Saturday, April 30, 2011

Living By Faith

"We may be struggling at church, but we are doing more than when we were taking in 3 times more money and having lots more in attendance.  It sorta boils down to what you do with what you got. "
- a New Hope member to me in an email

That lead me to put a blurb in the New Hope bulletin on Easter Sunday that said something like this: "In the last week, members of New Hope Baptist Church have delivered nearly one hundred meals in our community. We have fed and taught 35 children right here. We have sent money out to Malawi to help women raise their families out of poverty and to Christian Flights International to help rebuild an orphanage in Haiti. 

If you want to invest your time, talents and resources in a church that loves God with everything we've got and loves our neighbors the same way - then come and join us."

I've been in churches when they were struggling, and they tend to withdraw from the community and "hunker down" or go into "survival mode." We've doubled down on the mission God gave us.

And we're trying to figure out what we're going to do with the $64.32 we had left as of Wednesday night. Not a misprint.

But neither is this.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7 (NLT)

It's times like this that those words like the ones above - well, you have to make a decision: Do you really believe them or not? Are you willing to live by faith?

We are.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Good Friday 2011

We've had a Good Friday service each year since we came to New Hope. Every year it's one of the ones I remember the most. Bunny encouraged me to put the text and the video links up here so others could see what we experienced. I can tell you that reading the Scripture from Isaiah is one of the hardest things I ever have to do. It just kills me to read that.

We began after I briefly explained the service and how we'd move from a look at sin to God's remedy for it in Christ Jesus. I prayed and then we played the video "Oh My God" - it starts out slow but the snapshots of how life is for so many is just profoundly affecting to me. Christ died so that we might have LIFE - not guilt, shame, or enslavement to our sins. We leave Good Friday service knowing the problem and the cost of its solution. I pray we left willing to be God's instruments of love and peace in this world. 

"Oh My God"

1 Who has believed our message? To whom will the LORD reveal his saving power? 2 My servant grew up in the LORD's presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care.

     4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! 5 But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! 6 All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God's paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the guilt and sins of us all.

     7 He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. 8 From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment? 9 He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man's grave.

     10 But it was the LORD's good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD's plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. 12 I will give him the honors of one who is mighty and great, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among those who were sinners. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.
Isaiah 53:1-12 (NLT)

"The Crucifixion, A Medical Perspective"


27 Some of the governor's soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire battalion. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They made a crown of long, sharp thorns and put it on his head, and they placed a stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery, yelling, "Hail! King of the Jews!" 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and beat him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.
The Crucifixion
32 As they were on the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and they forced him to carry Jesus' cross. 33 Then they went out to a place called Golgotha (which means Skull Hill). 34 The soldiers gave him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when he had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

     35 After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there. 37 A signboard was fastened to the cross above Jesus' head, announcing the charge against him. It read: "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
Matt 27:27-37 (NLT)
"How Deep the Father's Love"

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o'clock. 46 At about three o'clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

     47 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 48 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a stick so he could drink. 49 But the rest said, "Leave him alone. Let's see whether Elijah will come and save him."

     50 Then Jesus shouted out again, and he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead 53 after Jesus' resurrection. They left the cemetery, went into the holy city of
Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.

     54 The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"
Matt 27:45-54 (NLT)


"It's Friday. But Sunday's Coming"

Monday, April 25, 2011

It's Been 9 Years Today

 "You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp." 
— Anne Lamott
Psalm 34:18 (Msg)

If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there;

if you're kicked in the gut, He'll help you catch your breath.

It's been nine years today. 

And right now my mind is flooded with might have beens. So many things are obvious blessings in my life - my wife, my boys, what God has called me to do, that I can get busy, and some of the hurt goes away. But today it's nine years, and all I can think of is what we've missed - of what is absent that we had hoped would be here. 
She would have had her father's eyes.
There were times when he was a little boy that we'd go off alone - to the store, to the Krystal, to Grandmother's, that I could look over in the seat next to me and see him looking at me. He'd ask questions, I'd try to answer, and the openness - the trust - the love in those eyes just melted me. Even today, we can be having a conversation and those eyes look over with a twinkle that reminds me - there's a little boy in there. That little boy who wanted to know, was willing to listen, and who took it all in.

Yep. She would have had her father's eyes. 

Her smile would have lit up a room, just like her mother's does. There are a lot of ways to measure people. My own personal preference is to look at their impact on others. Some people enter a room and suck all the joy out of it. When they smile it just doesn't look right, like cow horns on a Mercedes. They put it on to try to give the right response, but it isn't who they are. 

Her mother is tiny. But when she smiles - she's huge. 

I can see tiny feet beating the earth, little white tennis shoes slapping it as they come, bearing a smile so brilliant it warms this cold earth. She grins from ear to ear, and all you feel is joy. When she comes in, so does sunshine.

She'd have her mother's smile. 

By her ninth birthday, we'd have covered all the important things. Who loves you best, why Grandaddy's hair is gray, the funniest cartoons, how to eat Krystals and Nuways, and how come Grandmother hugs so hard. We'd have begun noticing more of the world and the questions would be getting more difficult. She'd have impacted my wallet and stolen my heart. Again, and again, and again, and again. 

Oh, and about her heart. She'd have had her grandmother's. 

I have known literally thousands of people over the years. Some were self-contained, others - self-absorbed. A few seemed to enjoy this life, and others endured it. Many were bright, even brilliant. Others caught the eye, or in some other way made it through the clutter of a life's experiences to my heart and my memory. But none have loved me like Bunny has. For no one I've ever known loves that deeply. 

Nine years ago, as we rolled up calendars toward April 29th, the expected day of joy, our home was filled with baby clothing, baby toys, baby... stuff. People around us shared in that and we added our own items. I remember visiting Target with Bunny and hearing her say a dozen times, "won't that look so pretty on Ana?" The only girl in a string of boys, the only girl in her own home full of men - young and older - the possibility to hold, to love, to care, to dress!!! a baby girl was excitement personified. 

And when the days stopped for Ana, her Grandmother didn't stop loving. She found a way to love beyond the pain in helping her daughter-in-love deliver her baby. As I watched Bunny hold that small and delicate baby in her arms, weeping and talking to her as if she could hear... it was the greatest expression of love I've ever seen - through the deepest heartache we've ever experienced. 

She'd have had her Grandmother's heart. 

For me, I don't know what I could have given her. It certainly wouldn't be material things, and her mom and dad would certainly taught her the A, B, C's and enlightened her on them 'Dawgs and Georgia politics. So I guess she'd have had my prayers each day from infancy to adulthood, and my shoulder to cry on and my ears to hear.
It's been nine years today. Nine long years. Her absence hurts our hearts. But one day... 

We will see her as only our heart can see her now. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011


In our family, we do our level best not to lie. There may be times when what we say turns out not to be true, but that's an error, not a lie. So we don't use terms like "To tell you the truth" and "well, honestly" very often. Now that means that we have to carefully consider each word, and decide each time whether to speak at all, answer with what we know to be true, or lead the conversation in a different direction. But we don't lie.

There are times when you just get trapped. A new mom brings her baby up and someone says "isn't it beautiful?" and looks over at you. Well beloved, I've got two sons who were babies once, and they weren't always beautiful. After all, they have my genes too, not just those of my beautiful wife. There were stages when they were... in transition. :)

You still loved them, but they weren't beautiful.

I write all that to get to this - It hurts when I hear people say "I'm not going to be there on Easter." Easter matters. If a Christian would rather be at the beach than in worship of God on Easter, then I must be way off on what God expects our hearts to be attuned to.

It's the spirit of the age, I guess. Preferences trump piety. The Body of Christ isn't something you invest your life into, for you it's another charm, trinket, or badge you put on when you feel like it. Your local church isn't the place God called you into to strengthen, to serve through, to be a part of - for you it's just one of the franchises and if another has a better menu, you move there.

All over the world, people are gathering today even though by the very act of doing so, they risk death. In Iraq, in Nigeria, in Indonesia, in India, in China and other places, Christians recognize that celebrating the resurrection is important - is something you HAVE to do - "we love, because He first loved us" reaction to Jesus' actions on our behalf. They see their brothers and sisters as indispensable parts of a whole community of faith that's worth investing everything into for as long as God needs them there.

Love you guys, but honestly, this - Easter is optional, my church doesn't matter behavior isn't beautiful.

It's wrong.

It hurts.

Giving Your Life Away

"The healing of evil - scientifically or otherwise - can be accomplished only by the love of individuals.A willing sacrifice is required. The individual healer must allow his or her own soul to become the battleground. He or she must sacrificially absorb the evil.

Then what prevents the destruction of the soul? If one takes the evil into one's heart, like a spear, how can one's goodness still survive? What will be achieved beyond some meaningless trade-off? I cannot answer this in language other than mystical. I can only say that there is a mysterious alchemy where the victim becomes the victor.

As C.S. Lewis wrote,"When a willing victim who committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

I do not know how this occurs. But I know that it does...

Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world."
- from People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck


"I doubt it."

Those might be the words you live by.

People have let you down so many times that when you catch a glimpse of hope, or someone seems to come into your life that gives you an indication that things might be different - that your life could change - the first words that come to your mind are "I doubt it."

You aren't alone in that. And it's okay to begin your journey with doubts. God knows where you are going, even if you don't. Just start walking with Him. 

Bring your doubts with you. 

One thing I am constantly thankful for are the realistic pictures I get when I read about people's lives as shown to us in the Bible. Despite all the people we sometimes see in church making constant efforts to present a plastic "front" to their lives, when we look at the Bible, we see a quite different person emerging. One who is real in their fears, in their worries, and in their doubts.

I'm reading last night, and I come across Abraham and Sarah. "God bless them", my mother would have said. They were so mixed up at times and made so many mistakes along the way.

An example:
Then one of them said, "About this time next year I will return, and your wife Sarah will have a son." Now Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent nearby. And since Abraham and Sarah were both very old, and Sarah was long past the age of having children, she laughed silently to herself. "How could a worn-out woman like me have a baby?" she thought. "And when my master--my husband--is also so old?"
Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh? Why did she say, 'Can an old woman like me have a baby?' Is anything too hard for the LORD? About a year from now, just as I told you, I will return, and Sarah will have a son." Sarah was afraid, so she denied that she had laughed. But he said, "That is not true. You did laugh." Gen 18:10-15 (NLT)

And that's where it ends. We are left with a picture of a woman who doubts that God can do what He says He will do, who laughs almost in His face  - is caught doing it, then denies it to His face.

Not a pretty picture.

We have several slogans around here at New Hope, but perhaps my favorite is a quote from an old saint named A.W. Tozer. I'm convinced it has helped all of us as a church look past our doubts and focus on God's promises. Tozer wrote:
"Anything God has ever done, He can do now.
Anything He has ever done anywhere, He can do here.
Anything He has ever done for anyone, He can do for you."
Would Sarah have said that? Maybe not at first, but she did grow to believe God could. After the doubt, came a time of reflection, and a realization that God was able.

Later we read:
Sarah, too, had faith, and because of this she was able to become a mother in spite of her old age, for she realized that God, who gave her his promise, would certainly do what he said.  Heb 11:11 (Living)

Friends, I'm writing this to you today to tell you that God has not changed.

But some of us need to.

Embrace the idea that God loves you, and that He can do whatever He needs to do to help you see that.

He can lift you when you are weak.
He can still your heart when you are fearful.
He can demonstrate His power anyway He chooses.
He can raise the dead!

He can do that in your life, in the life of those around you, in your community, in a church.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Jesus is risen! Just as He said.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Never Forget the Cost of Easter

He was an old man by now, the weight of years upon him. Carrying a metal bucket full of fresh shrimp, every Sunday without fail, Captain Eddie made his way down to Crandon park in his Key Biscayne home. While others fished, he fed the gulls. As he walked down the pier, it was almost as if they knew he was coming.

Hundreds flew all around him, screeching loudly, causing some to wish Captain Eddie would quit. But he fed them every Sunday until just before he passed away.

He remembered.

I hadn't thought about Eddie Rickenbacker for a long time until today. He was a WW1 ace for America, who went back into the service to help anyway he could during WW2. On a last minute hop via B-17 from one island to another, his plane went down. Though the Navy searched a wide area, the men weren't found and currents pushed their rafts outside the search area.

Days went by with no food, and the men, by now hundreds of miles from land, began to wonder if they'd be rescued in time. So they conserved their energy, caught rainwater in their clothing, and prayed. Captain Eddie had covered his head with his aviator's cap and dozed off, but was awakened by a strong whisper from his friends. "There's a bird on your head!"

Quickly, Eddie caught the seagull, and giving thanks to God, the men killed it and ate, and used the leftovers to catch enough fish to survive until they were rescued. A day or two later, another gull landed and was caught. Captain Eddie asked, "Don't we have enough bait?" And in an amazing act of faith, they let it go.

Two days later they were rescued. Their lives were saved by God through a gull. Captain Eddie never forgot to say "thanks."

We observed Good Friday last night with our friends at New Hope. It was a darker service as we tried to come to grips why who we were before Christ and why He had to die. Our sanctuary wasn't full.

But across the street, the Little League was overflowing.

Was looking at a site yesterday for a festival in Caravelle. It was this weekend - Saturday and Sunday. Easter Sunday.

My friend Scooter Noland, in Costa Rica learning Spanish before heading to Venezuela with his family as missionaries wondered in an email to me about whether we here in the US have some things backwards. I'm quoting him below:

Living in another culture (Costa Rica) has really opened my eyes as to how other see the USA. Other than the headlines of the USA and gay marriages, it is interesting in a land of 98% Roman Catholicism, lost by most standards, that they celebrate the life and death of Jesus in such a HUGE way.

Today life is lifeless as ALL of the businesses have closed and everybody has gone to mass to watch dramatic presentations and take part in processionals which include scripture, prayer, fasting, and the like. These days are so significant to the people here that $$ is nothing compared to thinking about the life and death of Jesus for a solid week.

In the land of "In God we Trust" we celebrate the holidays of dead presidents and liberators and think very little of the Greatest Liberator and King ever.
- end quote

Have you paused today to remember Jesus Christ?

Have you taken time to remember what He did for you?

Will you be in worship on Resurrection Sunday, and bring everyone you can with you?

Or have you forgotten His sacrifice and its cost?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Great Children's Books

Just finished reading a stack of children's books that Diane Weech and Amy Anderson loaned me for one of my classes. I've reading thousands of books during my life and many children's books are included in that. We're a family of readers. We read to the boys and they're readers still.

I asked Amy and Diane for some books that reflected diversity and multiculturalism. If that sounds dull, you could not be farther from the truth. They were really, really good.

Pink and Say, by Patricia Polacco is a book set in the Civil War that tells the story of two Union soldiers, one black and one white, as they make their way back to their units. Not a happy ending - but a true one. Great story.

One Candle, by Eve Bunting, is a Hanukkah story. Beautifully illustrated, it tells one family's tradition set in the bigger observance of Hanukkah.

Knots on A Counting Rope, by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, tells the story of a blind Navajo boy. I got to watch the Reading Rainbow dramatization of it while I was observing a 5th grade class, and was enthralled by the story. Highly recommended.

Just Plain Fancy, by Patricia Polacco, is a story about an Amish girl who is growing up and learning where she fits among their traditions. Really good.

David Goes to School by David Shannon is just awesome. The illustrations are so compelling that I would think any child would love (and maybe identify with the little boy) the book.

Skippyjon Jones, Lost In Spice by Judy Schachner is in a class by itself. It's just funny. I'd watch the series if they brought it to TV. The website is interactive and I would think that kids would love it.

Good Friday - The Cross Centered Life

If all you have found [in Christianity] is advantage,
whether it is fun or profit or security,
then you haven't
started following Him yet.
His way is the way of the Cross.

The world can be very hard on those it hates.
If it is not hard on you, perhaps it sees nothing in you to hate.
But then
it doesn't see Jesus in you,
for it hates Jesus with an
undying hatred.

While your way is still all fun, all easy, all
jolly, it is only your way: 
when you turn from it to follow
His way, it will cost. 
It may cost you everything you have.

That is what it cost Him.

... Robert MacColl Adams (1913-1985), "Of Rice and Men"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dying To Live

crux - a vital, basic, decisive, or pivotal point; a cross

"If he had not died we probably would not know any more about him than we know of any other great religious leader, like Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius. We may not have heard of him at all, so meager were the results of his teaching. Only a relative handful stood with him to the end. Because of the cross he was able to do something he could never have done otherwise: He was able to share his life with millions of people." Ray Steadman

Dying to self is hard. Changing your habits and cherished preferences, quitting your pampered sins? It's an act of the will. But dying for others who truly don't deserve your extravagant sacrifice? Dying when everything you worked for - the people who you have poured yourself into either betrayers or cowards, the crowds scattered or jeering, your enemies gloating as you hang on a cross?

It's the supreme act of love.

The distillation of love's essence flowed down that cross.

A heart was crushed beneath the weight of our sins, and from it came forgiveness and pardon.

And the vital, basic, decisive, pivotal point it brings us to is this.

Are you willing to accept His love, His forgiveness for your sins, and live as a follower of His way of life?

The way of the cross?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Minority Report

I've never been a minority before... in a big way I mean. Everyone feels like they are at times - I've been the only kid with asthma and allergies back in 4th grade, or that kid that lives in the country, even the kid with all 64 Crayolas. Not really much of a minority report, is it?

But in every class of teaching, I'm a minority.

Because I'm a man.

In one class last Saturday, I was it. In two more, there were two of us. Out of two dozen or so.

The number of men teachers has been dropping steadily for years. Right now it's less than 9% in elementary education and a bit more in secondary.

I don't get it. ABC did a study a couple years ago and listed these reasons why men shy away from teaching.

"The first reason is stereotypes. People believe men aren't nurturing. The second reason is fear of accusations of abuse. People are afraid men are going to harm children. And the third reason is low status, low pay," Brian Nelson of said.

So abandoning the profession - what has that done?

Left a hole.

"Children are no dummies," says Nelson. "When they see no men in a school, they get a message. And that message is that men don't care or men don't belong here."

Well I think they do. Men matter. The great female teachers I have met realize that too. One of them told me "we need more male teachers" this week although when I told her I wanted to teach 4th or 5th grade, she said (being a 5th grade teacher) "Well you can't have my job." LOL

I don't know how you change this, especially with the changes education is undergoing right now. While education used to be a profession appreciated by the average American, for whatever reason it doesn't seem to be so now. Whether it's about unions, tenure or whatever, I think America will return to appreciation for teachers. But the low starting salary and uncertain future may continue to make men shy away from choosing education as a career. That will be America's loss.

Men matter.

Throwing Stones

3The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone 4and said, "Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. 5Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?" 6They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. 7They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, "The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone." John 8:3-7 The Message

Preparing like thousands of other pastors this week for Holy Week coming Sunday, I've been reading the account of the ministry of Jesus in John's gospel. Today I stopped here. Or I guess I should say "it stopped me."

It probably was easy for the religion scholars to get all worked up over the woman in this story's sin. She was guilty of breaking God's law - no doubt. It's true there had to be a man involved, and it's also true he's not in this scene. Maybe this was all a setup. Still, she was guilty. They could point and yell and grab and drag her to justice. It's always easier to see someone else's sin, and we've got an incredibly powerful ability to get angry when we can do that while keeping our moral distance from those we catch. We're not "those people."

If we think about it, our lives are full of those instances. Growing up in the South, I heard about "those blacks. On a trip to Texas, someone wanted to talk about "those Mexicans." Even in church, we have a tendency to try to take the same moral high ground when we talk about sinners in different "tribes" that we don't belong to.

Feels good too - this high and mighty moral indignation.

Until God shows up. Until His presence means the mirrors come out, and we see ourselves for who WE are. Sinners. All who fall pitifully short of God's standards.

This day, the men in their ignorance had made the mistake of bringing their feigned outrage to the only one Who had a right to be angry. They turned their attention from her to Him as they kept hounding the Son of God to agree that they were better than the woman they had caught.

Instead, He turned toward them and hurled their words back with brute force.

"The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone."

He only made one condition, but it was one neither they, nor you and I can ever hope to meet.

Sinless? Uh, no.

I wonder what it sounded like as the stones dropped into the dust that day?

How I wish I could have seen Jesus reach down and help the woman rise.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. 10 Jesus stood up and spoke to her. "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?" 11 "No one, Master." "Neither do I," said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin."

Monday, April 18, 2011

When the Cheering Stopped

John 12:17-19 (Msg) The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. [18] It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. [19] The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: "It's out of control. The world's in a stampede after him."

If Gallop, Barna, or Harris had taken a poll, Jesus would have been proclaimed king in a landslide that Palm Sunday, as even his enemies admitted that His popularity was at an all time high. People thronged to see Him enter Jerusalem.

But within a few days, people in Jerusalem were crying for Him to be executed as a criminal.

And so He was.

How did Jesus handle not just a change in popularity, but intense rejection?

How can we learn from what He did?

No, we'll never enter Jerusalem at the head of thousands of our followers. But we enjoy being praised, and we like being liked.

What happens to our convictions when we aren't?

What principle can we look at to guide our way?

What did Jesus do?

John 12:27-28 (Msg)
"Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? 'Father, get me out of this'? No, this is why I came in the first place. [28] I'll say, 'Father, put your glory on display.' "

Knowing that this celebration would end, and that the week would find Him bruised, battered, and crucified, Jesus looked not to His circumstances for direction, but to God. It was God's will that He used like a homing beacon. It was His passion to please God and glorify His name that kept Him going.

What are you here for?

Glorifying God. That's why you were placed here in the first place.

Is God in first place within your life?

Take this week and use it to redirect your focus off the things of this life. Use the lens of Jesus' Passion Week to help you push toward deeper things - toward God. People aren't going to always be cheering your efforts, you know.

But God will.

And in the end, isn't that what matters most?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Take a good hard look

1 So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He's the centerpiece of everything we believe, 2 faithful in everything God gave him to do.
Heb 3:1-2 (MSG)

We're about to begin Holy Week here at New Hope. But then I hope we made last week a "holy" week too. Looking at the rows of empty chairs as I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill the sanctuary this morning, I realize that if this past week was made "holy" - set apart for God - it didn't happen here.

It happened in homes, classrooms, offices.
It happened as we worked, played, loved, laughed.
It happened inside and outside, during the morning, evening and night... we lived and loved as much like Jesus did as we could.

New Hope folks were out there doing that all week. And the past couple of days - with Relay for Life, RA Racers, and Supper on Saturday - were just the culmination of loving God with all our hearts and our neighbors as we would ourselves.

This morning, I get to be one who God uses to put all of that into context. Not the only one - God has spoken all week to us. But opening the Word of God and explaining why everything changed when Jesus wept and Lazarus came back from the dead...

If we'll just take a good hard look at Jesus, we'll know He's the One Who can change anything.

Pray that I'll declare God's Word faithfully this morning.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What you need to know about teachers in Florida

 Over the last few months, I have learned a lot I did not know about teaching today. My education about education comes just as the profession seems to be under attack. I can tell you first hand that what this teacher has written seems to be the feelings of many, many people who have given their lives to educate our young people. It's a HARD job, and the rewards mostly come from seeing a child "get it" and knowing you helped them do that. Please pray for the teachers everywhere.

A Teacher in Florida by Jamee Cagle Miller
2008 Seminole County Teacher of the Year
She has also been featured as the Orlando Sentinel's Teacher of the Week and chosen as Evans Elementary Teacher of the Month. Cagle graduated summa cum laude for both of her education degrees from UF: a bachelor's in elementary education in 2001 and a master's in 2002 in education technology. 

I am a Teacher in Florida.

I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 days of school this year, but this is overlooked. If they don’t show this on ONE the test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”

I am a teacher in Florida.

I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.

I am a teacher in Florida.

The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?

I am a teacher in Florida.

I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.

I am a teacher in Florida.

I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.

I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.

I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday, April 10 In the Year of Our Lord 2011

Qualifications of a pastor:
the mind of a scholar,
the heart of a child,
and the hide of a rhinoceros.
--Stuart Briscoe