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.


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.




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


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." 


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. 


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


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.


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.


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.