Thursday, January 8, 2015

Excellence in the Image of God

I felt called to speak to the students about some issues we were having at the school. Here's the notes and outline from it.

Prayer - Middle school student open

Opening Hook - Quiet Reflection

We are a very busy people, and even during the holidays sometimes we barely get a chance to slow down and reflect. I think reflection is a good discipline to help us know ourselves better. So let's take a few minutes to reflect on the first semester.

If you want to, close your eyes and remove the distractions that are around you. And...

take some time to consider what you liked about the last semester... maybe it was a particular class... a grade that you worked hard for... a shared moment between friends... or something in a sport or club that you're involved in

Now take some time to consider what you didn't like about last semester... again it might be a class... an unfortunate family circumstance... a death of a loved one... a situation or decision or words that you wish you could take back

Lastly, think about what you want to see this semester. Is it grades? ... Better relationships with the people around you? ... cultivate a particular skill. ...grow closer to Jesus?

My Reflection

I have been doing a lot of reflection recently, and I want to share with you some of the thoughts that came to mind

(1) Since moving down to Virginia, I have felt welcomed and belonged, especially here at the school. Please don't overlook the idea of belonging matters. When people belong, they might not think anything of it. But when people don't belong, its a struggle and a priority of that person to feel that way. I know both sides of it. At my previous employment, I was mistreated and harassed on a regular basis for nearly two years. Despite the pains and frustrations I experienced with the adults in my building, I continued doing my job well, because I still felt like I belonged when I was with my students. So even though I felt welcomed in the classroom, I didn't feel welcomed at the school - needless to say, it was a very difficult time in my life.

This place through, The Carmel School, is very different. Unlike the school where I came from, this place is a blessing - its a place where all the teachers are staff are passionate about your education and concerned for your souls. So in the moments where you're frustrated about school, or the homework, or that stupid Khan Academy module you can't complete, I hope that you at least remember that you are still in an awesome place where you are able to grow to the potential that God designed you for.. I know for certain that there are many, many, many students who wish they went to school here.

(2) Secondly, I spent a lot of time thinking about all of you. I know that sounds weird, but teachers tend to spend a lot of time thinking about students in a bunch of different ways. Sometimes, we're concerned about how well you understand what we teach in class. And that's important. But just as importantly, we also spend a lot of time thinking about how your interactions - your interactions with us, your interactions with each other, and your interactions with God.

Last semester, there were times where I was deeply concerned about how some of you treat each other. It made me upset and angry to hear some of the words you told or wrote to one another. Like I just explained to you before, one of the reasons why I love this place is because I feel welcomed; and when I hear about these harmful words or mistreatment of each other, I know that this can't possibly be welcoming. Not only does it speak poorly about our character as a student body, but also poorly demonstrates what we're about here at Carmel. Disrespect among the student body is a great concern to me. To be honest, I rather have everyone be treated with integrity, honor and respect before you master any of the procedures and concepts of mathematics. I'm sure the other teachers feel the same regarding their classes. We feel this way because if you can't treat your classmates with respect, it speaks to a deeper, spiritual issue about who you are, and how you value people.

I'm not speaking to call out anyone specifically, but if you feel convicted, that's okay. In my preparation for this, I've felt convicted and I'm convicting myself as I'm speaking to you right now because I know there are days where I'm frustrated by you - days where I wish I'd treated you better. That's the beauty of God's grace - Everyone of us, teachers and students alike, can better our relationships with each other. So please listen to these words today and remember that is not a condemnation or a personal attack. More than anything, this is just something that I wanted to share with you - about my own experiences of being hurt, but also the shame I feel when I've hurt others.

I'm not going to conclude with this though. God already has laid out a plan or our healing and redemption. Here are two things we can do, together as a school...

Call To Action
(1) A great place to start is simply remembering that we are all created in the image of God. I know many, if not all, of you have heard that before, but have you really stopped to think about that? We are made in the image of God. There it is in the very first chapter of the Bible, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." If we are made in the image of God, then we are unlike the rest of Creation; God was thinking about himself when he made us - our bodies and our minds. We see evidence of this scattered throughout the Bible as well. One of my favorite verses, in Psalm 139, says the same in different words, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." We're wonderfully made, not because or our doing, but because we were made in the image. Another song lyric that encourages me often is this: Worth, value, and beauty is not determined by some innate quality, but by the length for which the owner would go to possess them. If Christ is willing to die to possess us, a broken and hurtful people, think about the great love that God has for us!

It's important to know that you were created excellently because there are dire consequences when mistreat each other. Although we may not mean it directly, we are telling God that we don't value His creation or His image. This is why I believe that an insult, a dis, or a mistreatment, of another human being is such a serious offense. What gives us to right to destroy the image that God Himself has created in each and every one of us here?

So I petition each of you to practice self-control, and particularly over your words. Before you speak in a harsh way to one of your classmates please consider, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" If it's not all three, then I suggest you reconsider your thoughts. I don't think this is an easy to practice this at first, but nothing worth pursing is every easy at first. A lot of the times, we are all quick to anger and want to defend ourselves in our mistreatment. But I ask you to please resist the temptation to return the trash talk spoken to you. Christ never thought it necessary to call down wrath or insult anyone, even in his own death. Instead he forcefully and actively chose to value the dignity of all people - including his oppressors - over cheap words that taint the image of God.

(2) Some of you already have a better control over their the words and actions. For that, I commend you. You are already a better person in high school, than what I am today. But even so, I still have a charge for you as well. If you witness mistreatment, kindly and gracefully, call it out and restore both classmates to dignity. Consider the following passage that Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Did you catch that at the end? Because we are a body, we either suffer or rejoice together. If we are tearing ourselves down, the entire body suffers and we don't function the way we are intended. Instead of serving the school or the community at large, we are too busy protecting our reputations or worried about who is going to attack us next. Effectively, we won't be able to do anything worth doing; we become all together useless.

I know that I am not alone that I want to see this culture change here at Carmel. I've talked to students who want to see the change as well. We want to be a school where students can valued, respected, and loved in the exact way that Jesus intended. I don't think I'm out of place to say that I speak for all the teachers that we will do our best to ensure this, but we can only do so much. If you want Carmel to be this type of place, the students must be the agents to change. It's up to you, the students, to protect and value each other during your time here.

So as I'm winding down, I want to give you another moment to reflect on the words I've spoken to you today. Although your job is to be diligent students, we all should also strive to make this a place of belonging. Whether you're a male or female, sixth grader or twelfth grader, or anywhere in between, we are all created in the excellent image of God, and that alone should be enough to merit a response of respect.

But also take these last moments to consider a person or people that you know you should be treating better. If there is conflict, disregard who started it - you or them - or even if either one of you can remember. What we need here is healing and reconciliation. Jesus has already righted all the wrongs, and in being in His image, we are called to apologize and forgive. I am not expecting everyone to be best friends with everyone in this school, but you should always be working to be at peace with everyone. Consider an opportunity, a time, or a way to apologize for the way you've acted towards them. Likewise, be open to accept the forgiveness of others who have mistreated you.

Please remember to treat one another with respect, and to defend those who aren't receiving the respect that comes with bearing the image of God. Let's work together to make this the best semester yet.

Closing Prayer - Upper School Student/Teacher

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