Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Buried the Can'ts!

Our class was too focused on what we could not do and needed to focus instead on what they could do. So I decided that we needed to have a funeral for our "Can'ts." I borrowed a shovel from the custodian and we went out back. After I said a few words, we buried them and went back inside.

It's a challenge to get children to believe in themselves, but it's one I am ready to meet. I hope the kids will remember this day for a long time.

Friday, August 26, 2011

15 Souls

It's hard to put into words what the opening week of my sojourn as a public school teacher brought to my mind and my heart. But here goes.

Some fly in the door as if propelled by the sheer force of their eagerness to learn - to do. Others slip in quietly, seeming to hope I won't notice. For each it's the role they've chosen to make it through. To make it.

It's my job to make sure they do.

That they open their minds to possibilities. That they close their ears to all the voices whispering "you can't do this." That they begin to believe in themselves as a learner - as a person who plans to grow.

It's my job to see they do.

We began the week as strangers, and became a class.

We did math - oh did we do math. Tons and tons of math. So much math that at the end of the week we celebrated the last math problem with a cheer and high fives.

We drilled spelling words - owned them.

We wrote story after story.

I did my best to keep the brightest and most eager challenged and prod, cajole, and encourage those who either needed help or motivation. We rehearsed our actions and procedures for everything again and again. And again. And again.

There was laughter. There were tears. No, not mine. :) I underestimated the effect that failure has on third graders. So we reinvented mistakes as learning markers and after I had them write what they thought they could not do - the "I Can'ts" on notebook paper - we buried them in the back yard.

I gave everything I had to them every single minute of every single day.

Because the Okaloosa County School District might list them as children...

... but I see them as 15 souls.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of School

3rd.jpg (984×589)

They came, they saw, they conquered.

15 incredibly wee little souls came into the classroom and trusted me to help them move forward.

We moved.

Not an evolutionary leap to be sure, spelling and math caused some problems, but they were trying hard and were amazingly cooperative all day long.  All through a dizzying list of procedures and new information, they stuck with me. Kids like that make you want to do more for them. Just because.

You watch them as they try to do and see some fly through with little if any trouble and agonize as others really don't seem to "get" anything without much help. They call it differentiated instruction, but what it means is don't bore the very gifted and don't lose those who aren't there yet. I cannot begin to do much about that just now, but we'll get there.

Tomorrow, we're going to rehearse the procedures again, touch our toes into the math seas, and we may just write out what we think we "can't do" and have a burial behind the portable for them. These kids CAN. I believe in them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

First Day of School Eve

WELCOME_CHART.jpg (1392×1056)

Tonight I'm going to enjoy a meal with my family and then get to work preparing for tomorrow's first day of school. The school district has vetted me, the principal has selected me, and the teacher I'm working with has trusted me with 15 children entering the third grade. You know me, I've read everything I can about how to start the year right.

The stakes are this high:

A new study reveals that the level of reading skills children develop by third grade may indicate their likelihood of graduating high school.

Released by The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report found that students who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma when compared to proficient readers. The number rises when those kids also come from poverty.
Article from Huffington Post

Third grade is a pivotal year. It's when the educators step on the gas and accelerate instruction. My kids will learn the scientific method, how to use primary sources, how to multiply and divide, how to write in cursive and much much more. All of this will occur while their body grows and changes and they become much more social. Their teacher has to be their guide to and through.

So as soon as I close this I'll go into my office and pray through tomorrow and how I'm going to start their journey.

Pray for them.

Pray for me.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Will It Be Enough?

My "office" for the next 9 weeks is a portable classroom at Mary Esther Elementary - "The Thunderbirds." Monday morning will find me on the receiving end of 15 third graders who the principal believes I can lead to a great start on the school year while the permanent teacher Ms. McClelland is on her maternity leave. I'm a long term substitute teacher.

It's an answer to prayer. Not "the" answer - but an answer.

Like so many roads life takes you down, this one is fraught with uncertainties. It should be a stepping stone to a full time position somewhere in the district. It should help me gain skills in the classroom I can get no other way. It should help New Hope begin to ease her struggling. It should help my family.

But will it be enough?

I do not know.

But I will trust my God who loves me, loves my family, loves our church. I will give everything I have to give to those I love and those I serve.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

12 Years

First day in the office at New Hope 1999

11 Oh, dear Corinthian friends! We have spoken honestly with you. Our hearts are open to you. 12 If there is a problem between us, it is not because of a lack of love on our part, but because you have withheld your love from us. 13 I am talking now as I would to my own children. Open your hearts to us!
2 Cor 6:11-13 (NLT)

That was the text I preached on this morning. It's appropriate for today since it deals with the heart of the one they call the pastor - his heart for the people God has placed him within to serve and to love.

I was called as pastor in July 1999 and we moved down here in August - the 19th to be exact. What a ride it has been.

It is hard to really grasp what's happened in my life, in the life of my family, and in the life of our New Hope family in the last 12 years. People forget sometimes that the pastor is subject to the same frailties every other human being wrestles with. My perspective on what's happened can change depending on how I'm feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I can be amazed and elated over what God has done in and through the lives of the people I love, or I can step into the shadows and only see what's been lost. I'll try not to go there tonight.
Logan Marston 
Mistakes, I've made them. And I've done some things right. I've seen two men through to full-time ministry and both seem to be doing well. Either they observed and learned what we've done at New Hope and taken some of that forward to their places of service, or observed what happened here and resolved to never do it that way. :) Either way, to God be the glory.

2001 after an evening service

This is a job beyond the ability of anyone, regardless of how well trained or how gifted. You literally can do everything right and still find yourself marked as wrong. The one I will always remember is being up at the church one Saturday afternoon cutting the grass and being told by one senior saint who had been my strongest supporter when I was called but had reconsidered :) - "You know if we had more men in this church the pastor wouldn't be cutting the grass" followed by "and you are cutting it too short."

God bless her, she's with the Lord now - do hope the grass is to her liking up there.

Sean and Me in 2004

I've probably rejoiced too much when people chose to unite their hearts with us in service of God through New Hope. Why do I say that? Simply because I take it too hard when people have to (or decide to) leave. It's just the way I'm built I guess. There's a personal loss and then the greater - "How will this affect New Hope?" Because for me, New Hope is more than a job - this is my life's work for the last 12 years. I have given everything I knew how to give to those in my care. So yeah, it hurts when they leave.

I once had a deacon and Sunday School teacher hand out his reasons for leaving on a Sunday when I was away in Georgia preaching a revival. I managed to get back that evening before the Sunday night service was over. In those days we had our sound equipment off to the side in a room we now use for our Child to Child girls ministry. I slipped in, listened to the sermon and after the invitation walked out to be told about the departure. "We just don't agree on the direction of the church," he said. "Oh and happy birthday Brother David." Yeah, that stung.

Good times

During the 12 years, I've had the honor of officiating at the wedding of my son Adam and his beloved Shonda.

Done a few other weddings including that of Robert Hughes and Jewel Cutchens, senior saints who found each other in their latter years.

 Just sent Jonathan and Heather McGee out into the river of life last weekend. Most all have made it, but not all, and I hate that.
These Guys Have - Nate and Amanda

Funerals have been a part of the 12 years too. To me it's a high honor just to be asked to put a frame around the life of someone's loved one. So when I was asked to say a few words about my Aunt Geneva, or try to put my Father's life into perspective, I stuffed my grief in a box and did it. But standing by the tiny grave of our only grandchild - our granddaughter Ana - ripped my heart and tested my soul. Still, God gave me the strength to let everyone there know of His love for that little one, and for all who were there.

I've even performed funerals for furry loved ones on occasion. Those of you who have pets and have lost one to death understand exactly how much it hurts. We've lost three awesome dog/friends to death while we have been here. The last one, Henley the Great Dane - losing him broke our hearts. We still grieve that loss. If it happens to you, and you want someone to help you through - I'm your man.
I could spend some more time talking through some of the great things God did during the twelve years I've been here - because there really have been some things that could have only happened if God willed it so. This last year He's probably taught us all more about living by faith than most years. We feel every loss keenly now, and only God's miraculous provision has kept us here. The numbers don't add up. But God is so, so good.

But if you know me, you know I'm not into numbers. I'm into hearing about what God has done.

I love stories - stories of how God came into someone's life.

Kylie Quinnell Became A Christian That Day
Stories of how a small church had an impact around the world as a group of little girls led them to care.

Stories of how a couple of men who love to work with boys have poured themselves and their values into scores of kids.

Joe and some of the boys

Stories of people serving the neighborhood,
serving in KY, in WV, in NOLA, in Nigeria and Guatemala  - all the while giving so that others could serve where God had called them.

12 years.
To those of you who joined us on the journey, my heartfelt thanks.

Friday, August 12, 2011

We Both Ate Lucky Charms For Breakfast Yesterday

Lucy in better days

Spent some time yesterday with some of my favorite young people - Kira Stoy, Sydney Hoskinson, and Ian Anderson. Bunny had the girls in our Honda so Mr. Ian and I headed out in my car. Ian and I have a lot in common.

- We both ate Lucky Charms for breakfast yesterday
- We both wonder about things like physics and natural laws that other people don't
- We both love science fiction
- We both get our geek on, obviously

Yesterday though we had lots of fun looking at the high tech tools in Home Depot and Office Depot, and though we shared a love of pizza at Cici's (he ate at least 9 pieces, I ate 4), we also talked about something we share that neither of us ever wanted.

You see Ian's friend Lucy the dog is dying from a brain tumor.

I know how that feels.

Our friend Henley the Great Dane had bone cancer with no hope of a cure, and the weeks between knowing something was wrong and the understanding that it was cancer were awful. We couldn't look at him without crying. We kept praying it would go away, but it didn't.

It wasn't our first experience with the death of a furry friend though.

For Ian, Lucy was his first encounter with the incredible, lavish generosity of a dog's love. She converted a cat-loving boy to someone who would come into my office and talk about what Lucy did yesterday, or tell me about the photos on his phone. She came into the family unexpectedly - rescued while they were on vacation in Alabama - and was adopted into their hearts and lives. Joy with fur. But now came sorrow, deep.

So when he talked about it yesterday, eyes clouding up as he did, I was listening and praying for God to pour every ounce of grace and mercy into my friend's heart. "Bear each other's burdens..." is commanded in Scripture, but I knew that the best I could do is pray for God to touch the heart of my young friend, and help him begin to work it out.

Pray for the Anderson family. Pray for Ian. Pray for Lucy.

And thank God for dogs - for the ONLY thing worse than saying goodbye to one is never having been loved by one at all. Even in death, they teach us how to live.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

In Every Way You Can Think Of And More

Our friend Allan

Had one of those morning runs today that was more walk than run. Left knee wasn't happy; lungs voiced their concerns; mind versus body all the way around. So I thought and I prayed my way through it. Something about taking thoughts captive and all that.

On the homeward stretch I saw my friend Allan up ahead.

Allan's still grieving the loss of his grandfather, and as I saw him my heart cried out to God to comfort him. 

I lost sight of him for a moment behind a building but when I drew alongside a local restaurant, "Say Cake", that serves breakfast and lunch along with what you'd think they served, there was Allan inside. He was talking to someone and gesturing about where to sit, or that's what it seemed to me. A young man walked from behind him and pausing slightly, put a hand on Allan's shoulder. The look on his face told me that God had answered my prayer for Allan.

That's my God. 

I've been here twelve years now. Preached a gazillion sermons, taught through most of the Bible. Prayed over and over than God would use my feeble efforts to let others know they are loved. That God is incredibly resourceful and relentless in that love. That He'll take every opportunity - even create them if there's need - to whisper in your joys and shout into your pain (to paraphrase CS Lewis) - to let you know - YOU ARE LOVED.

But there are some people whose perception of themselves and/or the world around them just won't let them see that. And it breaks my heart.

Brennan Manning wrote this in his amazingly grace filled book "The Ragamuffin Gospel" - 

"And Grace calls out, 'You are not just a disillusioned old man who may die soon, a middle-aged woman stuck in a job and desperately wanting to get out, a young person feeling the fire in the belly begin to grow cold. You may be insecure, inadequate, mistaken or potbellied. Death, panic, depression, and disillusionment may be near you. But you are not just that. You are accepted.' Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted." 
— Brennan Manning (The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out)

In every way you can think of and more, you are accepted for who you are. You are loved. Open your ears, your eyes, your heart to the One who gave everything to show you how much.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I Talked To God About You Today

Tuesday's are usually very calm here in my office and it's then I am able to have an uninterrupted block to use for prayer. For many years I have tried to find such a space every week to pray for every person who is a part of New Hope. Right now, it's Tuesday morning.

Being a part of us means you are someone who we know and come in contact with. That can be those who show up on Sunday and Wednesday night regularly. That can be someone who comes occasionally. It can also be those we see when we are delivering meals, or just in the community we love. If you showed up for the first time Sunday - you got prayed for today.

Let me give you a glimpse into what I prayed for today.

Today I have the grief of one family on my heart, and in particular that of two girls whose aunt passed away in Korea.
Then there's Allan, and the loss of his grandfather that still is affecting him.
There's Carol, and her heart for her friends the McDaniels in the storm their son finds himself in. I prayed for their son Bobby and all who love him.
And I prayed for Nathan, who woke up this morning far away from home.

Just a snippet. There's so much more.

There's Jonathan in Alaska, Rachel in Colorado, Michael and Kristen in Georgia...

and you. I prayed for you.

This is the work a pastor has to do, or he'll never understand how God's heart breaks for the people they both love.

This is the work that ties what we'll say for God on Sunday to what is going on in the hearts of those who come to hear.

This is that time that brings the pastor a glimpse of just why "Jesus wept."

So many times my heart breaks over what the people God gave me to love are going through. But I turn that, and the outcome of everything - over to God. "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

For I know that God is staggeringly GOOD. And I know that I can care, I can empathize, I can even cry - But GOD CAN DO.

So despite what I've walked through in prayer, valleys of shadows turn to open horizons lit with God's amazing love.

I talked to God about you today.

And He told me He loves you.

Monday, August 08, 2011


They say more preachers quit on Monday than any other day.

I can understand that.

Standing before people and opening God's Word, having prayed and prepared all week, hoping and praying that God will inhabit the moments and empower the message... leaves you at the edge of a cliff leaning forward. Even if you run through your routine - like a golfer on the tee - and try to put yourself outside the act you are about to do, and make yourself focus on the "process", if you are serious about hoping to be used by God, your heart is exposed and vulnerable. That's just the way it is.

Philip Brooks famously said, "Preaching is Truth through personality" - and you are in that message. You step out knowing that you cannot even begin to know what the people in front of you are struggling with, except in a general way - unless they tell you. But you believe with everything you've got that the God you serve wants each and every one of them to move closer, so His arms will embrace them.

And sometimes, looking back, you feel like you were in the way, like a tall guy at a parade with little kids trying to find a way to see around you. If you'd just move, maybe someone would get it... this time. If the music had been right, if it hadn't been so hot or so cold, if this family or that hadn't been on vacation... you invent scenarios that have nothing to do with reality.

The reality is that no matter what happened, God WAS there.

Yesterday, my friend Joe Gnatek up in New Hampshire sent a message out to his church via Facebook that said :

When we are weak God is made strong in us. We had a very weak service today. But God is still good. I'll preach better next week. I thought I was still on vacation. ;)

I understand what Joe was feeling when he wrote that.

If he'd only had our praise team's version of "Our God Is Greater" from yesterday I'm sure he'd have felt better. ;)

But God's power to change lives does NOT depend on our ability at all.

One day we'll be able to see what those "off" Sundays did for the Kingdom. I would not be surprised if some of them might just be the ones God used the most for His glory.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

You Matter More Than You Know

Picture ©CMM 2011

The pictures are beginning to roll in from the wedding today. Moments frozen in time of a young couple stepping out into life. I told them that every moment before today was going to be a part of what they gave to each other and it was up to them to create their own memories from that moment on. They'll have plenty of time to do just that.

I wanted to take a minute before I close the books on today and let you know something from my heart.

You matter more than you know.

All of you.

You who cut the grass and cleaned the church.
You who keep the flowers looking so pretty.
You who so willingly gave your decorations, your help, and your time.
You who set up the stage, cooked the food, cleaned the kitchen and set the church up for tomorrow.
You who took the pictures. And took the pictures. And took the pictures.
You who made our guests from Arkansas so welcome that one of them said "I wish I could be a part of a church like this one." (BTW she gave an offering to the work here at New Hope so I wish she'd stay :) )
You who treated Allan with such love today as he continues to struggle with the loss of his grandfather.

All of you made a difference today for Christ.

Such a special day.

Spent with such awesome people who I love so deeply because of who you are and what you do for our Lord.

You matter more than you will ever know this side of heaven.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Monks Don't Reproduce

So I'm doing my usual yeoman's work of lurking within a Facebook conversation. Couple of folks are talking about what Jesus calls us to do. One person decides to set the bar high for everyone and keeps referencing Jesus' instructions to the "rich young ruler" - "sell all you have and then come, follow me." Now most of us would admit that very few people ever take that instruction to be directed at anyone BUT the young man Jesus was addressing. That was his "god" and Jesus was trying to see if he'd renounce it to follow Him. He didn't.

One person points that out, but the guy still comes back with "sell all you have, then follow."

I finally am moved to comment.

"Don't sell all you have to follow Jesus - that's TOO EASY.

Keep what you have - your job, your spouse, your relationships, your car, your house - keep it all.

THEN follow Jesus in everything. Everyday.

Monks don't reproduce."

I know, I'm a thread-killer. :) But...

It wasn't the Monks in their cells that spread Christianity across the world. It was farmers, and soldiers, and tradesmen. It wasn't the sermons in the great cathedrals, it was the conversations among average people going about their everyday lives. The Monks didn't reproduce their faith.

You may have times of great piety and great devotion. But if they are not who you are every day, that's not following Jesus - that's something else. How do you treat people? How do you use your time? How do you handle your money? Are you faithful to your commitments? Do you love the place and people God has placed you with on the journey? Do you show that, or is it a "secret admirer" sort of love?

Everyday in numerous ways, the place you live and the people you live with test your faith and walk with Christ. In this culture, living a Radical life is more about living a Christ-centered life in the everyday than it ever would be in a monastery.

One more time - Monks don't reproduce. Go live it right here - right now!

“These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on." Matt 7:22

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Dorothy's Not In Kansas Anymore

(Bunny and Dorothy)

I love New Orleans. I hate New Orleans.

There are places here, sacred places - where for generation after generation people have come and worshiped God. You can see it in the silent indentations on the kneeling rails behind the pews. Worn over many years, they speak of devotion - of faith over time. It shouts to you in the architecture - in the art that fills the churches. If you walked into some of these houses of worship, never having owned a Bible, I could lead you through the story of Christ's birth, life, death, and resurrection just by drawing your attention to the walls and windows. The love and devotion that went into creating each of those spaces, even when worshipers and choir are absent - truly sing  praises without words. I am in awe of what God has done through them - is doing through them. Those places - I love. I feel at home there, even though I'm not of their "stream" of Christianity. I may be a second cousin twice removed to them, but it still feels like home to me.

There are places here where the sacred and secular clash. The plaza in front of St Louis Cathedral for example is sometimes filled with people trying to make a buck by telling fortunes. It always bothers me that the light of Christ can't seem to make it outside the cathedral doors to make a difference. Then there's the street people. Some are purposefully making themselves noticed by painting themselves silver, or gold, or wearing Uncle Sam outfits, or anything they can use to catch your eye. Others bring the sounds of music to bear to try and eke out a living, dollar by dollar as they sing and play.

I know it's part of the local color. I know it's not New Orleans without them. But the precipice they seem to be backed up against seems so near, and their fall from making a living to not so in view, that they bother me a great deal. I love New Orleans. I hate New Orleans.

And yet... every time we come here, Bunny and I are placed in the path of someone who grabs our hearts. Every time God places us in close proximity to someone who needs to know they are more than part of the background for us tourists. Someone who needs to know that they aren't forgotten. That God cares. We failed miserably last year when God placed a young man in our path. Bunny and I had both been praying that if we got the opportunity - we would not fail again.

This time it was Dorothy. She met us near the Cafe Du Monde and offered to take our picture together. So then Bunny suggested we take hers. That's her in the picture above. After I did that, Bunny started talking to her and it was then we heard of her poverty and homelessness. Dorothy said that the clothes she had on were all she had. That she was staying at a mission just down the street from where we were.

She was hoping for help to pay for a night at the mission. Quick prayers. More talk. Then a walk by me to an ATM. We talked for a few more minutes as we walked, but eventually we decided we should trust Dorothy and give her enough for two nights. The look in her eyes was one of deep relief and thankfulness. She hugged Bunny, and then Bunny started to cry. She came back and hugged her again.

I had carried a coin in my pocket since last year's trip. One side was crosses and the other side had this verse on it:

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1 (NIV)

I gave it to Dorothy, telling her that God had not forgotten her - that she was His precious child and He would see her through this place she was in. She turned around and started to walk , and then she hugged me - hard. We all shed tears as God drew near in that moment.

I think people have a deep seated need to know that they aren't forgotten - that they matter to someone. So God put us in NOLA last week to deliver a message to one of His daughters named Dorothy. We'll never forget her and hope to one day see her again - if not in NOLA - in heaven. Would you pray for Dorothy - for all the "Dorothy's" right now?