Tag Archives: teaching

Allowing the Author to Speak–Mark 1:22

The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. –Mark 1:22

One of the things that I enjoy more than anything else is working with others to create some sort of dramatic production. It could be a brief skit, a short drama for VBS, or a lengthy production. I can direct, act, write, or perform whatever role. It doesn’t matter; I simply enjoy watching the final project unfold. (Okay, I lied. I enjoy acting more than any of the rest.)

In my current church, I have become the go-to person for directing dramatic work. It’s not that I’m particularly gifted in directing, but I seem to be the best person available. In the course of doing several productions, I’ve discovered something interesting. When I have written the script, I find myself much more confident in my decisions than if I’m attempting to interpret someone else’s text.

In the same vein, I’ve sat under choir directors who had written the music in our laps. Those people know precisely what they intended measure 33 to sound like. They understand exactly how much that crescendo on the second page is supposed to grow or just how much slow down the molto ritard on the last page was intended to evoke. Anyone else, even someone who has spoken with the actual writer, will be doing their best to interpret what the other person said. They might be imposing their own view intentionally or unintentionally, but they’ll undoubtedly impose their own ideas.

When Jesus taught in the synagogue, he didn’t simply appear as the author of the  scriptures that he read. He stood there as the author of human life, of the natural world, and of everything that those scriptures related to. The only thing Jesus did not author was himself. (And if we think too hard in that area, our brains begin to hurt.)

When I teach Sunday School, I will be like one of the teachers of the law, an interpreter of someone else’s text (even though I wrote this month’s curriculum). When you share the gospel with someone, you’ll be like a teacher of the law. Regardless of how you encounter God’s Word, it will always be God’s Word, not yours.

However, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can speak as one with authority. When Stephen delivered the eloquent sermon that wound up placing him on the wrong end of a stoning, do you believe that those were just his interpretation? When, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached and drew 3,000 people into fellowship, did he speak under his own authority or Christ’s?

I cannot speak with the same authority that Jesus employed in Capernaum, but I can, I must, speak with the Spirit’s guidance and authority rather than as a mere interpreter of the law. Failing that, we’re no better than the scribes of Jesus’ day.

The Underachievers (Hebrews 5:11)

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. (Hebrews 5:11)

I’ve been spending the last three days with a group of clever folks planning Sunday School lessons to be taught all over the country next year and the years following. As we discuss the approaches that we’ll take to answering such questions as “Is there absolute truth?” or “What happens to Christians when they die?” we invariably wind up unpacking our thoughts to such an extent that we completely overfill the one-hour lesson possibilities.

One guy, a sort of philosopher and former missionary, continually brings up complex philosophical questions, questions completely relevant to the matter at hand but way too complicated to be thoroughly understood by our target audience: fifth and sixth graders. He’ll say something like this, “That’s great, but it is essential that we not ignore the epistemological ramifications of the propositional nature of revelation in the form of Scripture.” Okay, he didn’t really say that, but he does bring up interesting, complicated matters, sure to cross the eyes of intelligent adults.

When it comes to understanding something as simple as the nature of an infinite God, it’s no wonder that we cannot complete the task in sixty minutes, especially when teaching kids on the cusp of middle school, especially when using mostly non-specialists as teachers, especially when we consider that the lesson is more of a lifetime than an hour. I don’t fully understand the nature of God. I don’t fully understand my wife, so how can I hope to understand God?

The key, it seems to me, in this endeavor is not so much whether we fully understand the nature of God but whether we actually try to understand. The author of Hebrews here criticizes his readers for ceasing to try to understand. They don’t get it, not because they’re incapable but because they’re not making the effort.

While I will never fully comprehend the God who created the universe, I should never cease to try. Granted, as I learn more, I may recognize even more completely just how ignorant I am. I might die seeing more clearly just how far from full understanding I am. So be it. The more I know, the more I’ll know Him. I trust that the reward will be worthwhile.

 

Curse of the Gradebook (Hebrews 2:2)

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment (Hebrews 2:2)

I have taught English composition for almost my entire adult life. Doing so, one encounters a vast range of people with a vast range of ability and desire to do the work. Some of them complain that they don’t get to write about whatever they want. (Because professional life allows us to do whatever work we want to do, of course.) Some think it unreasonable that they have to continually write papers for a writing course. My favorites, though, are the ones I call the grade accountants.

A grade accountant comes to my office, graded paper in hand, and prepares to do battle. Or, to maintain the metaphor, to do an audit. The exchange usually begins something like this: “What is wrong with my paper?” Having counted up the red marks on the page, they attempt to convince me, the guy who has taught the class since before their births, that this collection of misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences, and other mechanical glitches does not warrant a C+. To their minds, every paper begins as a 100 with each mistake deducting points.

My point, more often than not, is that we should not be looking at “what is wrong” with the paper but “what is right.” Fairly frequently, I’ll encounter a virtually error-free essay that bores me so silly that it deserves a fairly poor grade. There’s nothing wrong with it except that there’s not enough right with it. In other words, every paper begins as a 0 with each positive move adding points.

The Law of Moses, referred to in the verse today, was a deduction system. The average person was assumed to be clean and blameless at the top of the morning. Touching a dead animal, eating the wrong thing, coveting your neighbor’s toaster oven, or any of a million other missteps could leave the person in a virtue deficit.

Frankly, I don’t want to live that way. Today’s verse is a sentence fragment, completed by the verse for next time. Today’s verse speaks of the lesser law and lesser message, the one spoken by angels. That message bound those who lived under it. The problem with it came in the grading system. A 99 out of 100 was failing grade. My grade accountants wouldn’t like that system.

I have no interest in grading in that manner, and I praise God that I don’t have to live under such a law. More on that next time.