Can I begin by welcoming any teachers, teaching assistants and lecturers who are with us this morning. Some of you will be looking forward to half term in a week’s time. If you’re at West Jesmond Primary School then you’ll be looking forward to moving in to the newly built school over the next three weeks. As a church we will be praying for you and for the school and the community it serves as it reopens on March 2nd. Teaching is an important vocation. What we pass on to the next generation both as parents and teachers is vital. Proverbs 22:6:
Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old [or grown] he will not turn from it.
And what Proverbs means by the way he should go is God’s way, the way of faith in Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life, the way of biblical truth, love, wisdom, right discipline and values. You see what is the foundation of true education? Well as Proverbs 1:7 says:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
In Psalm 71:17 we see the result of Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 22:6:
Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvellous deeds.
Not that intellectual and physical development isn’t important too, but without the spiritual there is something major missing. Luke 2:52:
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
But much of all of that has gone from homes, schools and universities.
Until 1990 the Newcastle Education Committee had this as its aim for RE:
'To help secondary school pupils towards an understanding of the Christian faith, in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in His Name.’
Sadly now it is something very different. And I say sadly because for all the opportunities in education today I fear that without a Christian framework we are in danger of creating what Luther called ‘clever devils’.
D.L. Moody, the American evangelist, once said,
'If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track!'
Only Jesus can deal with the problem of the sinful heart and bring life in all its fullness. And yet he, the greatest teacher to have ever walked on this planet, is excluded from many schools.
So can I encourage some of you to consider teaching as a vocation and to consider becoming a head teacher as they set the ethos of a school. The reformer Martin Luther said:
If I could leave the office of preacher, or were forced to do so, there is no
other office that I would rather have than that of schoolmaster. For I
know that next to the office of preaching, this is the best, the greatest and most useful there is. In fact, I am not absolutely sure which of the two is better.
I should add that Luther also said teaching is hard and that no-one should do it for more than ten years!
The turning away from the Christian faith in our nation and the lack of a Christian ethos in many of our schools and colleges is leading to major problems now and for the next generation. And this is backed up by both secular and spiritual bodies.
In 2007 UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, produced a report stating that the United Kingdom is failing its children. According to their research the UK comes bottom of the league table for child well-being out of 21 industrialised countries.
The Children's Commissioner for England, Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green, said:
"We are turning out a generation of young people who are unhappy, unhealthy, engaging in risky behaviour, who have poor relationships with their family and their peers, who have low expectations and don't feel safe."
Earlier this week the Children’s Society produced a report called ‘The Good Childhood Inquiry’ which revealed similar findings and which makes recommendations on how the upbringing of children in the UK can be improved. It stated that parents should:
• Make a long term commitment to each other
• Be fully informed about what is involved before their child is born, which opens the door for us to be providing parenting classes more widely.
• Love their children, each other and establish boundaries for children.
• Help children develop spiritual qualities.
And that teachers should:
• Help children to develop happy, likeable social personalities.
• Base discipline on mutual respect.
• Eliminate physical and psychological violence from school.
• Make Personal, Social and Health Education statutory.
• Present sex and relationships education not as biology but part of social and emotional learning.
In terms of values the report goes on to say that there needs to be a significant change at the heart of society, so that adults, be they parents or teachers, are less embarrassed to stand up for the values without which a society cannot flourish.
So what does the Bible say? What does it say to those who are parents, grandparents, teachers, lecturers, Sunday school teachers, uniformed group leaders, youth leaders and children, which is most of us here? Well if there is going to be significant change at the heart of society the Bible says that we actually have to stand up first rather than waiting until we’re less embarrassed and we have also to pray. So my next point is:
2) PRAY AND ACT (not just pray and not just act but pray and act)
On Wednesday there is the Day of Prayer. I hope you’re going to make it a priority. Schools and children need your prayers. Andy Gawn’s ministry to 3000 schoolchildren each year through assemblies needs your prayers. Jane Linfoot, a member of this congregation, runs a regular schools prayer group, which next meets on March 3rd. 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.
We are also to act – to be salt and light. Jesus says that Christian parents, teachers, lecturers, pupils and students are to be salt and light in our schools and in our universities. Matthew 5:13 &14:
"You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world."
President Barack Obama was chosen or elected by the majority of American voters to bring change to the USA. Sadly some of his first policy moves go directly against the teaching of the Bible in removing the prohibition of funding for embryonic stem cell research and in seeking to make abortion easier.
You, if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord, if you’re trusting in his death on the cross in your place and in his resurrection from the dead, were chosen or elected by God to change Britain (or wherever you live or wherever you end up living in the future).
Notice that Jesus doesn't say you will be salt and light or you might be salt and light but rather that you are – so be what you are. The world needs you to be what you are. Your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren; and the children in your classroom need you to be what you are in Jesus Christ. Your school needs you to be what you are. Your university needs you to be what you are. The world might not always want you to be what you are. (In v10-12 of Matthew 5 Jesus says "blessed are the persecuted" so there will be opposition.) But it needs you to be. For salt prevents decay and light illumines the darkness. Britain without salty Christians will rot morally and spiritually, says Jesus by implication, just as meat rots without salt.
You see those values without which a society cannot flourish are Christian values and therefore also genuine Christian faith. Ironically that statement from The Children’s Society is published in a week when a Christian nurse, Caroline Petrie, was suspended from her job for offering to pray for an elderly patient's recovery from illness. One newspaper on Friday carried the headline NHS staff face the sack if they discuss religion. Now, of course, we are to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. We are to speak and act in love, not imposing but proposing. But we are to speak and act when opportunity and necessity demand it. Yet we can be worried by what others might think and can be tempted to go with the flow. Have a look at this educational experiment on video. (The transcript of the video:)
[Presenter] "The Asch Experiment is one of psychology's oldest and most popular pieces of research. The volunteer is told he is taking part in a visual perception test. What he doesn't know is that the other participants are actors and he is the only person taking part in a real test. But it is actually about group conformity.
[Now in a room with desks and participants] 'The experiment you will be taking part in today involves a perception of line length. The task will be simply to look at the line here on the left and indicate which of the three lines on the right is equal to it in length. So for example … ' [fades with voice over].
[Presenter] The actors have been told to match the wrong lines. The volunteer will be monitored to see if he gives the correct answer or if he goes along with the opinion of the group and gives the wrong answer. In the first test the correct answer is two.
[The answers are then given by the actors] 'one,' 'one,' 'one,' [then pause, and the volunteer with surprise in his voice] 'two.'
[Then the final actor] 'one.'
Once again the correct answer is 'two' [for another test. Immediately there are shots of the actors giving answers] 'three,' 'three,' 'three,' [but this time, after along pause, the volunteer says … ] 'three.' [Then the final actor] 'three.'
[Presenter] The Asch Experiment has been repeated many times and the results have been supported again and again. We will conform to the group. We are very social creatures. We are very much aware of what people around us think. We want to be liked. We do not want to be seen to rock the boat. So we will go along with the group. Even if we don't believe what people are saying, we still go along."
'One,' 'one,' 'one,' [as people continue the experiment and fading with voice over]. Group dynamics is one of the most powerful forces in human psychology. [Final shot] 'One,' 'one,' … [fades].
So there you have it - the power of the group. We all face the pressure to conform. But we are not to conform to the pattern of this world but rather we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Paul tells the Romans (Romans 12:1-2). We are to be different and stand firm, up and out for Jesus Christ.
So it is encouraging that this past week an open letter to the students of Newcastle University from 19 Christian lecturers and post-doctoral researchers was published in the student newspaper, encouraging them to investigate the claims of the Christian faith. And this coming week sees the start of the Newcastle University CU mission on campus. So do pray for the impact of both.
And we are to bring up our children to be salt and light. It’s part of bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. But if we are not being salt and light, if we’ve lost our saltiness how far can we expect our children to be? which brings us to Eph 6 and to my next heading.
3) THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF PARENTS AND CHILDREN Eph 6:1-4
The Children’s Society report also says that long term committed two parent relationships are best for the bringing up of children. The Bible is clear that marriage (meaning lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage) is God’s design and best for the bringing up of children. And the immediate context of Ephesians 6 is marriage. Have a look at Ephesians 5:33. Paul is talking about marriage and he summarizes how husbands and wives are to relate by saying that each one of us who is a husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. So what is the best thing a man can do for his children? It’s a question I ask at all weddings. The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother and then together, with the husband taking the lead, bring them to Jesus Christ. You see parents are not to leave all learning up to the school or to Sunday school. Ephesians 6:4:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Paul is very clear that fathers have a particular responsibility to bring up their children in the 'training' or 'discipline' and instruction of the Lord. Paul here, in contrast to the Roman autocratic model of fatherhood, sees Christian fathers as self-controlled, gentle and patient educators of their children. Human fathers are to care for their families as God the Father cares for his. Yet how easy it is for we fathers to exasperate our children when we’re around and how difficult it is to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord if we’re often out or away. According to one survey done with hundreds of children the three things fathers say most often in responding to their children are: I'm too tired; we don't have enough money; and be quiet!
Children too have responsibilities. V1 is addressed directly to children from Christian homes.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."
Children are to obey their parents unless they are asked to do something that’s contrary to God's will. Why should children obey their parents? Why should children respect and obey their teachers who are in loco parentis? For it is right. It’s not only right in Christian households but also in all households and schools. It’s part of the natural law which God has written on all human hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Most civilizations and cultures have regarded the recognition of parental authority as indispensable to a stable society.
4) WHY TRAINING AND DISCIPLINE? Proverbs 22:15
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him
The Bible teaches that children are not essentially good as educationalists such as Dewey have taught but rather, like you and me,
essentially sinful. King David wrote this in Psalm 51:5:
Surely I was sinful from birth, even from the time my mother conceived me.
Children need the rod of discipline – not meaning violent discipline but rather consistent loving discipline and boundaries. Not that consistent loving discipline can’t be firm at times.
But although the rod of discipline can correct some behaviour it can’t deal with the problem of our sinful hearts and bring eternal life. So what does Proverbs 22 teach us about those fundamental questions? So
5) WHERE DO WE BEGIN? Proverbs 22:4
Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honour and life.
In 1 Peter we read that ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be opposed by God. So we are to begin by humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God who will then lift us up – who will then bring us to repentance and faith in Christ and give us life.
So who should we listen to? What teaching should we pay particular attention to, not just in our head but in our heart? Proverbs 22:17-19:
Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach, for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart and have all of them ready on your lips. [Why?] So that your trust may be in the LORD, I teach you today, even you.
Are you reading the sayings of the wise? Are you in other words reading the Bible which tells us where we can be confident of putting our trust so that we might have life? Where is your trust? Probably not in banks or wealth at the moment. Perhaps not in SATS results and exam boards after some of last year’s debacles. No may your trust be in the Lord, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ who loved you and died for you on the cross taking the punishment you and I deserve for our rebellion against God and his rules and who rose from the dead so that you and I might have forgiveness of sins and the life that is truly life – eternal life.
I’m so encouraged at present that so many want to learn about Jesus Christ and the life he offers at Christianity Explored. Lots of people came last week and it’s still not too late to join a group. Have a look at the list on the screen of the groups meeting this week and you can sign up on the leaflet with your service sheet or speak to me at the end of the service. Come and learn. Invite or bring a friend with you.
On Monday there’s student Christianity Explored: 6pm – Café Bar 22. On Tuesday morning there’s a daytime course starting at 11am in Eslington House. There’s also an evening course on Tuesday at 8pm in 3 Osborne Road and on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm, 3 Osborne Road. On Thursdays there’s a morning and an evening course: 10am – Eslington House and 7.30pm – 3 Osborne Road. And on Thursday 19th February there’s the launch of International Christianity Explored at 7pm in the Church Hall.
So there should be a course for you at a time that’s convenient for you!