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Tracking, differentiation, and how being noticed can save you
When I was getting educated to be a teacher, I remember hearing a lot about how “tracking” classrooms was preferential at best, and prejudicial at worst. The idea behind tracking is that one puts individual students in classrooms based on their “exceptionalities.” Students who perform better on standardized tests are placed in faster-paced, more rigorous classrooms, and students who don’t, get put in other classrooms. The reason this is unjust, by and large, is because the racial and socioeconomic differences between “fast tracked” and “slower paced” classrooms are stark.
Instead, most pedagogical theorists would say that it is more important to differentiate instruction in a classroom with various students with different skills, intelligences, and exceptionalities. A good instructor can reach students that have varying proficiency levels.
That’s not easy to do, but it is better, I think.
In fact, in Circle of Hope, we keep the whole operation simple. Rather than having a curriculum where one finds where he or she is ‘spiritually’ or deciding on how to engage based on what ia preferential to someone at the time, we simply have two ‘wings’ that make up the church: cells and PMs. There isn’t a much individual choice, on purpose. God is here, we’re all important in seeing him and responding to him, so why would we bother with extra divisions? Why don’t all discern together, set aside our preferences, and try to follow God in simplicity?
Having faith that God will meet us where makes more sense than trying to micromanage our own spiritual lives. And we wouldn’t do it if it we didn’t think God had been doing it for all of time.
Last week, we celebrated Pentecost. Pentecost is the “birthday of the church.” The day when the church started; when Jesus sent his Helper, the Holy Spirit onto his followers and made it clear that this “secret” message was for everyone—Jesus is everyone’s savior, and the message itself was for all of us.
Much of the Mediterranean knew about the message in a remarkably short time, and the scriptures themselves, mainly short books, stories, and letters, were widely circulated and eagerly read. They weren’t reserved to the academic or intellectual elite, from the start they were meant for everyone.
Enter John, the gospel that’s listed fourth in the New Testament, it’s often called the Fourth Gospel. It was authored by the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Some have described it like shallow even for a child to swim in, but deep enough for an elephant to wade it. View it as a perfectly differentiated text, one that bot people new to Jesus and to the Bible can understand and enjoy, but a text that continues to reveal hidden depths in it.
Try to find yourself in this Gospel. See if God meets you where you are. Try not to judge yourself too much, just take a bite and chew on it, and see how it tastes. It’s OK if you don’t “get” everything, or if the whole thing is too orthodox or too evangelical. Try not to make it about yourself—try to make it about God and see what happens.
When you read what I consider to be the best-developed Gospel (it’s probably wrong to play favorites), you realize it is much more than the story of a man of earth. It’s in fact a recreation story.
It’s personal. And it represents Jesus as the disciple who loved him pondered Him, His words, and His teachings over His long life. It’s well processed, and its theology pristine. It offers a high Christology—that is to say, it represents Jesus as Lord with almost no confusion and most likely the most direct way.
The masterpiece, one of the greatest works of literature of all time, is a great, epic story. Not just of Jesus, not just of his death and resurrection, but definitively, as the Hope of the world. It’s the story of the universe told through its most important character and most important event.
Try to believe that Jesus is that important—it’s hard for the postmodern generation to really believe, since our access to every bit of knowledge in the world makes us feel like we are the most important thing in the world, but try to go with John.
The introduction to the book helps us see its magnitude. It is in fact the story of all that was, all that is, and all that’s to come. When you read it, it is as if you are venturing down a driveway, where Christ himself is coming to greet you. It’s is both a way for you to meet Jesus and for Jesus to you.
The narrative in the first chapter not only shows us the story of the universe, in just one chapter it offers us a personal testimony that gives credence to the magnificence that John is writing about it and then introduces quickly to five individuals who followed Jesus as the Hope of the world and the Son of God in totality. Through the example of the disciples, we can follow Jesus fully and wholly now, and be a part of the greatest story ever told.
John is rewriting Creation. “In the beginning” is the first statement uttered in the Genesis creation story, where human beings are the climax of the story. In fact, in John, it isn’t the creation of human beings that is central to the story, it is in fact that Jesus Christ became of one them.
Jesus was there when humans were created, nothing was created that he didn’t create himself. He is not only the creator and sustainer of light, he is the defeater of all darkness that has manifested itself.
And this truth? It’s for the whole world to have. Like he says in verse 12, even though God’s people, of all kind rejected him, he is available to everyone with a listening ear. Everyone gets to taste his sweetness. Everyone have the right to become a child of God.
Jesus is the great reconciler. The one who changes the whole world.
John does an amazing thing here. And he does it throughout the Gospel itself. His Gospel is the one with the most original content out of any of the Gospels. It doesn’t include the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ baptism, or the Last Supper. He assumes we know about them—not necessarily because they were written about in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. He’s speaking to an audience that might already know those stories, and he’s offering them not just new stories, but new theology. He wants us to confront the cosmic reality that Jesus is changing, and not just get caught up in the stories.
This passage is often read during Christmastime because it’s about the birth of Jesus. It’s about much more than that. He takes away the frills and gives you not just the Christmas story, but the story of the world.
John, the Gospel writer, is telling us the typical story. God’s chosen people, specifically, the people in Israel, just like everyone else in the world, reject Jesus. They see true light and they choose darkness, again. Jesus is here to change that. John writes this book so that we are changed too.
It starts out cosmically. It starts out lofty. And it’s dense. It’s confusing. It’s high and complicated theology. Jesus is the perfect revelation of God called the Word.
Yet, Jesus is so humble, so kind, so opposite of grandiose in many. Just observe this simple transaction between some of his first disciples at the end of the chapter.
At this point in the story, Jesus has three disciples, Andrew, Peter, and an unnamed one.
He goes to Galilee and finds another person from Bethsaida. Philip follows him right away. And then he finds his friend, who is from Cana. John refers to him as Nathanael (most think he is Bartholomew). He’s from the rival village, so when he finds out Jesus is from Nazareth—he laughs, not thinking that anything good can come from it.
Philip gives him the same line that Jesus gave Andrew, Peter, and the unnamed disciple, “come and see.”
That’s really all we need to do on earth to go and make disciples. Go and find someone, tell them your life story, and help them to see it themselves. Help them to come with you too.
Jesus proceeds to bring his love. “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” He speaks truth and love to Nathanael—he insults Jesus, his hometown, and questions him. Jesus then declare that he’s truth teller.
And of course, Nathanael’s insecurity rises—“HEY! You don’t know me!” (How many times have you said that to someone affirming you?)
Jesus mentions probably a meaningful story to Nathanael at that point. The significance of Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree is hard to grasp, but you see how Nathanael’s posture changes. Instead of hesistant, sarcastic, and insecure—he’s softens up and praises Jesus.
It’s truly incredible how much the personal touch affects him. He know something about him and he cares about him. That’s the game changer. It seems small to us, it seems too personal to note.
Jokes on Nathanael, as it were. Jesus tells him—if you are impressed by the fig tree incident, wait until you see what else I do. You’ll see heaven open up if you follow me. You’ll see the purpose of the whole world. The fig tree was nothing.
And that’s the point of the story.
That’s the point of our lives. Take what you get. You don’t need to get it all to meet Jesus. You don’t need to understand the whole point of the universe and the intricacy of following Christ. The theology, the questions of authorship, the biblical narrative, the historicity—all of that is good. But you don’t need it all, to get it all. All you need is to be known. All it took for Nathanael was that he was under a fig tree.
We get so preoccupied with criticizing ourselves to oblivion and deconstructing the world around us until there’s nothing else to it.
Take a bit of what stuck with you. Don’t worry about getting it all or making sure it all makes sense. Do you best, take what you can get, and realize you are good enough.
That’s differentiation. In the Kingdom of God, the beauty of differentiated instruction is that you’ll be honored for what you did and what it took you to believe. And through that humility and that childlike faith, you’ll be granted even more.
If you think that’s great, you haven’t seen anything yet.
So cling to what you love. Let the rest fall into place as it needs to. You don’t have to get it all. Even though it is all for you to get.
“In the beginning was the Word” and all it took for Nathanael to find faith and follow Jesus sand declare that he is the song of God is that he saw him under a fig tree.
Pray today that you might see someone under a fig tree and love them well enough that they might follow Jesus. Or pray that someone sees you under yours and you are compelled even further to follow Jesus.