The Life Matters

In what has become an all too common occurrence in the United States, the past seven days have brought yet another round of violence to our nation. Police involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota have left two African-American men dead.  In response, several attacks have been carried out against law enforcement officers; the most prominent occurring in Dallas, Texas where a sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven others as they monitored a peaceful rally calling for an end to police violence against the black community.  (Source: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/08/us/philando-castile-alton-sterling-protests/index.html) These are the latest in what has been a recurring series of highly publicized tragedies playing out in our communities over the past several years.

Opinions and emotions run deep over these actions and in today’s social media driven world, that leads to the formation and promotion of hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter,  #BlueLivesMatter,  #AllLivesMatter, and so on.  Of course, what follows is a debate over the validity of one hashtag and the stance it takes in comparison to another.  As passionate people, we vehemently defend our position on these matters and in the midst of this apologetic debate we create a heightened level of tension with little chance of finding an “agree to disagree” compromise let alone resolution.  Despite the claims, sinful men have no simple solution to this ever growing conflict.

That being said, we must turn to God to find peace, forgiveness, a softening of our hearts and a greater willingness to see one another as brothers and sisters of Christ – even those who would immediately discredit our position based upon their dismissal of our Christian faith. Christ set the bar for us in this process by dying not only for a select few or for those most agreeable with God’s word, but for everyone.  1 John 2:2 describes Christ as “… the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (ESV).”  So why would Jesus do this?  What is gained by His compassionate sacrifice?  Consider Christ’s own words in John 10:10-11 as He explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (ESV)”  It seems evident that through our distrust, our fear, and our desire to win a battle against our own brothers and sisters we are complicit in the very scheme of the enemy to steal, kill and destroy one another.

Man can create a great many wonderful things, but life is beyond our capabilities. Science can save and prolong life, but our sin ultimately leads us to the inevitable conclusion of death.  For those who disregard faith, death is simply the end of our existence – a sobering reminder of why we must cleave to the life we have now.  This isn’t to say that those who have faith don’t desire to live their lives to the fullest, we just have a different understanding of what happens when our earthly life ends.

John 11:25-26 makes this clear as Christ tells us, “…I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” From the beginning of time when God created the universe, He gave to us this glorious thing called life.  Sin drove a wedge between us and our Father, but because of His great love for us God set into motion the plan to redeem us.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection freed us from the bonds of our sin and the death it causes, giving to those who have faith the assurance of eternal life in heaven.

Simply put – life matters because Jesus is Life.

May our continual prayer be that our world would turn away from the sin which divides us and cling to the Life that provides us with forgiveness, hope, love, and peace that can only come from our Lord and Savior.

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Water Always Wins

Water Always Wins

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

For years now I have been a fan of talk radio. This isn’t to say that I don’t like to listen to music on the radio, but if you stop and think about it, listening to music on a car radio is an exercise that usually leaves you searching the dial to hear the end of your favorite songs and commercials.  So my solution is to listen to talking heads tell me about the news, weather, sports, and any other topic that piques my interest at the time..

One of those talking heads is a “Master Handyman” who likes to provide callers with Do-It-Yourself advice. He’s a practical, informative guy who tries to help without a lot of hype.  He also has a few catch phrases that will help him drive home his points to listeners.  For example, when it comes to maintaining your home you should remember that water always wins.

When you think about it, the statement is true. A flooded basement can quickly cause thousands of dollars of damage.  Leaky walls and roofs lead to structural damage and mold.  Running water along the house will cause erosion to your landscaping and eventually your foundation.  Now before my examples lead you to believe that water is evil and shouldn’t be trusted, remember that water is a basic, essential part of life.  Seventy-one percent of our planet is covered by water. Obviously this has a tremendous impact upon our climates.  Without water plants and animals can’t survive.  In fact, according to information found on the United States Geological Survey’s website, up to 60% of a human adult’s body is water.  Funny how the same thing can be so beneficial and yet damaging at the same time.

This is just one of the many examples of how seemingly contradictory things exist within our world. The book of James talks about how the human tongue can so easily shift from praising to cursing.  Same part of the body possessing the ability to do great and horrific things from one moment to the next.  In fact, the tongue serves as a microcosm of how sin can trap mankind, twisting us into thoughts and actions that we otherwise would prefer to avoid.  How many fights have broken out over misunderstandings or ego run amok?  A simple glance across a room can lead to a lascivious thought which in turn can lead to the hurt and damage caused by any number of sexually immoral actions.  The gain of a friend or colleague can fester thoughts of inadequacy or jealousy.  Sin has twisted God’s perfect creation into any number of conflicting, complicated problems which we’d be better off avoiding, but it doesn’t stop there.  Over time, the sin so permeates our lives that we go from loathing it to accepting it to finally desiring it as a good and beneficial thing.  It’s the homeowner’s equivalent of going home today, turning on your garden hose and filling your house with water so you can invite your friends over to swim.  So if water always wins, sin always wins in a blowout!

Except it doesn’t.

We are powerless to the trap of sin in our lives. We were born in it, are surrounded by it, and create it on a daily basis.  So just like a person who is drowning in a pool needs a lifeguard to pull them out of the water, we also need someone to pull us away from the sin in which we have immersed ourselves.  God has provided us this life preserver through His Son, Jesus.  As true God and true man, Jesus was able to live without sin – not so much as a dip of His toe in the water.  But instead of being rewarded for being the one and only person in history to live a sinless life, He was forced to pay the wages of sin – namely death on a cross.  In human terms, we would declare this unfair, but Jesus understood that His sacrifice would make it possible for those of us who couldn’t escape our sin to be rescued, redeemed, and restored to be in a right relationship with God the Father in Heaven.

Jesus has won for us a victory that can never erode. But do remember to clean your gutters…Running-water

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Atypical Day

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A typical day in the life of St. Paul Lutheran School on Chicago’s South side.  For those of you who have never been there, St. Paul is located on Dorchester Street in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago.  If you look closely, you might spot it next time you drive by on your way into town on the Chicago Skyway.  Google Maps tells me it’s only 3 miles away from the Museum of Science and Industry, but life teaches us that an entirely new world can be found in a ten minute drive.

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It was only the second day back in session after the long Christmas break, so as you might imagine, returning to the routines of school and homework were among the biggest challenges facing the teachers and students.  Many parents and teachers will tell you that it is often that second day back that is the hardest in terms of readjusting to early bedtimes, earlier alarm clocks, and the resumption of homework back into our lives.  So as the school day came to a close, there was undoubtedly a sense of joy knowing that everyone had made it through unscathed.

3:15 pm brought about the start of school dismissal.  St. Paul isn’t a large school, so the dismissal process doesn’t really take too long, except for the fact that like many schools, St. Paul is a community of people who care and connect.  So in the 15 minutes after school ended a few parents and teachers still lingered in the parking lot as others walked or drove away from the school.

Sound familiar?  Remind you of the school you attended or where your kids go?  Those similarities would come to a dramatic end when moments later the peace would be shattered.  Three neighborhood teens were walking about half a block away from the school parking lot.  Unnoticed by the group at the school, but unfortunately recognized by another group of teens in a nearby car.  The car pulled up, shots rang out and in a moment three children lay wounded in the snow.

The families and teachers who lingered in the parking lot could hardly believe what they had witnessed.  As the shooters sped off, one of the teachers sprinted to the wounded children.  Prior to teaching, she had worked as a nurse so she instinctively began to help care for the victims.  One child had been struck in the hand.  The other two had wounds that were far more serious.  Police were on the scene in moments to assist but the ambulance didn’t arrive for nearly twenty minutes, a span of time during which one of these children died in the arms of a teacher they had never met.  All told, the day left two people dead, one wounded, and a community in shock.

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The next day brought the school community of St. Paul back together again in a familiar Lutheran school location: Wednesday morning chapel.  Led by Rev. Jeffrey Howell, the entire school community came together to talk and share their feelings with each other and with the Lord.  Everyone recognized the tragic nature of the shootings which took the lives of children not much older than those sitting in the pews.  They also understood the protection they were afforded by God for this not to have happened ten minutes earlier or 100 feet closer to the school.  But more than anything else, they knew that God was there.  He kept them safe, He knew their fears, He comforted their anxieties, and He would never leave them.  Once again, God’s people entered into His presence and He provided them with exactly what they needed.

After the service a Kindergarten student asked if he could pray with Pastor Howell.  Apparently, he was walking down the street with his family and had just turned the corner when the shooting took place.  Pastor led the boy to the altar and listened as this young man thanked God for keeping him and his family safe. What an amazing testimony to the power of God working through the men and women of St. Paul to partner with this boy’s family to assure him that in the worst moments of life God is there, protecting us, delivering us, and sustaining us out of His great love for His most precious creation.

Since that day, God has continued to bring healing to the school community at St. Paul.  The comfort dogs were brought in on Thursday to help lift the spirits of the students.  The teacher who raced to the scene has had the chance to talk with an eighth grade student in the school who witnessed the shooting as he stopped to tie his shoe while walking home with his little brother.  Their conversations have helped each other cope with what they saw and support one another through the healing process.  Of course, the school has grown far more cautious in being aware of their surroundings, but emotionally they find themselves returning back to normal.  As Pastor Howell puts it, “We’re wounded but healing, moving forward stronger as a staff and as a school.”

January 24 through January 30 will be celebrated by many LCMS schools as National Lutheran Schools Week.  It’s a time when those of us within this great ministry give thanks for our schools and the work that they do.  To many of our students – it is a week to wear silly clothes, to experience field trips and unique events, and to have a little more fun.  Some welcome the celebration as fun, some may consider it a bit of a distraction for the students, and in true Lutheran fashion, some insist upon waiting until the first week of March to celebrate because up until a few years ago, that’s when it was and change is something we dislike.  Whenever and however you celebrate, please never lose sight of the importance that Lutheran Schools have in the lives of the children they serve.  I pray you never have to experience anything remotely similar to the events of January 5 at St. Paul.  But know that some within our ministry will.  Pray for one another, offering support at every opportunity.  Recognize that many of the worst experiences you face would be gladly exchanged by another who faces far worse, but also know that no matter how difficult your situation may be, God is and always will be there.

Photo Credits:
Google Maps
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-shooting-violence-20160105-story.html

 

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One Thing Becomes Everything

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6

 

I first met Trisha during my freshman year at Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw, Michigan.  I had several classes with her, plus she was a cheerleader for my freshman basketball team.  Where I really began to interact with her was in choir.  After our freshman year we both joined Valley’s Golden Voice choir.  For three years we sang together in numerous performances and went on three choir tours.  What I remember most about her from those days was her jovial personality and happy-go-lucky attitude.  Trisha always seemed to have a smile to share – especially with those of us who enjoyed to joke with her.  She was an important member of our gang.

 

Years later and with the help of Facebook, I came to learn that Trisha was living in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We chatted a few times – catching up and sharing where life had taken us.  Later that summer I had the opportunity to travel to Delaware for a friend’s birthday.  Having nowhere in particular to go, I tacked on a few days to my trip and drove down to Charlottesville to visit Trisha.  I remember calling her when I arrived in town only to learn that she was moving into a house and wouldn’t be able to get together until after she was done.  I hopped in my car and drove to her house and helped lug a few boxes for her before heading out for dinner and a walking tour of the city.  As we walked through an outdoor shopping mall, she told me more about the struggles she faced as a result of her health problems.  Like most of us would, she grew frustrated.  But in spite of the problems, she maintained a tremendously strong faith that God was seeing her through, providing her with healing and restoration.  Many people will say these things when they face obstacles, but the more we spoke the more I realized that Trisha really meant it.  Her faith was the foundation upon which her life was built and absolutely nothing was going to tear that down.  As the years passed, I continued to hear about her problems.  But in every comment she posted, she always managed to give thanks to God – no matter how bad things were.

 

A few days ago, I was shocked to receive the news that Trisha’s health issues had finally caught up with her and she passed away.  Many of her friends took to social media to share memories and remembrances of Trisha.  What resonated over and over again in the comments was the strength of her faith in the face of adversity.  I was amazed to see just how many people drew inspiration from her unflappable faith and to be honest, I was a bit sad to realize that her voice of encouragement had been silenced far too soon.

 

A day or two after hearing the news, one of Trisha’s friends named Tom went to her house to help clean up things and he shared a picture of a message Trisha had written on a chalkboard.  It said…

 

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In our lives we will often find ourselves going to God in prayer asking for something.  Many of us feel guilty about doing so, wondering if our requests are petty or selfish.  We certainly don’t want to be ungrateful for the many blessings God has given us by grousing about things we want or don’t have.  But we also know that God has instructed and encouraged us to come to Him in prayer with the desires of our hearts. 

 

All of them.

 

I have no doubt that Trisha prayed fervently to God for healing and relief.  I would also go so far as to say that she even grew frustrated with her situation from time to time as pain and fatigue would enter into her mind and body.  But Trisha knew that she had a God who loved her deeply.  He never turned a blind eye to the needs of His dearly loved child.  She could come to Him with anything and everything and He would provide to her exactly what she needed.  And in those final moments of her life as she found rest in the arms of her Savior, Jesus kept His promise to her.  She asked Him for one thing, but now, and for the rest of time, Trisha has received her everything!

 

Thank you for the sign my friend.  Enjoy the dance…….

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The Journey

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” – Luke 2:1-7

 

December 23 – the day Christmas preparations go from pressing to panic. For those of you who have postponed your preparations, time is officially slipping away.  There isn’t time to drive around town to browse the stores.  Even Amazon can’t get your packages to you in time with their 2-day shipping.  If you head out today, you’re probably looking at a trip to the mall (along with hundreds of fellow procrastinators).  Wait until tomorrow and you’ll be scouring empty shelves with the Wal-Martians.  And if you are totally hard core when it comes to the last minute thing, bring me a Slurpee after you finish your list at 7-11.

 

Why do people wait until the last minute? I know some people enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes from 11th hour shopping.  However, for most of us, shopping has become yet another thing to do in a month long stretch of way too many things to do!  I know this ranks right up there among the greatest “First World Problems” of all time, but how did we manage to turn the entire month of December into a scheduling nightmare unlike any other?  From the moment the last bite of pumpkin pie left your plate on Thanksgiving you have been cast into a frenzy of shopping, decorating, tree trimming, gift wrapping, party going, Christmas concert attending, ugly sweater wearing, and white elephant gifting that has left many of us a frazzled bundle of nerves ready to explode.  Don’t believe me?  Look at your calendar for December.  Does it resemble a map showing Custer’s retreat?  Are there more words written on it than a Dickens novel?

 

I rest my case.

 

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Modern society has really done a number on Christmas. Like so many other things in life, we need to take a step back and strive to celebrate Christmas without all of the stress and hype.  Join me in hearkening back to a simpler time, when the holiday was far more relaxing.  After all, Mary & Joseph didn’t feel stress like this on that first Christmas.  Think about their experience.  One morning they woke up to get word that the government was requiring them to travel from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph’s forefathers.  So Joseph was now required to put his life on hold, travel about eighty miles with a wife who was expecting their first born child at any moment so that he would be properly counted for tax purposes.  Knowing that the Romans weren’t terribly forgiving or willing to offer an extension, Joseph and Mary set out on their trip.  In most of the depictions of their travel, we see Joseph on foot with Mary riding on a donkey.  Having never been a pregnant woman, I can’t speak to this with certainty, but I tend to believe that this probably wasn’t very comfortable for Mary.  The story features the inability to find a room in Bethlehem, but I would also assume that accommodations along the route were also difficult to find.  So upon their arrival in Bethlehem, both Mary and Joseph had to be incredibly tired, sore, dirty, and frustrated.  Of course, this would be the PERFECT time for Mary to go into labor!  So this set of first-time parents experience the birth of their child eighty miles away from home in a barn.  Christmas cards like to show the animals neatly organized and a safe distance from the baby.  They also show an immaculate structure filled with nice clean straw.  Ever been in a barn?  They don’t look (or smell) like that.  They just don’t.  So here you are; thoroughly exhausted. Joseph is stressing over caring for both his wife who is now recovering from childbirth and for the baby who is sleeping in a food trough.  Who wouldn’t want the company of total strangers to drop by, unannounced to visit you and the baby?  Imagine what must’ve gone through the minds of Mary and Joseph when a collection of people who live outside with sheep showed up, telling you how an army of singing angels told them to come in the middle of the night to see the baby.

 

Tell me again how that night you spent camping outside of Best Buy compares to this?

 

Whether you’re talking about 2,000 years ago or 2015, the Advent journey can be eventful. Some of our preparations are necessary, some are steeped in tradition, others could be avoided but are celebrated as part of the bigger phenomenon now known as the Christmas season.  But whether you travel hundreds of miles or go absolutely nowhere, we are all on a journey.  Mary and Joseph’s trek may be different than ours today, but ultimately we don’t travel for the sake of the trip but for the destination to which it leads.  As Christians, everything we do is designed to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah.  Christ’s birth, like His life, death, and resurrection are all gifts given to us so that we would be rescued from our sin and raised to life eternal with Him in Heaven.  That’s the destination!  That’s the goal!

 

Enjoy the journey…

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Keep In Touch

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20b

Welcome Home

In recent years, we have witnessed this scene many times and in many venues:  a reunion of a family which had sent one of its members off to war.  In spite of the frequency of the deployments, I am thankful that we still celebrate the reunions.  For the fathers, mothers, or children who have departed, the return home to their loved ones serves as the successful completion of their mission and the greatest reward for a job well done.  For the fathers, mothers, or children who have waited it serves as the end of a period of time filled with worry, fear and anticipation.  Everyone has made a tremendous sacrifice.  The births of children, wedding anniversaries, family holidays, and milestone events have been missed.  Having never experienced this separation, I can only offer my deepest appreciation to our military families who have made this sacrifice – most of all to those families who have made the even greater sacrifice of being unable to have the joy of the reunion.

 

From what I have heard from those families who have experienced this type of reunion, the greatest moment of all is that first big hug.  It’s easy to see – a wave of emotion sparked by months of separation and worry.  To simply hear or even see your loved one has returned home feels good but that full sensation of joy and relief seems only to come once you’ve wrapped your arms around that person and can physically feel they have returned.

 

Our emotions have ways of playing tricks on us that our senses will help to combat.  That hug conveys so many emotions: love, relief, joy, anticipation, and safety to name a few.  Having that sense of peace means so much to us.  God knows this to be true when it comes to how He responds to us and our need for His love. Consider the Father that Jesus describes in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  His son has abandoned his family, squandered the half of the Father’s possessions that were bequeathed to him, made terrible life choices and came to his senses only after being forced to live with swine.  Broke, disgraced, defeated and probably very smelly, he returns home to beg for a job.  But before his prepared speech could begin, his loving father ran to hold him in his arms.  The father ran past the hurt, past the shame and past the smell to touch his dearly loved child.

 

May we always remember the joy and peace that comes from the outstretched arms of those who love us, especially our Father in Heaven.

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YODO

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33

If you only had a week to live, what would you do? When asked rhetorically, it’s an interesting question. Assuming that you are mobile and otherwise pretty healthy, the answers to this question would have a fairly wide range. Some people would travel – taking off to destinations they’d always dreamed of seeing or maybe to significant places from their past. Some might decide to eat and drink all of their favorite foods and drinks without worrying about calories and side effects. Some might try dangerous and crazy things like mountain climbing or skydiving.  Some people would have conversations they’d never consider if they were sticking around: telling people what they really thought of them, exposing secrets without fear of repercussions. All in all, having the knowledge of your own death could be a tremendously liberating experience.

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And why not go for it? You’re only a few hours from death. Why not go out with a bang? For the terminally ill, this makes perfect sense. Who’s going to criticize someone who is dying for eating junk food? After all, who am I to deny the requests of a dying man? And who cares anyway? If you’re destined to die, you might just as well die happy. But in spite of this concept, I must ask you another question I find equally interesting: How long before my death can I start to live as though the end is near?

There’s a phrase you may have heard. YOLO:  you only live once. For many, that not only sums up how they would live if they were facing death today, but also tomorrow, next week or 80 years from now. Do it all, see it all, experience everything – good and bad alike. Live life in such a way that on your death bed you won’t regret not having done it all when you had the chance.  The world’s view is clear: Death is permanent. Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a single moment.

Many people in today’s society are driven by this mantra because in their minds there is no such thing as God, Heaven or any type of an afterlife. So while they push themselves to do more, see more, taste more, and feel more, the only thing they are doing is avoiding a simple, bone-chilling thought: I need to do all that I can to amuse and entertain myself now because this is all there is. Life has no greater meaning beyond what we make for ourselves here and now so enjoy it at all costs. When you put it that way, you realize that what had seemed so liberating at first has now shown itself to be nothing more than a trap.

In Luke 12:16-21 Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man who was blessed with an abundant crop. The man struggled to decide what he should do. Realizing that he didn’t have enough space to store the crops, he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger barns where he could store this great surplus so that he could spend many years living in comfort and luxury. “Eat, drink, and be merry.” Of course, the great irony of this parable is that the man would never live to bask in his riches as his life would be coming to an end that very night. But hey, at least he went out on top!

In truth, YOLO should actually be changed to YODO – You only DIE once. Our sin guarantees that we all will face death. However, it is God’s Son who provides us with the opportunity to receive victory over death and to live twice: once here on earth followed by life eternal with God in Heaven. With this assurance, life on earth suddenly gains meaning as we live to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives and work to share that same message of freedom and salvation with those who remain caught in the world’s hopeless trap.

So don’t worry about what life may bring, what you have or don’t have or anything else you might encounter. God created you. He knows you and loves you so much that despite our sinfulness, He sacrificed His Son so that sin and death would be defeated and we would know the fullness of life.

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Why Am I Here?

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. – Mark 16:15 ESV

For several years now, there has been a television commercial that only airs in August which I have found to be rather humorous. It is for an office supply store advertising their “Back to School Sale.” It features two children trailing behind a shopping cart, dragging their feet with the saddest expressions they could muster. Contrasting their sorrow is their father, who is gleefully dancing around the store, tossing school supplies into the cart as they play the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” In spite of its age, I must admit that I still laugh as much today as the first time I saw it. But to be completely truthful, I can see both sides of that equation.

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As a teacher, I often found myself conflicted in August. Like the parent, I was excited about the promise that comes from a new school year: new classes, new students, improved methods, greater skills, and an enthusiasm that comes from doing what I was called to do. But on the flip side, the start of the school year also meant an end of vacations and the return of early mornings, meetings, and a ten month stretch featuring long days, longer to do lists, short attention spans, and shorter levels of rest and patience. This internal struggle would eventually subside, but it often led to a simple question: Why am I here?

I think at one point or another, every teacher questions their effectiveness. Test scores and student confusion can lead us to frustration and doubt. Many teachers take it personally when their work and sacrifices are lost upon students, parents, administrators and colleagues who would rather heap criticism than shoulder burdens or offer solutions. Long hours, low pay, personal attacks, and a general lack of respect for the profession are just a few of the things that make teachers of every subject and grade level question the logic of serving in a classroom.

So why are we here?

Over my career, I’ve been in dozens of different schools. One school in particular, Spiritus Sanctus Academy, a Catholic elementary school located in Plymouth, Michigan, provided the best answer to the question.  As you walk in the main entrance you will see a sign placed prominently outside of the office which reads…

“Be it known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school.  He is the unseen but ever present teacher in its classes.  He is the model of its faculty, and the inspiration of its students.”

What a clear and beautiful description of why we are all here. God created us in His image, but our sinfulness created a divide between man and its Creator that can only be closed by the love of the risen Christ. So while we might teach four year olds to read, eight year olds to multiply, and sixteen year olds to do research, we must never forget that our true ministry comes from teaching everyone who enters our rooms, our schools and our presence that peace, joy, forgiveness and love can only come from Jesus.

After all, THAT is why we’re here….

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First Light

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. – Psalm 28:7

If you were to ask me to make a list of all of the things I like most about the Spring, it would be a very long list: the warmth of the sun falling on your back as you work outside, trees loaded with buds that blossom and turn to leaves, tulips filling the yard with color, the first fishing trip of the year, a warm breeze clearing out a house filled with the stale air of months of closed windows. In fact, open windows are probably at the top of my list of the things I like about this time of year.

Except…..

I am not troubled with allergies and I like a cool room for sleeping, so open windows in the spring should be a no-brainer. But nighttime has proven difficult lately when it comes to leaving the windows open. It starts with my neighbors; nice people but they leave for work well before I need to wake up, making them the alarm and my clock merely the snooze button. But even they, along with their two kids and dog, are not the culprits that wreak havoc on my slumber. It’s the birds – starting around 3:30 am. A romantic would share with you how beautiful and quaint it is to be welcomed into the day by the songs of birds. A realist would say it’s the early bird who catches the worm. So what does that make me when I’d like to see those birds shut up until they dive bomb my noisy neighbors and let me get a little more sleep?

Of course, this provides me with the chance to think about things I would have never considered had I been allowed to sleep. Things like: so what time does first light actually occur? I know they can track sunrise because that’s a specific occurrence – the moment the sun appears on the horizon. But first light is far more difficult. Light moves to fill darkness – that’s what it does. So long before the sun appears, light has already entered the sky. And light is a relative term. Some might consider the light to be brighter than others (usually most prevalent at night when the golf opponent you are beating declares it too dark to finish the final hole, thus making it a draw). Truth of the matter is, it is nearly impossible to determine in a universally acceptable way when the light of day first appears.

First Light

Life offers similar questions. Think about how many things happen in our lives whose beginnings cannot be seen. At what moment did the first cancer cell develop? At what moment did your best friend turn into the love of your life and then when precisely did that love go sour? At what moment was youth replaced with maturity? At what moment did our temper take over, causing us to say and do irreparably damaging things?

Imagine if there was a way to recognize these moments. If so, would we be able to identify them and respond appropriately to them? Unfortunately, we too often see the results or the consequences well after the fact, unable to change course. And perhaps not knowing may be for the better. The knowledge of how something is going to end may alter the way we look at it and diminish the joy we experience along the way. Either way, we aren’t always able to know when those key moments occur. All we can do is respond accordingly; to put our trust in the strength of our God.

Psalm 28:7 directs us to place our trust in God. For some people, this seems foolish – a silly concept better suited for children who can more easily accept the reassurance of an omnipotent deity over a “real” explanation. Others who do believe will put their faith in God, but only when things are going great or when all hope is lost. Now consider living every day fully trusting in the love and strength of God; relying on Him to guide and direct you in every aspect of your daily life. We need not wait for the highs and lows of life to know the peace that comes from following God’s word and relying upon Him. It is available to us 24 hours a day.

Including the early morning hours as the birds help you seek the answers to life’s big questions.

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An Uphill Climb

As a child, I always enjoyed going to the mall with my mom. Now let me immediately admit there were selfish motivations at play. Yes, I held a little bit of hope that she might buy me something (never a guarantee but it happened often enough to make the trip worthwhile).   And yes, it provided the opportunity to avoid staying home with my dad who enjoyed working far more than shopping. I just liked having the chance to get out of the house and go someplace fun.
One of the greatest places at the mall isn’t a store or a restaurant or even the benches reserved for bored husbands and boyfriends. It’s the escalator. Now the older I get, the more I appreciate the up escalator doing the work for me. But as a kid, the down escalator was far more fun. Picture this: a child standing at the bottom of the escalator waiting for it to be empty (and for no store employees or parents to be watching) and suddenly leaping onto the stairs running feverishly up the down escalator trying to reach the top. I’d like to regale you with stories of successfully reaching the top floor, jumping up and down like Rocky with the music playing in the background. Unfortunately, the attempt usually left me only scaling about three to four steps before I gave up or sheepishly rode back down to the sound of an adult giving me a scolding.

Now let’s suppose that I had been given permission to go up the down escalator. What would it take for me to do it? (Assuming I were still a kid. Nowadays it would require a tow rope)

  • Long strides, skipping two and three steps at a time
  • The speed to be able to leap faster than the stairs were descending

And most importantly…..

  • The endurance to keep going without stopping

Down Escalator
The escalator never stops, so if you pause, even for a moment, you’re going backwards. This is called regression and it is a simple truth that applies to so many things in life. Runners who stop running lose their endurance. Weightlifters who are unable to lift for a time lose strength. Athletes aren’t the only ones who face this. Couples who stop communicating are more susceptible to discord. It’s doesn’t even stop with people. A new car rolling off the dealer’s lot today is beginning a backsliding trek in its performance that will eventually land it in a scrap pile. Regression also occurs in learning. Students who stop reading or computing over the summer will lose ground academically in the fall. Knowing this to be true, some parents will take steps to keep their children academically engaged to help prevent the slide while many teachers plan on several weeks of content review to start the new school year.

It’s frustrating to see learners going in reverse, but imagine the frustration of regressing in an area far more important than academics. For too many of us when it comes to living out our faith, we have been going backward since we were confirmed. Maybe we attend church and Bible study regularly during the school year, but what about June, July & August? Pastor’s sermon from a few weeks ago may provide the perfect perspective for the conversation you need to have with that co-worker, but who can remember all of those details?

Peter knew we’d fall back when he gave us this reminder in 2 Peter 1:5-8. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Building a stronger knowledge of the Scriptures and developing a greater level of comfort in living out our faith will not earn us salvation; Jesus did all of that for us. What it can do is help us to better understand God’s word, provide hope as we rely upon it during the difficult times of our lives, and prepare us to be ready to share it so others can experience what you’ve already come to know; the saving love of God. So no matter how many steps we must climb, we can keep going with the assurance that God will give us a strength that will not be exhausted.

But listen to your mom and don’t play on the escalators!

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