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BLOG: The Ultimate Gift

December 20th, 2016

A gift with no price tag:  This Christmas, in many cultures across the world, people will be receiving gifts intended to communicate genuine love and affection to those near and dear to them. Here in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at no cost to taxpayers, students in Hamilton County public schools are receiving a life-changing gift to which no real price tag can be ascribed. This is the rare privilege of having access to Bible history classes as an optional Related Arts elective. Bible history, however, is not just a Christmas gift. The generosity of this community makes this rare treasure available for the full academic school year to over 3,500 middle and high school students annually.


A gift that is the real deal:  The gift of being able to study from the Bible during the school day comes not with a shiny “To” and “From” label. It comes with the timeless inscribed words of a much larger story of love and hope that has impacted thousands of generations, and that is still changing lives today. Through this story, many students are discovering this love and hope, and many are realizing in a new way that their lives have tremendous value, meaning, and worth. This gift of Bible history for students is not a knock-off of the real thing, or someone else’s interpretation of the real thing. It is the real deal because the Bible itself is their textbook.


A free gift to humanity:  In many Western cultures this time of year, Christmas tree branches adorned with glimmering lights drape over gifts placed beneath the tree, many of which are attractively tied up with ribbons and bows. Yet, in Bible history, students are “untying" something much deeper. One might call these the “ribbons” of loving correction found through a deeper understanding of choices and consequences recounted in the narrative of old, yet that still apply to us today. While the Bible is providing students the wisdom of guidance and direction, it is also a free gift to humanity that offers young minds a wiser path and a better way. Furthermore, Bible history classes are also helping guide many public school youth through “tough stuff”. The encouragement of the Bible's words is helping kids hold things together when many of them feel as though their lives are unraveling. Bible history isn't only helping students navigate "tough stuff", one seventh grade girl exclaimed, "Bible history is putting kids on the right path.”


The gift of grace:  In a Bible history class, you won’t find students ripping open shiny bright Christmas paper. Instead, students are “peeling back the paper” of values, morals, and ethics. And, in contrast to how a younger child might close his eyes to guess what's inside a present, metaphorically, the eyes of Bible history students are being opened to a new perspective. In Bible history electives, youth between the pivotal ages of about 12 and 18 are thumbing through the soft pages of the Bible only also to discover the amazing reality that the Bible contains stories of people just like them! They are learning about broken people who messed up over and over again, and who made wrong choices and poor decisions, yet who were shown abundant mercy, grace, and forgiveness. This in turn helps students learn how to grant this same grace to others when they themselves are wronged. One tenth grade boy shared, "Bible history has taught me to forgive others," and a senior student recently confessed, "Bible history teaches beautiful life lessons and has taught me to be nicer." All of these things are encouraging to hear.


The gift of the Christmas story: Bible history students have also been learning of the Christmas story and the narrative of the birth of Jesus Christ -- many for the very first time. A broad education includes providing students the opportunity to understand the meaning behind all America's nationally recognized holidays, and Christmas is no exception. More and more, Bible history teachers are also discovering that a vast number of students know little to nothing about the recount of the birth of Christ. One tenth grade boy in Bible history said, “I never knew anything about Jesus.” A sixth grade girl also recently exclaimed, “I hope this class continues on forever and ever because the babies in daycare need to grow up and hear about new things like this.” So, as you read this humble blog, if this Christmas story of the birth of Jesus Christ is also new or unfamiliar to you, we encourage you to find a Bible and perhaps read it to discover it for yourself.


The Ultimate Gift:  This Christmas, whether the story of the incarnation of Christ is new or old to you, at Bible in the Schools we believe every single person, including every public school student, should have the chance to “grow up and hear it”. Therefore, it is appropriate at this “most wonderful time of the year”, that we express our genuine affection for all of you who give to support this great mission. Thank you for sharing the gifts you have been given to make sure students in our public schools have the opportunity to unwrap The Ultimate Gift of potentially making this Christmas story relevant in their lives as well. Thank you.


Merry Christmas!


Posted by Cathy Scott, President  | Category: Youth Culture

BLOG: Loving the Untouchables

October 26th, 2016

My oldest son just finished building a fabulous chicken coop. In a smaller cage he is raising some younger chicks that will join the larger birds when ready. Recently, in an attempt to see if one of the younger birds could be assimilated into the bigger cage, my son gently placed one of the smaller birds into the big coop. I watched him position himself near this little one to observe this entry. What we witnessed was unreal!

Immediately, four of the large chickens surrounded the newcomer and locked their eyes on her in what appeared to be an “intimidation” stare. Then, after several long seconds, they proceeded to aggressively peck at her. My son, who was poised and ready to protect his little bird, quickly whisked her up into his arms, rescued her from the attack, and moved her to safety.


So what does this story have to do with Bible history? Sadly, we know there are students in our schools today who are figuratively “pecked at” by those who for whatever reason choose not to receive or welcome them. While there will always be varying levels of student aggression and isolation in our schools, Bible history teachers report that the values found in the Bible are helping to combat this as students learn to become more accepting of one another.


When taken to extremes, student aggression can bleed into bullying -- a behavior exhibited when a person uses their “power” to aggressively and repeatedly control or harm others. Bullying takes many forms and can be manifested by physical, verbal, relational (social), or cyber aggression (https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/spq-25-2-65.pdf).


In July 2016, the U.S. Department of Education released data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Five nationally representative surveys of students enrolled in grades 6-12 were conducted over a period of five years. Findings reported that 22% of students aged 12-18 experience bullying (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015072.pdf). Looked at it differently, this is close to one fourth of all students in every classroom.


Many psychologists maintain that shame is most often what bullies are trying to hide. Stemming from their own insecurities, bullies give their shame away by denigrating others to likely avoid exposure of their own failures and shortcomings. The consequences of their actions, however, can have damaging and lasting effects on those upon whom they prey. Unlike my son’s little chick, for some students there is no safe place to which they can easily escape.


We have all heard the saying that hurting people often hurt other people, and sadly this is often true. However, whether students are bullied, bullying, rejecting, or the rejected, the reality is that many students in our schools today are hurting. Yet, how encouraging it is to know that through Bible history classes, students are learning more appropriate treatment toward others.


One of the Bible history teachers recently shared that studying part of Luke 5 has brought comfort to many hurting students. In this story, Jesus heals a leper -- one cruelly labeled an “untouchable”. Here Jesus reaches out to a person who has been rejected, cast out, abandoned by others, and lovingly heals him. As students unpack the narrative and engage in Socratic dialog about what rejection really means, teachers have observed student attitudes beginning to soften toward those with whom they differ. This teacher, who teaches over 500 Bible history students a year, said, “Many students resonate with this story because so many of them feel like modern-day lepers.” While teen years are just hard anyway, how tragic it is that any child should ever feel this way.


Yet, if we don’t want youth in our public schools to feel like modern-day lepers, and we want them to stop hurting and isolating one another, we need to equip them with a new perspective, give them hope, and teach them what it means to extend grace by being inclusive of others.


Your gracious gifts to this Bible history program are doing just that. You are making it possible for students to mine values from the Bible that are encouraging them to stop rejecting, bullying, and “pecking” at those who are different from them. Most importantly, through your generous provision of Bible history classes, students are learning from the example set by Jesus how to care for others and to lovingly reach out to the “untouchables”. Thank you.


Posted by Cathy Scott, President  | Category: Youth Culture

The sum of our choices:  Each one of us is to a degree the sum of the thousands of choices we have made in our lives along the way. Some choices are very insignificant. Others are decisions of destiny. By this, I don’t mean that we have all had a hand in the things that have affected our lives, either adversely, or for good. Very often we don’t. However, everyone of us, at one point or another, has experienced the consequences of our own choices, both positive and negative, and we have all journeyed in the outcomes of both. 

Avoiding the path of least resistance:  Making positive and good decisions can be tough, particularly when it’s so much easier to take the path of least resistance. Let me share with you a story about a student that was sent to me this week by a Bible history teacher in one of our Hamilton County public schools. 

"Today we were covering the story of Jacob going to Laban's house and working seven years to marry Rachel. We talked about how Jacob and Rachel dated seven years without ‘lying with her’. Then, after class, when all the rest of the students had left, a young man came up to me and, somewhat awkwardly, told me that he wanted to wait until he was married ‘to lie’ with his wife. I was somewhat surprised to hear this from this particular student considering he was one of the wild guys in class. This gave me an opportunity to encourage him to make good decisions in life. Thank you for all you do to make this possible!"

Reinforcing values:  How encouraging this is! Stories like this are wonderful examples of how the Bible is reinforcing values, such as purity, that can help protect young lives from hurt and regret and from participating in things they are not emotionally equipped to handle.

Ownership of choices:  This is just one of many stories about how Bible history students are making meaningful life applications from the text, and are making healthier, wiser choices about their lives as a result. To me, the strongest and most beautiful part of this story is that this young man wasn’t told what to do; he drew this conclusion himself. He had no moral structure forced upon him. Instead, he took ownership of this decision, determining the path of purity, he learned from the Bible, was the one he wanted to follow. 

Empowered to think about life:  For this student to share this with his teacher obviously took courage. And, it may likely take a lot more courage for this young man to not give himself away before he gets married. Nonetheless, we are grateful that Bible history classes are encouraging youth to think more intentionally about their lives. Clearly, the text is empowering students, such as this young man, to avoid the path of least resistance and to make tough moral decisions, even before temptation is upon them. Our hope is that maybe one day in the future, when this young man exchanges vows and says, “I do”, he will be able to reflect back with thankfulness that he chose to wait for his bride. Perhaps he’ll even be able to say, “I am so grateful that what I learned in my Bible history class gave me the strength to not give away back then what I could never get back now.” 

Friends, be encouraged to know that your gracious gifts to this Bible history program are making a difference, one student at time. Thank you!

Cathy Scott
President


Posted by Cathy Scott, President  | Category: Youth Culture