I was going through some of my photos looking for an illustration of the historical tension between Christianity and Islam. Then I came across the Mezquita in Cordoba. It epitomises this struggle – a Cathedral built into the centre of a mosque. It is an historical picture of a current reality.
Yesterday we had our first Parent Teacher interviews for the year. One of the outstanding characteristics of these interviews is that these parents are passionately concerned about their children’s success. They want to partner with the teachers to enable their son or daughter to achieve their best.
That school/family partnership is a crucial element for a child’s success. This liaison enables the discovery of learning styles and intelligence areas. Weaknesses can be worked on and strengths developed. For the student he or she is aware that there is a solid support team upholding their education.
The examples parents set for their children is also important. Do children see their parents as life long learners? Do they see mum and dad expanding their horizons through the books read, films watched and courses taken? Does this “learning” inform the family and meal time conversations? The family atmosphere can have a huge impact on whether a child has a positive or negative view of learning.
When I was teaching in the UK I came across the phrase, “Second generation disaffection with school.” It refers to parents who had a poor experience of school which in turn impacts their lack of encouragement or negativity with regard to their own children’s education. For the teacher the consequences are obvious – unmotivated students who disrupt classes and the education of their peers. It can become a disastrous downward spiral.
The most prominent influence I have observed over the years is a dad’s influence on his son(s). As a general rule, if the dad doesn’t read, his son will not read. Or to put it positively, a dad who reads, gives his son(s) a powerful example that will radically influence his child’s education. All the encouragement from mum can be outweighed by dad’s attitude – positive or negative.
Our children are no longer competing for jobs with their peers in a school (I must stress that education is not just about jobs!), but in the global economy, with students in schools all across the world. The support, encouragement and example of parents is, consequently, also important. Many of the jobs that our children will enter into have not even been invented yet. So the best example a parent can give is an attitude of life long, on going learning. Personal growth becomes an attribute of how we live life.
This attitude also mitigates against boredom and complacency. It make life exciting and positive. Learning and discovery becomes part of who we are as complete people. It will also stop us from being passive consumers of entertainment, but that is a topic for another day.
Confusion isn’t always a bad thing. If we’re not confused about anything it’s likely we’re grasping the truth about nothing important. Developing convictions about vital matters is never easy and, until heaven, is an ongoing, never finished process.
Crabb, Larry, Becoming a True Spiritual Community: A Profound Vision of What the Church Can Be Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
My wife, who is passionate about children’s ministry, introduced me to a study that I had not previously heard about. In 2005 Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote a book entitled: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of America Teenagers.(I have to stress, I have not yet read the book only the paper by Smith referenced below.)
After interviewing 3000 teenagers they suggested that there is a “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States … what we might call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”
Smith and Denton suggest that there are a number of key beliefs to this creed, namely:
1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over
human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as
taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except
when he is needed to resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die.
If this research is accurate, and there is no reason to suggest it isn’t, we have a scary, self centred religion among many of our young people. I might add that the noise coming out of many churches is not that dissimilar. Prosperity theology is just one example.
The findings of this research have massive implications for the church: What it teaches, how it teaches and the centrality of Scripture in that task. The five beliefs above are at best half truths and at worst poisonous corruptions of the truth that will stifle and destroy Christian faith and discipleship.
Christian Smith closes his paper by writing: The language—and therefore experience—of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be being supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward. It is not so much that Christianity in the United States is being secularized. Rather more subtly, either Christianity is at least degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith.
I can’t help thinking that this development describes more than only teenagers. In my recent travels around a variety of churches in Australia I have been astounded how often I have heard pop psychology and “feel good” messages rather than the proclamation of Word of God. A return to God’s Word and its claims on our lives must be the starting point for the rescuing of lives – hearts and minds.
From John Lennox’s book, “Seven Days that Divide the World”:
Jesus’ invitation is clear. That rest comes when we are prepared to come to him and accept what he calls “my yoke,” that is, accept his authority and leadership. At the heart of Christianity is a willingness to trust Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and thereby receive forgiveness and peace with God. The problem is that, in a world where achievement and merit count for so much, we human beings find it difficult to understand and accept that God’s forgiveness and peace cannot be earned by our work, effort, or merit, but must be received as a free gift.
Zondervan (2011-08-09). Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science, Kindle Edition.
A while back I mentioned one of my favourite Christian singer/songwriters. Here is another: John Michael Talbot. He comes from the Catholic tradition and we see this influence in much of his music. It is Biblical and meditative. A piece that resonates with me is both simple and beautiful – “Healer of My Soul”. JMT has completed a huge body of work over the years. For me his best work covers worship and the Psalms.
One of my classes is studying the Bruce Beresford film “Paradise Road”. The film tells the traumatic and true story of a group of women of various nationalities, interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during WW2, who establish a “voice” orchestra.
A Scene from Paradise Road
It is a confronting story of cruelty and bravery, despair and hope. I find the film poignant as it has been my privilege to personally know a number of people who had been in similar camps during the war. There was a husband, wife and children who were separated for much of the war with the wife and children in one camp and the husband in another. I also came across ex-soldiers, as well as those who had been teenagers in camps, and others.
Years later I could still see the effects of the trauma on their skin, through nervous tics or recurring ailments. But my most striking memory is that nearly all exhibited an overwhelming sense of grace and an understanding of the value of life. I have also noticed this in the holocaust survivors I have met. These people had an awareness of the value of life and the need to live this life to the full.
War is ugly and we wouldn’t wish it on anyone yet there are lessons and truths that we miss out on as we live our self satisfied, middle class and materialistic western lives. Someone once said we need the “moral equivalent of a war”. What he meant was that we need the personal challenge to comprehend the deep truths and realities of life. In my life as a pastor I knew that I could usually count on the people who had been through really tough traumas to support and care for those around them. They knew the power of a helping hand or friendly word, or ready shoulder and were willing to serve those around them.
I know in my own life that my first close encounter with death was when our son died. Through this tragedy it was as though God opened up the depth of what the task of a pastor really was. Any glibness or superficiality was rubbed away. The “why” question still recurs years alter, but the life deepening consequence was undeniable.
Should we look for death and war? No, not really, as they are ugly reminders of the impact of sin. However, when they happen we can also appreciate how our our eyes and hearts are opened to what it means to serve like Christ.
In Paradise Road the women could simply have put all their energies into surviving but some realised that there is more to living than just surviving.
The Moravians, who had a profound and positive effect upon John Wesley, had a practice whereby they opened the Bible at random and pointed to a verse to seek guidance from God. Also recently I heard of a small box found at a Christian bookshop that contained verses rolled into little scrolls and a set of tweezers. The idea being that you selected a random word from God each day.
I have no doubt that God can speak to us through random Bible verses. Most of us have had an occasion where a line, word or thought from Scripture has come out of left field and smacked us in the head. But that is God at work. I believe when we study Scripture we should honour the text. When Matthew 18:20 speaks of two or three people gathering, it is not about us only having a couple of people at our Bible study one evening, but rather, about discipline within the body of Christ. Jeremiah 29:11 declaring God’s plans is not about cute verses in the front of Sunday School Bibles, but reflect on the hope the remnant of God in Babylon can have in His promises after the exile has been completed – a hope anchored in the coming Messiah.
My point: Although individual verses can be quite encouraging for us at times, we should never lose sight of the overarching story of God. It is the story of a God who despite our rebellion promised to redeem and renew His creation. He promised a Messiah and delivered the Messiah and promised His return. That is the story that we should focus on because it the story of God – not us.
I remember driving home one night and chancing upon a radio station on which a man was preaching. This being rare in Australia at that time I stayed tuned and listened. This man gave a wonderful and detailed exposition of an Old Testament text. It was accurate, solid and instructive. But something was missing. At the end of the message the announcer thanked Rabbi “So and so” for his message. The penny dropped! Jesus was absent! Jesus is the glue that holds the whole of Scripture together. He is the word in creation, he is the word promised and he is the word revealed in the New Testament. If we omit Jesus we end up with allegory and glib interpretations. Look for Jesus and the whole of Scripture comes alive with the amazing story of God!
Let me finish by saying that the Bible is essentially not about us about Jesus Christ. The irony is, the more we comprehend and apprehend that truth, the more we will impacted.
Thank you to the many people who have prayed for and supported our family over the last seven weeks. It has been greatly appreciated. Yesterday was a successful resettlement day!