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Entries in Teaching (8)

Friday
Aug072015

Teaching: you have to give it some feet

As a teacher of the Bible, and one who enjoys good sermons, I've thought long and hard about applying the Scriptures. Last semester, the class I took was about writing bible study material, and the prof's regular critique of my work was that I wasn't giving "visible" applications, i.e., I wasn't suggesting that the student do something. I've always hesitated about that approach, and even if it meant getting a lower mark than I would have liked, I just couldn't bring myself to conjure up some sort of activity to prove that one was applying the Scripture.

I was happy to find support for my views in Jeremy Walker's book Passing Through. As he introduces his subject matter, he uses a phrase which is absolutely perfect in describing contrived applications:

Though I hope to offer applications, I will not give a series of minute prescriptions, for part of the genius of Scripture is that it provides what is necessary for wisdom for all saints in all times and all places. This is often accomplished by means of broad directives that we must then apply to our lives and situations into which God lead us, seeking the help of the Spirit to do so. (emphasis mine)

Did you catch that phrase? Minute prescriptions; isn't that an excellent way to describe some of the applications you've heard over the years? Sometimes, the application is simply, "Wow, God, you are amazing."

That said, as teachers, we do need to provide feet to the theological lessons we want our students to learn. An example of this popped up this past week as my friend and I studied Matthew 6:25-34. In verse 27, Jesus asks: "And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" Worrying is s a waste of time, and unproductive. It's like being in a rocking chair: you're moving, but you're not going anywhere. 

In studying who God is, we learn that he is sovereign. That's a huge topic to study, and the ramifications are equally huge. In this matter, God's sovereignty means that God has ordained our days from beginning to end. Psalm 31:14-15 says:

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, "You are my God."
My times are in your hand;
Rescue me from the hand of my enemies
and from my persecutors! 

God ordained when we came into the world, and he has ordained when we will leave it. No amount of worry will change that. When we fret over matters and micromanage things in the hopes that we can stave off the struggles of our lives, we are not adding anything into our lives. In fact, we're taking away from living in today.

Over the years, as I have struggled with worry, my husband has shared that encouragement with me time and time again: worry is fruitless. As the lesson was taught in the context of God's sovereignty, the lights finally turned on more fully. Before, they were dim and hazy; they are shining more brightly now.

I think it is a delicate balance to avoid over applying. It takes stime and study to discern the principles. As a teacher, I don't want to over apply and rob the student of thinking through things herself, but neither do I want to present things in a way that they just sound like platitudes. It's hard work; much harder than I reazlied. It makes me look back and cringe over my teaching in the past. I can only throw myself upon the grace and mercy of God for the times when I have not taught well.

Tuesday
Jan202015

Building, dismantling, and the critical spirit

When my children were small, one of the things they loved to do was watch their father build towers with blocks. We had a huge bucket of wooden blocks of various shapes, in bright colours, which their industrious father would use to build intricately designed towers. Upon completing, they were allowed to knock the tower down. They loved it. They could not make those elaborate towers themselves. It was just too difficult at their age, and it was easier to tip the towers over. And of course, watching dad build those towers helped them greatly when they began making their own.

I thought about this recently as articles about women's bible studies and books floated around the interwebs. We are a society which loves to find fault. We love news stories that detail someone's fall from grace; we love to debunk things and prove the masses wrong. We love to hear when someone gets his just desserts. Sometimes, that can have an eroding effect on our morales. There is a place for evaluation, but I think there's an imbalance out there. And for those of us with a tendency toward a critical spirit, we can get sucked into constant critique, dismantling without ever building anything ourselves.

Taking something apart without offering an alternative is much easier than just putting something together. It takes a lot more work to write a bible study than it does to pick one apart. I'm not saying we should not evaluate. Absolutely not! My concern is the imbalance, and honestly, I sometimes find the constant, "Don't read this!" and "Don't read that!" wearying. Yes, by all means, point out areas of concern, but how about on the other nine days out of ten, saying, "Hey, look at this! It's really good material!"

In blogging circles, just as with regular news, bad news attracts attention. I've written blog posts that have "true confession" type of writing, where I admit what a fool I am, how great my sin is, and what a mess I made. There will be far more readers of those kinds of posts than the occasions when I write about a biblical passage I've just taught. Crickets.  I'm not complaining; I'm just pointing out what actually happens.

For me, though, the building part is better. As I said, I already tend toward a critical spirit. When I get in the midst of a multitude of critical voices, I end up along for the ride. I don't want that for myself. I want to be constructive. I don't plan to close my eyes to things that are wrong, and maybe I'll even write about a book I don't like; but it will be the exception and not the rule. It's time to start building more. 

Wednesday
Apr242013

Don't hug the messenger?

Last night, just as I was getting ready to choose the book I'd peruse before I went to sleep, a good friend who is also a bible teacher emailed me to see if I had started Christ Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chapell.  She had already started it, and knew I was intending to read it.  I had planned to start at the weekend, but her comment about how convicting it was caused me to grab it and take it upstairs with me.

I am not hoping to become a pastor. But I am a teacher; what a preacher does is what a teacher of women does: opens the Word of God.  These words from Chapell were of the "ouch" kind, and I always need to hear those, because I'm a painfully slow learner:

When preachers perceive the power that the Word holds, confidence in their calling grows even as pride in their performance withers. We need not fear our inefectiveness when we speak truths God has empowered to perform his purposes.  At the same time, acting as though our talents are responsible for spiritual change is like a messenger claiming credit for ending a war because he delivered the peace documents.  The messenger has a noble task to perform, but he jeopardizes his mission and belittles the true victor with claims of personal achievement. Credit, honor, and glory for preaching's effects belongs to Christ alone because his Word alone saves and transforms.

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