Saturday, May 30, 2015
The school year is like the baseball season - it seemingly goes on forever. And also like baseball, the significance of any one day or game really seems fairly meaningless. It's in the day to day routine of working on the skills or standards as we call them, the patient but confident building of abilities and molding of character that things happen. As a teacher now for a while and a pastor for much longer, I've learned the routines and accepted them.
When a batter is in a slump, one of the first things he does is to go back and watch film of when he was in the groove. If it's a really bad slump, he might even reach out to an old coach. I've read of stars who were struggling calling in high school coaches.
When a teacher can't reach a student, they do check to see if they are teaching the fundamentals well. They examine their interactions with the child, and talk with others who interact as well. They try other approaches. They seek to find a motivating tool to use to get the student to perform in a way that will help them grow.
176 days in, after doing all of that and much more, after being at the point of frustration many many times, I think it happened.
I was hugged by a nine year old boy.
He's so very bright. I have never had a child who has asked so many questions that were worthy of adult conversations. Of course most all of those occurred when we were discussing something else, but...
Yet he is always on his own path, that only occasionally coincides with what all the adults who want desperately to see him grow have planned.
But Friday, after a typical day of trying to encourage him to persevere in doing his best and finding him doing far less, we had a conversation. Nothing unusual on my side - another try at getting him to see that if he'd set his sights on a goal and work hard until he got there, all the adults who care so much about him would not only rejoice in a way the heavens would hear, but he would find that all the structures we've constructed to keep him in line would fall away, like training wheels taken off a bicycle do once the skills are mastered.
He listened and went back to work.
Then right before he left, he came up to my side and gave me a hug before he left.
176 days in.
It made me wonder... "Lord Jesus, how in the world do you put up with us?"
Monday, May 18, 2015
As a young boy, I read every Superman comic I could plead for, later enjoyed the works of Mark Twain, and others who took me to places and times I'll never inhabit - except through their prose.
As a pastor, over the years I have received different responses from people about the Harry Potter series when they found out I had read them all. And at times I've had questions from parents about whether their children should read them - those questions coming not because of what they knew personally about them, but what they had heard.
Well after finishing the last of the Harry Potter series again recently, I'm not sure that as time goes by we might not see theologians treating the books and their author much more kindly. For in this book I found words I have always treasured in the most uncommon places.
When Harry ventures back home to where his parents are buried, he comes across the gravestone of his mentor Dumbledore's mother and sister. The Mother was killed trying to protect the daughter from herself, and later the daughter died too. On the gravestone were these words.
Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.
Then Harry finds himself at the graves of his parents, who both died trying to protect him from an evil wizard, and the reader sees these words on their monument.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The themes of "the Greater Good", of sacrifice, of selflessness, of laying down your life for your friends run all through this last book. If you cannot see that, it's not that you have read too much fiction.
It's that you have read too little Scripture.
Reading for information isn't enough.
You have to read the Bible with a sense of anticipation - of wonder, relief and amazement that God - this God - the One and Only God - would sacrifice His One and Only Son - for you.
And that through your love for Him, you would lay down your life for your friends - no matter what.
You know you are flawed, but that He is able to use you to change lives for eternity.
And you have to be convinced in your very soul that your life matters to God - that what you do matters. You have a part in the Big Story of God's reconciling the world to Himself.
If you can see that connection with your own life's walk, then it will be easy to spot it wherever it appears in any variation whether explicitly Christian or not - even in fictional books like the Harry Potter series.
I'm grateful for J.K. Rowling's work, and the treasures I found in The Deathly Hallows. But I'm immeasurably more grateful to the God who through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, gave me freedom from guilt and shame, a purpose for living, and the hope of eternal life with Him, when death will be destroyed and love triumphs over all.
Tuesday, May 05, 2015
If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching.8 If your gift is to encourage others, do it! Romans 12:7-8 (NLT)
How many people have you met in your lifetime? You probably can't count that high. Okay, how many can you say made a real difference? Chances are, out of a list of the top ten, there will be a teacher in there somewhere. Think back - who would you choose? What teacher affected you the most?
You'd probably not choose someone who laughed at you while scrawling a big red "F" on your essay. But that's exactly why I'd put Dr. Catherine Futral high on my list of women who've affected my life.
After a long time away, I had returned to Mercer University in Macon, GA to finish my undergraduate degree. I was majoring in business, because that's what my company would pay for, and was checking off the squares of required courses when I ran head on into Dr. Futral. A fixture for years at Tift College in Forsyth, she was teaching in the evening college after Mercer had absorbed her beloved campus. My goal was to get all my English courses out of the way as quickly and as easily as possible. Her goal seemed to be the destruction of the ecosystem by flooding the world with red ink.
To give you a mental picture of her wouldn't be hard. Think English teacher. That was harsh. Okay, think English teacher with a great smile and eyes that twinkled as she explained just how miserable she would be making our lives for the next 12 weeks.
She was a woman of grace, peppering her lectures with humor, and her comments on our work with wit. A committed Christian, and member of First Baptist Church of Forsyth, she'd often bring her faith experiences into her lectures. She'd quote Shakespeare, Faulkner, and the Psalms all in the same example of how to write a compelling paragraph. But when she evaluated your work - well, you'd better be ready to hear the truth.
I'll never forget one paper I wrote which received this comment: "Until the very last line of this paper, I felt that it was one of the best I had read. However, your thoughtless comma splice in the last phrase ruined it for me - and you." Beside that snippet she inscribed a large red "F".
Can I call that the gift of encouragement?
It was for me. My mission from that point on was to make Dr. Futral see the error of her ways. She kept trying to change my style, wanting me to use less punctuation - create shorter sentences - eliminate the passive voice. At one point, I ran a paper through a grammar checker program (new technology at the time) and handed it in. Her comment? "This isn't your work." "Oh yes it is," I replied, "and it's perfect." "It may very well be perfect as far as grammar is concerned," she shot back," but it is perfectly awful prose." You've never seen a smile leave anyone's face as fast as mine did. "You can do better," she said now smiling as she handed it back to me, "write it like David this time - from the heart."
Maybe she was from another time, when teachers could demand more and not worry about their student's self esteem. All I know is that she gave her best and expected ours in return. I think of her often and thank God for her. In a sense I'm still writing partly for Dr. Futral. She believed in me. Every time I write I remember, "from the heart."
Do you remember someone who encouraged you along the way? Someone who helped you become the person you wanted to be?
Let them know it.
They gave you their gift - pass it on.
Saturday, May 02, 2015
What do you know about this picture without any doubt whatsoever?
That turtle did not get on that fence post by himself. Someone else had to put him there.
That popped into my admittedly strange mind when I was reading the first of the letters attributed to the apostle Peter. That rough hewn Galilean fisherman is one of my favorite characters in all of Scripture simply because of his so obvious flaws in character. Impulsive, unlearned, rough, crass, and with an opinion of himself that didn't square with who he really was, Peter was as they say all over the South, "a real piece of work." Now for those of you who are not clued into Southern expressions, that one has more to do with how much work is yet to be done than it ever has with what sort of person the "piece of work" is now.
Peter needed work.
A LOT of work.
Oh he had his moments, but there were always others coming down the road that showed everyone just how short of the mark he was. At root, Peter was all about Peter and how things affected him. He's the absolutely last person I would ever expect to write something like this.
8 Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything.
1 Peter 4:8 (MSG)
See, I read that and it made me go "Whoa! How'd he get there?"
I'd say Peter had help getting to that point in his life. He'd been led past "what's in it for me?", and made his way by "what difference does it make?" To "Christ is all. He is enough. He is here- for me -no matter what."
Now, with everything he has within him, he's practically begging his fellow followers of Jesus to make love the end all be all of their lives - of every waking moment.
What changed Peter?
His great failure, and Christ's great forgiving grace.
Peter never forgot just what Jesus had done for him. Have you?
Do you need a touch of God's amazing grace today?
Open your heart, confessing your need and accept His love as help for your soul. Find the freedom that only a life hid in Christ's love can give.
You can't get there without help.
Grace and peace,