Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bartering or Partnering

I heard a great quote recently. 

"Religion is bartering with God instead of partnering with God."

Sit with that for a while. Consider how you may have traded in the offer to "participate in the divine nature" for an attempt to come up with ways to earn God's approval or love. Why, when we have something so beautiful available to us, do we still turn to the cheap impostor of religion?

That's all.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Only Human vs. Human Enough

Here is another insight from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series.

Sanders writes, "We must be careful to distinguish between 'human nature' and 'sinful nature.' They are not synonymous" (p. 112). He reinforces this point by reiterating that Jesus was fully human and yet without sin. 

Being human is part of the original design that God declared good. Theologians have sometimes picked up on this theme and submitted that part of the sanctifying work in people's lives is not to make us less human (more "robotic"), but actually more human; more fully alive, with our emotions and intellect and all parts of ourselves being touched by God.

While it is obvious that part of being human is making mistakes, to say, "I'm only human" when we are faced with the fact that we have made bad choices or willfully disobeyed God or hurt another person, is probably a very poor way of avoiding responsibility for our actions, both naturally and supernaturally.

The fact is that our human nature is what God made us to be. It is good. So, attributing our sin to it is bad theology and anthropology. It quickly can become, God, why did you make me this way? Now, we have fallen into the same trap as Adam and Eve and every blamer and excuse maker in history. We actually dismiss our evil as God's fault.

However, we have a "satanic intrusion" (as Sanders describes it) that is our sinful nature. You may hear the apostle Paul talk about the sin living inside him or doing things he does not want to do (Romans 7), but you don't really hear the excuse from New Testament writers, "Well, I'm only human."

Knowing all of this doesn't solve much of anything for us. We are still left to wrestle with the reality that there is a force at work against us. Simply, we do sin in our humanity. The only point is to be careful what we believe as a result of that fact. We can quickly get into a pattern of all kinds of faulty thinking about God and ourselves if we are not careful to keep that distinction between the human and sinful natures that Sanders mentioned. Once those mindsets take hold, they distort the meaning, and reduce the power, of grace and mercy and love.

Sanders concedes that we are left with a mystery when we consider how we have two natures, and even more, how Christ depended on his anointing from the Spirit rather than his own deity for power in ministry (p. 114). It is mysterious, but it is extremely important and practical for us to realize this truth. Jesus did not have to escape His humanity to perform miracles or love perfectly. Neither do we have to escape ours!

No longer should we say, "I am only human" (insulting the Creator's craftmanship). Instead, we can say, "I am human enough to respond to God and submit to His Spirit and carry out His will today."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Instant Gratification Sold Separately

Here is another insight from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series.

Sanders writes, "...our divine Lord spent six times as long working at the carpenter's bench as He did in His world-shaking ministry" (p. 69, emphasis mine). 

I have noticed that being in the "formal ministry" (associated with pastoral work in an organized church, which I did for about a decade) is not much different from working in another business setting in our society in one particular way. Instant success, or impact, is desired just as much. It is tempting to want to see a great move of God (people saved, numerical growth, a new ministry launched, etc.) after just a couple prayers or attending "that one conference."

If God is almighty and can work so powerfully, so quickly, then why wait? Why does He put us through the "trial" of preparing for so long? 

If there was one time when we would think God would speed up the process, then it would be when Jesus was on earth getting ready for His public ministry. The work of a carpenter was important and respected in those days, but couldn't God have fast-forwarded to the "Messiah miracles" part of the show?

This lesson is yet another, perhaps the most vivid, reminder that God is not on our timetable. If it was important for the Christ to put in His hours as a carpenter and to go through the process as a Rabbi, then we should expect no less.

It turns out that in God's way of doing things, the time of preparing us spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially is of major significance. Just as college or job training is necessary for certain vocations, spiritual preparation is equally necessary for disciple making and ministry. (This is not to be confused with building a case for seminary. While study may indeed be part of the preparation process, to automatically equate God's preparation in a person's life with man-made training systems misses the point, and has very little scriptural support.)

Moreover, the preparation is usually some form of "wilderness wandering" that involves testing and character building. God takes the time to rid us of ourselves until we are to the point of dependence upon His Spirit. In fact, I have thought that I was ready only to find times when God causes me to return to that uncomfortable prep work again. The wilderness may not be fun, but it is an essential prerequisite before entering a "promised land."

Sanders sums it up in one simple sentence: "Preparatory years are important years."
Well, I guess so!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

To Be Unaware

Now that I have shared some quotes from The Incomparable Christ by J. Oswald Sanders, from the Moody Classics series, let's dig a little deeper into some of the concepts put forth in this work.

One of the realizations I had while reading about the birth of Jesus is just how easy it is to be totally unaware of what God is doing near us. We could be in the midst of a miraculous work of God, an extraordinary act, and not even know it.

Sanders says this about the Roman empire at the time of Jesus' birth: "The astounding fact is that with all its magnificent system of communications, 'the great Roman world remained in absolute unconsciousness of the vicinity of God.' The entrance of the Creator into the world seemed a matter so insignificant as to warrant no notice being taken of it" (p. 38, emphasis added).

I wonder how many times a day that God performs supernatural interventions in my life, my family, and my work to which I pay no attention. Am I so conditioned by a worldview that does not expect such divine things to happen?

Is life sometimes too natural? Too ordinary? Are there "laws" of the physical world and human relationships and economics that I trust in above my God to run everyday life?

While I would like to point fingers at the Romans long ago and criticize them for not "getting it," I am left with the very strong possibility, no, reality, that I am too often "unconscious of the vicinity of God" myself.

May we all become a little more conscious of the presence of the Messiah today and from now on.

Colossians 3:1-4

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Incomparable Christ - Even More Great Quotes

Here is a final set of quotes from J. Oswald Sanders' classic work, The Incomparable Christ. My next few posts will include deeper reflections on other material from this book.

  • "Those who love most deeply, suffer most intensely. For Mary, 'the greatest of all privileges was to bring with it the greatest of all sorrows' (259)."
  • "We can still hold the cup to His lips by going to those who are needy and ministering in His name" (282).
  • "The three English words, it is finished, are the equivalent of a single Greek word, tetelestai. With ample justification, this has been called the greatest single word ever uttered" (285 - referring to what Jesus said on the cross).
  • "It can confidently be affirmed that human priesthood reached its zenith in Judaism, but the story of the Jewish priesthood only serves to reveal how tragically it failed those who pinned their hopes to it. It is only in Christ, the ideal High Priest, that this deep and hidden yearning of the human heart finds complete fulfillment" (341).
  • "The Bible tells us sufficient to satisfy faith, although not always enough to gratify curiosity. The New Testament was not written to satisfy the inquisitive but to glorify the One who is coming, and to stimulate faith in Him" (355).

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Incomparable Christ - More Great Quotes

I could not fit all the excellent quotes from J. Oswald Sanders' classic work, The Incomparable Christ in just one post so here are more thought-provoking statements. 

  • "Anyone can sing in the sunshine, but to sing in the shadows is a rare accomplishment" (181).
  • "We are apt to advance pressure of business as a reason for not praying. With Jesus, it was a reason for giving extra time to prayer" (194).
  • "He drank a cup of wrath without mercy, that we might drink a cup of mercy without wrath" (204).
  • "Never were legal proceedings more irregular or verdict more unjust than in the trial of Jesus" (209).
  • "The death of our Lord was unlike every other death. It was not an incident in His life, but the very purpose of it. His self-oblation was no accident in a brilliant career, it was the chosen vocation of the God-man" (226).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Incomparable Christ - Great Quotes

I just finished J. Oswald Sanders' classic work, The Incomparable Christ (originally titled Christ Incomparable). It turned out to be a great devotional read, focused entirely on the Person and work of Jesus. My next few posts will include reflections on material from this book.

Today, I am sharing some great stand-alone quotes from the book. It appears that there are many great books in the series of Moody Classics. You might want to check them out.

  • [It is our task]..."to examine the glorious colors that emanate from the prism of His holy person and redemptive work" (24).
  • "If He is not God, He is not even good" (95).
  • "Christ never concealed the cross to gain a disciple...The emphasis of our day is rather on what one gains by becoming a Christian. Jesus never failed to emphasize the cost of following Him" (124).
  • "It should not be borne in mind, however, that Jesus' perfection of character did not consist in merely negative faultlessness. Throughout His whole life He was characterized by positive and active holiness" (140).
  • "Not until Jesus came with His peerless life and matchless teaching was humility elevated to the level of a primary virtue" (174).
  • "One fact stands out crystal clear - God's way up is down" (179 - on becoming humble).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Working ON the System

Today, I have been going through past notes and materials from workshops and books over the years. It brings back memories of so many good people that I have learned from along the way. It is impossible to put into words the gratitude for the wisdom and guidance others have shared with me.

One of the items I found was an article written by David Langford entitled "Working on the System." One of his main contentions in the article is that "administrators must spend an increasing percentage of time working on the system, not in the system." This statement, in one sentence, is essentially the reason I desired to become an administrator. I saw an opportunity to work on the bigger processes that drive much of the work teachers do, and in turn much of what students experience on a daily basis.

I am reminded often to think systems. I am also reminded that the results we are getting are exactly what our systems are designed to produce. More importantly, I am reminded that these systems I talk about are made up of people. 

There are some simple facts about us. About people.

We have feelings. We have dreams. We have beliefs. We have perceptions. We have needs.

So, I want to take a minute to be clear that I wholeheartedly believe that we absolutely must address the systems within which we work. That is a critical point!


I would like to be equally as clear that I do not intend to insult individuals within the system by pointing out concerns or outcomes of the system. To do so would miss the purpose of raising the concerns in the first place because it might fix blame on outliers rather than improve the process as a whole. Generally speaking, my blog is not about outliers. I feel like that would be a waste of most people's time, including mine.

I do intentionally use provocative language at times to stress the magnitude of some of the issues I write about. I will continue to do so. There has to be a sense of urgency and seriousness about our business of improving how we teach and raise and disciple the next generation, lest we fall prey to what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism." Some improvements require more than minor tweaks here and there to the system. I make no apologies for beating that drum.

I do, however, apologize for anything that I have said or written that gives the impression that I do not respect and admire teachers. Most teachers I know work very hard and care very much. I trust that those educators I have had the privilege to work with most directly know my heart. They know that there is, simultaneously, joy and dissatisfaction in my work at all times. 

Joy, because it is a sacred honor to be called to this kind of work. 
Dissatisfaction, because we can always do better. (Dissatisfaction, by the way, is the prerequisite to any great change that takes place, so there is no need to be scared of it.)

Our school district aims to think students first. A mentoring principal once told the audience at a leadership academy, "I tell my faculty that if there ever comes a time when there is a conflict between doing what is best for teachers and doing what is best for kids, then I will do what is best for kids."

What is best for kids is for all of us in education to continuously reflect on our practices and challenge ourselves to grow. I am the perfect example of why this is necessary. I still have a long way to go, but I am thankful that I am not the educator I was five or ten years ago. There have been countless changes to my practices over the years because of the encouragement and wisdom and honesty of those people that surround me, both those who agree and those who disagree with me. 

Thanks for helping me grow!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 6: "A Better Way - Feedback That Feeds Forward")

It is fitting that this post is about feedback. A couple weeks ago, my wife read my posts about grades and gave me some feedback. She said, "These posts are always so depressing." Well, that happened to be timely feedback because it is time to turn the corner to the hope that a grading overhaul can bring. The solution is wrapped up in one word: FEEDBACK!

My wife, I have to be honest, was right. The first posts in this series are depressing. It is sad to see what we are guilty of doing to children in the name of giving them an education. My hope in presenting the impact of the problems is that people will see that this "disease" is very real, very harmful, and in very real need of a remedy. Without coming to that conclusion, little effort will be expended to create a new reality.

Now, it is time to focus on the actions necessary to create that new reality. This process begins with coming to a consensus around the word "accountability" by answering one question: What do we need to hold students accountable for?

The number one answer should be learning, as demonstrated by mastery. If we agree on that answer, then we need to agree that traditional grading methods are some of the worst means of measuring accountability (for all the reasons mentioned in my previous posts). A new, simpler method is to plainly show what a student knows compared to the standard of what the student is expected to know.

With that established as the objective worth measuring, then we can turn attention to giving feedback that is specific, timely and actionable. Good feedback will tell students and parents where gaps are present, how big those gaps are, and most importantly, how to close the gaps.
So, let's focus now on how to use valuable feedback systems to truly hold students accountable for the right things.

Here are links to useful resources on this topic:

If I had to prioritize the steps to take in creating an effective feedback process, I would probably put emphasis on ensuring that feedback is actionable (#3) and timely (#5). The most powerful feedback also "feeds forward" to improved performance. It gives the student an idea of where to go next in the learning process. The timing of the feedback is also important. The sooner a student can receive and respond to feedback, the better.

Hopefully, there will be much more to come about ways to inject better feedback loops into our student accountability systems in our schools.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Made In a Free World

Today, I want to feature "Made In a Free World". I guess you could call it an organization or a ministry, but I like the description of "disruptive network" because of the way they connect individuals, groups, businesses, etc. to disrupt slavery and spread freedom.

Justin Dillon
I heard the founder, Justin Dillon, speak at the Free Austin summit hosted by Allies Against Slavery in October 2013. He is a creative, musical artist that has harnessed some energy and resources to do impressive things in the fight against human trafficking and slave labor.

As a newbie to the world of the modern day abolition movement, it is sometimes confusing to understand the real problem and even more difficult to realize the best solutions. What I appreciate about Made In a Free World is the job they do of breaking down the problem into understandable parts, and then giving people practical steps to make a difference. 

Please consider checking out their additional website resource, Slavery Footprint. Here you can take a survey to find the answer to a most uncomfortable question: How many slaves work for you? I have done this, and I will be the first to confess that I have too many working for me. (I know one is too many, but I have many more than that, and I don't even drink coffee!)

If you are like me, then there is a part of you that would rather not do things like this. It is easier for me to live in denial about some things. It is better to not know. "Ignorance is bliss," they say. But I can guarantee you "they" aren't slaves.

I have come to accept that I won't be able to change the world with just knowledge, but neither will I help it with guilt. So, feeling guilty is not the aim. My hope is to spread awareness. With a growing awareness comes more options. It is what offers us a vision of freedom for more people than have it now. Information alone changes nothing, but nothing changes without information. So, let's just start there.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 5: "Holding Students Accountable")

I could continue writing posts about what is wrong with grading policies and practices because of just how destructive they can be. However, I think even in the few posts I have written in this series, it is obvious that the problems caused by traditional grading methods are deep and serious. Still, the videos below are two more compelling demonstrations of the negative effects that poor grading techniques have caused in our school system. Every teacher can relate.

It is only part of the case to identify the harmful practices that need to change. The other part of the case is to then provide solutions. So, let's start heading that direction.

But first, here are a few more articles that do a great job of spelling out some of the harm done by grading along with what can be done about it:

To me, I believe the whole issue of how you "fix" a broken grading system centers on the question of accountability. More than anything else I hear from teachers is the need to have a grading policy that "holds kids accountable." They seem to fear that a change in grading policy automatically means less accountability. 

Whether that is true or not depends on one's view of accountability. The main consideration, in my opinion, is to and for what we want to hold students accountable

Let's make this very simple. If we break down the word, then we realize that accountability is the "ability to give an account." Grading practices are usually not helpful in terms of providing any type of long-term motivation for non-academic factors, such as organization, participation, punctuality, attitude, and effort. These items are definitely worth our time to provide guidance, correction, and support, but they are best left outside of a grading system. If you are wanting to hold students accountable to these types of activities, then please don't skew all your data by using grades to accomplish that goal.

What we actually want students to be able to give an account for is their LEARNING!
The only way to know how accountable a student is in his or her learning is to first know the standard, or target, in the first place. Therefore, a prerequisite to an effective grading system is a clear learning target! Then, and only then, can a student be held accountable to their level of mastery according to where they are in relation to the expected or desired objective.

If we agree that learning is the thing for which we want to hold students accountable, then it becomes apparent that grades, as we know them, gotta go! What becomes just as clear is that we need to replace them with an effective feedback process, which is what we will look at next time.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Don't you love those chocolate Easter bunnies!?! (Fair Product Feature: Chocolate)

My wife just returned from the grocery store with our first Fair Trade chocolate purchase. I had asked her to look for Divine Chocolate, but she could only find Green & Black's candy bars at HEB. (At least at that particular location on this particular day.) I asked her to get me a milk chocolate one, and here it is. (Side note: My wife is extraordinarily wonderful!)

I figure with the massive chocolate buying holiday of Easter coming soon, I would learn a little more about the chocolate industry's relationship to slave labor around the world. Now that I introduced this topic in my previous post, what do I practically do with this new information?

To be honest, the first thing I will probably do is just buy less chocolate. Period. Regardless of where the cocoa beans are harvested or how it is produced, less chocolate would be a generally good move to counter some of my other unhealthy eating habits that are beginning to take a toll on me.

But, as promised in my last post on this issue, here are ideas I am considering as I try to fight human trafficking and slavery while caving to the desires of my sweet tooth at the same time.

1. Honestly assess what it will mean to my checkbook. Below are the price comparisons my wife found at the store today. (Click on the company's names below and you will go to their human rights ethical production ratings from Free2Work.) Hershey's is able to sell their chocolate for about 1/3 of the price of fair trade chocolate producers. As you can see, the cost of maintaining and monitoring ethical supply chains, fair wages, and safe working conditions, free of child labor, are passed on to the consumer. That is you and me. Contrary to some people's thinking, we (the consumers) matter greatly in this process!

Green & Black's - $0.85 per ounce
Ghirardelli$0.63 per ounce
Dove$0.53 per ounce
Hershey's$0.30 per ounce

2. Actively look for brands that are doing the BEST of ethical treatment of farmers and workers. Here are a few. (Keep in mind that I am new to this and there may be many others.)

3. Send notes to companies who have historically been some of the WORST human rights' violators in the industry. Made in a Free World makes this easy to do with just a couple clicks of your mouse. This one hurts because these are some of my favorites.

4. Keep learning. Due to different standards and numerous organizations associated with Fair Trade, this subject is already complicated to begin with. What makes it worse is how secretive and even deceptive some companies are when it comes to their business practices. For example, some of the bigger companies in this industry may "spin" things to appear generous, ethical, and compassionate. It is becoming popular for companies to make donations toward causes or public announcements about efforts to clean their supply chains by 2020 (or whatever year they pick). 

The good news is that companies are feeling the pressure to even take these steps, whether they are genuine or not. That means public perception about these issues is growing and businesses are starting to consider their "image" in a social justice way like never before. The bad news is that "lip service" might take the place of real action for the sake of profit in the short-term. With all this in mind, I will just have to continue to do my research.

5. Encourage my church-attending friends and pastors to be conscious of the brands they use to fill Easter eggs and baskets this year. I hope that many of them will consider the companies like those mentioned in #2 above.

This may be one more reason why we should take a step back and seriously look at our "Christian" Easter celebrations. I am not going to be that old, crotchety guy that gets on a soapbox, but I can't help but wonder how many distractions we have introduced as we mix Good Friday and Resurrection with hidden eggs and magic bunnies. (Yes, I am hypocrite. My daughter will probably go to an Easter egg hunt this year like she has in the past. I may be having a personal crisis of conscience. Well, maybe more on that at another time. For now, let's just focus on ending child slave labor.)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 4: "Purpose-Driven Grading")

The next issue with most grading systems is mis-using grades to achieve the wrong purpose. As you can tell, these issues with grading are all interrelated. The focus of today's topic deals directly with the question of why we use grades at all. What I find is that the purposes of grades tend to fall into one of two categories:

Produce a behavior (compliance) 


Reflect mastery/provide feedback (learning)

Many teachers argue that grades should actually do both of the above, especially depending on the age of the learner. Commonly, some teachers and parents will suggest that students need grades to help them gain the value of learning until they later develop the intrinsic motivation to appreciate it on their own without these extrinsic "prompts" (grades).

First of all, this mindset plainly ignores what we know about motivation. It, yet again, is also one of the areas where many people would see the obvious fallacy in this position if they would just step outside of the world of institutional education for a moment. Let's imagine a parent saying, "I am trying to get my child to learn the value of eating healthy snacks instead of candy by repeatedly giving them pieces of chocolate.", or "We would like to get the employees in our company to see the value of the work they do just for the sake of the creativity and joy it provides them, so we will start paying bonuses for new ideas until they appreciate that it isn't about the financial gain of designing new products." 

As absurd as this reasoning sounds, it is the same with grading policies. To be blunt, the idea of making people dependent upon a device to prove that it will help people get to a place where they can function better without that very device is just as dumb as it sounds. And that is coming from a person who used to apply that silly mindset wholeheartedly in my former teaching days.

Secondly, there is no evidence to show it motivates learning even inside the public school system. Kindergartners in public schools and children in Montessori schools (or similar systems) demonstrate an enormous enthusiasm for learning without the "reward" or "punishment" of a grade being constantly put before them. This reality is so apparent, in fact, that my school district has a "backpack vision" (picture a child with a backpack on walking into school for the first time): We want students to exit (graduate) our system with the same passion for learning that they had when they entered our system, without economics determining success. The axiom at work here is that children naturally WANT to learn before they ever encounter a grading system! 

Are we going to say that they are mature enough to understand the intrinsic value or "deeper appreciation" of learning at age 5 more than middle school or high school students? The entire line of reasoning here defies any sense of what is developmentally appropriate.

Here's the catch, though. The biggest problem with this misconception about grading is that it does indeed APPEAR to work. Of course, if you ratchet up the short-term external consequences (positive or negative) - and that is what grades are, consequences, then you will naturally see an increase in short-term compliance. This is why so many people think it is justified to use grades to produce a behavior, whether it be completing homework, turning things in on time, having an organized binder, coming to class prepared, getting a form signed by parents, attempting bonus problems, etc. (the list is endless of what we "bribe" kids to do).

Truth be told, there are appropriate times for extrinsic motivation. The problem with using grades in this way is that it could, in fact, actually have a detrimental, inverse effect on learning. And that is NOT okay!

At this point, it doesn't require a lot of studies (although they have been done) to prove this point. Every teacher already knows this is true because every teacher has heard these famous words asked by more than one student: "Is this for a grade?" Why do they care to know? Because if it's not, then why bother doing it? The value of learning doesn't even cross the student's mind when immersed in a grading culture. Sadly, I am worried that it doesn't cross many teachers' minds either.

Daniel Pink presents some interesting findings about motivation and performance in this video (if you can't view the video above). What connections can be made between his comments and our current grading policies?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Happy Easter Choco-holics!

Like me, you might be surprised to know that except for Halloween, Americans actually purchase and consume more chocolate on Easter than any other holiday, including Valentine's Day and Christmas! 

With the celebration of Easter and Passover, there will be A LOT OF EATING CHOCOLATE going on, which brings us to a tragic irony. The Passover that so many people will celebrate in remembrance of the Jewish deliverance from slavery in Egypt under an oppressive Pharaoh will be held in conjunction with more people eating candy made available to us by the hands of forced child labor.

For information and videos from the full CNN series about the relationship between chocolate and child labor, go here. To check out a recent documentary video, click on this link.

In keeping with my "baby steps" theme, next week I will post simple ways to take action to make this Easter season more about freedom and still treat your sweet tooth.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Jesus Manifesto (Book Review)

Jesus Manifesto (Thomas Nelson, 2010), written by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola is an exceptional book. I could bring up little details here and there that make this book great, but I will just sum it up by saying that this book contains the information I would want passed on to my children. That is about the best endorsement I could give any book!

The section on "The Two Trees" is especially enlightening, one of those "worth the price of the book" pieces of writing. The authors point out that Christians go astray when we try to live by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of the Tree of Life as God intended.

The following three statements from different parts of the book combine to form what I see as the whole point of the book. "The center and circumference of the Christian life is none other than the person of Christ" (p. 1 - opening line). "In all religions and philosophies of the world, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with that founder. But not so with Jesus Christ" (p. 82). "What the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you. He's your indwelling Lord" (p. 128).

I recommend this book for anyone exploring Christianity. It is filled with great quotes and insights. More importantly, it gets to the heart of the issue and distinguishes following Jesus from the Christian religion. Religion is not the aim. Jesus brings abundant life, and religion cannot compare with that.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 3-C: "Better Late Than Never")

Another issue with most grading systems happens when there is an emphasis on penalizing students for late work. Rick Wormeli deals with the 'late work' challenge here.

This topic gets to the heart of a much larger problem in our schools. We need to find ways to transition from time being the constant to learning being the constant. I won't dig in to that idea here too much, but I will say that the more asynchronous practices we can introduce, the better. We must begin to deconstruct the factory-model approach.

As far as grading goes, the bottom line is that policies that eliminate hope also tend to eliminate learning. Since learning is our business in public education, this should concern us.

This is my final entry dealing with the problems of grading as they relate to forcing all kids to learn at the same time and in the same way, although one could probably argue that all grading practices somehow connect to that issue.

I will look at another aspect of grading in next week's post.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Baby Step: Pray for Freedom

While I will not be attending IJM's Global Prayer Gathering, the fact that it is right around the corner is good timing for a reminder about one of the most important steps any of us can take to promote freedom and justice.

Since we can't all attend great prayer conferences, it helps to have practical ways for us to talk to God about things like this that matter to us. One way you can consistently remember to pray for those in bondage today is to sign up for IJM's prayer updates or download their prayer devotional.

Whether you use a resource or devotional or nothing, the main thing is to simply call out needs to God and listen for his heartbeat. I am "preaching" to myself here because having a superior prayer life is something I could never boast about. Taking time to converse with God is, embarrassingly, a constant work in progress for me. Fortunately, I always find God to be a gentle and forgiving Listener.

2 Corinthians says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." There may be many things in our lives that we wonder if they are a part of God's will. This subject is not one of them. We can be confident that setting people free is as close to the heart of Jesus as anything else we could ever pray about.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


By now, I have shared a lot about how we "do church" simply.

You can see our Mission in a Minute and our Plan on a Page.

You can start to read beliefs about Children and our Measures of Success.

Our theology, evangelism, and discipleship is entirely based on one question: Who is Jesus to you?

In addition, we do have some practices that we want to keep at the forefront of the way we "do church." These are priorities for us, and we do not declare that they should be priorities for any other churches or ministries. Here are a few:

  • NO WALLS: Our ministries are not primarily based around buildings. The money, energy, property and personnel required to keep a church building running is not the wisest use of resources for our particular church network.

    Scene from Patch Adams movie
  • "PATCH ADAMS" APPROACH: The main character (played by Robin Williams) in the movie Patch Adams (based on a true story) is driven by his belief that every person is both a doctor and a patient. Likewise, we believe every person is a teacher and a learner. The expectation is that each follower of Christ can both give and receive ministry. We try to keep a participatory model that involves everyone (all ages) as much as possible so there are no passive spectators. There may be times when one person will teach a lesson or facilitate a series, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

  • SOCIAL JUSTICEIn other places, I have reflected on growth barriers vs. impact barriers as a metric of effectiveness. I see a gauge of our community's spiritual health in how well we attempt to break through obstacles so that we can minister to more people in our communities and cities more effectively. Each person is encouraged to foster a cause or need that they are passionate about. One way we try to harness these interests is in meeting needs both Here (locally) and There (globally/internationally).

As I said, these are some of our priorities.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Grades Gotta Go! (Part 3-B: "Practice Makes Permanent")

The next issue with most grading systems occurs when teachers grade students' first efforts or grade practice.

In his work on faulty grading practices that inhibit learning, Ken O' Connor includes the practice of "grading first efforts." As he explains, "learning is not a 'one-shot' deal."

This bad practice ties directly to the notion that all students should learn all things at the same time, which I discussed in my previous post. Instead of rehashing that idea here, I want to move now to the specific, problematic grading practices that result from this faulty thinking, the greatest of which is giving summative scores to people while they are still in the learning process.

The sports world already well understands the learning-performance cycle. Practices are used as opportunities to learn and develop skills while coaches constantly, immediately, directly, and specifically provide feedback for athletes. With good coaches and teammates (peers), athletes are receiving information in an ongoing manner for the purpose of helping them improve.

Athletes work hard and learn from mistakes in practices despite the fact that none of their efforts or stats is counted toward a single game’s outcome! You never see a basketball scoreboard start out with one team having an advantage based on free throw percentages during practice the night before the game. You never see a football team having to start a game down a touchdown because a quarterback had too many incomplete passes in practice that week.

When you watch ESPN’s Sportscenter, you are going to see and hear reports of all kinds of statistics and highlights, but none that come from practices. Why? Because the reporters, broadcasters, coaches, and fans from everywhere all recognize that it is the game where players need to be held accountable for their achievement.

Classroom teachers would do well to take notes from this analogy and refuse to grade students’ practice, including homework. Notice that I am very intentional about distinguishing grading from giving feedback. Feedback that “feeds forward” is a critical part of the practice component of learning a new skill or concept! Formative assessment is ongoing and necessary. Grading should not be mistakenly equated to providing feedback. Indeed, grading often interferes with effectivefeedback and has no correlation to learning.

Practice should be an opportunity for a student to receive timely feedback from teachers, experience peer-assessment, and carry out self reflections. Ensuring that these aspects are key ingredients to the learning cycle will help prevent another poor practice all too often employed, the infamous completion grade.

Completion grading is what teachers use to entice students to do their homework while not destroying their hope with a string of low grades for poor performance. It is most likely done with good intentions. However, it can be quite a destructive practice when it comes to learning. 

What teachers do not often have the chance to do is take a big step back and look at the big picture of practices that they have been using for a long time. With time to do so, I believe many educators would see just how illogical it is to use completion grades to build knowledge or skills.

First, completion grades mis-communicate ability and progress to both students and parents. Many times, a student receives several consecutive 100's on homework assignments only to fail the assessment. This leaves everyone confused.

Second, completion grades discourage critical thinking because there is no need for a student to evaluate his or her work, analyze errors, attempt more challenging problems, etc.

Third, completion grades do not adequately prepare students for assessments. In fact, they can actually interfere with the learning process because of poor practice. Students can repeatedly be doing things incorrectly if they are only graded for completing the task. This is probably the most obvious and harmful negative effect of completion grades.

Imagine a coach telling a baseball player to practice batting for a "completion" grade. No coach would ever tell the player to just practice swinging a set number of times just for the sake of doing the activity, while neglecting to consider form, stance, follow-through, contact with the ball, etc., and expect that to prepare the player for game situations against pitchers.

The above example is only baseball. What if we were to apply the mentality behind completion grades to other serious endeavors, let's say preparing to do surgery or flying a plane or putting a roof on a house? Even the thought of such a thing is unacceptable.

Virtually any activity that requires a particular execution of a skill should never be rehearsed over and over without considering the quality of the action because brain research teaches us that practice makes permanent. Good practice leads to better performance. Poor practice, which can go unchecked with completion grading, can lead to poorer performance. Think about that! A student can actually be "taught" to be worse at something through this type of grading method.

So, what is the solution to the problem of completion grades?

The answer is to not grade practice at all. Only give feedback!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Baby Step: Know the Law

Another practical step you can take in understanding what is going on with slavery and human trafficking is to take a few minutes to read the summary of legislation that is now in place regarding these issues.

I tried reading the actual bills that became laws, but that was overwhelming and confusing to me. I prefer getting the highlights that help me make a little more sense of them. 

With that said, the baby step I recommend for today is to take about 3-5 minutes to skim over recent federal legislation as nicely summarized by the Polaris Project. I also suggest making the Polaris Project website one of your bookmarks or favorites. It is a wealth of great information and resources!