The Dancing Puritan

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Preparedness: Key Quality of the Powerful Teacher

As a pastor, itinerant conference speaker, writer, and seminary student, I spend most of my time either preparing to teach or actually teaching.

Today I read an excellent piece by Rob Jenkins, "The 4 Properties of Powerful Teachers." Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College. Writing about his experiences as a faculty member for 30 years, Jenkins argues:
Those experiences have led me to conclude that, when we boil down all the metrics, we’re left with four qualities that all powerful teachers possess. I’m not just talking about adequate, effective, or even good teachers. I’m talking about the ones who most move us, who have made the most difference in our lives, and whom we most wish to emulate. Perhaps we can’t all be that kind of teacher, but I suspect many of us at least aspire to be. 
Personality, Presence, Preparedness, and Passion.

All of Jenkins' points are excellent, but I want to focus on preparedness. According to Jenkins the foundation of a teacher's preparedness is rooted in his advanced degree. The advanced degree should serve the teacher well in his day-to-day teaching. It is the water-in-the-well that provides the teacher with essential foundational knowledge.

However, water that ponds up is stagnant and teachers, to be excellent, must be fresh. The water needs stirring.

Jenkins offers several points of consideration that, when followed, will help the teacher to become a powerful teacher. If the advanced degree serves as long-term preparation for the teacher: What does the teacher need in the medium term? The powerful teacher needs to be robustly engaged in continuing education. There are several continuing education examples that Jenkins offers (my comments follows them):

Reading: Teachers need to read extensively in their field. Excellent teachers want to know everything that they can know, in the time that they have, about the subject that they are most passionate about.

Attending Conferences and Seminars: Conferences and seminars provide a personal dynamic that reading cannot. Attending an excellent conference led by passionate teachers, inspires, informs, and provides an instructive model. Sadly many pastors seldom (or never) attend conferences and/or many churches never provide them opportunities to attend conferences.

Conducting and Presenting Your Own Research. The joy of discover in research is invigorating for a teacher. It is one thing (a necessary thing) to read the research of others. It is another thing to dig into foundational source material and come to your own conclusions about your topic. When you present (verbally and/or in print) you grow in knowledge, in your skill as a teacher, and in your ability to help your students.

Continue to Learn and Grow as a Teacher. We have all met the teacher who has stopped growing. Well, don't be that teacher. It is not only important to learn all that you can about your field of study but to also learn all that you can about teaching.

A short-term requirement that Jenkins offers for powerful teaching: "Go to every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have."

Do you "go to every single class meeting as prepared as you can be, given the time you have?" Teaching is a stewardship. Your students will forgive you for your out-of-style hair, and your lack of knowledge about Taylor Swift's transition from Nashville to New York, but they will not forgive you for wasting their time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Why Did They Do That? A Reflection on Psalm 36

Why does crossing the line of right and wrong resonate with people? Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart (Psalm 36:1). That verse tells us that a wicked person does wicked things because they have a wicked heart. Sin resonates with people because they love sin, way down deep in their hearts.

The wicked person does not fear God.

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes (1). 

Sin resonates with the sinner because he does not fear God. When a person fears God, they take God seriously. That is, they really believe that there is a God to whom they are accountable. The wicked person, though they may acknowledge that there is a God, does not really believe--down deep in their heart-of-hearts that God really cares much about what they do. In other words they believe that they can do what they want to do without ultimate consequences.  For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated (2).

Have you ever watched one of those seemingly ubiquitous investigative television shows? Featured is a  criminal who gradually raises the stakes. Perhaps he starts out as a petty thief and later becomes an armed robber who murders. Every time that he doesn't get caught, and does not face consequences for his actions, he is emboldened and then he goes a bit further until finally--his day of reckoning comes. This is how the wicked person lives. Because he does not take God seriously, he imagines that he can get away with bad behavior. With that attitude, he just keeps on crossing lines and his friends wonder: "What happened to so-in-so?" And, "How could they do such a thing?" The wicked person formerly did not seem to be so wicked. But now? The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit: he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed: he sets himself in a way that is not good: he does not reject evil (4). Once he seemed ok but now he is on a bad pathway.

Can the wicked person be rescued?

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgements are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD (5-6).

God's love is high, high, high and strong, strong, strong, and deep, deep, deep. God is a saving God. But whom does he save?

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light (7-9).

God saves sinners who "take refuge" in Him. One who takes refuge in God, takes God seriously. And, taking God seriously, he then sees the awfulness of his sin against God and against others. He acknowledges his pride (evidenced in refusal to fear God), he confesses his sin, and he sees the emptiness of his life apart from God. He recognizes that he is in great danger and turns to God for safety and finds in God a "river" of "delights." He finds "life" and "light." If the wicked will turn from his wickedness and turn to God he will find that a "feast" awaits him. He will find life.

Charles Spurgeon proclaimed:
Beware of thinking too little of the fall. Only the Divine Hand can reclaim us. The house of manhood has been shaken to its foundations; each timber is decayed; the leprosy is in the tottering wall. Man must be made new by the same creating hand that first made him, or he can never be a dwelling place fit for God. Let those who boast of their natural goodness look to the Garden of Eden and be ashamed of their pride, and then examine their own actions by the glass of God's most holy Law, and be confounded that they should dream of purity. As our mothers were sinful, such are we, and such will our children be; as long as men are brought into the world by natural generation, we shall be "born in sin and shapen in iniquity;" and, if we are to be accepted by God, we must be born again, and made new creatures in Christ Jesus."
We are sinners by nature and by choice. Our fall is deep, and our sin landed us in such darkness that we cannot be rescued, except by God himself.  God is a merciful God and has sent his son to live the life that we have not and cannot live. Jesus lived and never sinned and always did what was right. Sin never resonated in his righteous heart. Jesus died for sinners, was buried, and was raised again. He is the steadfast love of God and he is willing to save all who will but turn from their sin and turn to him in faith taking "refuge in the shadow of his wings."

What if the wicked person does not look to God for refuge?

There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise (12).

The wicked person, for a time--perhaps a lifetime, swims in the sea of sinful pleasures. They delight in crossing lines. They imagine that there are no consequences for their actions. The problem? They are wrong. There is a God. There is a judgment. They must stand before God and give an account. And--then, it will be too late. They will be "thrurst down, unable to rise." Though the sinner may enjoy the pleasures of sin today, he walks on slippery ground and one day he will fall. And how great the fall will be. The jaws of hell are open and one day the unrepentant sinner will be swallowed up. Oh, sinner--flee from the wrath of God by fleeing to the arms of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

If you have found refuge in God, remember that there was a time when you also--were "dead in your trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2). "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."(Romans 3:23) And the only reason that you know the steadfast love of God, have found refuge in God, feast at God's table, and drink from the rivers of his delights is because of the mercy and grace of God. Rise up and be thankful, humble, and evangelistic. Take the message of God's saving grace in Christ to those who are enslaved to sin.