What I would tell my student-teacher self

I’m working with a pre-service teacher at the moment, which has caused me to reflect on my own days as a prac student.

How far I have come!

My first teaching placement occurred in the fourth year of my degree, and I soon thought I’d made a terrible mistake. The enormity of the job overwhelmed me. I was staying at the school until after dark every night and then going home, anxious and feeling unprepared for the day to come.

I distinctly remember lying in bed one night, with thoughts and worries rushing chaotically through my head, praying for rest and sleep. I remember praying through Scripture, trying to get some rational perspective, reminding myself that the things of this world are temporary (lesson plans and unit plans would pass away!)

I didn’t sleep all night.

I feel for that young woman, all those years ago. I wish I could sit beside her on the side of the bed and tell her that I’m still in the job ten years later. That I can’t remember the last time I lost any sleep over work related issues, and that lessons flow out of me now with hardly a thought.

But I can’t tell her that. I can only remember, today, to trust Jesus better than I did back then. To take on the advice of Hudson Taylor, and, looking to the face of Jesus, determine that ‘whatever did not agitate the Saviour, or ruffle His spirit, was not to agitate mine.’

 

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Everyone’s awesome… so everyone’s inadequate

I spent my afternoon at a SACE clarifying forum. I always manage to leave feeling inadequate.

At the forum, year 12 teachers get together in a room with paper cups of instant coffee and read exemplars of student work.

There are two types of people that scare me in these groups – the innovators and the ‘I-wouldn’t-have-graded-it-that-high’ experts.

We had an innovator at our table. Fresh out of University, new ideas and perfect English literary lingo flowed from his mouth. He spoke with the authority that only a new grad or a thirty-year veteran can.

I spent my time between feeling impressed, indignant and inadequate. Clearly this barely-even-an-adult was more competent than me. Thank goodness he didn’t know I’m running the faculty at my school.

The ‘experts’ were also out in full force. Irrespective of the piece, they always thought it was about two grades worse than I had. No matter that they were technically wrong, their air of superiority made it clear that their standards were higher than mine. I felt my insides wilting with the knowledge that I wouldn’t even know how to teach to their standard.

Many times I’ve felt a niggling feeling that I’m an imposter in this word of academics.

I wondered after, though, whether we’re all playing the same game. For all I know Mr. University left feeling inadequate next to the experience of the others on the table and the experts left wondering how, after so many years, they could still be marking too hard. We all put our best foot forward. We all want to look awesome. And, no doubt, we all struggle with feeling inadequate.

Please teach your children about unconditional respect.

I’m sure that one of the most horrifying moments for a parent is when they hear their children parroting them and suddenly realize what they sound like. I can sympathise.

But there’s one thing I’m hearing from kids that goes beyond simple parroting; it highlights a core issue about what we’re teaching the next generations about respect.

See, they think that in order to give respect, favour has to be earned.

That’s just not right.thumbnail

Last week I was teaching my German students about the formal and informal versions of ‘you.’ I gave them an example: “If Tony Abbot came to our school and needed directions…”

I couldn’t even finish my sentence without yells of ‘elephant ears,’ and ‘we hate him.’

They’re 13 year olds. They can’t vote for another 5 years and I’d be willing to bet they know next-to-nothing about politics. They’re parroting what they’ve heard their parents say.

What I want to know is, can the parents hear themselves? Can we hear ourselves? Those kinds of comments aren’t about exerting our right to have a political opinion; they’re about slander and bullying.

What kind of values are we teaching our children when we publicly malign and disrespect the person in the highest position of power and authority in our country?

Is it any wonder that teachers and police officers and parents themselves aren’t receiving the respect they deserve?

Some kinds of respect are unconditional.

Why I don’t think people returned from Heaven.

My last blog post (When Heaven is for Real becomes a movie- and it’s my final straw) raised some questions that I think it would be remiss of me not to address.

While I am committed to keeping my posts short, and am not afraid of raising questions, there is always the risk that with such a concise amount of words I will be either misinterpreted or unclear in my meaning or the thinking behind my posts.

I think it is dangerous to criticize the experiences and motives of fellow Christians, but I also believe there are times when it is equally dangerous not to.

I am no great Bible scholar, in fact I’m a novice, and I may stand to be corrected, but I would like to take this opportunity to convey the basis for my conclusions.

First, I’d like to address the comment that I’ve received that if these stories cause people to think about Heaven, then they’re beneficial. I don’t agree with that reasoning. There is no doubt in my mind that God can use them for good. In fact, we live in a world in which God is daily using all manner of things for good and for his purposes (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean they’re right (God’s use of Solomon as a great King and part of the lineage of Christ does not justify David and Bathsheba’s sin).

Yes, these books may give some people hope, and cause others to re-consider the reality of heaven. But that does not by definition mean that the experiences conveyed are scriptural or accurate. God may use them for good, but it doesn’t alter the accountability of the ‘preacher.’

Second I’d like to address my specific gripe with the book that I began reading, “Heaven is so Real” by Choo Thomas. (Different from that which is being relased as a movie, which is “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo)
I’ll admit straight up, that it has been a long time since I read the book, and while I do recall the description of heaven being different to that described in Scripture, I don’t have specific memories of it. There are a few things, however, that I distinctly remember. First, the relationship between the author and Jesus was not one consistent with John’s visit to heaven in the Bible (more on that later) and was very human focused. The author was frequently referred to as Jesus’ ‘special daughter,’ which after a few visits began to have quite worldly and humanistic applications including promises of earthly prosperity, which culminated in the promise of an elite red sports car (soon after this I stopped reading).

I will mention as an aside that the feeling of oppression and (dare I say) demonic presence that I felt as I was reading this book was unparalleled to almost any other book I’ve read. I say that as an aside though. I believe it is important that my argument be based primarily on Scripture rather than personal experience or feelings.

Finally I’d like to address my Biblical reasoning for being sceptical of these ‘heavenly visit’ stories.

My first point comes from the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazurus. (Luke 16:19-31) Jesus (through the character of Abraham) makes an interesting point at the end of the story. The rich man is begging Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because if ‘someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.’ Abraham refuses his request saying that ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them’ and that ‘if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’

Jesus himself was later to die and rise again and appear to many, and yet many have still not believed. The world has Moses, and the prophets and the Son of God who returned from the grave. If people will not hear them, I cannot see, from this Scripture, that God would be sending others to them from the dead. Let them believe the testimony of Jesus.

There were several people who were raised from the dead at the time of Christ, the most prominent of whom was Lazarus (not to be confused with the Lazarus from the parable.) On none of these occasions was there any testimony of them having experienced heaven (even though Lazarus was in the grave for several days, far longer than any of the people in these books). The focus was completely on Jesus and his work. Furthermore, Jesus did say to Nicodemus in John 3:13 that ‘no one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.’

My second point comes from the testimony of John, Jesus’ disciple, who, in Revelation chapter 1, was given a vision of heaven for the purpose of scriptural revelation. While Jesus was on earth, John was his closest friend. If anyone knew Jesus it was him, and yet, when John was taken ‘in the Spirit’ (read- not dead), to Heaven, he saw Jesus as he now is, in His glorified state, and ‘fell at his feet as though dead.’ Meeting our glorified Lord in heaven is no matter of pleasant conversation, camaraderie or even comfort. It is the experience of coming face to face with the living God, who said himself to Moses that ‘man shall not see me and live.’

My third point follows from this and centres around the focus of those who supposedly went to heaven. From my quick perusal of the synopses of these books, much of the focus (and validation) of the experiences concerns meeting people in heaven who they once knew. While I have no doubt that we will be reunited with loved ones who had accepted Jesus as their saviour on earth, my problem with these recounts is twofold. First, in any biblical description of any person ascending to heaven (to my knowledge, always in the spirit or a vision, never dead, eg: John (Rev 1) and Isaiah (Isaiah 6)) the person concerned was always completely captivated by the Glory and majesty of God. There was no mention of anything secondary, and no mention of meeting loved ones. From my understanding, meeting loved ones was a primary focus in this book. (For an interesting unpacking of this, see my post entitled ‘What if you got to Heaven… and God wasn’t there’

Furthermore, there is almost no scriptural evidence that anyone can meet with people who have already died. In fact, the scriptural evidence is quite to the contrary. In Deuteronomy 18:11 it refers to communication with the dead as an abomination to God. The only accounts I can think of where anything akin to this took place in the Bible was first when King Saul used a sear to call on Samuel (things didn’t work out too well for him) and the presence of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration (clearly a very different situation to what we see today.)

My third point concerns the human focused nature of these heaven stories. My knowledge of them is limited, but the focus does seem to be on reassurance to people of the existence of heaven and the care of God, and the promise of earthly blessings. I would argue that any ‘trip to heaven,’ (which I believe, based on the above scriptures is unlikely if not completely unscriptural in our time), should be characterized by complete awe and worship of God, together with an unrivaled mantra of ‘worthy is the Lamb that was slain,’ and ‘holy, holy, holy is the Lord.’

I’d like to finish by qualifying what I’ve said with a few short points.

I do believe in the value of personal testimony that testifies to the outworking of the promises of God, as outlined in the scriptures. I do not believe in further revelation from God, to a particular individual, that adds to the words of the Bible.

I do believe that God (in His triune form) does convict, lead, guide, impress upon, and, by his Word, individually communicate with His people. I do not believe that He takes them to Heaven and then returns them to earth, with the mandate to share their experiences.

I do believe that it is possible that God, may give a person a vision, dream, angelic visit or even near death experience for the purpose of leading them or bringing them comfort, but that any such experience will not bring them face to face with the living God, nor will it give them any message that adds to, contradicts or goes beyond the revelation of Scripture, nor is it to be used as a method of doing so.

Finally I’d like to finish with what may be the most controversial comment I’ve made so far: As Christians, we must be careful not to be deceived. We must not look at something that appears innocent, pleasant and harmless and assume that it is so. The Bible tells us that the devil himself masquerades as an angel of light, and that we are to be careful of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The doctrines and stories most dangerous to the church are not those that are blatantly opposed to it, but those that work their way in under the disguise of something that is good. If the experience of ANY person contradicts the teachings of scripture, we are to disown it, not tolerate it as harmless. I’d argue that the most harmful divisions in the church (including the development of cults) have been caused by those who add to the teaching of scripture with their own experiences and ‘words from the Lord’, and by those who have tolerated it.

I hope that this helps clarify some of my thoughts on this topic.

As I said, I’m no scholar, and I’m sure there is much to be said on this topic that I’ve missed. It is also not my job to judge the hearts and minds of these authors, but rather to be discerning in what we accept as from God and what we reject as not of Him.

May God be glorified always above all things, and may His word be given the place of authority that it deserves.

Should we teach our kids to ‘grow’ the fruits of the Spirit?

out-in-the-fall-3_21264535This is a question that I’ve given some thought to, but am yet to come up with an answer for.

As Christian parents (I’m not one, but they do say it takes a village to raise a child) it is our responsibility to raise our children with moral values and a fear of the Lord. Few would dispute that, but how far do we take it?

As a child, I learnt all about the fruits of the Spirit. There were diagrams and songs and colouring in sheets; juicy apples and pears and bananas all with a word attached: love, joy, peace…

These were all character traits that we knew we were to cultivate, but as an adult I can’t help wondering… have we missed the point?

Are fruits of the Spirit things that can be taught, or are they traits that grow in us purely as a result of the Spirit?

If we teach our children to exhibit these things, are we wisely training them in the way they should go, or are we creating little people who know how to look good on the outside, but whose hearts have not been changed?

Is it our moral responsibility to reward them for ‘Spirit filled’ behaviour and discipline them for ‘fleshly behaviour,’ or should we be focusing on teaching them the Gospel and letting the Spirit grow this fruit?

I’m really not sure. What are your thoughts?

When my Year 12s Play Pictionary

I had my last day with my senior students today. Earlier in the year, during a down moment, we played a class game of Pictionary: Two teams, two whiteboards, a lot of shouting and ‘senior worthy’ things to draw like ‘quantum physics’ and ‘Boo Radley.’

It became so raucous and epic that we decided to have the game of all games for our final lesson at the end of the year. Not only was my class involved, but also a few stragglers we’d picked up over the year; it was game on.

The following pictures were taken the moment after the team had correctly guessed the answer. I’ve put the answers at the end, so that you can have a guess too, though I think you’ll agree, their guessing skills are better than their drawing ones!

Class of 2013, thank you for a crazy year, and for the side-splitting laughter you caused me during this game!

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ANSWERS:

1. The Hunger Games

2. Encyclopedia

3. Air Force One

4. Compulsory Education

5. LOST

6. Carbon Dioxide

7. Evening

8. Oh Captain, my Captain

9. Machu Picchu

10. 21st Birthday

11. Back to the Future

12. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

13. The Roman Empire

14. Fossil

15. Abba

16. Seven Wonders of the World

Any Luck?

When A Student Makes It All Worth It. (But it’s too small a thing)

Living with a chronic illness, and being a teacher are giant tasks in and of themselves, but combining them, for the last six years has been the challenge of my life.

higher-1_21205205Though I only teach part-time, there have been many times, weeks, even months on end, when the task has seemed insurmountable. But I push on, and one of the driving factors is that I work at a school where I’m allowed to share my faith with my students. I’ve often said that if I saw even one student in heaven, if even one got saved as a result of my ministry, it would make all these years of struggle and fight worth it.

Last year I had a stand-out student in my Religion class. She loved coming to class and she’d hang off every word, but she was broken. On several occasions she stayed after class to ask me questions, often crying. I shared Jesus with her, over and over, but she just couldn’t seem to grasp it. I prayed for her, and bought her a Bible. Still she struggled, and at one point she ended up in hospital as a result of severe depression. Not long after that she left the school. I worried for her and I prayed for her, but it was out of my hands.

Last week I attended our school’s musical. During the interval a young lady ran up to me and hugged me. It was the girl from my Religion class the year before. She looked so happy and vibrant and she said she was doing well. I asked her what she was planning on doing next year, when she’s finished school. With shining eyes she told me that she was going to Bible College! I could have fallen over! What?

As I asked her about it, she shared what has happened over the last year; that she’s at church all the time now; that she’s found God and He’s changed her life. Then she said some things that really impacted and humbled me. She told me that she has so much love for me; that I’m her inspiration. That it was those Religion lessons and chats that led her to God. I was lost for words. After six years. Finally, a life changed for eternity.

All credit and glory goes to God. He does the saving; He gave me the strength to get through days when I had nothing and he gave me the privilege of being used for His greatest purpose. Even more, He let me know. So often we hope that lives are changed or impacted in ways that we’ll never know about, but what a privilege and blessing to actually be told. To actually have that student chase you down and tell you they’ve been wanting to get in touch with you for months. It’s rare.

So, I’ve had my one. The one who was going to make it all worth it; but you know what? It’s not enough. I was reminded of the passage in Isaiah when God says that reaching the Jews was too small a thing, He was going to save the Gentiles too. This is my conviction: I’ve been privileged to be part of a divine miracle; a soul brought from death to life, but to rest at one? It’s too small a thing. I see hundreds of teenagers every day who need Jesus, so for as long as I’m in this job, as long as God gives me strength to do it, I’ll be sharing the gospel with any who are willing to hear it.

Octopus, rain and a kitchen table (Or: the work dinner that will happen again)

532035_534912026540235_1661749161_nI admit I was sceptical about my work dinner.  We were from different generations; different walks of life. Outside the teacher-prep room would we have much to talk about?

Our small office group met at a rustic-meets-modern restaurant, just outside town. It was already dark and after a drink at the beautiful redwood bar, we took our seats around a large wooden table, reminiscent of that in a farm kitchen.

The restaurant specialised in tapas, and we gave the chef his head to bring out whatever he chose.

The food was divine. As the night meandered on we feasted on fresh bread, olives, pesto and chorizo, complimented by the most exquisite duck and shitake spring rolls. Our plates were cleared and they brought out squid and lightly crumbed octopus with huge char-grilled prawns, followed by sticky beef ribs and piri piri chicken. We ate slowly, savouring the delicacy of the flavours; the perfection of the combinations.

We laughed and talked about life, and travel and film; and we ate.

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Gradually the restaurant cleared and we sat back contented as they brought coffee. The open door brought the fresh smell of new rain from the darkened street. We were the last ones there and chatted to the owner and chef as they stood at the bar.

After four hours we left, knowing that we had been a part of something special: the harmonious meeting of work and life.

Proud Teacher Moments

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I love those moments that make teaching worthwhile. It’s a tough job, but such a rewarding one. You see hundreds of students come and go. You lose track of who graduated when, and what they’re doing now, and for the most part they vanish off into the world somewhere, hopefully slightly better equipped for life because they sat in your classroom. Often, though, you just never know. But then there are the ones who stay in touch; who make you proud. Not because they’ve done anything greater than the ones you never hear from again, but because they come back to tell you. This young man makes me proud. He’s one of SA’s up and coming footballers, he’s dedicated and down to earth, and he’s published a blog on the Port Adelaide Football Club’s website. He told me I taught him everything he knows. I didn’t. But maybe I helped him a bit along the way, and he’s been kind enough to come back and tell me.