Breaking the silence

The New Zealand Herald started running a series called “Break the silence” from the beginning of July to address the topic of teenage self-harm. In the opening paragraphs, the reporter writes, “We want to encourage people who need help to ask for it; and we want to let them know there is hope. We believe it is time for a national conversation about the matter. Are we doing enough to help? Are we doing the right things? …”1

What is prompting this reaction by the media? Well, the statistics around teenage mental health issues in New Zealand are rather alarming2. You may even know a young person who has been affected by mental health challenges. The question that comes to mind is why do people engage in acts of self-harm?

There is no easy answer and anyone that wants to give a simplistic answer is not treating this issue with the respect it deserves. Self-harm is motivated by a complicated confluence of spiritual, psychological and physiological factors. However, I do believe that Scripture provides us with some help on this topic and we can be agents of hope to people who feel hopeless. I hope to offer a response that will enable the Tyndale Park Christian School community to have a meaningful platform for dialogue about this sensitive, complex and important topic.

We see from the account in Genesis that God created human beings for a relationship with Him, in His image3 and for His glory4, and we know that He didn’t do it because He needed us. He created us in an act of pure love, a love rooted in the perfect love relationship that exists between the God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The word for this love in the original language of the Bible is “agape”, which means “goodwill, benevolence, and wilful delight in the object of love”5. So, Scripture teaches us that we are made from love. We are not cosmic accidents. There is loving intention behind the existence of each one of us.

We are made for love. We read in 1 John 4:9-10 that “in this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”. We exist for a loving purpose! Michelle Tepper6 states “understanding and accepting love as the origin and purpose of humanity radically redefines how we shape our identity, how we search for meaning”. I believe one of the major reasons New Zealand young people engage in self-harming behaviour is that their lives lack meaning. They are bombarded by messages in secular media that are devoid of real meaning and often contrary to the way God has designed human beings to live this life.

It follows that if we are made in God’s image, we are made to love. Unfortunately, we lack the natural ability to love God and humanity in the perfect way God loves us. This is where Jesus’ atoning sacrifice comes in: when we believe that Jesus is the only “way, the truth and the life”7, it makes it possible for us to have “agape” love for God and the people who are part of our lives8. It also enables us to be the stewards God wants us to be9.

So, can our young people have hope? Yes, they can! Lasting hope is a fundamental component of a Biblical worldview. Does it mean that Bible-believing people never struggle with mental health challenges? No. In fact, when you read the Psalms you see that David is often troubled by the dark nights of the soul, e.g. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God”10. Notice how David finished that thought: he knew that God was faithful despite how he felt at that moment. So, he held onto that faithfulness and God eventually restored his joy. May God grant us as followers of Jesus the ability to live with this kind of transparency and integrity and to be bearers of hope to the teenagers in our spheres of influence.

If you know of anyone that may need help, please start by interceding (praying) for that person. Contact a professional, Christian counsellor to give you advice on how to support the person. If you don’t know who to ask for help, please get in touch. I will be able to refer you to someone.

Sources:

  1. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11885369
  2. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11894589
  3. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. – Genesis 1:26
  4. …: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. – Isaiah 43:7
  5. https://www.gotquestions.org/agape-love.html
  6. http://rzim.org/bio/michelle-tepper/
  7. John 14:6
  8. … the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. – Romans 5:5b
  9. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. – Genesis 1:28
  10. Psalm 42:11

Christian education: built on Scripture and service

Today, as in any other time of history, parents and educators echo David’s question in Psalm 119, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” David’s answer to his own question is quite clear, “by taking heed thereto according to thy word”.

The Foundation of Scripture

The only way our children can do what God’s Word says, is if they memorise and read God’s Word. David says later in the Psalm, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee”. I want to encourage you to help your children make time to read God’s Word. Perhaps you can decide on some family memory verses too and start memorising these verses over the holiday. You may be pleasantly surprised to see what difference it will make to your home.

There are other reasons to read and memorise God’s Word. The Word helps us to answer those who want to know why we follow Jesus by helping us have confidence in God’s agape love and His plan for our salvation (Ps 119:41-42). It helps us make decisions by making the options clearer to us (Psalm 119:105). It gives us hope and security when we are tempted to be afraid (Psalm 119:114). God’s Word is worth reading, especially since the historicity, authenticity, and reliability of the Scriptures are undeniable and can be easily verified. There are many scholars that have written on this topic and one that comes to mind is “The New Testament Books: Are They Reliable?” by F. F. Bruce.

Tyndale Park Christian School’s mission is “to assist parents by providing a Christ-centred education that encourages academic excellence and Christian service to the glory of God”. Our curriculum is built on a Scriptural foundation and we will continue to refine and improve it as the Holy Spirit instructs and leads us. Please pray with us that we will be able to clearly discern God’s heart and vision for our school.

The Importance of Christian Service

This term our year 9 to 13 students were able to do a neighbourhood clean-up and some of our students helped us plant some fruit trees donated by one of our families, some examples of acts of Christian service. We hope to continue building opportunities for Christian service into our curriculum because the Scriptures are so clear: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). James go on to say that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27a) and Micah explains it even clearer, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8). Jesus’ life was an example of service. We hope to instill this attitude of service in our students.

Celebrating culture

Schools across New Zealand were celebrating Samoan Language Week from 29 May 2017 to 2 June 2017. Tyndale Park Christian School’s staff and students also participated by learning some basic phrases and games from our Samoan staff and students.

God has blessed our school with wonderful cultural diversity. Our students have the incredible opportunity to get to know students with a variety of cultural backgrounds, enabling them to learn how to establish meaningful relationships with people who are different from them. A Christian author who has been involved in cross-cultural ministry for many years commented that every culture displays some attribute of God. It confirmed to the author that human beings have been made in the image of God. I believe that the physical diversity we see in people and cultures is evidence of God’s infinite nature.

What does the Bible teach about culture? Jerry Solomon puts it this way,

We have seen that Scripture is not silent regarding culture. It contains much by way of example and precept, and we have only begun the investigation. There is more to be done. With this expectation in mind, what have we discovered from the Bible at this stage?

First, in some measure God “is responsible for the presence of culture, for he created human beings in such a way that they are culture-producing beings.”

Second, God holds us responsible for cultural stewardship.

Third, we should not fear the surrounding culture; instead, we should strive to contribute to it through God- given creativity, and transform it through dialogue and proclamation.

Fourth, we should practice discernment while living within culture.

Fifth, the products of culture should be judged on the basis of intent, not form. Or, to simply further: “We advance the theory that God’s basic attitude toward culture is that which the apostle Paul articulates in I Corinthians 9:19-22. That is, he views human culture primarily as a vehicle to be used by him and his people for Christian purposes, rather than as an enemy to be combatted or shunned.” Let us use this vehicle for the glory of God!

At Tyndale Park Christian School we celebrate culture with the intent of showing how great God is and how God is able to transform culture so that cultural practices glorify Him.

Sources:

Is it your tool or are you its slave?

The past two weeks, I read through Dr Nicholas Kardaras’ book “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance”. I believe it is a must-read for any parent or educator. Dr Kardaras makes a convincing case for the developmentally appropriate use of digital technology and I am afraid, as I have suspected for a while, that parents and educators are not doing this well – I feel convicted both as a technology advocate and parent of young children.

In short, students younger than twelve need to spend as little time as possible on or in front of digital devices (e.g. TV, Xbox, PlayStation, smartphone, tablet, etc.) and research suggests that children under two and a half should not be allowed time in front of any screens whatsoever. Studies have confirmed that the overuse of digital technology has a negative impact on children’s brain development and it may manifest itself in a range of behavioural and learning disorders. It should come as no surprise that unstructured play and time in nature are some of the most valuable activities to develop a healthy brain.

The biggest challenge the present adult generation faces is whether we will have the guts to challenge our own thinking about digital devices and how we use them. We will also have to take on the strong marketing forces we are being subjected to, forces that have very cleverly sold us the idea that if we don’t expose our children to copious amounts of digital technology, they will be left behind. This is a false idea. Telling evidence is that some of the most successful Silicon Valley executives, the birthplace of many new digital technologies, do not allow their children much time on devices. It is also not uncommon to find their children in outstanding schools who do not use digital technology in teaching and learning.

I am concerned about the place digital technology has taken in society. A good friend wisely commented over the holiday “we will become like the things, e.g. technology, we ‘worship'”. Scripture teaches “they who make idols are like them; so are all who trust in and lean on them” (Psalm 115:8) and “the idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. [Idols] have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make [idols] are like them; so is everyone who trusts in and relies on them” (Psalm 135:15-18).

How are we going to respond to the advance of digital technology when we know that it, at times, is negatively impacting how we relate to others, that society seems to “unseeingly” and “unhearingly” adopt it even though discerning teachers and parents know from observation, and scientific research has shown us, that the overuse and developmentally inappropriate use of digital technology are not good for our kids?

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not becoming a technology naysayer. Digital technology is an important tool that I use every day to fulfil my responsibilities. I just think we are not quite getting it right yet and that we have succumbed to the influence of clever marketing that ultimately does not have the well-being of our children at heart.

We do need to teach our students to solve problems with the technology that is available to them. This will not only help them to be salt and light in this world, i.e. make a positive difference to the “wicked” problems (please check the definition) of this world, but also impact the nations with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let’s take a stand for the thoughtful use of digital technology in our homes and education in New Zealand.

Sources:

  1. Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance by Dr Nicholas Kardaras – https://www.amazon.com/Glow-Kids-Addiction-Hijacking-Kids/dp/1250097991
  2. A wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wicked_problem
  3. Photo credit: schopie1 via Foter.com / CC BY-SA