Get to work! A perspective on prophesy

IMG_0852“It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” ~Jesus

Given the news of late and also preparing for an up and coming sermon series, some people raised questions on how events relate to prophecy. This tendency is one of the great dangers of dispensationalism and Christian belief in general. (While dispensationalists are often the straw man for prophecy issues, they’re really a human nature thing.)

Why prophecy?
God gave prophecy to exhort us to live holy, worshipful and servant-minded lives. His interests were not so much in knowing the future but in resting in Him who is in control. In times of dire consequence, God offered pieces of His plan to comfort. Meaning? God is demonstrating that He is in control. However, our focus shouldn’t be on the events but on God and walking in His ways.

Is it now? Are we there yet?
Before Jesus ascended back to heaven the disciples asked if now was the time for the kingdom. Jesus said to not worry about it, but instead gave them a mission. This may seem odd given all the teachings of Jesus exhorting people to read and understand the times. This seemingly paradoxical response is followed by more prophecy down the road. Like the Old Testament, prophecy pointed to a God who is in control and a call to holy, servant-minded living.

But…
Chill out. Love and serve your neighbors. Preach the Gospel boldly. Prophecy isn’t so we can sit in the grand waiting room we call a worship center and listen to Christian music while waiting for Jesus to return. Prophecy is a call for us to make disciples until Jesus does return. With all the news coming about of late remember Acts 1:7 and get to work on Acts 1:8!

The bottom line:
Many times throughout history current events lined up with aspects of Scripture. Rather than fear or trying to figure out the answer, we must respond to prophecy by boldly proclaiming the Gospel. The details of God’s plan is none of our business. God shared enough to give us hope, show he’s in control and point us to a mission. Now, go finishing the mission God called you to. Get to work!

The great divorce: Belief from action

IMG_0349Ask a dumb question and you’re bound to get a bad answer. In the vast online discussion on living for Christ one such questions is rampant. What is more important: theology or how we live? Let me be frank, it’s a dumb question. Why? We act (live) based on what we believe (theology).

God to Joshua
God tells Joshua that he MUST be absorbed with the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). Why? That Joshua may be careful to do all that is written in it. The result is success. God did not distinguish between action and belief, He called for both. Right actions flow from right thinking. God designed us as theological & philosophical beings. Theology and philosophy are intensely pragmatic because it’s the source of our actions.

Paul to Timothy
A key theme Paul wrote to Timothy was to guard both ministry (living) and doctrine (theology). This theme echoes the idea that God instructed Joshua. Either bad theology or bad living will undercut our mission of making disciples. This is a tension in life that is best left in place. Resolving this tension, which is too often done, creates a bigger mess. Poor Christian living is often a result of bad theology.

The other words of Christ in red…
Jesus makes this point as well. In the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor Jesus upholds the value of upholding correct theology and living. Jesus calls out the error in either direction and praises success in either direction. While incorrect, people often value the words of Christ in red as more important than the other Holy Spirit (who is also God) parts of the Bible. Hilariously, people often forget the red words in Revelation. Jesus will judge our actions and doctrine.

This divorce hurts our kids
When we focus on belief vs action we lose the ESSENTIAL third rail of proclamation. God wants to be known and made known. The belief vs action debate is inherently self-focused. God upholds correct theology and correct living because He wants us to make Him known. It’s time to hang up the “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words.” God wants us to use words. Bad theology and bad living will undercut our sharing that message. Our focus should be on our spiritual children and grand children.

The trinity
God the Father has a plan. Part of that plan is making Himself known to us. Life is not about us. God leads for His own name’s sake! God gave us the Bible (special revelation) so He could be KNOWN (theology). God the Son acted as a servant to point people to the Father. (He also did a lot of theology.) In communion this aspect of servanthood is demonstrated as we take the bread that symbolizes Jesus’ body which is for us. Becoming like Jesus is fundamentally servanthood (action). God the Spirit empowers God’s plan and living like Christ. The Spirit is our third rail. Acts 1:8 points this out. The Spirit leads us to not just live well, but to make God known (proclamation).

The bottom line:
We act based on what we believe. This drives us to share with others who God is by the power of the Spirit. Being like Jesus involves correct theology AND correct living for upholding our message of a risen savior. Don’t get stuck with the dumb question of belief vs living. Ask this question: Is my theology and life such that I can boldly proclaim the excellencies of Him who came as a servant, died innocently for our sin, rose victoriously on the third day and will soon return as King to make all things new?

An uncommon defense of Common Core: Parents are key

IMG_1795Educators cannot say this, but I can: Parents, you and I need to up our game! We need to do the hard work that makes great education possible. We need to lead our families to help those who are disadvantaged to do the same. No law, amount of money or education system can overcome our lack of engagement or community involvement. Parental engagement is not the norm based on my interactions with educators from many states.

The number one problem with education is not education. I am fully convinced that culture is chasing down the wrong issue. Parents are key. In my last post on defending Common Core State Standards (CCSS) I will address what is the real issue: parents. This post may sting a bit. I would rather our national education discussion be on family involvement instead of arguing against CCSS.

Unchanged factors
A wise teacher once stated there are three things a teacher cannot change: 1) A child’s IQ, 2) A child unwilling to learn, and 3) Parental apathy. A child with a 70 IQ will not perform the same as a child with an IQ of 130. That doesn’t mean one child will not have a profound impact on society, but it is a reality of academic performance. A teacher cannot force a student to learn. At the end of the day a student who refuses to learn wont. A teacher has no control over what goes on in the home. Teachers cannot change parental apathy. Key navigating this: parents.

Unchanged problems
Many of the argument against CCSS already existed. Standardized testing, curriculum decisions, Federal overreach, issues with math education, etc existed prior to CCSS being implemented. For my conservative friends, I am confident you would add teacher unions to this list. Many of these issues exploded in 2001 with the advent of No Child Left Behind. There are serious issues that need addressing. These issues are related to CCSS, but existed before CCSS. Stop CCSS and we’re left with the problems. Key to changing this: parents.

I sense we are uninformed on eduction
I thought I was informed on education, then I spent a year volunteering in a school. I was not as informed as I thought. Over the course of two years, especially this last year, I have seen remarkable things by some sweet teachers. I saw them have great days and incredibly challenging days. Here is the conclusion I reached: Education is not dry cleaning. We do not drop off our kids and return to pick up a cleaned and improved product. Education is fundamentally a community partnership and we, as parents, too often drop the ball.

A glimpse into schools
Often people ask why I support CCSS and why I argue for teachers. That is not the norm for someone more conservative minded, let alone a pastor. Let me give you a glimpse of what I see based on watching some classy friends do their job:

  • Teachers work long hours and weeks that run almost non-stop, except for the summer. For the summer there is much work to prepare for the long work hours and weeks that almost run non-stop. During the school year teachers often don’t have a life. They are not lazy.
  • Teachers are continually working on their trade and work towards advanced degrees. They are trained, evaluated, retrained, re-evaluated and this process continues. They collaborate, they self-initiate learning and they love it. Teachers are not dumb.
  • Teachers struggle with the same things you and I do. Some struggle with their marriages, some with dying friends or family. They have good days and bad days, and like all want to know they are making a difference. Teachers are not different from us.
  • Teachers are frustrated when they see a student underperform when they know they can do better. They are frustrated when a struggling student is doing great but others see it as not good enough. They are frustrated with the great middle that need time and investment too.They are frustrated when they, the teacher, drop the ball. Teachers are not content.
  • Teachers are scared and waiting for when goal posts (made by people untrained int heir field) are moved… again. They are often scared at interacting with us as parents, because the trend is see them as the problem. They are more and more scared for theirs and their students safety. They are scared about the family life of some students. They are scared about approaches to teacher accountability that actually undermines and not help. Teachers are scared that they expend all this time an energy for nothing. Teachers are not secure.
  • Teachers are classy. Despite all this they smile at students. They champion students. They push students. They give to their community- on top of their work. They go the extra mile for their peers- on top of their work. They improve their classrooms, curriculum, etc out of their own pocket. Teachers are not slaves, but they are heroes.

Parents: Want to improve education?

  • Parents, we must stop treating our kids as pets and our schools like a dry cleaning service. Get involved. Being informed does not equal involvement. Be the parent: play, read, argue, champion, cry, cheer, get thrown up on, etc with your kids. When your kids head to school remember it is your child’s job and not their babysitter.
  • Parents, we must listen, trust, and allow our children to fail. When schools/teachers inform us, listen and ask questions. If you have no question, ask: “What I’m hearing you say is…., correct?” Trust that the time and investment the teacher made in their career means they are a professional and know what they’re doing. Meaning: when a teacher approaches you about your child assume the best and focus on your child’s performance and not the teacher’s. A teacher works WITH you not FOR you.
  • Parents, encourage your child AND their teacher. Write a note out of the blue, go out of your way to interact with them. Ask how they are doing. Share humorous stories about your child, or even concerns you have when they’re struggling.
  • Parents, volunteer at least an hour a week in school. It is hard to understand education without being there. Society’s promotion of volunteerism often leaves avenues for you to take work time and volunteer in your community.
  • Parents, seek to understand then be understood. I find often the goal of educators and parents are the same, but we, the parents, often don’t listen. When your school has a school improvement meeting be there!
  • Parents, when you do the above and there is a serious issue you need to address, you will be addressing partners and friends who will hear you. You will know how to interact with them best. There are bad teachers, but I’d submit that is not the majority. I find most people have enough critics but what they lack is cheerleaders. That’s a choice we as parents have to make. Issues from cheerleaders are heard louder than those of critics.
  • Parents, our homes hold the key to our schools’ success. Work on building a healthy and safe home. Help your neighbors do the same. Why? No one learns or works well when they are stressed out. No education system can control this but it is THE issue effecting education. Healthy homes, healthy kids, healthy schools.

The bottom line:
I support CCSS because my education partners say it is a helpful tool. I support CCSS because I took time to listen and understand my education friends. Common Core makes sense. There are issues that my educator partners and I want addressed. These issues are related to CCSS but were not started by it and will likely continue unless we as parents step up. Why? The key to education is the home. You and I hold the key to great education.

An uncommon defense of Common Core: Local Control of Curriculum

IMG_3143I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? In this post I will be addressing how CCSS puts teachers in control of curriculum choices.

Education is locally controlled
CCSS is not a Federal curriculum being forced on educators. Reports against Common Core are often poor curriculum choices. While sitting on a schools Quality Assurance Review, the conversation on certain curriculums delighted me. The challenge they were working through was having curriculum options while having a consistent vocabulary & ‘language.’ The teachers understood they were different in their gifting, that various classes may learn differently, and they need to have consistent communication with each other and parents. This situation demonstrates this:

  1. CCSS is standards not curriculum. There were multiple curriculum options that support CCSS. Some curriculums were rejected, others were accepted. They investigated the curriculum choices based on data and performance. Much of this done over and above the teachers classroom work.
  2. CCSS did not Federally mandate how the teachers were to work. Through collaboration, understanding who they are as teachers, understanding their students via data, the teachers of my local school district made curriculum decisions that were best for the students. The curriculum choices were local, made by the school district in conjunction with teachers.
  3. As a parent, the district informed me of and sought input in the process. In this case through being on the Quality Assurance Review process. This review is part of a broader process to help the school district maintain system(district) wide accreditation via a third party. (They could just go through the state for accreditation, but the district chose a harder standard to achieve.)

Common Core arguments are red herrings
The biggest thrust I see against CCSS is Federal overreach. The issue of Federal and even state government intrusion is a vital one and one that educators often share. For example, Federal overreach in the school lunch program left a mess. There is concern that the same thing can happen with CCSS. The arguments against CCSS are a distraction from real issues related to but not a result of CCSS. We must deal with real issues and not be distracted by CCSS. Why?

News Flash: Congress tells Tiger Woods how to play Golf!
Education is becoming a field where people who are not trained in education are telling trained advanced degree educators how to do their job. Imagine congress or state legislators passing laws to instruct Tiger Woods how he should play golf? (His game lately needs some help!) We would think that is crazy: 1) They’re not PGA professionals 2) It’s not their role. 3) Just because you play gold doesn’t mean you know how to coach or play professionally. This is exactly what we as a society do with educators. Arguments against CCSS are a distraction from legitimate issues with education.

Data Mining
Another concern raised with CCSS is data mining. Again, this is a distraction. Everyone of my teachers data mined. It’s called a report card. As a society we want our schools to perform well, but how is that done without data? As a country we want our schools to be competitive with other countries. That requires data. I am at a lost on how to educate without collecting data while also determining performance and competitiveness. For example, the big issue with GM is a problem in how data was mined or not mined regarding an ignition switch. Not all data collection is inherently evil. We don’t seem to mind data mining of sports performance…

Guide posts
CCSS and data collection give local school districts guide posts on curriculum choices. CCSS is a collaborative effort to establish consistency between schools. CCSS at the same time allows the art of teaching to thrive and local control of curriculum choices to exist. Though I am fully in support of intuitive choices, collecting and wisely using data is essential to solid education. Analytical approaches to things are not in opposition to intuition. The fight against CCSS and data goes against helpful guideposts. It comes across to educators as “we want you to do your job but not have the needed guide posts to do it.” This sentiment is bad in parenting, leading and educating.

Education’s mission
Educator’s mission is to reach in retrospect the goal posts constantly change before them by the government. Being a part of my school districts review process, I learned of the infamous writing goal problem. As the state had set a standard that triggered the district’s response and everything was in place, the state moved the goal posts voiding the work. This left educators with a crazy time frame to deal with the new goal post. This was not a unique experience to educators. Being professionals, they got the job done. As a parent, I was and am very frustrated, but not at the teachers. We are making educators task impossible.

Many, not all, of my educators friends are for CCSS because it is helpful. There is work that needs to be done to improve upon CCSS and to communicate what CCSS is, especially in math. But the issue of Federal overreach (no child, race to the top, etc), States moving the goal posts (like previous example) and inconsistency between school districts existed long before Common Core. CCSS helps with consistency, but the issue of government overreach is solved by parents. Defeating CCSS doesn’t solve the real issues, and leaves unresolved an important issue.

The bottom line: Educators real mission is…
Teachers want to teach. Let us stop focussing on clearly bad examples of teachers or curriculum choices. Focus on the majority of teachers who want to help our kids think and achieve their dreams. The issues of standardized testing and government overreach are real, but CCSS is not the problem. Rather than chase after the red herring we made CCSS, listen to trained professionals who are also our neighbors.

CCSS are standards and not curriculum. Local school districts and teachers are fully in charge of curriculum decisions and CCSS keeps the art of teaching alive in the classroom. The viewpoint that CCSS is a Federal take over of education does not match the reality of how education works. Yes, Federal and even State overreach is an issue and a concern that educators share. Using CCSS as a figured head is in poor taste. I will discuss in the next post the essential thing needed : Engaged parents partnering with educators.

Sacrificial Service: Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.
English Standard Version

An uncommon defense of common core: We need a standard

IMG_1559The news and my social media feed, not to mention various conversations, filled up with discussion of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Discussion, particularly from a ‘conservative’ perspective go against CCSS. The viewpoint declares CCSS is a Federal take over of education. Given our fractured society, CCSS became a figurehead for fear of Federal intrusion. Where do I stand?

I support CCSS for three key reasons. First, I believe national standards are a prudent measure in an increasingly mobile society. Second, I believe that such standards should put local districts and teachers in control of curriculum decisions. Third, I believe that the main problem in education is a lack of parental engagement, understanding, and effective support. If opponents are successful in stopping CCSS, the three issues are still in play. I often ask my proverbial question: You get rid of CCSS, then what do you do? This post will deal with the need to national standards.

I drive therefore I can build a car…
In researching this issue as well as becoming a cheerleader for my local school district, one thing became clear: As a society we are woefully uninformed about education. I hope in reading this more grace and understanding is offered to our educator neighbors. For those who are parents reading this: we hold the trump card to radically improving education. We must not consider ourselves consumers of schools, but rather as engaged participants. Too many think they understand how education should work by virtue of being a student. This would be like saying we know how to design and build a car after driving it and doing standard maintenance.

National Standards are prudent
The first question to think through is: should there be national standards? An entire discussion could start and end right there. Our society is increasingly mobile. People growing up and staying in a certain geographical region is dropping. Society is becoming increasingly more urban. A key demographic in mobility is our military community. Having a national set of standards for education makes sense. If I move from one part of the country to another, it would be nice to have consistency. Also, a national set of standards helps benchmark our educational system to that of other countries.

Who should make the decision in developing national standards is a difficult one. My preference would be for states to collaborate together as well as with private enterprise. CCSS fits this model. While there is concern with some involved, such as Bill Gates, I prefer a state & private enterprise approach than a Federally controlled or mandated one. If Federal government started CCSS, I would not favor CCSS even though I do favor national standards.

We’ve been here before
The discussion is not new. An educator friend handed me the report of the Council of Ten, dated July 9th, 1892. The report deals with the matter of uniformity in education. It details standards for certain areas, and delegates others, such as the arts. A criticism often leveled at educational standards is that it diminishes the arts. Given this, there has always been a tension in education over should and what should be uniformed in education. Page 48 under the heading “Explanation of the Sample Programmes” it states this:

“The omission of music, drawing, and elocution from the programmes offered by the committee was not intended to imply that these subjects ought to receive no systemic attention. It was merely thought best to leave it to local school authorities to determine, without suggestions from the committee, how these subjects should be introduced into the programmes in addition to the subjects reported on by the Conferences.”

Standards vs Standardization
Things such as the arts have often taken the back seat in education. The highly viewed TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson attest to this fact. The challenge with any semblance of uniforimity is standards vs. standardization. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks and Mary E. Dietz discuss this danger of CCSS. They explicitly state that the standards are not the issue, but that “the initiative conflate standards with standardization.” (Educational Leadership Dec ’12/Jan ’13, p.65) Much criticism of CCSS seems more an issue of assumed standardization vs the standards themselves.

For example:
There are standards for english literature. News reports came out that “CCSS” are forcing students to read a book some disagreed with. While the book might be on a list of examples, we should note that “the only reading explicitly required in the CCSS is the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.” (CCSS Introduction, Aspen Institute) Timothy Shanahan illustrates how people took recommendations as standardization in his article “The CC Ate My Baby. (Educational leadership, Dec’12/Jan’13)

Curriculum choice is the real issue
Common Core is to education what HTML5 is to Web browsers. HTML5 is a web standard. There are multiple web browsers that interface with HTML5. Some do not interact well with HTML5- Internet Explorer. Some do a suburb job, like Safari. (I’m a mac.) Some curriculum and districts will interact well with the CCSS and some will not. Many of the criticisms of CCSS seem to be curriculum decisions, not necessarily the standards themselves. CCSS is not a curriculum. It is a set of standards.

The bottom line:
I believe we need national standards. Such is helpful to educating our children. These standards should be established by states, educators and private enterprise- the world which most will work. Common Core does this. There are things that can and need to be improved upon, as the issue of standards vs standardization illustrates. However, media punditry is making that needed interaction difficult. Rather than attacking CCSS, partner with your educator neighbors to do what’s best for kids. Why? The standards are not as much an issue as the curriculum choices are. Part two will deal with curriculum.

Why a hard copy Bible is best

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I tried the tech thing for a few years. It’s not working. I do not think this is an issue of generational shifting. I got scolded in elementary school for handing in a printed essay, I grew up techy when it was know as being a nerd. Some things are not replaceable. A tech Bible is such a thing. We need a hard copy Bible.

1) A hard copy has the benefit of legacy. It is much harder to toss a meaningful book away than digital notes.
2) Tech is often distracting when there is pressure against being still and knowing He is God. Stillness with the word is huge for sermon prep.
3) You can make the Bible digitally accessible and even preach from a tablet while still having a hard copy as your main Bible.
4) Hard copy Bibles don’t crash and are instantly available when the power is out or a recharge station is no where to be found.
5) A hard copy Bible inspires beyond your earthly life. Think beyond conscience and thing longer term.>