I love it when God says "Be!". We so often caricature him as unrelentingly saying "Do!", as if with a string impossible demands. But from the beginning, he has delighted in saying "Be".

"Let there be light!". And, wonder of wonders, light came into being.

So he says to us "Be holy. Like I am." Such an outrageous expectation. And he says, through the pen of the Apostle Paul, "Be transformed" (Romans 12:1). At first blush it seems such a burning obligation. It conveys an atmosphere of weight, for it is written in the imperative mood. But we need to hear not just the mood but the voice. Paul's words are in the passive voice. O the sound of that voice! There is none of the pressure of having to transform oneself. This is not something we have to do, but something that happens to us. We are transformed at the sound of that voice.

When he speaks, creativity is unleashed. When he says, "Be", things come into being. "You must be born again!" It's an absolute necessity, but the impossibility of it takes the pressure off it. Nicodemus knew he couldn't do it, but Jesus reassured him in John 3 that the Spirit that was hovering over the nothingness at the beginning of time is the same Spirit that is blowing and breathing the word that speaks a new creation into being. Being born again is not something we have to do; it is something that happens to us.

Like every true beginning since the beginning of time, the Christian life begins this way. And it is vital that we see that we must continue and end as we began. It is all of the Spirit and the Word from beginning to end. In the middle we must BE transformed. How? It's what happens to us by the renewing of our mind as the Spirit breathes into the Word. And at that end we will BE holy. We will BE like him when we see him as he is. In a moment of time, we shall all BE changed.

The Christian life is not a 12-step self-improvement program. There is no ladder to climb with a long list of things we must DO in order to arrive in heaven. Yes - the Bible is full of commandments and instructions. But the voice that spoke those Laws is the same voice that spoke the stars into being. And by the Spirit his voice continues to carry the same creative power. When 'I am' says "BE", we are.

Children should be offensive. Not like the obnoxious ones who are rude in the grocery store line-up. But offensive weapons in the great cause of the Kingdom. That's what the Psalmist said.

So, we read in the Bible, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth" (Psalm 127:4). Our mandate is to prepare children to be sent like arrows into times and places where we will never be able to go.  If they are properly trained, they will be strategic instruments to further the purposes of the Kingdom of God. Conversely, if we do not train them properly, we are liable to shoot ourselves in the foot.

The image of children as arrows reminds us that the trajectory of their life will make an impact somewhere. Flying arrows eventually hit something. But they need clearly defined targets, rather than being randomly shot into the air when our parenting and educational responsibilities are complete. The Psalmist's metaphor reinforces a principle taught in Proverbs where we are told that we are to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6). A 'way' presupposes direction and a destination; the idea of an arrow just makes the urgency of that more pointed.

So the key to hitting the target, if we put the two scriptures together, is training. That's not quite the same as education. Education may be general, providing an all-round background in knowledge and information and understanding. Most schools focus on this. But training is more specific. A different training regime is required for a sprinter or a marathon runner if they are to arrive at their very different goals. And so, in a Christian school, we must have an awareness of the uniqueness of the individual and recognize their need not simply for a well rounded education, but for personal training toward a target that the Lord has already prepared for their lives (see Ephesians 2:10).

One of the fundamental failures of many educational programs is the absence of personalized learning. Our task is not merely to teach information (which can, to some degree, be accomplished in a generic classroom setting); rather it is to train individual children. This marks the difference between aiming a particular arrow at a specific target, compared with sending a shower of arrows randomly into the air with no idea where they will end up. In a Christian school we have the privilege of working with a God who knows the details of the future he has prepared for each of our students, and who is able to give us the wisdom and insight to become a personal trainer contributing toward the accomplishment of the target he has set.

We explore this idea of children as arrows in Chapter 4 of "Pupils who can see" - a book that helps us build our educational programs with children in mind as it takes a look at a biblical view of the child as a student.

Pupils who can see is now available in all e-book formats through a variety of outlets at $1.99. 

To find it for Kindle at Amazon.com, click here.

To buy a copy for Koboclick here

To download it for iPads and iPhones, go to your account at the iTunes store and search for "Brian Watts pupils" 

We saw that since God has chosen to communicate with us in a book, we actually need to read it! If the chocolates stay in the box we miss out on all the pleasure; and if the groceries stay in the supermarket we starve. Since the Bible is a book, it must be read. No read, no feed.

But there is more to it than that. How we read it is as important as the fact that we do read it. This, as we mentioned in a previous post, was the point of Spurgeon's sermon 'How to read the Bible' (based on Matthew 12:3-7). He labored the point that reading is only of value if it leads to understanding. But we must go further. It is not just a matter of knowing about, but knowing. And that which is ultimately being made known in Scripture is Christ.

So how are we to read the Bible? We are to read it as being all about Christ - only so will the written word become a living Word. To quote from Spurgeon's message again:

I may know this book of thine from beginning to end, and repeat it all from Genesis to Revelation, and yet it may be a dead book and I may be a dead soul. But Lord, be present here; then I will look up from the book to the Lord; from the precept to him who fulfilled it; from the law to him who honoured it; from the threatening to him who has borne it for me, and from the promise to him in whom it is 'Yea and amen.' Ah, then we shall read the book so differently. He is here.

The biggest graduation requirement for students leaving a Christian school is not  knowing the right answers to give. Rather, it is knowing the right questions to ask. As Alice Wellington Rollins put it, "The test of a good teacher is not how many questions he can ask his pupils that they will answer him readily, but how many questions he inspires them to ask which he finds it hard to answer."

That sets the agenda for our High School programs. The goal is to enable our students to become questioning. We said in an earlier post that our model student is to be Jesus as a child. As he entered his teenage years, we see a young man slowly emerging into his destiny in the transformative Q&A environment of the Temple. He was asking questions. But there is much groundwork that has to be done to prepare our students for that. The key to success is to make a distinction between a questioning mind and a questioning heart. It's great to teach kids to ask questions, but first we must make sure that we are not training them to question authority.

The Bible distinguishes between children (which roughly corresponds to elementary school age) and sons (the young adults who begin to emerge in the teenage years). So far as children are concerned, the one fundamental principle in the Bible is that children are to obey. They have to learn obedience before they learn questioning. We saw that the child is the one who listens rather than always having something to say, and this idea is reinforced in the etymology of the word "obey" which, in the Greek language, has two parts: "to hear -  under". Obedience is a matter of listening attentively in a submissive posture under authority. Attentive obedience is the key to a successful elementary school program.

The Jews understood this. In his helpful book "Assumptions that affect our lives", Christian Overman  quotes Abram Sachar to describe how different the Jewish model was to the Greek model that has undergirded much our our western view of education. Sachar painted the contrast between the Greeks who asked "Why must I do it?" and the Jews who learned to ask first "What must I do?". The latter assumed an authoritative revelation of truth that was utterly trustworthy, rendering the need to know "Why?" initially redundant. To begin with, our youngest students need to know that two plus two equals four; the question of why that is so can come later. This is one reason why rote learning is so important at an early age. There are many "Why?" questions for which a sufficient answer at this point is simply "Because it's true", or even "Because I say so." They must learn to not be questioning in their hearts as they "listen under".

But of course it must not stay this way for long. The growth process is one that takes them from knowing what they ought to do to knowing why they ought to do it. Rote learning, being able to regurgitate the right answers (or guess them in a multiple choice quiz), is disastrous in the teenage years. Rote is replaced by reasoning - a heart that does not question the authority of the teacher now releases a mind that begins to ask questions in an attitude that still listens under a teacher, in confidence that the teacher actually knows the answers. Questioning without questioning.

We see this transition in the book of Proverbs. So far as children are concerned, the goal is simple obedience - with the use of external restraint where necessary. But there is no rod for the son. The wise father now says "My son, if you receive my words..." (2:1), knowing that in the greater freedom of the teenage years his son might not receive those words. So now he begins to give all kinds of reasons why it would be far better if he did take those words to heart. This surely was the educational model that was at work in the Temple when Jesus, while still determining to be unquestioning in his heart as he willingly, without external force, submitted to his parents, nonetheless began to reason with the religious leaders in a question and answer dialogue which enabled him to discover not simply what he must do but why he must do it.

Such an approach to our students will result in graduates who are wise as well as knowledgeable. Ironically, it also opens the door to ever increasing knowledge beyond graduation. As Neil Postman writes, "Once you have learned to ask questions - relevant and appropriate and substantial questions - you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know."

We explore this transition from unquestioning obedience to submissive questioning in Chapter 3 of "Pupils who can see" - a book that helps us build our educational programs with children in mind as it takes a look at a biblical view of the child as a student.

Pupils who can see is now available in all e-book formats through a variety of outlets at $1.99. 

To find it for Kindle at Amazon.com, click here

To buy a copy for Koboclick here

To download it for iPads and iPhones, go to your account at the iTunes store and search for "Brian Watts pupils" 

In our day we are looking for warm feelings and instant impressions. This predisposition makes it harder for us to be able to approach Scripture. God, in his wisdom, chose to communicate with us in written form, and if we lose the art of reading, we will lose our ability to really hear what he has said and is saying.

Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon titled "How to Read the Bible" (based on Matthew 12:3-7). Spurgeon was no dry academic, and his passionate preaching fanned into flames heart-felt responses to the the Word of God. But he understood that we cannot touch the heart unless the mind is properly engaged. The Bible needs to be read - and that takes careful thought.

Spurgeon's first point, based on the text, was that "In order to the true reading of Scriptures, there must be an understanding of them." As Jesus had said when he rebuked the Pharisees, "Have you not read... Have you not read... If you had known what this means..." (vs 3,5,7). Spurgeon put it this way:

Certainly the benefit of reading must come to the soul by the way of understanding. When the High Priest went into the Holy Place he always lit the golden candlestick before he kindled the incense upon the brazen altar, as if to show that the mind must have illumination before the affections can properly rise toward their divine object. 

There must be knowledge of God before there can be love to God; there must be a knowledge of divine things as they are revealed before there can be an enjoyment of them."