Recently, I was informed of a new directive from a local school district. It had nothing to do with how much homework teachers can give. It focused more on what teachers can hang on the walls of their classrooms. Or wear around their necks. Or have written under their name on the e-mails they send out.
Teachers in this particular school district, right smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt, are being told that they are no longer allowed to display crosses, prayers, Bible verses or even angels in a place where others might see them. But, on the bright side, teachers are allowed to keep a religious symbol in their desk or filing cabinet as long as no one else sees it. Gee, thanks, government!
Yet again, those in power wishing to suppress the free exercise of religion have gotten it all wrong, at least in regards to Christianity. Yes, Christians sometimes hang crosses on our walls. Some of us put angels atop our Christmas trees. We even decorate our homes with Bible verses. But the heart of our faith runs deeper than that. Our faith is one of devotion, not decoration.
So what should you do if you’re a Christian teacher who has committed the terrible crime of displaying the Lord’s Prayer in your classroom? Is it somehow a compromise of your faith if you obey your power-hungry overseers and take the cross off of your wall and put it in your drawer?
The answer to that question rests in the other place where you choose to display your Bible passages. You see, the government can tell you to take your favorite Bible verse down off of their wall. But they can’t make you take it down from your heart.
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 (ESV)
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for Christians to keep their faith private. A faith that is always kept private is a dead faith (James 2:14-26). I’m arguing for quite the opposite, really.
When you became a Christian, the Holy Spirit took up residence within you. And, more than simply receiving a Get Out of Hell Free Card, you were given the power to live in obedience to the commands of Christ. Paul calls it the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)
While some of your colleagues may simply be drawing a paycheck and counting down the days until Christmas break, you have an opportunity here. You know that kid that all of the other teachers hate? Love him with the radical love of Christ. When racial tensions spill out into the cafeteria, be an agent of peace for the glory of Christ and the good of those under your care. While the state’s curriculum focuses on teaching kids how to put condoms on bananas and calling it health, teach them instead what is good. Teach them self-control. Model gentleness. And do it with patience and faithfulness.
To put it another way, the state can use its power to make you take a religious display off of your wall but there is nothing they can do to keep you from displaying the real, risen Jesus through your life. Do your job with excellence for the glory of Jesus Christ. And if one of your bosses tells you to stop doing that, remember who your real boss is. And if it costs you your retirement, remember the real inheritance that awaits you.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
Here’s something you can count on. At some point, tragedy will strike your school. I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. It might be an automobile accident or a national catastrophe. It may lead to an empty desk in your classroom or few unplanned days out of school. Either way, tragedy will come. Count on it.
And when it does, the same state that told you to take down your cross will send in their grief counselors to counsel kids and their families. But their thoughts and godless prayers won’t be able to help. Anyone who has abandoned the truth of the gospel ultimately has no hope to offer to those in need. But that doesn’t take away the pain of those in need. So guess where those hurting hearts are going to turn?
The teacher who was forced to take the cross down from your wall but who absolutely refused to remove its impact from your heart and your words and your actions.
Anyone can put a cross on a wall. But only a truly devoted follower of Jesus Christ lives with that cross at the center of everything. As you do that, something is happening.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (ESV)
That light shining through you is not your award-winning personality or superior teaching abilities. Let’s face it, we all have our days. No, the light is Jesus himself.
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (ESV)
Remember, they can take the display of Jesus off of your wall but they can’t take him out of you.
In what sound like something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, the school district is telling teachers and other employees to inspect properties in case any religious symbols got overlooked during the initial cleansing. And then there is the reminder that these properties are under the ownership and control of the government.
That may be true of the walls in your classroom but it is not true of you. You are under the ownership and control of Christ. So let the government inspect you all they want to. Just so long as when they do, they find Christ.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:27-29 (ESV)