Worship at School

girls studying from a notebook

We’ve been studying about worship the last few weeks at our congregation, and we’ve emphasized time and again that worship is more than what we do when we gather together with our congregation. Worshiping God is something we do in how we conduct ourselves everywhere. Hebrews 13:15-16 and Romans 12:1-2 both call on us to be living sacrifices, reflecting God in our lives.

We’ve already studied about the topic in broad strokes, defining true worship and what a life of worship looks like. We’ve studied how to conduct ourselves in the workplace, and we’ve discussed worshipful living at home. In this lesson, we’re going to look at the school community and how we worship God in our conduct both as students and as parents.

The Power of Example

The most powerful tool of worship we have as students is that of our examples. We’re familiar with I Timothy 4:12 that tells us to be an example in speech, in love, in conduct, in faith, and in purity. Ecclesiastes 12:1 reminds us to serve our Creator in the days of our youth. What do others see in you at school? What kind of example are you setting in front of your peers, your teachers, custodians, instructional assistants, and anyone else with whom you interact? Does your speech, your attitude, your online conduct, your choices, your work ethic cause them to despise your youth?

I Thessalonians 4:1-2 is an admonition that we know how we should be living. This includes at school. Parents, this applies to us too. We adults have to ask ourselves what our children’s peers see in us. Do they see parents who conduct themselves in a Christlike way? Do they see a family that puts spiritual matters before physical? What do they see in your conduct when you are at a school game, picking up or dropping off your child, when they visit your home? Even more challenging, what do the teachers of that school see in you, and what example are you setting for your child when you are away from school?

The Power of Choice

My wife, when she was young, had a sign posted to her bedroom door that read, “I am the most powerful person in my life.” It served as reminder to her that she had the final say in what she let herself get drawn into. It reminded her that no friend — casual or romantic — could control her. Nor could any situation take control of her life. It reminded her that she had a choice over whether or not she was going to end up in a bad situation, and, if that situation was indeed out of her control, it reminded her that she had a choice how she would react to it.

As students, we choose who we hang out with, and I Corinthians 15:33 simply states that bad companions will drag us down. Their influence will wear on us. Yes, we might believe we can change someone, that we can be the example they need, but we also have to realize when the burden is becoming too heavy to bear. II Corinthians 6:14 warns against being unequally yoked with unbelievers. If our companions are dragging us away from Christ, despite our best efforts, maybe it’s time to choose different friends.

Now we can’t always choose who we’re going to be around because our classes are set by others. The teams, clubs, and arts we choose will dictate who we are around a great deal of time, but that again comes down to choice. I made the difficult choice in high school to abandon theater because of the complete immorality of several of the kids I was around much of the time and the content and dialogue in some of our productions. It was tearing me down, and I had to focus elsewhere.

Coming back to parents, we need to be involved enough with our kids’ lives that we can see when something is bringing them down or influencing them in a bad way. We need to be setting a good enough example and have such a relationship with our children that we can talk and offer advice. At times, we have to be able to nudge them reach the right conclusions themselves, and we need the wisdom to know when our kids need to handle something themselves. We would all do well to remember I Corinthians 10:12-13 that assures us we can overcome any struggle or temptation or discouragement laid before us. It comes down to the choices we make.

Worship in Practical Conduct

Here, then, are some practical things to consider in our conduct at school.

Students

  • What is your work ethic at school? How do we act when we’re in a class we don’t want to take? Do you, as Paul instructs Ephesians 6:5-7, work as if you are serving God?
  • How do you treat those you don’t like? How do you treat teachers you don’t like? Do you participate in making fun of others when your friends get going? Do you get dragged into being a bully, unintentional or otherwise?
  • How do you respond to those who are mean to you, teacher or student? Matthew 5:38 – 48 teaches we should never return evil for evil.
  • What activities and social events are we letting our selves participate in? Do we go to parties  or dances where we know we’ll feel pressured to conduct ourselves in an improper way? Do we join clubs that will perpetually take away time we should be devoting to God?

I’m not saying here that you can only have friends who are Christians. I’m not saying you are eternally lost for attending prom. I’m not saying you can’t be in band, orchestra, on the football team, or in theater. I am saying is this, though: be careful that your choices do not make your spiritual walk unnecessarily difficult. You’ll be faced with some difficult choices, but remember to stay on God’s side, and remember that there is always a way to do the right thing

Parents

  • How do we conduct ourselves around our kids’ teachers? Do they see us arguing with or undermining those teachers? How do you think that will affect their effort and behavior in class?
  • Do our kids hear us badmouthing their school and their teachers at home? Again, how will this affect their attitude at school if they see a bad attitude from us?
  • Do we send messages to our children that we don’t value an education by letting them miss school for reasons of convenience — for vacations or other things we don’t want to schedule? Do we rob them of time to complete their homework? If your kids see you don’t value their education, how much will they value it?
  • On the other hand, do we send a message that we don’t value God because we let every practice, concert, or school event take priority over worshiping God and studying from His word?
  • Are we familiar with the friends our children choose and the activities in which they participate? Do we take the time to discuss the challenges they face? Do we let them know we care, or do we just sit back and wait for them to voluntarily come to us?

I think the biggest challenges we face as parents are those raised by our inherent protectiveness. We have to realize that we are only ever getting one side of those stories that trigger our protective instincts, and, whether they intend to do so or not, our children’s versions of events, whether they be six or sixteen, are biased for themselves. We have to be calm and Christlike in the face of school challenges, and we have to show we value their education as much as we want them to value it.

Conclusion

By the time you graduate from your senior year in high school, you will have spent at least 15,120 hours at school – that is, if you don’t start until first grade and never participate in any extracurricular events ever and your school day is only seven hours. We will come in contact with hundreds, if not thousands, of individual souls during that time span, every one of those souls we have a chance to bring closer to Christ.

Our own spirituality will be continually tested. If we choose to walk in Christ’s footsteps, even if we would rather do things that would take us away from Him, and even when we are around people we don’t like, then we can worship God through our conduct in our school communities.

lesson by Robert Smelser

The Parable of the Rich Fool

rembrandt's painting of the rich fool

Luke 12:16 – 21:

He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, ‘What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?’ He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”‘

But God said to him, ‘You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Filling Our Barns

The message of this parable is a fairly obvious one. Jesus is encouraging us to replace our faith in possessions with faith in God. The next several verses elaborate on this point.

Luke 12:22 – 34:

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!

Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. Yet seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give alms. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus states that our hearts follow our treasures. These are the things we store in those barns like the rich man built in the parable. His heart was obviously set on material gain. But we can fill our barns with other things. They can be filled with goals, opinions, or ungodly characteristics we don’t want to let go. They can be filled with friends or family that keep us from God. They can be filled with pride.

The rich man’s actions demonstrated where his treasures were. These were his priority because those crops were where he expended his time and energy. What would an outside observer think your priorities are? If a random individual was supposed to follow you around for a week and conclude what’s most important to you based on what you spend the most time and energy on, what would they conclude? Would they see you laying up treasures in Heaven, or would they see you filling your barns with worldly things?

When Good Goals Turn Bad

In the verses we read after the parable, Jesus talks a bit about concern. Our concerns, worries, and anxieties can make us misplace our priorities. It’s interesting what he singles out. Both in the parable and in his subsequent teachings, Jesus focuses on food. The rich man wasn’t filling his barns with gold. He was filling them with food, which we need to survive.

The rich man filled his barns with something inherently good and necessary. Jesus also speaks to clothing, another good and necessary thing. But something good can turn us bad if it consumes our heart too much. Why do you think Satan’s first temptation after Jesus had been fasting had to do with food? He started with something that was inherently good, but encouraged Jesus to get it the wrong way.

Wanting to support our families is a good and necessary thing. Wanting to feed and clothe them is a good thing. Wanting safer neighborhoods and a more moral culture are good things. But when these things replace God in our lives and become the cares and anxieties that fill our barns, they cease to be good. They instead begin to drag us away from God because they become the goal we seek rather than something Heavenly and eternal. That’s why, time and again, Jesus and His apostles keep reminding us that all of these things are temporary. It’s so we don’t fill our barns with goals that will perish with this world.

Peace Rather Than Worry

Jesus ties worry directly to misplaced priorities. Jesus tells us to stop worrying four times over the course of these verses. He says to not be anxious; then He asks what good worry does; He asks why be anxious; finally, He repeats the refrain to not be anxious. After those four times, He concludes by saying to not be afraid. That’s because worry is the result of fear, and fear is the opposite of faith.

Instead, our priority should be to build our faith. I John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. Our love of God is a result of faith, and, if we love Him, then we trust Him. This is the peace that passes understanding described in Philippians 4:7. Being able to look past this life and put things in perspective gives us peace. Remember, Paul suffered physical abuse and imprisonment for his faith while writing about peace. Jesus, who would be beaten and killed for His teachings, told us not to worry or fear. If they had peace, so can we.

Treasures in Heaven

The parable ends with the rich man dying. We may not always like to admit it, but we all have the same fate awaiting us. At some point, each of us will be finished with these worldly bodies, and we will enter the spiritual world. Everything that now seems so immediate will be in the past. Think about something that’s worrying you right now. Will it matter in eternity? Is it worth replacing your faith in God with that fear? Is that what you want God to see filling your barns?

So let’s tear down our barns of worry. Let’s get our priorities straight and realize that there is only one thing that really matters — showing Christ to others so that all may be saved. He is our treasure. Being like Him is our goal, and that will keep our eyes on the eternal. Then we can say we are laying up treasures in Heaven, so that we won’t need to feel foolish when God comes to take our souls home.

lesson by Robert Smelser

Parables of the Kingdom

Rembrandt's painting depicting the hidden treasure

We’re going to spend almost our entire lesson today in Matthew 13. Earlier, we looked at one parable from this chapter — that of the sower and the soils. Then we looked at the parables of of the mustard seed, the leaven, and the weeds out of this same chapter — each of these containing the words, “the kingdom of Heaven is like…” In this lesson, we’re going to look over a few more of those short parable where Jesus talks about the kingdom.

Reviewing the Kingdom

In our last lesson, we looked at what Jesus means by the kingdom. Is He talking about the next life, of is He talking about something a bit closer? Remember that when Jesus sent the twelve out to preach in Matthew 10, He instructed them them to teach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1 even has Jesus promising that some standing in His presence would live to see the kingdom established with power.

Based on these passages and the events of Acts 2, it’s clear the the kingdom of Heaven can also refer to Christ’s church. While some of these parables can indeed apply to Heaven above, they are deeper and more immediate when we view them through the lens of Christ’s church — the kingdom doing His will in this world.

The Value of the Kingdom

The first three parables we’re going to look at speak to us about the value of the kingdom. Let’s start in Matthew 13:44 – 46:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

In both of these parables, the treasure has to be found. The first person finds their treasure by happenstance. They find it in a field, but there’s no indication that they were looking for anything. The second person was diligently seeking. They knew what they were looking for, and they knew where to look. In both cases, the result was the same — completely sacrificing all that they had so they could possess it.

Finding the kingdom is like that. In some cases, like Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9 – 24, God’s word may come into our lives without our looking for it. Simon certainly wasn’t looking to become a disciple, but that’s exactly what happened. Others, like Cornelius in Acts 10, will diligently seek God out. Whether by chance or by effort, both of these individuals’ responses were the same — to cling to the kingdom as a treasure of great value.

If we asked a group of Christians how each came to be converted, there would be a variety of histories. Some of us were raised in the church. Some of us might have fallen away at some point and returned when you realized what you lost. Others may have been converted by the influence of another person you happened to know, and yet others may have been seeking answers. Regardless of how you came to God, His kingdom is no less valuable to any of you. It is a great treasure, and it requires sacrifice.

Jesus told the rich, young ruler that he lacked one thing to inherit the kingdom. He told that young man to sell all he had and give to the poor. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful, and it was because he was unwilling to let go those things that were so meaningful to him. We have to decide what God’s kingdom is worth to us, and then we have to be willing to sacrifice. Sometimes, that looks like giving up people and things that can draw us away from God. Other times, it looks like sacrificing time and priorities, so we can do God’s work.

That brings us to an additional parable on this topic.

Matthew 13:52:

And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

This parable creates a simple image. Here, the homeowner is showing off some valuables. Do you have anything you like to share with guests? Whether the treasure is old or new, it carries great personal value. And that makes you want to share it with others. No matter how long we’ve been part of the kingdom, it should be so valuable to us that we want others to know about it.

When we do that, it might be that we will help someone else find the treasure. It might be someone who wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but your influence helps them realize the kingdom’s value. You might be in the right place at the right time to reach out to someone seeking the truth. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14, no one can hear unless we teach. So, if you’ve already come to the kingdom, if you’ve already laid hold of that great treasure, then tell others about it so they can find it too.

The Kingdom’s Harvest

The other two parables we’re going to look at talk about the judgment. The first of these in in Mark 4:26 – 29.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable has obvious similarities with the parable of the sower. Again, Jesus is talking about a person spreading seed on the ground. This encourages us to go out and teach others about the kingdom. Jesus takes it further in this parable, though. In this case, the seed sprouts and grows, and Jesus says that the sower doesn’t fully understand the process. The beautiful thing is that he doesn’t have to. The earth knows how to nourish the seed, and the seed knows what to do with the nourishment. It just needed to be planted.

This is like what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 3:6 – 9.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

If you’re not familiar with the context here, Paul is getting on the members of the church at Corinth for taking too much pride in who converted them, whether it be this preacher, that preacher or another. In this case, Paul says to them that the person who taught or baptized them is irrelevant. It’s God who saved them.

You or I? We’re just workers in the field. It’s our job to plant, and to be happy with simply doing that. We may never know how we might touch someone else’s life, but we keep on planting all the same. The planting may take time and effort, but it’s still God’s word working in the other individual that eventually brings about repentance and conversion. We start the work; God finishes it.

But there is a last bit to the parable. When the grain is fully grown, it gets harvested. From this point, the grain dies to go on to serve another purpose. The grain that is good will be preserved. That which is not good will be discarded, and that leads us to our final parable of this lesson: Matthew 13:47 – 50.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The fishers simply fish. They throw the net out indiscriminately, and that is exactly how we should be spreading God’s word. We sing, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His site,” and though those words are a little culturally insensitive by current standards, they carry an important meaning. Regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, or any other divide, we are all precious in God’s sight. Do we then act like we really believe that? We cannot let cultural, economic, geopolitical, or any other barrier stand between us and casting that net as far and wide as we can.

And it’s because of this: at the end of the day, God will separate the good from the bad. It’s easy to point at someone behaving in an obviously ungodly way, or that wholly rejects the notion of God, and say, “You’ll be cast out.” But what about those of us who believe but refuse to cast our nets, refuse to sow, refuse to share our treasure? What do we think He will say to those of us who hinder the harvest through inaction? Will He not cast us aside also? As James sums up in James 4:17: ‘So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Conclusion

The kingdom of God is of immeasurable value. When we find it, we should be willing to sacrifice of ourselves to obtain it. Self-sacrifice is part of finding the treasure that is God’s kingdom. Then, if we truly recognize the value of God’s kingdom, we are going to share it with whoever we can, without assumption, without reservation, and without discrimination. We are going to teach and teach and teach. And we do this because we know the harvest is coming. We should be laborers in the field; we should be fishers of men; and we should be doing all we can to be like our God who wants all people to repent. That is when we know we truly value God’s kingdom.

lesson by Robert Smelser