By / Sep 29

“You Matter,” “I Matter,” “We Matter,” 40 fifth graders chanted in unison on our first day of elementary school where I teach in a high poverty area in Indiana. The first days of school are momentum building. Teachers pour on the positive praise, rewards, and reinforcement. In many elementary schools, this is also the honeymoon period. There are new clothes, new hair styles, new school supplies, and pep talks from parents that haven’t fallen on deaf ears quite yet. 

My school is no different in many ways, but with the highest rates of child poverty in the city, there are unique barriers we face at the beginning of the school year. We are a “promise school,” meaning the district is committed to investing resources into our building. But the barriers are profound because of our poverty rates. Strong, experienced teachers request to work in our building, but the district moves them to more established schools. And while there is funding for technology, project-based learning initiatives, and school police officers, my classroom, for example, does not have doors, our desks are old and scratched, I have a small window, and the school battles a mice and cockroach infestation. If there was an emergency, there is no additional exit in my room that my students could actually get through with efficiency.

In light of the obstacles we face, Jesus reminds me that those who belong to him are promised his faithfulness, care, and compassion. He sees us, he knows our needs, and he loves us. I am reminded of this when a stranger writes me a $300 check for classroom snacks. Or, when partnering churches bring lunch and send in large donations of food and school supplies. I experience it when people pray and spend the evening putting up posters in my classroom. Or, when teachers give up their planning periods to assist in other classrooms. And I see it when neighborhood adults meet children at bus stops with breakfast and snacks. 

As teachers go through the school year, with all of its challenges and joys, we need the promises of Jesus to carry us through. And we see glimpses of those promises through many of our everyday experiences. 

We are promised his comfort and shelter. On the second day of school, children, teachers, and parents stand in a thunderstorm at the end of the day, scrambling to get kids home, many walking more than a mile. Many families do not get bussing due to district cuts years ago, and several bus stops are several blocks away. A pregnant mother of eight comes running and reaches for her children. I hand her an umbrella for the walk home. Teachers and students huddle together beneath the awning as they wait on parents. One of my fifth graders comforts his scared and sobbing 6-year-old brother because the storm is too loud. 

We are promised his friendship. Former students contact me, and children give huge hugs in the hallways. “Jack” has such a profound speech disability that he is unable to say any consonants. We celebrate that he is in my class with his best friend “Blake.” Jack and Blake are so close that Blake translates for Jack when someone can’t understand him. Jack will call him over when I am struggling, and Blake listens closely and lovingly interprets what he is saying. They’ve pulled each other away from fights this week and never leave the other’s side. I’ve never seen two kids have such a truly sweet and mutual relationship. They choose to be with each other because they love and enjoy one another. 

We are promised nurture. The siblings of a child who lived with us in the past are currently living with our dear pastor friend and his wife. I have prayed since these children were tiny that they would experience safety and security. The kids squeal in delight when we arrive at the bus stop. The 4-year-old runs up to my preschool daughter and says, “You coming with me.” After the big kids get on the bus, the small ones will go back to our friends’ house until pre-k starts. Goodbye hugs are given. I know our children are both seen and heard. They will be loved at school and in the home of the pastor’s family. 

We are promised he will bear our burdens. A teacher resigns after four days of instruction. The needs and behaviors are “too much to bear.” It is not only the behaviors or the needs that are too much to bear. The grief alone is too much to bear. None of us are strong enough to handle it ourselves. 

We are promised grace. A friend brings dinner on Friday. My husband and I are draped in fatigue and irritability. My mantra is “just get to bedtime.” I run upstairs to change clothes before taking my kids to play. I am half-clothed when my 3-year-old screams, alerting me that her little brother let the dog out. The neighbor meets me on my porch, and the dog follows her back, only to get away from us again two more times. She watches my kids while I grab my keys and put shoes on. The 2-year-old is crying. My neighbor says, “Sometimes motherhood is hard.” 

We are promised that he sees. An adoptive mother of seven loses her new home and puppy to a house fire. She and the children are left with the clothes on their back. I met these sweet children several years ago when they were living with little food, shelter, transportation, and proper hygiene. The mother and father struggled with addiction, to the point of losing their children. The aunt, who is now their adoptive mother, moved across the country to keep the siblings together and care for her elderly mother. When I met them, it felt so meager to deliver a package of diapers, yet the Lord knew their needs. Currently, the family is living out of a hotel room. My friend cares for the three youngest, and several churches work together to gather supplies for them. 

The promises continue.

Our teenage daughter, whose life is a testament to the miraculous promises of God, is invited to be a peer mentor for students who have experienced trauma, are on the spectrum, or have behavioral disabilities. “What an honor,” I say.

With an eye roll, and flat tone, she responds, “I just treat them like humans.” 

I am reminded that it is Jesus who says we matter, and it is his people who affirm it. We are called to treat one another like humans made in God’s image — beautiful, created, seen, valued, and loved. 

Jesus invites everyone to grab hold of his promises, and the Spirit fulfills these every day. He does not forget the orphan, widow, addicted, homeless, suffering, or wandering. He promises to meet us at the bus stops, in the food pantry, in pre-school, and in the suffering hearts of young people. He has not forgotten, and he will restore. I am forever thankful to rest on these promises. 

By / Aug 9

I did not always fit in at the Christian schools I attended growing up. I was one of only a handful of students who did not have both parents at home, which meant I was the only one in my class with a different last name than the rest of my family because my divorced mom had remarried. This required complicated explanations to my classmates and sometimes even teachers; most of them lived in a world where most moms and dads were married, so their children shared their last names. It meant I had to ask permission from the front office to wait with my little brother after school, long after everyone else had gone home, until our single mom could get off work to pick us up. And it meant that I did not have my father there to walk with me in homecoming court senior year. Often, neither of my parents were present during special school ceremonies because my father lived in another town, and my mother could not always leave work.

As a shy child, I didn’t like feeling different from my classmates. I secretly resented them for their seemingly perfect family lives and wondered what it would be like to see both my parents’ smiling faces in the audience during a school play or to be able to share a last name with my mom and half-siblings. But I knew enough to be grateful for the sacrifices my mother was making to keep me in private school — even if I didn’t always feel like I belonged there. 

When I grew up, got married, and had kids of my own, I knew I wanted a Christian education for my own kids. I eventually convinced my reluctant husband that our two-income family could afford the private school tuition if we budgeted carefully. To make it work, we’ve had to sacrifice things like a bigger house in a fancy neighborhood and newer cars, but we have never once regretted these sacrifices.

An investment in my future 

Christian education began influencing my life from about the age of two, when my newly divorced mother enrolled me in one of the area’s most popular Christian preschool programs. It was an expensive choice for a single mother, and one she continuously had to defend to family members who questioned why she would pay private school tuition when she could barely make ends meet.  

Because we moved around a lot, I ended up attending five different Christian schools over the years, ranging from a tiny Pentecostal-run academy to the large Southern Baptist school from which I eventually graduated. Nonetheless, Christian schooling became one of the few constants in my life when the shape of my family never stayed the same. Even after another divorce, various job changes, and relationship challenges, my mom always found a way to keep me (and for a time, my younger siblings) in Christian school. 

It turned out to be one of the best investments she would make in my future. For me, Christian schooling served as a lifeline out of a world plagued by father hunger, family disfunction, and economic instability. Not only did I receive a private school education, but I also gained the direction and support I needed to stay on a path toward the stable family life I enjoy today. 

A report about private education 

My experience with Christian education is backed up by a report from the Institute for Family Studies and the American Enterprise Institute. The Protestant Family Ethic, written by Albert Cheng, Patrick Wolf, Wendy Wang, and W. Bradford Wilcox, is the first of its kind to analyze the effects of private versus public schooling on three family outcomes for adults. The report found that students educated in private schools, especially Protestant schools, are more likely to be in intact marriages and to avoid out-of-wedlock births as adults. 

One of the report’s most striking findings involves the powerful effects of religious schooling on students from lower-income backgrounds. As the authors explain, “religious schools, both Catholic and Protestant, have comparatively more positive influences on family stability for students who grew up in financially difficult circumstances.” 

According to the report:

“About 40% of public-school attendees who grew up in financially unstable households eventually marry and never divorce. The rate is higher for Catholic-school attendees who grew up in the same unstable financial situation (53%). Meanwhile, Protestant-school attendees who grew up in financial hardship are the most likely to marry and never divorce; 72% are still in their first marriage.”

In addition to the differences between religious and public school students, the figure above also reveals that students from financially unstable backgrounds reap more positive family outcomes from religious schooling than students from financially stable backgrounds. Among Protestant school students in particular, those who grew up in financially difficult circumstances are significantly less likely to have a nonmarital birth and to have divorced than those from financially stable backgrounds.

3 ways religious schooling shaped me

As someone who was raised in a financially turbulent, single-parent household, I have a few theories about why this might be the case. Religious schooling shaped my future family life for the better by providing me with three things I needed the most: 

1. Examples of healthy marriages and decent fathers and husbands. 

Growing up in a broken home where men were either absent, unreliable, or dangerous, the messages I absorbed about fathers, marriage, and family life were overwhelmingly negative. But in Christian school, I found peace and hope in the midst of family turmoil. It was there that I was introduced to the concept of God as my Father who looked upon me as his child, which mattered a great deal to a little girl who desperately missed her biological father. And it was there I experienced Christ’s unconditional and unfailing love through the lives of my teachers and the pastors who led the school. 

At the same time, I was exposed to healthy married families with faithful dads and husbands — men who did not harm or abandon their families but who loved God, their wives, and their children. None of these men were perfect, but they were clearly striving to be the fathers and husbands their families deserved. Many of these examples came from married teachers whose spouses also worked at the school — like my favorite bus driver/ janitor, Mr. Robb, a gentle giant whose wife taught kindergarten, or my high school Algebra teacher and senior adviser, Mr. Ammons. Something I noticed about their families is the role faith played in their lives. The parents prayed together and took their children to church often, and they were committed to something, or Someone, bigger than just each other (and research confirms that couples who pray together and attend church regularly enjoy more stable marriages). 

2. A biblical worldview that pointed me to a path for a successful future. 

In the IFS/AEI report, the authors reflect on why Protestant schools appear to have a stronger influence on the future family lives of students compared to the other schools, noting that: 

“Protestant schools are more likely to stress the importance of marriage as a good in and of itself—and of having and raising children in marriage. The different messages they send may play some role in providing a normative context for their graduates’ future family lives.” 

This was certainly true in the schools I attended. The contrast between my unstable family life at home — where divorce and father absence seemed to spread like a disease — and what I experienced in the Christian school classroom gave me a taste of the healthy family life I desired but did not know how to obtain. I was taught a biblical worldview that said every life has value and purpose, that marriage was designed by God for the good of children and society, that divorce was to be avoided if at all possible, and sex and parenthood should be reserved for marriage. 

Importantly, I saw these ethics lived out in the lives of my teachers and in most of the families of my peers. I learned that boundaries matter, not to fence me in but to protect me from harm. Instead of lessons on condoms, I was encouraged to delay sex until I was married because of God’s good design, to work hard in school so I could go to college, and to eventually get married and start a family — a sequence of steps that research shows is linked to lower chances of poverty and a greater chance of achieving family stability and economic success. These values, and the support I received to sustain them, helped me to avoid some of the common risk factors for kids from broken families.

3. Supportive and like-minded peers.

As I said earlier, I was an outsider at my Christian school because of my family life at home. Most of the students lived with their married parents in stable, middle- or upper-class neighborhoods, while only a handful, like me, came from broken homes, often relying on scholarships or financial aid to be there. But the friends and classmates I found there helped keep me away from choices that would have most certainly derailed my future. Most of the students attended church regularly and avoided alcohol, drugs, and early sex. While there were definitely some kids who were having sex and partying on the weekends, most of the students were striving to avoid these behaviors. 

Again, my experience echoes the findings in the IFS/AEI report, which identified “stark differences in the peer environment of various school communities.” Compared to students who attended secular private and public schools, Millennials who attended religious schools were significantly more likely to report that “almost all” their peers attended church regularly, did not use drugs, had never had sex, and planned to go to college. 

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that religious private schools are far from perfect education models. Many of these schools lack the economic and racial diversity that could benefit their student body and the surrounding community. And emerging from the Christian school “bubble” into the real world can leave some students with a bit of culture shock. Even so, I would not trade the Christian education I received, flaws and all, for any other form of schooling — and I believe that without it, I would not be where I am today.As theProtestant Family Ethic concludes, “private schools serve the public good more by fostering stronger and more stable marriages among American men and women compared to public schools.” Religious schools have a vital and unique role to play in promoting this common good, especially among lower-income kids from unstable families who are hungry for the faith, values, and role models these schools offer. Just as it did for me, Christian schooling can provide at-risk students with a lifeline out of the cycle of family instability and point them toward a path for a brighter family future. 

By / Apr 15

If you were a child of the evangelical 1980s and 90s, you likely saw a VHS tape containing a morality tale. Whether it was McGee and Me, Quiggly’s Village, or a plunger-headed cucumber fighting rumor weeds and fibs from outer space, you were told tales of the dangers of lying, envy, and other numerous sins with the help of cartoons, puppets, and animated vegetables.

I don’t remember all the plot lines of such shows, but I do have vivid memories of great tragedy befalling the protagonists when they committed various vices that spun out of control.

While there’s a place for discussing the merits and drawbacks of such entertainment, the aim of cultivating virtue—and warning against vice—is very appropriate. It smacks of the philosophy of the Proverbs. You might say Proverbs was written, among other things, as a warning to young people against vices. The sage tells the young man to avoid joining gangs for a false sense of belonging. Wisdom creates a hedge for the youth against the deadly allure of illicit sex.

Now this is important. Stories cultivate moral sensibility. In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior makes this case deftly: when we read books well, we practice moral judgments and further develop our own moral convictions. Stories reduced to mere morality tales are not good literature, but all narratives when told truthfully will develop our understanding of virtue.

How much more does history, when told truthfully, serve us—and our kids—with the formation of virtue.

History is full of women and men who exhibit virtue. And unlike morality tales, these history-shaping men and women live in a very real world, a world like our own. To quote Voltaire, “History doesn’t repeat itself. Man always does.”1Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv. No matter what era we study, we are still gripped by our shared imago Dei. Our humanity connects us with figures across history. Indeed, humanity gives us access to models of virtue, and examples of vice.

For every virtue has at either extreme a vice. If the path of virtue is a road, then on each side is a ditch. Virtue is about staying on the road, and not walking into either ditch. If virtue is about keeping to the center, vice is found in among the cattails.

Arius’ overgrown ambition

History has many figures among the cattails. One of them was a man named Arius, and there are three things you should know about him:

First, he was handsome, gifted, and a golden-tongued teacher. He was an influencer. If Twitter was a thing back in 300 A.D., Arius would have had the blue check.

Second, Arius is an example of the failure of temperance. Arius served under Alexander, the man who held office as the bishop of Alexandria, arguably the most important church office in the ancient world at the time. Arius wanted that office, and his ambitions birthed in him a jealousy that eventually overtook him.

Third, in his jealousy, Arius began making up lies about Alexander. And then things got really out of hand. Consider gathering your kids in the family room, or my favorite—around the campfire—and telling them this tale: 

The young jealous Arius dug up an old heresy, one we now call modalism, and he accused Alexander of denying that God is one in three persons. Alexander tried to reason with Arius. This first charge was an easy charge for Alexander to defend, but Arius’ jealousy carried him to the next phase, and the rumor weeds grew. 

Next, Arius stirred up other bishops and the people. Arius began to explicitly teach that Jesus was not God from eternity. He famously said, “There was a time when the Son was not,” effectively denying Christ’s full deity and saying the Son was a created being. Then, Arius went even further and said that the Spirit was not God.

And as if this wasn’t enough, Arius worked hard to recruit allies to his cause. He used his gifts to gather around himself a group that aligned with Arius’s innovative teaching. To complicate matters, all this took place during the rule of Constantine, the newly converted Christian emperor. Constantine had hoped to use Christianity to reunite the faltering Roman empire. The last thing Constantine wanted was for his Church to split over what he saw as a petty theological issue. 

So what began with Arius’ unbridled ambition and jealousy grew into an enormous political controversy. Constantine called a meeting, inviting 1,800 bishops from across the empire, representatives from the Christian East and West. 

The meeting took place in modern day Iznik, Turkey, a city that was then called Nicaea. Roughly 300 bishops actually came, which is a rather good turnout considering how costly and time consuming such a journey would have been in those days.

The meeting was long. We’re talking March-to-August long. The council determined that Arius had indeed diverged from the Church’s teaching, and they affirmed a statement from which the Nicene Creed we recite today originated. Arius, along with his followers that wouldn’t yield, were banished. 

Now, if only that were the end of the story. The trouble is that the Council was unable to fully uproot Arius and his followers’ vices. The proud man and his adherents regrouped, and many (though not Arius) found ways to wiggle back into church fellowship. They used clever words, avoiding language that was condemned at Nicea, without actually changing their heretical theology.

Athanasius against the jealousy weed

Just five months after the Council of Nicaea, Alexander died, and a young man named Athanasius was elected as his successor. He had served as Alexander’s assistant, and he’d played a critical role at the council. 

Athanasius was a man of virtue. He wasn’t a brash man but was known instead for being gentle and pastoral in his approach. And yet he took the Arian threat seriously. He held tightly to the truth of the Scriptures and the deity of Christ without yielding to the political pressure to merely keep the peace. 

Athanasius’s commitment to truth made him a problem for Arius and his followers. They saw him as an enemy to be thwarted. But because of Athanasius’ virtue, they were hard pressed to find an accusation that would stick. Nevertheless, they tried.

One of the factions of Arius’ followers went so far as to fake a man’s death, hide him in another city, produce a severed hand (probably from a real corpse), and then claim that Athanasius had maimed and killed the man with sorcery. This attempt to remove Athanasius from power only failed when authorities were able to produce the alleged victim and reveal that he was still alive with two hands!

This wasn’t the end of the story. Arius and his tribe were successful in their attempts multiple times. He was forced into exile on five different occasions by four different emperors.

But when we take a close look at how Athanasius withstood these trials, we see the role of virtue in his life. One critical virtue he demonstrated was fortitude. His commitment to truth was resolute. He endured in faith in spite of banishment and fleeing for his life. Despite these continuous trials, he stayed the course, maintaining his conviction in the deity of Christ and his commitment to the true God made flesh. 

There is some scholarly debate, but most likely Athanasius’ magnum opus, On the Incarnation, was written during his first exile. Those who argue against it being written at this time point out that Arius isn’t mentioned in this work. I think it’s more likely Athanasius had his eyes set on a different prize—the purity of the Church. 

Athanasius wanted God’s people to know the beauty and majesty of the God who saw fit to dwell among us. He wanted the world to know that the exalted God who created the universe came to dwell on earth as a human. To paraphrase a lengthier passage from On the Incarnation: Just as the prestige of a city is raised when a great king dwells in it, how much more is the human race, when the God of the universe takes on flesh.2Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69. In his writings, Athanasius was clear, and he shows us where true virtue is found—only when we are rooted in Christ. 

Athanasius wasn’t alone in his biblical convictions about the person of Christ. There were many other leaders and fellow believers who gave him aid and shelter in his exiles, but the well known phrase Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world,” is fitting because it captures the gravity of the pressure he faced and the virtue with which he stood.

Meanwhile, Arius—our man caught in the cattails of vice—who enviously desired the throne of Alexandria, found himself at the end of his life upon another more ignoble throne. While Arius’ case was under consideration for his readmittance and welcome into the fellowship of the church, he experienced a pain in his bowels, entered a public latrine, and immediately died upon the toilet. 

When Constantine heard this news, he immediately concluded that Arius was a scheming liar, because—in his view—no man of God would die such an ignoble death.

Arius, in his jealousy, sought fame and influence at the expense of virtue, and it led to his destruction. By contrast, Athanasius, a man of Christ-centered virtue, suffered intrigue and exile but found a prize more valuable than rubies. Nothing could take him away from the pearl of great price he found in Christ. 

Just as Arius serves as a somber warning against the dangers of unchecked vanity, envy, and pride, so also Athanasis serves us and our kids as an example of Christlike humility and a tenacious and humble refusal to compromise on the truth. 

Passing along church history from generation to generation

In Psalm 78, Asaph tells us of the importance of passing down the story of the faith from generation to generation. The psalm focuses on telling children about acts in history “so that our children should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God (v. 7).” 

Often when we cite this passage, we think about passing down the stories of our faith that we find in the Bible. But it’s also wise to tell our children about the works of God throughout the history of the church, of the men and women who endured many trials with faithfulness and of those who failed by giving into vice.

We need resources to help us do this well. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones. Covering the span of church history this book has full color pictures and illustrations. It also includes the fun stories and legends that kids love (like the tall tales of “Saint Nick” punching Arius in the nose).
  • Light Keepers is a fantastic series that tells the stories of historical figures through the lens of childhood in a way that captures kids’ imaginations. 
  • Super Heroes Can’t Save You. Todd Miles cleverly breaks down Trinitarian and Christological heresies into gripping stories from history, and clear explanations of doctrine—using superheroes! If you think church history and theology are boring, check out Miles, he’ll change your mind. 

Let’s tell our children stories from our shared Christian history. When we tell them the story of Arius’ jealousy and Athanasius’ fortitude, we aren’t just telling kids morality tales of vice and virtue. We are giving them a framework for how to view the entirety of history through the lens of God’s grace. In the stories of men and women who lived lives of virtue, we’re teaching our kids about how God has shown himself faithful across hundreds of years. When we tell them about the works God has done through men and women with Christian virtue, we are strengthening their hope in the God who gives grace to the humble and fortitude to those who depend on him. 

  • 1
    Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv.
  • 2
    Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69.
By / Feb 15

How have you been talking to your children about the recent election outcome and political turmoil in America?

Christian parents are called to teach their children what God says about the governing authorities and our obligations to them. But how can you help your children to think biblically about the election, a new president, and our government if you’re not even sure what you think? 

Here are a few thoughts to get you started.

Remember where leaders come from

Paul wrote, “Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom. 13:1, emphasis added). Christians are called to honor our rulers because all authority is from God. 

It’s easy to think this verse was intended for another time. But remember who was in charge when Paul wrote these words. Rome was far from a democratic republic, and Nero was anything but benevolent. Rome was a hard place to live, even for her citizens, and her emperors were cruel in the extreme. Yet in these circumstances, Paul urged Christians to “be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1). How much more should we do the same in a society where rulers derive their authority from the people who elect them? 

Speak respectfully and pray

One of the most practical ways we can honor our authorities is by speaking respectfully of them, even if we disagree with them. That includes our tone of voice as much as our choice of words. Pay attention to how you say what you say. This can make the difference between principled disagreement and sinful disdain. You can also help your children obey God’s command to honor the authorities (1 Peter 2:17) by using the titles of elected officials when you talk about them—even if you didn’t vote for them. For example, say “President Biden” instead of simply “Biden” or “Joe,” “Speaker Pelosi” and “Senator McConnel” instead of “Pelosi” and “Mitch,” etc.

The most important way to speak about the governing authorities is in prayer. Prayer is a powerful tool in the Christian’s spiritual arsenal (James 5:16) and it’s what Paul urges us to do for our leaders:

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Tim 2:1–2)

When we fail to pray for our leaders, we reveal that we don’t really believe that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1). 

The more we disagree with a leader, the more officials pass laws contrary to God’s law, and the more that a leader asks Christians to disregard their consciences, the more we should be on our knees (along with our children) praying for them. It is God who “removes kings and establishes them” (Dan. 2:21), and it is God who has the power to direct their decisions and even transform their hearts. Ask God to give elected officials wisdom to move toward just laws and policies, to bless them, and to restrain them from doing evil. If Christians aren’t praying for their leaders, who will?

Curate your news

How we think about who is in authority is being shaped by what we read and watch. Every day there’s more news to read, watch, stream, and scroll through than anyone could ever absorb. Unfortunately, much of that is unhelpful, and even untrustworthy. This is all the more reason to look for reliable sources. But even reliable sources shouldn’t be our go-to over God’s Word. 

Let your most important shaping influence be the Bible, not news feeds, blogs, or Twitter. This is both an exhortation and an invitation. Spend as much, or more, time reading the Bible and praying each day as you do surfing the Web. This is the path to peace. Your children will base their news habits on what you do, so the more faithful you are to steward the news, the more likely they will be to be faithful, too.

In our family, we’ve found World News Group’s Worldwatch program to be a helpful way to keep our school-age kids up-to-date with important news at home and abroad. The daily 10-minute online video is age-appropriate and objective. Every day, the show’s host reminds children who is in control, saying, “And remember, whatever the news, the purpose of the Lord will stand.”

Keep a long-term perspective

I recommend social media breaks as encouraged by Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism. Stepping away from social media and taking sabbaths from the digital world helps us relate more helpfully with the real world. 

When it’s time to re-engage the news, rather than indulging a craving for never-ending headlines, instead develop a taste for slow news. You can think of it like fast-food addicts changing their tastes by embracing more nourishing slow food. Look for well-reasoned writing, the more long-form the better, to shape your perspective on the world. Not only do we need books to balance out the digital headlines, we need old books to balance out the new ones. Strive for news intake that fits into the rhythms of a week or month, rather than every day or every hour.

It’s tempting to read the news only for what’s happening today, but we need to read for what will happen over longer seasons of time. Rather than modeling for our children perpetual outrage over the daily hot takes, we should ask the Lord to help us fear God, not man. This goes a long way to raising well-informed and responsible future adults who will stay engaged with the political process throughout their lives, and not burn out as soon as their candidate loses or they feel disillusioned.

Work for the well-being of America

When Judah went into exile in Babylon, God spoke to the people through Jeremiah saying, “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7). May we likewise work for the welfare of our country, all the while “desir[ing] a better country, that is, a heavenly one, trusting in God who has prepared for his people a city” (Heb. 11:16).

Our work should look different from those whose highest hope is in this life. Because we are exiles (1 Peter 1:1), we are free to love our country, and we are also free from devastation when things don’t go the way we hope they will. We are able to be unshaken by circumstances, still rejoicing in the Lord. 

In Christ, we can be at peace, knowing God is working all things according to the counsel of his will. It’s okay to be disappointed with election results, even grieved, but if we find ourselves devastated, that’s a warning that we’ve placed our hope too much in politics. Similarly, when our candidate wins, it’s okay to celebrate, but it’s sinful to gloat. Proverbs 24:17–18 warns us saying, 

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.

Last year I memorized Psalm 131:1 by meditating on it over the course of a few weeks. It’s a prayer of humility, asking God to make us like David who said, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Psalm 131:1). If the King after God’s own heart knew his limitations and did not reach beyond what he could grasp, how much more ought we pray for humility and lower our focus from things beyond our understanding, entrusting them to the King “who rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28).

Ask God to shape your heart and attitudes as you seek to shape your children. Practice civil discourse as you speak about civics, and pray with your kids for the well being of our country, for our good and his glory.

By / Oct 29

Let’s play a word association game. What immediately comes to mind when you read the following words?

  • Jesus
  • Salvation
  • Hope
  • Redemption
  • Love
  • Peace
  • Forgiveness
  • Grace
  • Heaven
  • Theology

These are all words found in Scripture except, of course, the last one. We daresay the first nine produce warm, pleasant feelings—even rapturous joy!—as we consider all their gospel truth.

But what about theology? For many Christians, this word evokes a different response. A sigh of boredom, perhaps? A slight wince? A nervous tic? A spine-tingling shiver, as if the very notion of theology could inspire a thriller movie.

We jest, of course. But too often, Christians equate theology with tedious concepts best reserved for pastors, textbooks, and the erudite halls of higher academia. We think, I’ve got a job, monthly bills, a pile of laundry that has learned how to procreate, and my kid’s science fair project is about to destroy the last shred of my sanity. Why should I bother with a bunch of fancy preacher terms—or teach them to my child, for that matter? I just want to follow Jesus.

But here’s the undeniable truth: As R.C. Sproul often said, everyone’s a theologian. It’s just a matter of what you believe about God.

The word “theology” simply means, “the study of God and how he relates to the world.” Theology teaches us about who the triune God is and how he has powerfully worked to redeem his people. It helps us know how to live as devoted followers of Christ. Every believer should be pursuing theological maturity.

In Colossians 1:10, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers to be “bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Emphasis added; see also Prov. 9:10 and 2 Pet. 3:18). Clearly, theology matters. We are called to grow in this knowledge.

But perhaps you’re thinking, That’s fine for adults. But is it possible, or even appropriate, for me to teach theological concepts to my child? The answer is unequivocally, Yes!

Let’s briefly consider eight reasons why it’s essential for every Christian parent to teach their child about God’s nature, character, and how he relates to his creation:

1. Theology is part of every Christian parent’s God-given calling. 

When a Christian becomes a parent, the theological pursuit that should mark their life now expands into a teaching role. As you trust God for your child’s ultimate salvation, you also have the joy of raising them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). 

As God was bringing Israel into the Promised Land, he gave his children the Shema, a foundational text in Jewish life:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:4–7).

While 21st-century American parents live a far different life than that of the ancient Hebrews, our calling has not changed. We must worship the Lord with all our being and increase our knowledge about him in order to live faithfully, and teach our children to do the same.

2. God is a God of self-revelation.

Unlike many of the gods of ancient pagan myths, God is not an aloof deity, tucked away into the nether regions of the cosmos. He is transcendent yet immanent. Since creation, God has been revealing himself to humanity through his spoken and written word (2 Tim. 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21), his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10), and creation itself (Rom. 1:20). Of course, God’s greatest self-revelation was through his Son, Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word (John 1:14).

This means God wants us to know him. As a relational God, he wants to be studied and comprehended. In Psalm 27:8, David writes, “You have said, “Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’”

Of course, because of God’s transcendence, there are things he hasn’t revealed to us. But he expects us to worship him with what he has made known. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So we must teach God’s amazing self-revelation to our children.

3. God’s plan calls for a generational legacy of gospel-centered theology.

Psalm 78:4 says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

What is this well-known verse if not a call for parents to pass along a spiritual heritage of knowing and loving God to their children? It’s generational theology at work.

In fact, if you look closely at verses 5–7, you’ll see four generations in view. The Ancient of Days wants us to spread his fame across centuries. But it begins with Christian parents lovingly instructing the current generation that is still potty training, playing tag, and learning fractions.

4. Laying a strong theological foundation for children encourages a lifetime of faith.

A child’s understanding of God ultimately will inform every aspect of their life. Consider these questions and corollaries:

If a child isn’t taught . . .

  • that God created all things, including humans as his image-bearers, how will they understand their true purpose in life?
  • the doctrine of sin, how will they understand God’s justice, recognize their desperate need for a Savior, and rejoice in God’s forgiveness?
  • that God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, and sufficient, they could be easily seduced by universalism and/or moral relativism later in life.
  • about God’s sovereignty and lovingkindness, they could easily lose hope and grow bitter when trials come.

We could say much more here, but the point is clear: With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

5. Parents are a child’s primary spiritual caretaker.

Perhaps you think this goes without saying. But admit it: There are times when you’ve felt inadequate, disinterested, discouraged, or just plain too busy to lead your child spiritually.

“Ugh … another long day at the office, and I still have to make dinner. Gather ‘round, kids. Tonight’s family devotions are brought to you by VeggieTales!”

We’ve all been there.

Being a primary spiritual caretaker isn’t easy. But it is a God-given calling—and privilege—that should top every Christian parent’s daily priority list, as Scripture clearly attests (Deut. 6:4–7; Ps. 78:1–8; Ps. 145:4; Eph. 6:4).

Need help knowing how to do this?

  • Slowly begin reading through the Bible with your child, one book at a time, and highlight aspects about God.
  • Use a gospel-centered devotional about God to supplement Scripture readings.
  • Find ways to start theological conversations on family outings (e.g. pointing out the majesty of God’s creation on hikes or at the beach).
  • Ask a pastor at church or some Christian friends for suggestions.

There’s no one right way to help your child grow in loving and knowing God. Be consistent, be creative, and saturate everything in Scripture and prayer.

6. Children can understand more than we think.

When my youngest daughter was about 6 years old, we were reading about the fall in Genesis 3 during family devotions. At one point, she asked, “Daddy, if God knows everything and he knew what would happen when sin entered the world, why did he create Satan in the first place?”

Gulp.

“That’s a great question, Sweetie,” I responded. “I’m so glad you asked.” (Note the classic parental stall tactic.) We talked about it for a while, as my answer led to more questions. It was fantastic. We were swimming in the deep end of the theological pool, and a 1st grader threw us in.

With a strong theological foundation, our children will grow up—by God’s grace—into well-built houses of faith that can withstand life’s tempests (Matt. 7:24–27).

Don’t think your child can’t handle theology. Kids can understand far more than we give them credit for. And even if they don’t fully grasp every nuance of what you share, it’s important to allow them to ask questions, process big ideas, and grapple with important truths.

7. You will grow in your own faith.

No seminary degree? No sweat. Few parents have one. The Bible never mandates an M.Div. or Ph.D. in theology as a prerequisite for Christian parenting. You’re not a college professor in a massive lecture hall—you’re Mom or Dad. If your child stumps you with a question, don’t be ashamed to say, “I don’t know. Let’s figure it out together.”

All teachers learn more by teaching. Wherever you’re at in your knowledge of God, watch how much you grow as you lead your child down this path.

8. Theology and the gospel go hand-in-hand.

After Jesus’ ascension, his disciples transformed history as they proclaimed the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world. But early on, their theology needed work. During the Last Supper, both Thomas and Philip expressed confusion when Jesus said he was leaving to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house.

“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Philip said.

Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).

The more your child starts “seeing” the Father, the more they will “see” the Son and understand the gospel. Then, as you delight in this good news with them, it will lead you into richer theology, which in turn, will point you and your child toward a deeper appreciation of your salvation. What a wonderful cycle for your family to be in.

Good news: No finish line in sight

As you lead your child on this remarkable spiritual journey, remember: This is not a finish-line achievement. No one will ever walk across the theological graduation platform of life, raise a diploma, and boast, “Now, I have full knowledge of the Almighty!” As David says in Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.”

Theology is a beautiful, lifelong expedition of exploring and loving an amazing God whose goodness, power, and wisdom are infinite. Then one day, when we enter eternity, we will rejoice in the unveiled presence of God and bathe ourselves in his knowledge, love, and holiness forever.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Hallelujah!

By / Oct 6

The last few weeks have seen the reopening of school districts across the country. Teachers are adapting to the current pandemic in a number of ways with some teaching in person, others online, and some doing both. This has, understandably, created a new source of anxiety for both students and teachers. Students have to contend with Zoom fatigue in addition to struggling through long division. Online teachers are in the unenviable position of attempting to replicate the community of a classroom from the confines of a screen with tiny little Zoom boxes and weak internet connections. In this current moment, Christian parents should consider how they can serve their teachers as they adapt to the new situations of online learning. Here are three practical ways: 

Remain flexible 

If the last several months have revealed anything, it is the truth that there are many things beyond our control. Every day brings some new catastrophe or unexpected challenge. And online education is no different. Not long after schools resumed near me, teachers started their day to discover that Zoom was down worldwide because of server problems. Immediately, an entire day’s scheduled meetings and plans had to be reworked. 

In some ways, the pandemic has just affirmed the truth of Scripture: we are not in control. In response, we can cling more tightly to our plans and our belief that we are the masters of our fate, or we can accept that there is much outside our control and trust the one who sets planets in motion and hung the stars. In the midst of a season that seems intent on inducing worry and anxiety, the same voice that calmed the waves offers us the promise of peace (Mark 4:39). 

Show your support 

With many teachers teaching online or in new hybrid options, it is very likely that parents may not ever get to meet their teacher in person as they normally would. And with so much of instruction occurring in asynchronous formats, it can be easier than ever to forget the effort that many teachers have put in to redesigning their classroom, curriculum, and even teaching style. This is especially true when every day brings a new cause for anxiety: Should we wear a mask when we leave the house for groceries or have them delivered? Will my wife lose her job because she was deemed unessential? Who is in charge of childcare this week while we work from home? In this moment of continual anxiety and fear, it would be easy, and understandable, that we would forget about what we cannot see in front of us, or about the person on the other side of the screen.

Christians should make a special effort to remember and praise the work of their children’s teachers during these times. Teachers are often facing the same existential crises in their own families, all while seeking to love and serve a Zoom screen filled with kids who are facing a new challenge of their own. So look for ways to serve and care for the teachers in your life. A well-timed email, a note sent in the mail, or brief video chat just to let them know that you see and appreciate all that they are doing can be a welcome reprieve for a teacher. We know that our words have the power to build up and encourage (Prov. 18:21), so we should seek ways to offer a word of hope, encouragement, and life to those who have devoted their lives to teaching the next generation.

Extend grace

It is inevitable that no matter how much planning occurs on the part of administrators, teachers, parents, or students, there will be confusion and problems. An assignment will be given the wrong due date. An online password will be mistyped. A Zoom link won’t work. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that problems will arise. 

This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

However, Christians should be the first to extend grace to teachers in this season. When so much is beyond our control, Christians have the opportunity to meet these problems with the grace and forgiveness that we have received (Luke 7:47). It is precisely because Christians recognize that we are interacting with humans created in God’s image on the other side of our screens or emails that we extend that grace. So as you type that email to correct your teacher or prepare that post for Facebook about the school administrator, remember that they are also struggling with the new reality and often doing the best that they can with circumstances beyond their control. Just as you would want grace for yourself, extend it to teachers. 

And it is not just for the sake of the teacher, but for those little eyes and ears that are watching you. The students who see a parent lose it over a Zoom meeting or a problem with online learning are receiving an education in how Christians respond to problems, but not in how to extend grace to those around them. This time of learning from home offers a unique opportunity for parents to help their children learn not just how to read, write, or solve equations, but how to grow in love, joy, patience, and kindness (Gal. 5:22-23). 

When the school year ends, students and teachers will likely breathe a sigh of relief that they endure this challenging season. However, Christians should make special effort to serve their teachers during this time. In a time when it would be easy to retreat into survival mode and think only of what is best for ourselves, we ought to consider how we can encourage and pray for teachers. As the pandemic and school year ends, may this be a season when we have all learned how to recognize new ways to serve others. 

By / Jan 22

Over the last few days, a media firestorm has broken out over the fact that Karen Pence, wife of the vice president of the United States, will return to teach art on a part-time basis at a private Christian school. Immanuel Christian School, like many other private institutions, requires its staff members to sign a code of conduct and statement of beliefs. Within Immanuel Christian School’s statement of beliefs, one will find the ancient and biblical understanding of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union as delineated in Scripture.”

In terms of the code of conduct, Immanuel Christian expects its staff members and students to “live a personal life of moral purity.” The governing document goes on to define certain aspects of “moral misconduct” as “heterosexual activity outside of marriage (e.g., premarital sex, cohabitation, extramarital sex), homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties toward minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.”

Most media outlets that have covered this news, even those who disagree strongly with the positions of the school, have been fairly understanding of a private school’s prerogative to maintain standards for its staff and students. The heartache for these journalists can be found in the “Second Lady of the United States” choosing to work at a school with such convictions, and thus, according to some, “sending a deeply hurtful message to LGBTQ youth and those who support them by acquiescing to, and upholding, deeply and directly discriminatory policies as a member of the school’s faculty.”

Christian convictions and the public square

This controversy provokes the question: Is a Christian allowed to maintain and live according to their convictions in the public square? Here are a few thoughts that we must consider:

First, Karen Pence is the wife of an elected official, but not the elected official herself. Even if Karen Pence was an elected official, though, the argument that someone with such a public role in the U.S. should not associate with institutions that hold potentially controversial beliefs principally violates the no religious test clause of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever role she plays or doesn’t play as the “Second Lady of the United States” is up to her and her husband. Yet, Mrs. Pence’s association with Immanuel Christian School should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Karen Pence previously taught art at Immanuel Christian School for 12 years before her current role. It is not as if she deceived someone about her beliefs and convictions. The Pence family has held these Christian convictions publicly for decades, which brings us to the second point worth noting in this controversy.

A second observation worth noting concerns how scandalized and outraged many media outlets seemed to be by Mrs. Pence’s commitment to historic, Christian sexual ethics. As other conservative thinkers have mentioned elsewhere, the media is surprised that the Second Lady, a Christian, is teaching at an institution that holds to orthodox Christian beliefs. Immanuel Christian School has the audacity to be Christian.

Sadly, the scandal surrounding such convictions is not limited to Mrs. Pence. In recent days, Sens. Mazie Hirono and Kamala Harris have all but applied a religious test to the nomination of Brian Buescher to the federal judiciary. They have raised questions and objections to his service on account of his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a historically Catholic organization that also happens, to the surprise of some, to be Catholic. And last year, Russ Vought, a nominee for The Office of Management and Budget, was criticized by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, for holding beliefs that are consistent with Christian doctrine.

One cannot help but wonder if those who oppose public leaders with Christian convictions do so in part because they cannot imagine a religious person in the U.S. being anything other than nominal. It now appears that decades of nominal, convictionless, western Christianity has paved the way for progressives to argue that there is no place for convictional religion in the public square. For decades, many professing Christians have argued publicly for the need to downplay or even abandon doctrinal convictions, thinking that such an approach would earn favor in the public square. But many progressives are not merely content with expanding rights for the LGBT community; they want Christian communities to abandon sexual ethics entirely or be shamed out of public life.

The free exercise of religious liberty

Surrender and capitulation, however, are not necessary. The First Amendment of the United States grants all religious people the right to live out their faith. They have not simply been granted the right of conscience. They have been granted the right of free exercise. Furthermore, this right, while enshrined in the First Amendment, does not originate from mankind. Religious liberty is not fundamentally an artifact of the Enlightenment. Religious liberty is deeply rooted in humanity’s relationship with God. God has made man and woman in his image, and they are supremely accountable to him as his creatures. When the government or others attempt to direct or guide the religious practices of God’s creatures, they are attempting to subvert the Lordship of Christ.

At times, people will use fear, slander, lies, shame, and intimidation to drive the Christian’s convictions back into the shadows. The temptation is to respond with fear, slander, lies, and shame of our own, but that is not the way of Christ. Instead, Christians must remember who they are ultimately accountable to and why they are here on this earth. Christ left his disciples on the earth to point others to “the kindness and severity of God “(Rom. 11:22). And at times, these faithful disciples will be “reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matt. 5:11) because, like the prophets of old, they dared to remind people that they were sinners in need of God’s mercy. No amount of hedging or nuance will ever take away the offense of the cross of Christ.

The Christian faith was never intended to be “normal” in this world. It was intended to disrupt “normal.” The gospel, with its clear call to repent and believe in Christ, was and is “foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). So, we do not lose heart when people disagree vehemently with our religious convictions and tell us to leave our Christianity at home. Instead, we remember that we are strangers in this world. We are sojourners who are looking forward to “a better and abiding possession” (Heb. 10:34) that is soon to be revealed when our Savior appears (Col. 3:1-4). May we be faithful witnesses to Christ until the very end, no matter what it costs us.

By / Oct 23

Editor's note: An anonymous public school teacher has written this article. This teacher's job could be jeopardized if his/her name was published on this topic due to the specific community the school is in.

It’s no secret that American public schools can be unfriendly environments toward the gospel. Teachers are under tremendous pressures and expectations from their principals, parents, and society. But for the Christian teacher, all of these things are second to displaying the gospel as she steps foot into that public school every single day.

As a teacher since the early 2000’s, my career has been in a variety of communities. Through my experiences, God has shown me many ways that I can display the gospel, no matter the setting.

Be humble. I know many teachers who have been in situations where they were treated unfairly. Some said they were being targeted because of their faith. Even so, we can’t see what is in another person’s heart. Whoever this may come from—a co-worker, student, or parent—the best way we can demonstrate Christ’s grace is by loving them.

David asks the Lord in Psalm 7 to save him from his enemies, but he also asks God to let his enemies overtake him if he did any wrong. Like David, we should ask God to reveal our sin so we may apologize and seek forgiveness when appropriate. Be gracious with those that might seek harm, pray for them, and ask God to use you in those situations to model the gospel.

Be in awe. If you’re like me, I would assume you enjoy the subject you teach. Whatever the content, God’s glory is displayed in immense ways through each discipline—whether it’s being in awe of God through his creation, the order in which he has created all things, the diversity and complexity of languages, how he has displayed His glory through history, or the beauty in the diversity of all peoples. As teachers, we have the amazing privilege of being in awe of his magnificence every day.

We have the ability to demonstrate the gospel when we treat every one of our students with dignity and respect.

Don’t be alone. We should find other believers in our schools that we can pray with and encourage. Our biggest ministry might be to those fellow believing co-workers. They may need to be pointed to the cross and reminded of God’s faithfulness. Or, they may need to be reminded of their true purpose as a teacher: to display the glory of God through serving the students and families in your community.

Build relationships. Relationships are one of the best things about being a teacher. The impact we as teachers can have with our students can literally change their lives. You never know how loving and caring for your students (even the least of these or those that resist you) could impact them. We have the ability to demonstrate the gospel when we treat every one of our students with dignity and respect.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re not a teacher or you have little to no interaction with your local public school. Regardless, pray for teachers. As you drive by a school, pray for the believers there. No matter the type of community you live in, there are Christ-followers in the public school. We need your prayers and encouragement every day, especially in this confusing culture. We can’t do any of these things on our own. It’s only by God’s grace and power that we can know and live for him.

The reality is that the spiritual condition of our public schools will continue to grow in opposition to the gospel. But we don’t have to shrink back in fear. By God’s grace, we can display the gospel and bear witness to Christ in an incredibly tough environment. May God use our influence for his glory.  

By / Nov 11

Can a teacher in a public school display a personal Bible on a desk? What about answering a student’s questions about faith or the Bible?

At Focus on the Family, we received many questions like these during our nationwide religious-freedom event for students—Bring Your Bible to School Day on Oct. 6— as well as in response to a blog I contributed for ERLC on students’ rights.

A great deal of confusion exists over whether Christian educators can openly acknowledge their personal faith in the public education system. That’s because our nation’s courts have often rendered opinions on teachers’ rights that vary from case to case, rather than creating a clear-cut standard.

Generally speaking, students in public schools enjoy powerful protections for their religious-freedom and free-speech rights. Adults, on the other hand, are much more limited since they are government employees. As Alliance Defending Freedom puts it, public school teachers “are both individual citizens and agents of the state.” So the manner in which First Amendment protections apply to them is “somewhat unique.”

Below, I’ve provided a Q&A with general tips for teachers.

Can teachers respond when a student directly asks them about their faith or spiritual beliefs?

In general, teachers can respond when a student directly asks them a question about their personal beliefs. But teachers can get into sticky situations if they use the questions to begin giving what amounts to a church sermon to the entire class. That’s why it’s best to keep the answer focused on the exact question the student asked.

Teachers can also run into claims—especially when very young students are involved—that it wasn’t clear whether they were explaining their personal beliefs or those of the school. So it’s also a good idea for teachers to preempt their answers with a clear statement that they are expressing their personal perspectives.

Can teachers pray or do Bible studies with other teachers?

Teachers can engage in religious-freedom activities with other adult educators before and after school. This can include after-school Bible study and prayer groups for teachers or the distribution of invitations to religious-themed community events among educators (if the school already allows teachers to distribute flyers to one another about community related activities).  The U.S. Department of Education itself issued a memorandum acknowledging this, which stated that, “Before school or during lunch, for example, teachers may meet with other teachers for prayer or Bible study to the same extent that they may engage in other conversation or nonreligious activities.”

Can teachers give factual explanations of Christianity and/or the Bible in their classrooms?  

Yes, teachers can provide classroom instruction about Christianity and the Bible in a way that meets state academic standards and related curriculum requirements, especially when doing lessons about history, culture or literature. But keep in mind that teachers must address these topics in an objective and purely educational manner—i.e., it must be academic, not devotional.

Did you know that some state academic standards actually encourage instruction about Christianity? For example, California sixth graders are expected to note “the origins of Christianity in the Jewish Messianic prophecies, the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth . . . and the contribution of St. Paul the Apostle to the definition and spread of Christian beliefs.”  In Massachusetts, seventh grade students are expected to describe “the origins of Christianity and its central features.” Gateways to Better Education has more excellent resources on references to Christianity or religion in state academic standards.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also affirmed that the “Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, ethics, comparative religion or the like” (Stone v. Graham, 1980). And even in its infamous ruling against adult-led Bible reading in public schools (Abington v. Schempp, 1963), the Supreme Court acknowledged “that the Bible is worthy of study for its literary and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.”

Can teachers put their personal Bibles on their desks?

This is one of those questions that can be answered in two ways—whether teachers should have that right or whether consistent court rulings have granted them that right. Personally, I believe teachers should have the right to put their personal Bible on their desk, just as they would a personal photograph. The Alliance Defending Freedom has stated that “there’s no legitimate basis for public schools to prohibit employees from having Bibles at their desks for their own personal use.”

Unfortunately, though, when you look at how cases have played out in court, the answer seems to differ according to the facts in each individual case. To give a few examples:

  • According to both a federal district and appeals court, mandatory prayers occurring in an Arkansas school district crossed the line into a constitutional violation—while a Bible sitting on the superintendent’s desk did not. The “Bible and framed scripture verses in [the superintendent’s] office . . . were protected by the first amendment's free speech and free exercise clauses.”
  • Likewise, in 2012, a Texas district court cited the above case and stated that teachers’ personal religious items, such as crosses on their desk, did not violate the constitution. “There was no danger of a high school student getting the wrong impression that the District was promoting religion when a teacher displayed a cross next to her other family, vacation, or other personal mementos any more than having a family photo on the teacher’s desk proves that the District promotes procreation or going skiing.”
  • But more recently, in 2014, a teacher lost a lengthy court battle to fight his termination after displaying Christian-themed materials in his classroom, including a Bible on his desk. The case was complicated by the fact that several verbal and printed expressions were at issue, not simply the Bible on his desk. While the Ohio Supreme Court judges upheld the termination, they also pointed out that the school district’s “order for [the teacher] to remove his personal Bible from his desk was neither reasonable nor valid; the order infringed on . . . free-exercise rights without justification.” But another judge (who wrote a concurring opinion in the case) thought that the school did have the right to require the teacher to keep his Bible out of sight in a drawer.

So what does all this mean for teachers? When it comes to deciding whether or not to display a Bible on a desk, it’s prudent for teachers to follow the school administration’s policy. If a teacher is feeling compelled to test the waters in a gray area that may go beyond that policy, it’s absolutely crucial to seek the advice of competent legal counsel beforehand.

What if a teacher wants to support students who are engaging in religious-freedom activities or event?

Perhaps the best way teachers can be supportive is to recognize and allow students’ free-speech and religious freedom activities. A “fast facts” sheet explaining students’ rights is available in the “Know Your Rights” section of BringYourBible.org.  A teacher can also show support by volunteering to serve as a faculty sponsor for student-led Christian clubs. (Many schools require student clubs to have a sponsor.) But when it comes to promotional efforts like putting up posters or making announcements, all of those efforts should be initiated and led by students. Likewise, it’s up to students to initiate the creation of the Christian club and then organize and lead the activities.

I want to encourage Christian educators in public schools: You are likely having far more of an impact than you realize, as demonstrated by multiple Focus on the Family listeners who shared their stories on our broadcast (see transcript). By simply modeling the love of Jesus to a child whose self-esteem has hit rock bottom or by exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit consistently through your personal actions in the classroom, you also are letting “your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matt. 5:16).

By / Oct 21

Last summer, I wrote about my experience teaching in an inner-city alternative school. Now, in the throes of another school year, I find myself looking ahead to next year and what I can do differently. My list is full of small housekeeping items, like filing papers weekly and keeping student files up to date. These are important things to do, and I will probably have tons of sticky notes placed around my room to remember it all next year.

But even though these housekeeping items are important, the most important thing I, and every teacher, need to remember in preparing for the next school year is that there is no such thing as a “perfect teacher.”

What does a “perfect teacher” even look like? Everyone has their own idea. Most teachers find themselves falling into this unhealthy comparison. Living in a technology-filled world, we have so many model classrooms and teachers right at our fingertips. I find myself scrolling through Pinterest and Instagram trying to find that one creative activity for the upcoming week’s lesson plan. I longingly wish my classroom was as cool as the classroom down the hall. I watch movies and T.V. and find myself dreaming about having the impact on a student’s life like Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World or Hillary Swank’s character in Freedom Writers.

Unfortunately, comparisons like these cause us teachers—and specifically, us Christian teachers—to work like dogs at everything except what we are actually called to do: teach students and share the light of the gospel of Christ with them.

Becoming “the perfect teacher” is a task no one on earth will ever accomplish. The reality of the situation is that we are all imperfect sinners who will fail every single day. Responding in anger when I hear my name called for the millionth time in an hour reminds me that I am a sinner. Giving up on a lesson and sticking my kids with busy work on their laptops after a failed Pinterest activity dumps shaving cream all over the floor reminds me that I am a sinner. When I am too busy to listen to my students’ stories, even though I am the only person in their lives that gives them the time of day, reminds me that I am a sinner.

The harder I strive for perfection, the more I am suffocated by the realization that I am not the perfect teacher, and I can never be the perfect teacher.  

The gospel for the teacher

Even though we are sinners, Christ died for us. He lived a sinless life, and died a sinner’s death on the cross so that we could be seen as righteous in the eyes of God (2 Cor. 5:21). His love for us is greater than our failures (1 John 3:20). Just as we are called to salvation, he has also called us as teachers to teach. This calling on our lives gives us faith that through the Holy Spirit, we are equipped with the power and wisdom to overcome these sins and share Christ’s love with our students.

Christian teacher, I am saved and have been called by Christ to be a teacher, specifically an inner city teacher. Each day I have to be reminded of the gospel of Jesus. The gospel message does not stop with our salvation, because we are daily becoming more like Christ. The gospel tells us that, yes, we are saved, but the Holy Spirit is continually teaching us and forming us to be more like Jesus, who is the Greatest Teacher.

Rejoice, teacher, that Jesus is better than our Pinterest catastrophes, our raised voices and our selfishness. When you are feeling down after a day full of failed activities and angry responses, remember that you are not the perfect teacher. Some days you will feel inadequate, and that is OK. Rest in the fact that we are inadequate, but Christ is more than adequate. He is the only Perfect Teacher, and his love for us is so great that he gives us the power to overcome our sins and the confidence to share his love with our students.

What does this look like for a Christian teacher on a daily basis?

1. Rest in the gospel. Remember that we have been justified of our sin and have been united with Christ in salvation. This is the most important thing a teacher can do, and anything that we “do” to improve as teachers must be built on this reality. But there are ways to daily live out this truth.

2. Being with the Word. I would recommend starting the morning by waking up early, getting some coffee and digging into God’s Word. Spending time reading, meditating and praying through scripture will prepare you for the long day ahead.

3. Pray continually. As you drive to school, pray for the day. And be specific with your prayers. For some, this may be a short drive, but for others this could be a long time spent pleading with Christ to use you to share his grace and love with your students. Talk with him about the failures from the day before, and pray for the power to overcome those failures through him.

When you walk into your classroom, pray for each student by name before you begin preparing for the day. You know your students’ struggles at home and at school. Pray for those specific needs. Ask Christ to let you be the tool he uses to shine his light on your students.

4. Talk and listen. After your students enter the classroom, take time to talk with each child and hear those stories that they so desperately want to share with you. When meeting with them, let them know how proud you are of them, and remind them that you want them to be successful. They need to hear this, because they may not hear it anywhere else. Share encouraging words to each child multiple times a day, even when it is hard. When you want to say something negative, replace it with a positive comment. They will remember the times that you could have been angry, and instead showed them love. And when you feel like yelling, pause and pray for patience.

These are not easy things to do in our flesh, but remember that we are not teaching for our glory—we are teaching for Christ’s glory. We are not teaching to become teacher of the year; we are teaching to give Christ’s love to our students. If you win teacher of the year, glory be to God. The Lord rewards those who are obedient to his calling. Yet, remember that we will not succeed without being completely dependent on the one who died for our sins. Cling to him every moment of the day. Have confidence, and give your students what we all crave: Christ’s love.

This post was originally published on Tabitha’s blog.