Saturday, December 24, 2011

Simply True


Christmas Eve at the Wilson's and the simplicity of the coming of the Prince of Peace is what's on my mind. At New Hope, we don't put on a lavish production on Christmas Eve, it's a few carols, communion, and candlelight. But that, though simple, doesn't begin to capture that first night.

A feed trough. The stink of animals. The wonder of childbirth comes to a virgin and her betrothed.

And God draws near.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
The Shepherds and Angels
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Break




The late Vance Havner said "If you do not come apart, you will come apart." I guess that's why teachers get a break at Christmas. I sure need it. Not only have I pushed myself harder than ever, but I've got work to do to improve my skills. Teaching today is far different than most of us remember. The kids are different, the tools are different, and the accountability is far different. I came face to face with the possibility of failure Friday, and I do not want to feel that way again.

So I'll be taking some time off from the classroom, but I will also be reaching out to tap some very skilled and accomplished teachers, reading some books on classroom management, and practicing the discipline of organization in a way I never have before. New Hope needs me to do this. My family needs me to do this. My kids need me to do this. And I need to do this.

Would I have done this if New Hope didn't need me to do it? No. Pastoring a church is a full time job. But this is where God has us and this is what I need to do to live out my calling. Teaching is a calling as well and I'm struggling right now to do it in a way that meets the principal's expectations.

Teacher friends who read this blog, touch base with me. I really can use your help in getting where I need to be as soon as I can.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Advent's Joy



Thinking about it this week, joy is what's missing from Christmas for so many. We get so caught up in forcing happiness into what is really a sustained riot of consumer madness that we never really stop and reflect on just what Christmas does. It changes lives as the Incarnation is lived out through Christ's people. As we live with the knowledge that God truly is with us, we touch others with Christ's love.

I was walking by the communion table this morning and stopped to put it back into place. On Wednesday nights our girl's ministry "Child to Child" meets in the sanctuary so they use the stage. I was making sure the Advent wreath was placed correctly and saw the cross and crown of thorns over by the prayer bench. So I replaced it to the center of the table behind the wreath.

As I did, it struck me how many people were at the communion table with me this morning. Their gifts were all around me and would continue to give to the people at New Hope this Christmas as they had for years.

The cross was handcrafted by my father-in-love Curtis Clinard, whose talents are not only in shaping wood, but in shaping lives through his example as a follower of Jesus. The crown of thorns was given to me by my dear friend Reggie Gable. Reggie is one of the most faithful men I know and an inspiration in the way he lives out his calling. The covering of the table was made with love by Pam Roberts, who poured her life and her talents into New Hope for many years. And the table itself was here when I came 12 years ago, so that means people like Glenda Marcus, Larry and Brenda Powell, Larry and JoAnn Smith, and others who have moved are still giving to this day. Oh and the kneeling bench I retrieved the cross from? Handcrafted by Pam's husband J.C. I can look around everywhere and see the gifts they have given. I thank God for those gifts.

Advent reminds me  - count it all joy.

Joy that we've been able to lead people to know Jesus as Savior.
Joy that we've seen lives changed and Christians sent out to serve in love.
Joy that we've had a chance to serve alongside some amazing people, even if only for a season sometimes.
Joy that God continues to speak so clearly even through the simple furnishings of this, His church.
Joy to be honored with the calling to care for this church and its people.
I count it all joy.

I realize now more than ever that today is the day we inhabit, and today is the day we need to rejoice.

So from a quiet New Hope sanctuary, I pray you receive all the Joy of Christmas.

Come see us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Comfort Ye My People



I've been sitting here this rare afternoon in my office at church and reading the Scriptures and listening to Handel's Messiah. Oh. My God!

Today was a training day for me, so I wasn't teaching and got to do what I have done literally a thousand times before - sit in my office here at church and meet with God. It's true you know, you don't know what you have until it's gone. For me now, an uninterrupted block of time that I am not working on something for school or scrambling to squeeze the meaning and purpose out of a text to teach or preach is so incredibly precious that I found myself in tears several times.

Harboring no doubts about what I've chosen to do to not just continue to serve New Hope but to see her grow in every way, still... I needed today. This past Sunday I preached my heart out through Isaiah 40. That message was built during the week prior a little here and a little there - the same way I did for years as a bivocational pastor. I was excited to be able to bring it to the congregation, gave it everything I had  and begged God for everything He would give. It seemed to resonate with people and I hope the Spirit spoke healing and direction into people's lives. I thank God for the gifts He's given and pray every day to be able to be found faithful in whatever He asks me to do.

But oh I needed today.

I'm what they call a contemplative.

My life now is so frantic that I don't get a chance to do that as much. So today, in my office, with no agenda save one - listen - I did. And it moved me so.

So before I plunge back into the flood of papers to grade, lessons to plan, and kids to think about, I'm going to listen to the incomparable Matthew Ward one more time and remember just how good my God is to me.



Saturday, December 03, 2011

Shout!




Advent. It's a season that can get you to examine things you've been covering over and pretending not to notice. I've been trying to follow the readings for each day even during the busyness of teaching and pastoral work. Advent is preparation.

Behind the pulpit, and in the classroom, a lack of preparation will cause you to quickly experience fear. And that fear robs you of the effectiveness you need to speak and explain. It almost paralyzes me. The feeling is of being tied to the train tracks and seeing the light of an approaching locomotive. I just cannot preach or teach off the cuff. I have to prepare. Advent is preparation.

Sure, in the back of everyone's mind this time of year Charlie Brown and Linus are on a darkened stage. People know the story of Christmas well. But they don't necessarily know why Christmas matters or why Advent matters. Advent is preparation.

In my new dual role as pastor/teacher, I'm learning more about how the world is working and my research is returning a clear finding of "not good." "A new generation arose knowing not Joseph" wrote the scribes. Well, new generations have risen believing that the world revolves around them and that there's noting more to life than what they can see or hold in their hands. Working with kids every day, each of whom are precious in God's sight and dear to my heart, I can see the effects of society's message. And one day Jesus will return and set everything right. Advent is preparation.

"A voice said 'Shout!'"


"Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field."

Advent is preparation for life here, and life eternal with Jesus. It's acknowledging that some things God has done are simple yet complex, warm and fuzzy, but incredibly costly, and the effects that we can see may be only a fraction of what God has done. A baby was born. No big deal, right? Babies get born every day. But this one changed everything.

One day people will wake up. Maybe it'll be a week day. Or maybe the weekend will see Him come. But one day Jesus will come, not as a babe in Bethlehem, but as the leader of Heaven's Armies - as King.

Advent is preparation for that day when the Shepherd of Israel returns. To His enemies His wrath will come. To His beloved... "He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with her young." I LOVE that picture.

But while we wait...

"And so dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in His sight."


Make every effort.

Advent is preparation. 

Take time this weekend to worship Him and study His Word.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning





“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.” 
― Dr. Seuss

We are one month into the great adventure of teaching 18 third AND fourth graders at Eglin Elementary School located on the base. It has been intense. I have put a lot into getting a handle on all the myriad of little things I need to know and DO in order to not just teach but motivate my kids to learn. There are days - like today - where I get up early and work late in order to make darn sure that I am as prepared as anyone teaching tomorrow. There are some things that would make my work easier - a projector, document camera, and a Mimio would change my instruction and make it far more engaging. But here I am.

On days like today I leave school and go directly to church to help with the supper. We are now sending out 70+ meals every Wednesday evening all over Valparaiso. When Pam Roberts came to me with the idea I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to do 30. And yet here we are. Not only that, but we are feeding five families for Thanksgiving and helping with their Christmas. Once supper is loaded and gone, then I go help with music. That used to mean playing guitar but now it's serving as another pair of ears to get the sound right and occasionally filling in for the media guru, Michael Weech. Once that is over I head over to lead prayer meeting and teach.

So yeah, Wednesday is a long day - and it gets extended now so I can get ready for school tomorrow.

It's a balancing act and once I get established in the teaching side of things, I hope to be able to spend more time on the pastoral side again. I've rediscovered the tricks I used to use when I was just starting out as a pastor to get the preparation done when time is available, whether it's planned or not.And I'm praying. praying for me to learn and grow deeper as a Christian and more able as a teacher. I'm praying - for every child every day and for their families, just as I pray for the members of the congregation.

Hardest thing I have ever done. I remember times when I was growing up that my Mother would have me doing something I felt was too much work. She'd tell me that she knew it was a lot of work, but it would make me a better person and she was doing it because she loved me.

God must love me a whole lot. :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why I Love America




Our school (Eglin Elementary, on Eglin AFB) had a wonderful Veteran's Day walk Tuesday. The whole school went over to the All Wars Memorial on base, and when the buses parked, the kids and their parents (many of whom were in uniform) walked together to the memorial. The program was great. In preparation that morning, I had the kids writing about "Why I Love America". They worked for a while, and as I walked around and looked at their work, most centered on what they owned - X-Box 360, or what they could do "play video games, eat McDonald's" etc. A few said "freedom."

But not nearly enough.

So I got them all together and explained that when I was in elementary school, I was asked to recite something in a veteran's day program.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


I then launched into an explanation of just why out of everything I knew or experienced of America in my life what I learned when I was about their age had stuck with me. I wanted to share it today with you. This isn't the way I explained it to 3rd and 4th graders, but my readership doesn't hold a high percentage of that demographic. :) So for you, gentle reader, here's why I love America.


We - that was huge, because until those words were penned, there was no "We", only a collection of states born from different motives and filled with people determined to live their individual lives for their own reasons. "We" was the binding principle that said to the world "We may all be individuals, but when it comes to knowing, believing, and defending at the cost of our lives if necessary - "We" are one.


Hold these truths - In the era we live in, people feel free to live their own truth. They pick it from here or there and preach toleration of whatever anyone chooses to believe. At the birth of our country, out of all the "truths" that were out there, our forefathers decided to proclaim to the world that this nation would live out a creed higher in purpose than just making a living.

That all men are created equal - I know, I know - maybe the first thing you think of is how that lofty goal took many years and the shedding of thousands of lives in a civil war to approach. And maybe you think we still aren't there. But for a nation whose inhabitants came from the rigid caste system of Europe to write this into their founding document sent to the world as why they were forming a new country - it was explosive. It marked out one corner of the world where freedom was real - or would be.

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights - "lex rex" - the King is the law- meant that a man's rights were whatever the King said they were, or whatever the government said they were. This phrase places man's rights beyond reach of King, parliament or Congress, grounding them in God. Again, the mere idea is so far beyond anything that had ever come before in Europe, when the common man read this he knew there was one place in the world where a king's or nobleman's whims held no power over them.

"...that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." - We frequently focus on the three mentioned, but should also notice the founders knew enough to know there were more than just those three. "Among those" means that while America wanted to let the world know that those three - "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" were at the core of what America aspired to be, there were things already acknowledged and truths accepted across cultures that would be part of America's genus as well. If we guarantee that rights are "inalienable" because they are given by God, we do not have to name them all.

The uniqueness of these phrases, regardless of the imperfectness of how we lived it out is why I love America. And I learned that in elementary school.

If we aren't inspiring kids today to remember what makes America great, the loss will be... everything.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Week Two



Everyone knows the opening line... "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." Maybe the reason it sticks in our memories is that it happens oh so often - the highest of highs placed cheek and jowl next to the worst. "Flying high in April, and shot down in May" opines one famous song after beginning with "That's life. That's what people say."

Well this guy can bring some fresh evidence to those thoughts.

Just finished my second week of full time teaching a combined class of 3rd and 4th graders and Charles Dickens has got nothing on me. There were times these past two weeks that it seemed as if we were going to race to the top together. And there were other times I wondered how it was going to work. As a teacher, I have to remind myself that these are kids who are wholly and dearly loved by God and made in His image. When I relate to them, I am in a sense that "pencil in the hand of God" that Mother Teresa so famously wrote about and emulated with her life. What I do matters. It matters more than a grade on a paper or an inscription in that infamous "permanent record." So whether the child is "full of grace" or "full of woe", they deserve everything I have to give.

The week began with a teacher workday and a holiday for the kids. That coupled with a half-day workshop I had to attend on Tuesday morning did not help us launch well. Tuesday afternoon was then turned into a review, and we didn't really get moving until Wednesday. But by Friday, we were right where we should have been, and I think they left excited about what next week would be bringing. We started a class-wide project on the earliest Floridians that had them racing to research. :) Awesome to see. I set up a special search page for them to use and they found so much information they wanted to print out and read later I realized I needed two printers to keep up. Here's the link for the page: http://searchteam.com/search_1_2621_6543_Early_Florida

I'm hoping to gradually increase their use of technology for learning gains, and this is only the beginning. Each child will produce an "e-book" using Power Point as their work product. Hopefully they will be content and image rich and really help them learn about part of Florida's History that at least in my research is incredibly interesting.

My mentor teacher Mrs. Hudson and our principal Dr Combs both gave me the gift of their time this week as they worked to help me become the teacher I want to be. The cohort of teachers at Eglin is so supportive of each other that I truly feel blessed to be placed here. I'm learning every single day.

I want these kids to look back and say "Mr. Wilson believed in me." But more than that, I want them to believe in themselves.

So goodbye week two. Let's roll.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Morning - Touched By Love

Touched By Love



After the blur of my first week as a full-time teacher, I enjoyed Saturday immensely. Who knew that sleeping until seven was plenty of rest? When you get up at 5:30 every week day, 7 seems like eating ice cream for breakfast - a real treat. We had a good day yesterday on our own terms. Picked up some items we received through Freecycle - I got a TUB of crayons, some construction paper, colored pencils - all for school - and a pressure washer I think just needs a little work. Then I cleaned up some in the garage, checked the car's fluids, and really just enjoyed letting the day come to me without a schedule.

Now it's Sunday morning.

And for me, the excitement is building.

There won't be a laser light show this morning, or headline entertainers. No fried gator on a stick or funnel cakes. There won't be a crowd of people either. New Hope's size right now is more like an extended family, and our gathering reflects that. But for me, there's something very special about being there - together with God. I prayed last night through the mental list of people who make up the New Hope family, asking God to bless them and to draw them into the fellowship this morning as we worship. I truly believe worship - community - the fellowship of the saints - matters - and the act of choosing to come works as a spiritual discipline done in obedience to God. It's not about numbers, it's about hearts and what God will do as we live in obedience to Him.

So when Sunday comes, I get excited to see what God will do among us that will translate later into what He does THROUGH us as we live our lives among the people He wants us to love, care for, and introduce to Jesus.

Today the message explores what happens when someone with the most disgusting condition is touched by Jesus. I cannot get the old Southern Gospel song "He Touched Me" out of my head. To know that Jesus will let no condition - no sin - keep His love from finding us - yeah, that makes me want to hurry to church so I can tell everyone what Jesus has done, and will do.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

THEY are the 1%




Tuesday evening, I spent a couple hours of my life meeting and greeting with some of the forgotten 1% of America. It was open house at Eglin Elementary. They came in smiling, couple after young couple with their children around them. They represented all kinds of ethnic backgrounds, all sorts of levels of education, and all ranks.

They are the 1%.

They are America's military families.

Eglin Elementary sits on the largest Air Force base in the United States. Most of the children that come there are dependents of military families. Due to Eglin's multi-service nature, we see children whose parents serve in every branch of service. Monday night, I met two families who serve in the 7th Special Forces group. They had just moved down from Ft Bragg NC recently. They were a bit concerned about whether their children would catch up, since we start school much earlier here. One of the things most of America forgets about when they think about the military - if they think about them at all - is the effects on the families the last ten years of war and the deployments have had on the children. Simple things like whether a child is going to be okay in school don't need to be a worry for someone who is putting his/her life on the line. But it can be.

I met a young Marine family in which the dad was working hard to finish Explosive Ordinance School. Surrounded by four children and his wife, he was saying how happy his kids were at school. All the while I was thinking how proud I was to serve as their teacher. Then I met a Navy Chief who was also part of the EOD community. She was a very articulate Mom who stressed that she wanted to see her child succeed. "Just let me know if there's anyway I can help." I couldn't help but think that many of the people in the room had done more than I would ever know to help me already.

In encounter after encounter, I met people who were proud parents wanting the best for their children and eager and willing to assist me in every way they could.

In this tumultuous time, where pundits and politics are cutting America up into percentages, I want to add this. Less than 1% of Americans are serving in the military today.

And we, the 99% have no idea what that 1% gives up to do so.

I was blessed to see those parents Tuesday night. But all America is blessed by them and their compatriots.

THEY are the 1%.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

First Day Herding Cats


Well, it's been a long day and I'm about to head to bed, but I wanted to journal some of what I experienced today.
- Never underestimate the power of chaos. I had 8 third graders and when we got to math, they were in three different chapters. Oh and the new student wasn't in any.
- You really do have to tell them not to do pretty much anything. Had a child toss a pencil to another and it hot the target on the bridge of the nose. Thankfully it hit flat. But the children got to see Mr. Wilson in lockdown mode. Scared me. No harm done but one little boy won't ever throw anything again.
- Kids will cheat for candy reward. Big time. I usually put something up to challenge them at the beginning of the week. Today it was to tell me what a group of crows is called. Odd word. They are called a "murder" of crows. They were stumped. Went to recess and came back with a revelation. Guess a crow must have told them OR they asked another teacher. Hmm.... I will stump them tomorrow. :)

It was a long day but it was okay for the first day with a group of students pulled from every class. They were generally well behaved and worked pretty well together. The flow between working with one class or the other was actually better than I thought it would be.

Mr. Wilson will be more ready tomorrow than he was today. And he'll do the same Wed. And the next day.

Blessings to you - David

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Herding Cats Times 2


It was the first day of the week and the start of the next to last week I would have a teaching job.

It was Monday. 

Beginning with a walk around Valparaiso's Bayous, I was moving along pretty fast, maybe subconsciously trying to stay ahead of the calendar. Talking with district personnel wasn't getting me anywhere. Tweaking my resume wasn't getting anywhere.

Thinking about it wasn't getting me anywhere.

So as I walked, I prayed that God would provide - and I was thinking as soon as possible would be nice.

That afternoon, I got an email offering me an interview at Eglin Elementary.

Tuesday I interviewed.

Wednesday I got hired and started my new job as an elementary school teacher.

So now I am a full time pastor - no change in that except the location I work in. I'll still be serving God through New Hope but I'll also be a missionary they support on the mission field as a full time school teacher. And the salary I earn doing that will help New Hope turn more resources to other mission work here in Valparaiso and around the world. Win. Win.

Today, I have the honor of teaching Middle Schoolers in Sunday School, then sharing with the congregation. Tomorrow I will have the honor of being God's instrument to care for 19 Third and Fourth graders. I believe that His hand will be upon me and His Spirit will enable me in both roles. He has placed me where He wants me, and my job is to serve Him there. Doubly blessed, I'll probably be doubly worn out at the end of the week. But in both jobs I know I can call on Him. But I'm also calling on you.

Your prayers would mean a lot to me.

Sunday is here and Monday's coming.

Please pray.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Handle with care



It was a "sixth sense" moment. 

We were working through some tougher work yesterday. Math isn't easy for some of the kids, but as a former math-o-phobic person myself, I do everything I can to keep the fear away. Passing out the previous days work, which I had graded, I was working the problems on the board and trying to reinforce what they had learned and correct what they didn't get. I try to keep a connection with them while I do that, calling them into solving the problem with me.

Some students relish this, and some try to hide.

I had turned back to the board but all of a sudden it felt like something was wrong.

In the corner, our newest student, was crying. Huge tears rolled down his face. I didn't know it at the time, but he had not done well on the homework. And without a word, he was suffering. There are kids who don't try and cry at the consequences. This wasn't that. This was failure.

It was PE time, and the class got up to head out. I stopped him before he got out the door and we talked about it. He told me he just couldn't get it. I told him that I believed he could and we'd get it together. We took a minute and looked at one problem together with me showing him how. Slowly the light bulb came on as did his smile. I told him we'd keep after it and I'd check in with him every morning before we started to go over the homework just to make sure he was on track.

I sent him out to PE and half way down the ramp he turned around and said "Thanks Mr Wilson!" And he and his smile joined his friends on the playground.

You know, it's not just kids that are fragile.

Everybody hurts. 

We're put here to help each other along the way.

19 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.  1 John 4:19 (MSG)
The next time you get that "sixth sense" about someone - turn around and look to see if God isn't wanting to use you to help Him care for someone else.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

It's Jesus, always Jesus





It was never about the church for me.

In fact, there was a lot about the church that served to push me away.

When my Mother took me and my brother to church as a child, I was at church, but the flannel-graphs didn't hold my attention. And compared to roaming the woods near our trailer home - please.

True, when I came to church to play basketball and met Bunny, I joined Bethesda Baptist Church and was baptized a believer in Jesus Christ. I've been a member of a local church ever since. Had some great times seeing God at work, and met some unforgettable people.

After all these years of working in the church, I still look back and know that for me...

It was Jesus.

Do I love the church I serve? Ask anyone who knows me or New Hope - even my (our) enemies.

I've given 12 years, forsaking all others, in good times and bad. I love her. Desperately.

But it's because of Jesus.

It's His story that drew me.

It's His love that provides the reason, the purpose and the power for me to go on.

Some people immerse themselves in prophecy. Others can't get enough of the Law.

For me, it's the gospels. Always the gospels.

I keep reading and rereading in amazement and wonder as Jesus rewrote what it means to live.

If I can just be a fraction of what He was...

I'll die satisfied.

Today I opened the Gospel of Mark to the folks at New Hope. I presented it as the gospel of second chances. Lord knows I've been blessed with a few.

I can't wait for next week. Can't get enough of Jesus.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Upon Further Review




The weeks have flown by at Mary Esther Elementary.

I've learned an awful lot about teaching that textbooks will never deliver. Constant improvement is my goal. I have training across multiple disciplines and communication is something I've used daily for years. As a first year teacher, I need to use whatever I can. One of the skills I've transferred from my primary vocation is reflection. As a pastor, you are constantly delivering and evaluating, delivering and evaluating. And you pray, oh how you pray, that God would take your efforts and make them more than you ever could.

Funny thing.

I've been doing that every morning at Mary Esther Elementary.

As a pastor, I've always prayed for people in my congregation individually. The regular practice of intercessory prayer helps me remember to work out of God's love. As a teacher, I want to do the same. So as part of the preparation to teach - along with lesson plans, text and practice books, assessment plans, technology and hands on work - I pray.

There's no way I can share everything I have heard from those little voices during the last few weeks. But I will tell you that they reflect every hurt their families suffer, every lack they feel. Children don't have filters. They may cheat on a test but then turn around and be brutally honest about how it felt when the chaplain came to the door and told Mom daddy had been shot in the shoulder. Or how it feels that daddy is in jail. Or that life with a step-dad is better because daddy drinks and hides his beer under the bed. I can look at their clothes and see the needs, or notice that one who brings his books in a Food World bag instead of a backpack and took three weeks to get some of the school supplies he needed.

They will send you to heights of joy and break your heart. Kids do that. These kids do that.

So I go in every morning wearing a badge that identifies me as a certified substitute teacher who's going to give them every chance to succeed. And I leave every day drained of everything save my faith that God will take whatever I did that day and help the kids I've grown to love.

No collar. No suit. No Bible. Mr.Wilson is all the title I need.

Just Jesus' love identifies me.

Looking back over the last 6 weeks, that'll do.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tests, and Tests



Friday is test day in most elementary schools. We work very hard all week, taking mini-assessments along the way but for whatever reason Friday winds up as the day. Spelling test. Reading test. Math test. It usually winds up being a fairly quiet day. Today the kids were looking forward after the tests were done to day two of our paper airplane experiment, and the first opportunity to cash in their good behavior "chips" at the "Treasure Chest."

Everything went smoothly with the exception of a Florida downpour during PE that had the coaches herding the cats inside quickly and then 5 minutes later it was sunny.

Everything that is... until the principal came into the classroom and told me that a teacher's husband had stepped on an IED and had lost multiple limbs to amputation.

We're a school filled with military kids. Everybody knows someone who is serving our country.

And this is the husband of a teacher.

Pray with me for this young family.

There are tests, and there are tests.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One Sno-Cone At A Time



Saturday, I wasn't able to be at Lewis School's Relay for Life race. I've been there every year since we started doing it. John, Amy, and Ian Anderson weren't able to be there either.

So of course other New Hope folks showed up and rocked the event, giving away hundreds of free sno-cones.

And you wonder why I love these people and this place so much.

They LIVE IT OUT.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"I don't get it."

1178121-159_im_confus_super.jpg (346×300)


That phrase haunts me at times.

There are many other times though that people don't speak up and say something like that - choosing to walk away unable to comprehend and apply what they've been taught - and that's scarier.

At school, we have a highly structured routine of "assessments" to help the teacher discover where their students are and how they are progressing. There are "diagnostic" assessments for initial understanding of what they know. There are assessments along the way called "formative" to see what they are learning. Then there are "summative" assessments that see what they have learned. As a teacher, it's thrilling to see them progress to "mastery" of a block of knowledge. The flip side of that?

Heartbreak when they don't.

Life doesn't provide us the luxury of such a structured understanding of what we know, what we are learning, and what we have mastered. We can be thrown into circumstances that test our faith that we have never imagined would occur. We can be asked to make a decision that is life-altering without any real expertise in that area. And we can, and will experience failure and heartbreak - some of us many times over the course of a lifetime.

Life is a test.

And yet, we have the key.

Jesus.

Jesus.

Jesus.

I'm ready to talk about the feeding of the 5,000 today. The famous passages in the Bible, the flannel-board picture we all have in our heads - the little boy and his lunch - everything that story is for most of us is already part of our understanding.

And yet, the disciples and the religious people didn't "get it."

It was God peeking into their souls and dropping a test onto their desks to see what they ACTUALLY believed. Not just knew - believed to the point of living it out.

Is God good? Can He be trusted? Can I rely on Him for my life's direction, purpose, and provision?

I've given tests in the month I've taught third grade that very few passed. Well in this case out of maybe 25,000 people...

Only one did.

I'll bet he'd be about third grade age.

"Sure, take my lunch. Something about you tells me you'll know what to do with it. I'll just sit over here and watch."

and then...

"I love fish sandwiches!"

Friends, God can't use what you have for His glory and purpose in this world until you open your hands and release it back to him.

Life is a test. How are you doing?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Is This Going To Be On the Test?



The day of reckoning is approaching for my 16 third graders as I was shown how to input their grades into the online system earlier today.Oh I've sent home a blizzard of their work, but somehow it always seems to fade away before the understanding comes. If I can get them all in tonight, parents will actually be able to see not just the individual papers, but what they MEAN in the big scheme of things. All those times when homework wasn't done, or class assignments went unfinished will now carry weight. Well, some weight - we can only mark normal "seat" work and homework as 10% of the total grade.

I expect some wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The funny thing is my first thought wasn't of any individual child, but of the apostles.

That's when I realize I'm still thinking as a pastor at heart. :)

But if you remember, there were several times in the gospels that Jesus' teaching drove the disciples to ask questions with the same sort of cluelessness. Here's a couple.

21 At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, "Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?" 22 Jesus replied, "Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.
Matt 18:21-22 (MSG)

31 In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, "Rabbi, eat. Aren't you going to eat?" 32 He told them, "I have food to eat you know nothing about." 33 The disciples were puzzled. "Who could have brought him food?"
John 4:31-33 (MSG)

I had to laugh out loud when I thought about just how not only the disciples, or the third graders, but so many of us don't really want to KNOW. We just want enough to pass - to get by.

There's more. So much more. If we'll only reach for it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sundays Are the Hardest

Our friend Allan.

For the last three weeks, I've been a bivocational pastor. Full time third grade teacher (long term substitute) and full time pastor to the people and church I love. This bifurcated role has been necessary to help New Hope during a lean season. It's been a tough year from the beginning. We've been hit with a lot including some long time friends departure. But God has miraculously (and I do not throw that word around lightly) provided for our needs and even provisioned us to do more ministry this year than last despite it all. Hopefully once I get paid regularly for substitute teaching I can relieve some of the intense pressure New Hope is under every week.

We are truly living and serving by faith.

I love both jobs and definitely feel that God is using me to change the lives of 16 third graders. And there's no question that His call is still real in my life to be a pastor. I get excited every Saturday night thinking about seeing what God is going to do at New Hope the next day. Today was a good day - great worship, sermon went well, and we had several visitors who seemed to enjoy being with us.

But now it's Sunday evening and instead of thinking through what happened and what we'll be doing next week at New Hope, I have to turn toward school and prepare for the Monday morning rush.

Where I used to have an "off" day and Saturday each week to renew, now Saturday is the day I cram everything in. Two jobs that require dedication, focus, and passion that each are more that 40 hours a week mean long days and short nights.

But it's where God has placed me for this season.

Here's how I have to approach it.

First - I have to make sure I do the work to prepare my heart. Each morning when I walk, I pray. Since I don't have the flexibility I once enjoyed as a pastor, I maximize what time I do have.
Second - I use every means I have to learn. I found that 91.7 has Moody Conference Echoes every morning and so I listen to it. During lunch most days I spend a few minutes reading through my devotional regime.
Third - I accept this as God's will for my life right now and give everything I can give to both jobs. That means getting better at delegating and in training leaders so that New Hope can continue to serve and grow.

But there's no time to enjoy what God did today. Tomorrow is calling.

So yeah, Sundays are the hardest.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's Not Supposed To Be This Way


9-11-11 

Ten years have passed, but the tears and heartache linger. TV is full of the images both past and present. The radio airwaves carry the same tale of grief and woe. Friday I listened to a woman talk about the plans she and her husband had on the day before 9-11. "It wasn't supposed to be this way," she said, "we had plans for our life together."
So much changed that September day. So many lives were shaken to their very foundations. So much so that people are still trying to find their way through it, ten years later.
Why did this have to happen? Why didn't someone know? Why couldn't someone have stopped it? Why didn't my loved one come home? It wasn't supposed to be this way.
The plans for 9-11 began far before anyone named Bin Laden was born. The chain of events started long ago, in a garden called Eden, when man and woman made their choice. It didn't take long for that choice to cost more than a father could bear. Cain killed his brother Abel because he was angry - because he could. Abel's blood cried out to God from the ground. Adam and Eve cried out, "Why?"
My heart, like millions of Americans, is filled with emotions this weekend. Watching the images again brings the horror closer than I want it to be. And remembering the first anniversary, when they read the names - 

Oh...My... God
They read, one after the other, name after name. I couldn't help but think how hard this must be for them. Just to be there. Just to be among so many people hurting, grieving, remembering. To be on a podium in front of the world, to concentrate on getting the names right must be a terrible task.
At the end of the group being read, a young woman stiffens visibly, and it's as if you can see a chill run through her frame as she wills herself to say.... "and my Father...."  .




Oh... it hurts Lord. It hurts.
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
But it is. 

And it has been for a long long time. 

My only source of solace, and my only sure sense of strength comes in knowing that God hates it too. That it was Him whose heart cried out to Cain, "What have you done? Listen--your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground!"
God hears. When those He lovingly created destroy each other, He hears. Not in a second-hand whisper, or within an echo of pain. Grief shouts to Him, cries out to him. And He hears.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. But it is. 

And so...
As we remember by reading the names of our loved ones, God adds one more...
"and My Son Jesus." 
For He is a victim of our sins. Yet in His love, God willingly paid that price. He gave us Jesus. The Truth. The Life. And the Way.
John 3:16 (The Message)
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, His one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.
He did that so people could find their way home - out of darkness - out of terror - out of fear - out of grief - out of heartache - out of rage. 

He calls out the name. "And My Son, Jesus."

As the planes hit the towers, and we in our horror said, "it wasn't supposed to be this way", God was calling to the husband who wouldn't make it home, "This way. Come to Me"
As the heroes of the day streamed up the stairs while others fled down, some never reached the floors they intended to, but God said "This way. Come to me."
As men and women who had planned America's battles found themselves in a fire fight they could not win, a voice called out to them, "This way. Come home to Me."
An airplane in the wrong hands struck earth in a Pennsylvania field far short of its intended destination. Yet God called out to those who were aboard, "This way. Come to Me."
We don't have to wonder where God was that day. 

 Within the terror, throughout the smoke, in the midst of the worst man could do to man, He was calling to His children, "This way. This way." 

He was calling them home.
It wasn't supposed to be this way, but it is. We cannot be sure something like 9-11 won't ever happen again. But before it could happen, we can help people find God - find the One who knows the pain and heartache we face - help them find the Way. Don't wait friends. Don't wait.
"This way"  - He's calling today. "This way to life." 

Remember?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Three Weeks In



I can spot them in a crowded playground. I can pick their voices out in a noisy lunchroom. I'm already hating the thought of leaving them in late October when the teacher I'm subbing returns from pregnancy leave. Three weeks in, they are my kids... until they aren't.

16 hearts that rise and fall over "who likes who" one minute and how they did on a math test the next... cause me to work so hard that last week I came home on Friday, fell asleep on the couch at 4:30, slept until 6:30, stayed up another two hours then crashed for TEN hours. I've graded dozens of papers, searched for the absolute best way to teach the curriculum, and spent time learning how to use the technology I have access to. It's a testimony to the human ability to adapt and overcome that I'm awake right now and doing pretty well. But it's the third week in.

By now I've realized that my belief in them isn't always returned by their best effort. I can pull some into the teaching by using unique strategies and my immense personal charm... (insert laugh here) but not all of them and not all the time. I've seen them fail when they shouldn't have and seen them enjoy success and not learn from it.  My commitment to teaching them the facts they need is only part of what I'm working to get across. I want them to learn to learn. I want them to embrace personal responsibility for their actions and their inactions. That doesn't make me the good guy some of the time though. So be it. I want the best for them and out of them so this year will be one they look back on with pride of accomplishment.

Every morning as I put their chairs back on the floor, I quietly voice a prayer for each of them by name - that on the day that's about to unfold I will be able to lead them to learn and to grow. Yes, I ask to come God into the classroom, everyday. And He does.

Three weeks in.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Keep On Keeping On!


What I'm getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you've done from the beginning.
When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience.
Now that I'm separated from you, keep it up.
Better yet, redouble your efforts.
Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. 

Paul's Letter to His Friends at Philippi 2:12

Dallas Willard, author of many books on growing closer to God puts it this way.

"Grace doesn't preclude effort." 

It's not those who pick and choose when they serve who I admire the most in this life. It's those who are practicing what Eugene Peterson calls "A Long Obedience In the Same Direction." Those who go to work every day knowing they won't finish that day, or the day after... or the day after that. Who take the long view and get to work.


And stay at work.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Learning the Secret




The purpose of all faith is to bring us into direct, personal touch with God. True prayer is an awareness of our helpless need, an acknowledgment of divine adequacy. For Jesus, prayer was as necessary as breathing, the very breath of His life. Although God certainly knows all our needs, praying for them changes our attitude from complaint to praise, and enables us to participate in God's personal plans of our lives. 
(Ray C. Stedman, Talking to My Father


In Mark 5, Jesus strides directly into the deepest fears of several people. In an area that religious Jews avoided because of the darkness they saw. In a heart-lifting display of His power over... everything... He casts out demons by the thousand... He heals without intending to... He raises a little girl from the dead.


In every case, the people had no other option. 


None.


But they recognized that Jesus was their only true hope... precisely because they had exhausted their human search for a "fix it."


They came to him and put themselves at His feet.


Whatever they received would be something better than what their situation found themselves in. They saw in Jesus someone who could make that situation change and they desperately put themselves in position to get him to act.


And He did.


In the past year, I've learned more about faith than ever before - and I've lived a long time. 


I never would have learned without being forced to. Never would have stopped to consider what little effect our methods, programs, etc. have on the development of a ministry that lives and breathes faith in God - because it has to. We've had some incredibly successful years here if you look at the numbers. But is that really success?


Or is increasing in dependency on God, in faith in His goodness, and in our actions in response?


It doesn't have to be either/or, and I hope one day to see both happening at the same time. But right now, I'm wanting to see God do what only He can do - here at New Hope, in the lives of many of our church families, and in my family's life.


I'm learning the secret.


12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Phil 4:12-13 (NIV)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Can a sermon happen without Powerpoint?



I'm in the sanctuary at New Hope, typing these words on my Google Chromebook as I go through the preparation for this morning's worship. There's no electrical power as of yet, but I am hoping it will be restored before we meet at 10:45. It's very quiet here without any of the kids voices or the laughter of the adults as they meet and greet each other.

Ordinarily I'd be teaching children right now, but we cancelled Sunday School hoping to be able to meet later. So I'm working through the sermon for today - without my Power Point. GASP! Since I switched to preaching without notes years ago, the PPT has been my outline and guide to keep me in the text and not "rambling" as Bunny calls it. So we'll see how I deliver with just a Bible in my hand.

Frankly, it's exciting.

I love technology and use a lot of picture illustrations and video when they fit. But there's something about just standing there with my Bible that's "right."

Today's sermon is from Mark 5, where Jesus enters what the Jews would have considered one of the darkest places in their area (if not on earth) to bring hope to the hopeless. First the man possessed by legions of demons. Then on the way to cure Jairus' daughter - the woman with an issue of blood. And finally, the little girl. Each and every one of them were past desperation. No power of earth could help. The power that created earth could.

Right now it is raining so hard that birds are roosting under the sanctuary eaves. They know where to go when the rains come. Do we?

For some, hope is a dream they are chasing. Everything has to fall just right, but if that happens, then...

For the Christian, hope is a person. Jesus. He is our hope.

I'll be lifting Him up today.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Aha!



It was glorious. Transcendent. Heavenly.

15 children were, for a moment, released to soar.

For two weeks they had struggled, fighting against the lethargy of a summer spent doing everything BUT math. There were times when I wondered if they had ever been introduced.

When I did the first assessment - it scared me. Stunningly bad. Horrific.

So I said a quick prayer and began working to change reality.

We worked. And we worked. And we worked. It rained math worksheets, it hailed flashcards. I graded papers until I fell asleep grading papers two nights in a row.

Friday came.

I was hoping. Praying. Believing.

But...

It was as if every kid had a math milkshake for breakfast. Every one of them clamored to do math. They competed with each other to do it. I had to resort to calling on them randomly to keep them in check.

At the end, we were adding and subtracting in the millions. MILLIONS.

Flawlessly.

It felt awesome.

I am so proud of those kids.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

When It Rains




There are so many things I've been given throughout my life from the people who have inhabited it with me. Among them are a rich repository of expressions. My family background includes forebears who lived close to the earth as sharecroppers, and those who spent long hours in cotton mills. Then there are those who sowed their colorful language into my vocabulary from my jobs as a ditch digger, surveyor's helper, Coca Cola driver, warehouse worker...

One of those phrases popped into my head last night, but the setting it dropped into stood the meaning I had traditionally associated with it on it's head.

"When It Rains, It Pours"

Every time before last night, I had used that in conjunction with a series of reverses - of trouble piled on trouble.

But last night all that changed.

Because when it rains, it can also pour blessing after blessing.

It was the tail end of a long day of my bifurcated life. I had poured myself out to 15 children all day and rushed home to rush to church. Wednesday just is a marathon. When I arrived at church to manage the food distribution and make sure the meals for our New Hope folks were served, I was quickly surrounded by people who helped - well really, I was also blessed by those who had ALREADY helped - like my awesome wife Bunny who had cooked for 90 people, and Christi Moore who had purchased the ingredients and laid out all the take-out trays.

Then Patrick Calvary and Taylor Bryan came in to deliver the meals. What a blessing! These young men have plenty of other things to do, but they chose to serve the needy in Valparaiso. We're pushing 70 meals a week now.

A few minutes later a flood of kids rushed in and filled the fellowship hall. A few minutes later one of them, Kelly, came to me crying and showing me a bloody toe. She had somehow gotten hit by the door. We started tending to her and she kept saying "I don't want to go home. I don't want to go home. All my friends are here." Kelly took literally years to warm up to us - didn't talk at all for the longest time - but now we're all family.

After worship practice, I hurried back over to the fellowship hall and was handed an envelope that Patrick and Taylor had been handed during their deliveries. One of the people we deliver to gave it to them. The front of the envelope said "The Lord's Money" and on the back she had written a note of encouragement. It was filled with money.  Wow.

Having God provision that ministry through that ministry was encouragement enough.

People wonder why New Hope goes out into tough places.
People whisper about whether we'll be able to continue to feed more people than we see in worship on some Sundays.
People see the developmentally disabled welcomed and valued and shake their heads.
People marvel at how we thrill at having rougher neighborhood kids at New Hope.

Friends, if you want sanitized, predictable, programmed religion, you don't want New Hope.

But if you want to be so close to God's heart that you can hear it beat in the heart of a child, or in the least of these...

If you want to MATTER in the work of bringing God's love to bear on man's needs...

New Hope is the place.

When it rains here, it pours out God's grace.