from the east to present their gifts. This was about two years after the Jesus’ birth because Herod, wanting to protect his precious throne, had all male infants two years old and under put to death. A friend of mine says that manger scenes should include figures of Herod’s soldiers, and I tend to agree. This sort of thing heightens our understanding and appreciation of the life–after his birth–of Jesus.

We tend to think of Christ’s birth and next thing you know it we are at the Sermon on the Mount. Christmastide gives us the opportunity to remember and celebrate the early human life of Jesus, events that make our own troubles and tragedies seem much more a part of the gospel story. The salvation of the world Himself came in the midst of the sin and death that still linger here as our own salvation goes forward in A.D. 20-almost-13. Matthew’s Gospel includes the story of  Herod, the slaughter of the innocents, and the flight to Egypt, and Luke’s tells us that once they settled back in Nazareth, “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (2:40). Jesus was probably 3-4 years old, and he was growing in the knowledge of God. How does an omniscient God grow in the knowledge of God? By becoming a man and setting aside his divine privileges. Jesus was a little boy hungry to learn. By the time he was twelve, he was listening and asking questions in the temple as everyone marveled at his answers and understanding (Luke 2:42-47). Then the Gospels fast-forward another 18 years and John the Baptist walks out of the wilderness. Compared to his ministry, death and resurrection, the Gospels say very little about Jesus’ early life, but what they do say is wonderful and important, and the Twelve Days of Christmas are an opportunity to enjoy it.

Just what you wanted for Christmas: stuff to prepare for nearly two more weeks, right? Actually, my feeling is that enough preparation has been done already and certainly there is enough food in the house. For those with small people, pick a day to play with certain toys–Jesus played with toys, so let’s do it like him, shall we? For us this year, there is a little gift box and every day there is something for the kids: a small game, something to eat, a brief but rowdy scavenger or hot/cold hunt, a book, etc. It’s basically like Advent with little celebrations tucked in to each day, bringing everything to life and focused significance. We read Christmas and Bible stories like the ones above and continue celebrating the incarnation in an easy way. Some will say the celebration is too much, and they are like “those who saw the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and said, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her children”" (Matt. 11:19).

Merry 7th Day of Christmas!

Tyndale, Chesterton, and Sitting on your Bible

William Tyndale is known, though not enough, as one of the first translators of the Bible into English. In 1521 he left Cambridge to return to Gloustershire where he began tutoring the children of Sir John and Lady Anne Walsh at their home of Little Sudbury Manor. This is a curiosity to biographers, since years before he had already earned an M.A. from Oxford, and then spent some time at Cambridge. Why would he leave for a humble position tutoring two young children? This would make sense if he was preparing to translate the Bible into the vernacular and received little support at the universities to do so. The stories about him at Gloustershire confirm this.

The Walshes showed hospitality to priests  from time to time, and would also invite Tyndale to join them for dinner. At these occasions Tyndale would astonish and offend the priests by his knowledge of  the Bible, so much in fact that they stopped coming to dinner.

It was around this time that a priest told Tyndale that with the laws and decrees of the Pope available, it was not necessary to have the Bible in English. Tyndale famously replied, “I defy the Pope and all his laws. If God spare my life, I will make the boy that driveth the plough know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” His goal was not to just to get the book into English, but to provide it in such a way that the average person–the plowboy, grocer, bank teller–could and would want to read it. This is why his translation, a major part of the King James and therefore of most modern translations, is so phenomenal. You can get a great copy Tyndale’s New Testament for a little scratch. Or you can just read the one you have.

It’s encouraging that the Bible was first given in English with the intent that everyone read it in a humble and easy way. The ploughboy didn’t have a study full of books, a Bible dictionary, internet access and probably even lacked good preaching. He could pick it up and read Tyndale’s poetic, rhythmic but accessible translation for a few minutes a day, and there by making progress slowly, would gain more knowledge than the distracted, superstitious and religiously employed priest.

This has particular relevance for parents. Moses tells Israel to take his words, their very life, to heart, “that you may command them to your children” (Dt. 32:46). When interest in and reading of the Bible is limited to “quiet” and private times, love for the Word isn’t likely to spill out very much. Kids learn by imitation, and what they don’t see, they don’t imitate. It isn’t the only way, but in this context, it’s an important one, revealing the heart.

It has been said of G.K. Chesterton that he didn’t just read a book. He sat on it, ate with it, slept on it, traveled with it, thoroughly possessed it and allowed it possess him. I imagine his 300 pounds of jolliness destroying a book in love. What author wouldn’t want his work enjoyed this way? There’s a lot to be said for reading the Bible like this. A little here, a little there. Five minutes at lunch and ten on the couch in the evening. In the car, on the bus, in bed, during the commute, early and late. Chapters are short, right? Even epistles. Whole books. Six pages from Paul to Ephesus. Four to Colosse. The greatest red-hot smoking love poem every written in less than ten pages. These are the things that should fill the cracks of Christians’ lives. Sure, we should set aside some time to read regularly. But shouldn’t we let it intrude at other times as well? Shouldn’t you spill something on the minor prophets?

 

Getting Ready for Christmas

Following up on my earlier post about observing Advent, Malachi 4:6 calls those who would prepare for the coming of Christ to turn their hearts to their fathers, and for fathers to turn their hearts to their children. What this has to do with Christmas takes some unpacking, or unwrapping, so here goes.

The striking thing about this passage, so subtle at first that it is easily overlooked, is the bi-directional nature of the command. We’re familiar with “honor your parents” and “bring your children up in the nurture of the Lord”, and good at ignoring them in isolation. Children feel their parents have sinned horribly against them, and so God’s commands get modified (consciously or not) into “Honor your father and mother if they are honorable, when it suits you, and don’t feel bad about doing a lousy job since they’ve hardly done for you what God commanded.” For parents, the morph is similar. We respond to the command by saying, “I did my best. I put food on the table. They pushed me away. If they want to have a relationship with me, they’ll call.”

Malachi smacks us with reality. God doesn’t tell us to honor our parents if they’re honorable (or reasonable!), and he doesn’t tell parents to nurture their children when those children are willing to listen, young, cute or asleep. When John the Baptizer came preaching in the spirit of Elijah, he didn’t gathered around a congregation of kids, but made the way straight “that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Jews, priests, Levites, all were called to repentance. His first line in Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). This is not a repentance depending on someone else’s. This is not turn your heart to your father when he owns something you’d like him to, or love your kid when they’re lovable. Malachi echoes the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12), but he applies it to the time when Jesus would come. He includes the hearts of fathers to children, and not just children to fathers. And he adds the consequences of refusing, “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

What does a beefed up version of the 5th Commandment have to do with the coming of Christ? More than we might think. God prepares us for the coming of his Son by telling us to get right with our own children. He tells us to prepare our hearts to love the Father who gives life to the Son by turning our hearts to our fathers who gave us life. We fail to see these connections because we think it’s easy to run if you never walk, which is a lie: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). How much more is this true if anyone hates his father? Or if anyone anyone hates his son? He cannot love the Father or the Son. This is not said to throw your faith into a tailspin. In his juxtaposing brilliance, John tells us that one must drive the other out. If you love Father, love your father. If you love the Son, love your son. If you are a Christian who believes Jesus is God, this is where you are going anyway, so you might as well come along and have a merry Christmas. Continue reading

the Promised Spirit for your children & the world

From a recent sermon by Toby Sumpter:

“Believe the Promise of God for your children and the world. We’ve reviewed them today. You’ve heard them before, but you are called to believe them. Your children belong to God. He has claimed them in baptism, and the promise of the Spirit is for them. But it’s striking that Peter connects the Promise of the Spirit to three distinct entities: you, your children, and the world. This is not accidental or coincidental. While leaving room for different gifts and different personalities, it is nevertheless the case that the Promise of the Spirit is for all three: you, your children, the world. This means that they are connected. And our faith in the promise of the Spirit cannot be disconnected from the mission of the Spirit. If the mission of the Spirit is to save you, your children, and this world, then reception of that Spirit, receiving that Promise in faith means believing with equal certainty in that mission. You cannot receive the Promise without receiving the Mission. And you cannot carry out the Mission without the Promise. It is the Spirit that is driving this story forward. It is the Spirit that is determined to conform you into the image of Christ. It is the Spirit that is determined to conform your children to that same image, and it is the Spirit that is determined to remake this whole world and conform every family on the face of this planet to the image of the Son. God’s mission in your life is to see this mission carried out in your children and in your neighbors and all who are afar off. That’s what the Promise of the Spirit is for; that’s what the Promise of the Spirit is up to. That is the Mission, and the Promise is for the carrying out of that Mission.”

Best Friend Parents

As our culture grows increasingly immodest, women–and girls–are going to increasingly be the victims of sexual vandalism and exploitation. We need to remember that it was the gospel of Jesus Christ that transformed the treatment of women in the time of Roman empire, and it will be the gospel that does it again. When the four gospels were written, women were not even considered credible as witnesses in a court of law. And yet women are the first witnesses in Scripture to see Jesus alive after his resurrection–an event that no one fabricating the story would include. This would only be one more element of foolishness for Christians explaining what actually happened at the resurection. “So who first saw this Jesus come back from the dead?” “Well, Mary Magdalene, a friend of Jesus.” “That woman? The one who was easy with her body and out of her mind?” “She used to be like that until she met Jesus–before his resurrection.” “Yeah, right.”

Easter is a poignant time to remember the influence of the church honoring the image of God resident in all women, and the true feminine mystique of those following the footsteps of wisdom personified as a woman in Proverbs, blessed-among-women Mary the  mother of Jesus, the various women who believed on and supported Jesus during his ministry, the women first to the tomb, and the women prominent in the life of the early church. All these are types of the Church, our mother (Gal. 4:26).

Various cultural commentators are noticing the sexualization of younger and younger girls. LZ Granderson just ran a story about an 8-year-old he saw in the airport–tanned, mid-riffed, and tagged “juicy” on her pre-pubescent backside. Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t the only one pushing push-up bras and thong underwear for pre-teens. The City of Philadelphia is mailing condoms to 11-year-olds. LZ’s says some good things in his article, but his approach, taken by so many Christian parents, reveals he has already capitulated to the trend. The punch-line conclusion is that parents should be parents, and not BFFs to their children. As far as this means parents have authority, and should exercise it, that friends do not, this is good. But what kind of a BFF lets a friend dress up like a piece of sexual meat? What kind of a parent is content with their kid having this sort of friend? And the worst assumption, why aren’t parents interested in being the best of friends with their kids? “Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). Continue reading

Don’t Pack for Nineveh

Throughout Scripture we see periods of transition that are crucial for subsequent faithfulness. The book of Deuteronomy functions as a series of sermons to Israel on the brink of the Promise Land. This is how you have to think, act and trust if you want the Lord your God to bless you and your subsequent generations who are meant to inherit the land. Chapter 28 layouts out exactly what will follow either obedience or disobedience of the newly constituted nation, and later we see God making good on his promises by means of the Assyrians and Babylonians taking captive the northern and later the southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Paul says in a different context that these took place as examples for us (1 Cor. 10:6). We’re supposed to see the connection between compromise and idolatry at one time, and the consequences that later follow it, whether those consequences result immediately or a long way off. What did Jeroboam the son of Nebat have to do with Assyria, hundreds of years later? Everything, the Bible tells us (2 Kings 17:21). This is central to covenantal thinking, seeing the threads of history woven together. And this is directly challenging to any notion that separates faith and the historical results of faith. Sometimes the results of faith are wandering in the desert or being sawn in two (Heb. 11:37-38), so we can’t be simple like Job’s friends, but neither can we be faithless like Job’s wife, insisting that it doesn’t matter what we do (Job 1:9).

It does matter what we do, and particularly at the beginning of new seasons and transitions of life. They say the most important years of child’s life are the first five–about which he will remember virtually nothing. Teenagers, making the transition into adulthood, are learning to complain or take responsibility for the rest of their lives. And the habits that a person establishes when leaving the house usually during 18-22 years of age are likely to continue. These are only a few well known transition periods, and they are almost universally despised for their trouble. Terrible twos, impossible teenagers, and kids sent off to college to be drunk and naked for a few years and hopefully come out employable. Expectations are low, so results are low.

The biblical mind sees these times as the most full of potential. Why was Jesus so effective at casting out demons during his ministry? Because he cast out the Devil from his own presence at the beginning (Matt. 4). This is when he should have buckled and compromised like an Adam, but he didn’t. The second Adam did it different than every other son of Adam.

Transition periods are not time for looser standards, but higher ones. By higher, I don’t mean harsher, since discipline ought to always be gracious and loving (Gal. 6:1; Heb 12:5-6). But to have high standards at these times will certainly be labeled as harsh. Do you really expect a two year old to listen to you? Give them space; it’s normal for your teenager to sulk and despise. As for your college kid, they’re out of the house–don’t ask, don’t tell. Examples could be multiplied, but parents who refuse to invest and guide, to give and correct, to love and discipline at these crucial times are crippling their children and missing the some of best opportunities to serve them.  Of course, the opportunity for faith and obedience is never past, and we serve a God who raises the dead. But it’s easier to trust God and stay in the land than to pack our bags for Nineveh.