Here We Go Again

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7

At the conclusion of every school year many teachers find themselves balancing a competing set of emotions:

  • A sense of pride after having accomplished a great deal over the past 40 weeks
  • A tinge of sadness that this class will be moving on
  • The anticipation of new growth opportunities
  • And last, but not least…
  • SUMMER VACATION!!!!!!!! (feel free to add exclamation points as you’d like)

Some teachers feel the need to bury that last bullet because others outside of education might criticize them for getting so much “time off.” I say teachers shouldn’t apologize for the time off they’ve earned. Education is hard work and a break that allows teachers the chance to relax, renew, regroup and recharge is critical to maintaining success year after year.

But then it happens. It’s imperceptible at first, but little by little it builds until finally it becomes this powerfully undeniable reality. From the people who brought you “Sunday Night Dread,” here comes the summer blockbuster you’ve been ignoring…

BACK TO SCHOOL TIME IS HERE!!!!!!!! (feel free to remove exclamation points as you’d like)

One minute you were sipping your favorite beverage in an inflatable unicorn on a lake, the next you were cutting out laminated name cards and sticking them on desks. Summer reading turns to content reading and girls’ night at the winery relocates to the Starbucks drive-thru which needs to move a little faster or I’m going to be late for my “Back-to-School Faculty Meeting.”

teacher help

In fairness, not every teacher takes the start of the school year this hard, but most will admit that while they’re truly excited about the upcoming school year, they will miss the slower pace that summer brings. But some of us were called to be teachers, and we can only do that if we take the break we were given and put it to good use in our classroom this year. But as we head into the start of this new year, many teachers find themselves balancing another set of emotions:

  • A sense of purpose, knowing that they’re heading back to the job they love
  • A tinge of sadness that vacation is ending
  • The anticipation of creating a classroom community that will be exciting, safe, and filled with learning
  • And last, but not least…
  • A touch of anxiety over getting back into that grind of long days, endless grading, parent concerns, and the many unknown challenges to come

Many people would tell you that it’s okay; anxiety is normal. I guess that’s true, but I would also tell you that just because it’s common doesn’t mean that it’s necessary. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. As concerns weigh us down we know that we have an effective way to respond to them. Prayer is valuable because it allows us to take our troubles to the Creator of all things. We are no longer left to worry by ourselves. We aren’t merely venting to a friend who can’t understand and is powerless to help. God knows you intimately. God loves you deeply. Christ lived on earth and shared in the experience of being human. Think for a moment about Jesus’ own reaction to anxiety He felt about His coming crucifixion. He went to a quiet place and prayed, giving His anxiety to His own Father. That alone would be valuable, but God’s power isn’t limited to just listening.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” God Himself will give you peace and the sure knowledge that our hearts and minds will be guarded from anything that the world and Satan can bring our way. Jesus has paid the price. By His death and resurrection, we have forgiveness of sins and the assurance of spending eternity in Heaven as a fully redeemed child of God. So, as we face the anxieties of returning back to school, the dread of misbehaving students, upset parents, overzealous administrators, and unrelenting deadlines, may we always remember that God knows what we’re up against and wants to help us overcome it. Jesus reminds us of this in the words of Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

But if you’re able, feel free to sneak in one last trip to the beach!

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Change

Progress and Change

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I recently came across a quote from George Bernard Shaw that held an impactful truth. “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Many people look to improve their lives. They may want to earn a promotion, have more time for family, look better in the mirror, write poetry, learn how to play an instrument, or volunteer in their community. While all of these and the countless other goals we can share are noble and worthwhile, they all have a common denominator. They all require us to change the things we’re currently doing to give ourselves the chance to do something else, to do it differently and to do it better than before.

As I read this quote, I was taken aback by the power of its simplicity and by how applicable it is to so many areas of our lives.

  • Want to become thinner and stronger?   Change your diet and exercise routine
  • Want to have more money?   Change your spending and saving habits
  • Want to have more time?   Change your schedule to be more accountable
  • Want to eliminate a bad habit?   Change your patterns and routines

Simple? Yes!

Easy? Ehhhh…..

In science we learn that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The same can be said for our ability to change. For every salad and treadmill there is a bowl of ice cream and a couch. For every dollar in the bank there is a sale at the mall. For every spare minute we find there is social media, and for every vice we overcome there are hundreds more waiting to entice us.

We are creatures of habit and the notion of making substantial and sustained progress is often difficult because of our strong desire to avoid change in our lives. Most people like what is familiar. It may not be adventurous, but it is safe. For us to push ourselves out of this pattern we will need a level of strength and motivation that will propel us into starting, encourage us when we feel like stopping, and sustain us until we reach that point where the change becomes our norm and we have truly made progress.

As Christians we turn to God to help us with these things. To some, that may seem a bit surprising. Why would God care about these seemingly minor things? Because to God, they (and we) aren’t minor things! Christ’s words in Luke 12:6-7 demonstrate our value when He says, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Our God is a God of details. He created the vastness of the universe and the intricacy of the smallest microorganism with a synergy that can only come from the most intelligent design. We can surely rely upon Him to help us with any concern that we have in our lives. And why are we able to turn to Him with our needs?

Because our great and loving God is UNchanging.

Psalm 102:25-27 describes God’s unchanging nature: “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but You are the same and Your years have no end.”

James 1:17 describes God’s unchanging love for us: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And finally, Hebrews 13:8 shows us how God’s Son is also unchanging as it declares, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

It is in the consistent, unchanging strength of our loving God that we are able to change at all. Our sinful nature is so ingrained into the fabric of our DNA that it makes it difficult for us to have the power to change anything about ourselves. In our fallen world sin is normal, comfortable, and often desirable. It is by God’s grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to make the greatest change of all – from sinner to saint.

May we always strive to make the changes in our lives that are necessary for us to fulfill the destinies to which we have been called; sharing the word of God with others who are looking to change their lives through the hope found only in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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The 4 R’s

It’s May; the month where April’s showers pay off with those wonderful flowers (unless you live in the upper Midwest or on the East Coast where April showers were whiter than usual). But even with the lousy weather many of us have endured, the excitement of spring is finally in the air.

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This is most evident in any school you might visit. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the resounding sounds of happiness that can only come from the anticipation of summer vacation. The countdown has begun; their minds have wandered far beyond the boundaries of the schoolyard. Thoughts of vacations, trips to the cabin or the beach, the smell of freshly cut grass or blooming flowers, the sound of a baseball being whacked into the sky or a golf ball dropping into the cup have everybody in a tizzy that the end of the school year simply can’t come soon enough!

And when you leave the teacher’s lounge, you’ll see that the students feel the same way.

It’s an understandable feeling. Teachers and students have both worked very hard since the fall and they are all looking forward to a well-deserved break. It’s a chance for students to experience the four R’s of summer:

Rest

Rejuvenation

Recreation

and Regression!

Allow me to apologize for spoiling summer before it can even get going, but regression is a serious issue that can have a significant impact. If there is no attempt to maintain a minimal level of growth during the summer months, what was gained can be lost. How much are we losing? According to the Brookings Institution from Washington DC, researchers have learned the following:

“On average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, declines were sharper for math than for reading, and the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels. Importantly, they also concluded that income-based reading gaps grew over the summer, given that middle class students tended to show improvement in reading skills while lower-income students tended to experience loss.” [1]

As concerned parents and educators, we work to implement strategies that will help to minimize the impacts of summer academic regression. When both sides work together they can often come up with a plan that helps to reduce the loss of skills while not preventing the child (and parents) from enjoying the break from the normal school year routine. Imagine if every family took that type of approach to summer vacation. Students would be able to make greater academic gains each year because teachers could reduce time spent on review and get into new material sooner. Struggling students would progress farther and gifted students could explore topics of study without the boundaries of the daily school schedule. It’s easy to see the academic benefits that can occur with this year-round effort and emphasis on learning.

And when you expand this idea of growth beyond children in school, you’ll see how everyone can benefit from the growth opportunities in summer.

My experiences in schools have shown me the struggles of keeping students academically engaged over the summer. My experiences as a church worker have shown parallel struggles of keeping families actively engaged in worship during the summer months. It has never made sense to me how families who place so great an emphasis on raising their children in the knowledge of the love of Christ can so easily place its importance behind camping, roller coasters, baseball games and yard work. I don’t mean to sound judgmental and I don’t want to lecture anyone into feeling guilty about missing a week of church for a family trip. That said, it sends a damaging message to the entire family when church attendance is hinged upon convenience, obligation, or the minimal requirements to maintain a reduced level of school tuition. Spiritual growth and maturity are things that develop in us through time spent in worship and studying the word of God. To remove this from our lives for twelve weeks every summer stunts our spiritual growth and teaches our children that our relationship with God is secondary to the other things in life that make us happy. Remember, idols come in all shapes and sizes!

Proverbs 22:6 stresses the importance of fostering faith development in the lives of our children as it declares, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Reading, writing, and arithmetic are critically important skills that will serve us every day. Faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will not only serve us for the rest of our earthly lives, but for all eternity.

So as the school year ends, and summer break begins, find ways to use your time away to maintain what God has built up within you so that you can turn that fourth “R” from regression to renewal and ultimately receive God’s greatest “R’s”; Redemption and our eternal Reward in heaven.

[1] – https://www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/

Photo Credit: http://informingfamilies.org/good-bye-fourth-grade/

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Everything

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11 ESV

The-Nativity

A simple statement proclaiming a miraculous event with an eternal impact.

I cannot begin to imagine what had to be going through the minds of those people who are there at the epicenter of the greatest birth in human history.

For Mary, this was the culmination of a pregnancy she didn’t expect and the birth of a child whose impact upon mankind she couldn’t begin to grasp.

For Joseph, this was the continuation of his commitment to be faithful to the word of God as it was shared to him in a dream.

For a group of shepherds, this was an opportunity to witness something inexplicable yet unforgettable.

For three wise men, this was the pursuit of a prophecy come true and a leap of faith directed by a star.

For our Father in Heaven, this was a promise kept.

For a baby lying in a manger, this was the first chapter of a love story that would bring light and salvation to a dark, dying world.

For us, this means everything!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…. for from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” – John 1:14,16 ESV

May your Christmas celebration be filled with joy and thanksgiving to God for this greatest of all gifts.

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Above-Average

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 11:30

On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you rank yourself as a driver?

Go ahead. Say your answer out loud…

I’d be willing to bet your number was higher than a five. Why do I say that? Because most all of us look at those other people around us who are terrible drivers and believe wholeheartedly that we’re better drivers than they are. We don’t speed, tailgate, wander in our lanes, or drive in the lane that is closing ahead until the last moment before cutting into the long line of traffic. We always use our turn signal, yield the right of way to others at four way stops and have never, ever been distracted behind the wheel by our phones.

Care to revisit that number?

This isn’t designed to be a critique of your driving abilities. If you feel that you’re in the upper half, I say go for it. Or in the words of the band Journey, Don’t Stop Believin’. My point here has more to do with the data. By definition, the pool of people who are above-average drivers tops out at 49% of the population. So, for every driver on planet earth who claims to be above-average, there must also be one who is below-average.

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We’ll move on before you start stereotyping…

This is not uncommon. In fact, there have been studies exploring the question of why people always think of themselves above average at most things. Through surveys it has also been learned that:

  • Almost all drivers think they are better than the average driver
  • Ninety-four percent of college professors believe that their teaching skills are above average
  • A survey of high-school students found that seventy percent described themselves as above average leaders

You would think that with that much success our world would be teeming with excellence. The fact that it is not leads me to believe that something else is happening here. But what? Too much ego? An over-abundance of self-confidence developed over time because we won too many participation trophies? I don’t know about all of that. Maybe we just genuinely work hard at the things we do and feel that we have achieved a level of skill or value that others have not. Whatever the reason, I think we can all agree on two things:

  1. People like to consider themselves above-average on most things
  2. People waste lots of money funding frivolous studies

As I consider this topic I am led to ask the appropriate follow up question: At which things are we willing to admit to being below-average? Here’s five examples from my very extensive list:

  • Golf
  • Dancing
  • Folding fitted sheets
  • Dieting
  • Math

See anything on my list to which you can relate? Maybe a few. Truth is there are many people who have tremendous gifts and abilities in these things but lack in others. This is one of the beauties of God’s creation; the diversity with which He made us. What headlines my list of weaknesses may be one of your greatest strengths. In fact, there is only one thing that we all share on our below-average lists: our ability to perfectly follow the will of God.

God has given us His commandments and calls for us to follow them. However, our sinfulness prevents us from being able to do it, leaving us lost in our sin and separated from our Creator.

Thankfully, God understands this and out of His great love for us has provided a way to salvation. Through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection we have been given a gift that lifts us back into a right relationship with the Father. This is in no way because we have earned it or deserve it. It is by God’s grace though our faith in Jesus that this happens.

Whatever our earthly gifts may be, we know that in all things our greatest gift is one that we received without merit from our perfect, loving God.

Now if only I could learn how to fold fitted sheets……

 

Statistics source: https://priceonomics.com/why-do-we-all-think-were-above-average/

Photo Source:

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Trolling

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” – Romans 8:18

Take a moment to think back to the history classes you took back in school. If your experience was like most of us, you were required to memorize specific dates that held historic significance. See if these stir up any memories…

AD 29 – The crucifixion of Jesus Christ

1066 – Battle of Hastings

1492 – Columbus discovers “America”

1588 – Defeat of the Spanish Armada

July 4, 1776 – Declaration of American Independence

December 7, 1941 – Bombing of Pearl Harbor

July 20, 1969 – Apollo 11 Lands on Moon

… and finally…

September 26, 2006 –

Struggling with that last one? Did it happen after you graduated from high school? Were you too busy going to work or raising kids or if you were like me, living in the disbelief that the Detroit Tigers might make the playoffs! But no matter what you were doing, my guess is that you didn’t realize that from this day forward the public launch of a website would forever change the way we live.

Facebook had already been around for over two years, but on 9/26/06 it became available to anyone over the age of 13 (insert eye roll) with an email address. Since that day, the number of people, businesses, and organizations who utilize the site has exploded. Today Facebook boasts over 1 billion daily users out of a world population of 7.5 billion. It goes without saying that a website with such a wide reach would create for itself a level of significance the likes of which the world has never seen. Consider the historic events that are now shared in real time on Facebook. Think about the connections people have made with friends and family members separated by miles and years. It’s a truly remarkable place filled with the most significant and impactful messages our society has to offer….

…or not…

For as many humorous and fascinating things you see on Facebook, there are ten times as many things that make you cringe and shake your head. People complaining about their lives and the daily problems they encounter. For clarity’s sake, I am NOT referring to those people who have used Facebook to share health issues, to seek support or aid for crises that threaten health and safety, or to be supported in times of loss. I have joined you numerous times and I pray for you continually. I am speaking about those people who use Facebook and other social media sites to complain about mundane things in a feeble attempt to garner sympathy from their followers over head colds, burnt muffins, and anonymous people who should have known better (and you KNOW who you are)!

As I look at it objectively, it all seems beneath us. After all, we don’t care if somebody’s coffee is cold, if their Wi-Fi isn’t working right, or if she dislikes what her elected leaders did today. But based on the numbers I guess we do. We may casually pop a “Like” on someone’s post, or a teary face when the news is sad. We will comment when we totally agree with someone who shares our opinion, and when a dissenting voice appears we may feel inclined to start a “debate.” Social media is filled with these people called trolls, truth-seekers who seek to inject truth into the incorrect truths the other online truthtellers have truthed. It’s just my opinion, but I find it a rather lofty goal to create enough online discord to be likened to a mythical cave-dwelling giant or dwarf with a very ugly appearance!

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So what are we to make of this global phenomenon? For many, the advice given is to focus on the good and to filter out the bad. But I must admit that I sometimes find it disheartening to spend my “downtime” reading about things that are divisive and filled with anger and complaints or even worse; adding my own drama to the mix. Is this helping me to grow as a person or to unwind in preparation of my next accomplishment?

Many years before the launch of Facebook, the apostle Paul wrote the following words of encouragement to the believers in Philippi: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” So while it seems that people have struggled with focusing upon the positive things in life long before Mark Zuckerberg made it more convenient, Paul’s advice is well taken by modern Christians who choose to navigate the murky waters of social media. Seek to find ways to bring peace and love to others online. Lift up in prayer those who are troubled, and avoid those who choose to stir up trouble or who wish to share their negativity with anyone willing to take a piece. May our message of love and comfort be evident in everything that others will seek out the real truth that lives in us through the Holy Spirit.

And if you found this blog on Facebook, know that I already get the irony!

Image from: http://www.coffeehousewall.co.uk/the-coal-cellar-beware-the-troll/

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Emotional Overload

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. – Luke 1:26-38 ESV

 

Gabriel’s announcement to Mary of the coming birth of Jesus is mind blowing in many different ways. Consider for a moment all of the emotions that Mary had to feel in this brief encounter.  First, you have the appearance of an angel of the Lord; a startling and amazing occurrence.  Next comes the greeting that she has found favor with God.  Certainly God loves us all, but the list of people of whom this has been angelically declared is very, very short.  Then she hears the most amazing news of all.  Despite being a virgin, Mary will conceive a child; a son whom she will name Jesus.  But this is not just any child, this will be the very Son of God, the long promised Messiah.  So if you are keeping score, Mary was startled, scared, shocked, stunned, doubtful, confused, and finally convinced.  In a moment not only has Mary’s entire world has been changed by this news but she has had no time to process the cyclone of emotions she had to be feeling.

Could you imagine finding yourself in a situation so shocking, so frightening, and yet so wonderful all at once? Personally, I am amazed that she was able to maintain her composure well enough that she could even speak, let alone talk rationally to Gabriel.  But there she stood, managing her overloaded emotions and the dozens of questions that had to be flooding her mind.  So when Gabriel had finished his message and it was her turn to speak, Mary replied with words that could only have come from a deeply held faith:

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to you word.”

Wait a minute. She said what?  That’s it?  No further questions?  No demands?  No doubt or anger, or fear?

Like I said: a faith-filled response.

Mary is not the first to have heard amazing news from God or one of His angels. However, unlike so many others, she managed to process this news and immediately place her trust in the God who chose to make it so.  Abraham and Sarah lost faith and couldn’t wait for God’s timing to bring them a son.  Then when God Himself told Abraham that she would conceive in spite of the fact that she was far too old to conceive she laughed out loud (the original LOL).  Jonah heard the message of the Lord to go to the city of Ninevah.  Fear led him to run away from God – an action that later proved itself to be fishy at best.  Then there was Zechariah, a priest who had been told by an angel that his wife Elizabeth would also give birth to a son named John who would grow to be a prophet who would call upon the people to prepare for the coming of the Christ.  Like Abraham, he also doubted because of the ages of he and his wife.  He too came to the realization that the message was true in a manner that left him literally speechless.  So when you consider the men and women who have come before and after Mary who have heard God’s calling and failed to accept it, her ability to manage her feelings and follow her Lord serves as a wonderful example.

Feelings and emotions can be extremely difficult to understand. Our world and our selfish thoughts have a way of distorting the view of what God has laid before us.  But like Mary, even when we face things that are difficult, confusing, or consuming our first and best step is to seek the will of God and trust that in all things He is in control.  His love, His strength, and His glory knows no bounds.  His promises are true and His word is perfect.  May we cling to Him in good times and bad that we too may be delivered to glory by the gift of Mary’s child, God’s Son, and our Savior – Jesus Christ!

mary-window

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This is the Day

 

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

herb-fishing

For eighteen years, Herb Mock served as the principal of St. John’s Lutheran School in Marysville, Ohio. You know the place – the small country church on one end of the property with a school filled with hundreds of bright, young faces learning and playing on the other.  Standing in the center of this ministry was Herb.  He had established himself as a teacher and a principal at schools in Texas and Michigan before arriving at St. John’s in 1988.  There he would spend those next eighteen years growing a ministry, developing teachers, forging relationships, and most of all sharing the love of Christ with the children of St. John’s.

Now I must admit before I go any further that I didn’t know Herb as a principal; I only met him a few years ago while on a trip with my wife Linda. He was Linda’s first principal when she began her teaching career and over the eleven years that they worked together they formed a professional and a personal connection that helped mold her into the amazing teacher that she has become.  For Linda, Herb was the perfect mentor and boss.  He praised her for the things that she did well, but equally important to her was the way he challenged her to improve in areas he felt needed work.  Herb had a no nonsense approach to getting the work done and presenting oneself in a professional manner while at the same time possessing a rich sense of humor and a love for pulling pranks.

But what Linda appreciated most about Herb was his dedication to sharing the Gospel.  He would often remind the teachers at St. John’s of a familiar verse from Psalms that many of us like to forget when we are having a difficult day.  Herb would declare to the teachers, “This is the day that the Lord has made,” providing others the opportunity to finish the verse by saying, “let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  The point is easy to see.  We as Lutheran Teachers have the wonderful responsibility to teach, share, and show our children the love of Jesus Christ.  God Himself has given us this day to make that happen so what other response could we possibly give than to rejoice?  Sure puts a lousy morning into perspective!

One lousy morning that had to have tested Herb’s love for this verse was the morning of September 11, 2001. Linda recently shared with me how St. John’s made the decision to not tell the younger students in the school about the attacks, but as the older children had heard the news it was decided to gather the fifth through eighth graders in the church to meet, talk, and to pray.  I can imagine the thoughts that must have been racing through Herb’s mind as he assembled the children.  What do I say?  How can I explain this?  How much detail should I provide?  But then I remind myself that those were my questions – my human attempt to explain sin.  When I break it down to its simplest form, I see that Herb knew just what needed to be done.  He brought a group of sad and hurting people before the altar of the Lord to pray for peace, strength, comfort, and the assurance that God is always with us – guiding us by His Spirit into the days to come.

On the afternoon of Sunday, September 11, 2016, the fifteenth anniversary of that terrible day, Herb returned to the front of the church at St. John’s Marysville. The difference was that this time he was lying in a casket.  The church was filled with family, colleagues, former students, friends, and a guy who had only met him once.  It was Linda – his former first grade teacher, assistant principal, protégé, and friend who made this amazing connection.  Over those years the reason for gathering was different, but the message we were receiving had not changed.  Once again, Herb had brought together a group of sad and hurting people before the altar of the Lord to pray for peace, strength, comfort, and the assurance that God would be with us – guiding us by His Spirit into the days to come.  I hardly knew Herb Mock, but there is no doubt in my mind that this man of faith who accepted God’s calling to share his Savior’s love with thousands of children is now experiencing the joy and peace of being in the arms of Christ firsthand.  Knowing that Herb is with His Savior, knowing that we too will join him leaves me with only one thought…..

This IS the day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it!

herb-sign

Well done good and faithful servant…

 

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The Life Matters

In what has become an all too common occurrence in the United States, the past seven days have brought yet another round of violence to our nation. Police involved shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota have left two African-American men dead.  In response, several attacks have been carried out against law enforcement officers; the most prominent occurring in Dallas, Texas where a sniper killed five police officers and wounded seven others as they monitored a peaceful rally calling for an end to police violence against the black community.  (Source: http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/08/us/philando-castile-alton-sterling-protests/index.html) These are the latest in what has been a recurring series of highly publicized tragedies playing out in our communities over the past several years.

Opinions and emotions run deep over these actions and in today’s social media driven world, that leads to the formation and promotion of hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter,  #BlueLivesMatter,  #AllLivesMatter, and so on.  Of course, what follows is a debate over the validity of one hashtag and the stance it takes in comparison to another.  As passionate people, we vehemently defend our position on these matters and in the midst of this apologetic debate we create a heightened level of tension with little chance of finding an “agree to disagree” compromise let alone resolution.  Despite the claims, sinful men have no simple solution to this ever growing conflict.

That being said, we must turn to God to find peace, forgiveness, a softening of our hearts and a greater willingness to see one another as brothers and sisters of Christ – even those who would immediately discredit our position based upon their dismissal of our Christian faith. Christ set the bar for us in this process by dying not only for a select few or for those most agreeable with God’s word, but for everyone.  1 John 2:2 describes Christ as “… the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world (ESV).”  So why would Jesus do this?  What is gained by His compassionate sacrifice?  Consider Christ’s own words in John 10:10-11 as He explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep (ESV)”  It seems evident that through our distrust, our fear, and our desire to win a battle against our own brothers and sisters we are complicit in the very scheme of the enemy to steal, kill and destroy one another.

Man can create a great many wonderful things, but life is beyond our capabilities. Science can save and prolong life, but our sin ultimately leads us to the inevitable conclusion of death.  For those who disregard faith, death is simply the end of our existence – a sobering reminder of why we must cleave to the life we have now.  This isn’t to say that those who have faith don’t desire to live their lives to the fullest, we just have a different understanding of what happens when our earthly life ends.

John 11:25-26 makes this clear as Christ tells us, “…I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” From the beginning of time when God created the universe, He gave to us this glorious thing called life.  Sin drove a wedge between us and our Father, but because of His great love for us God set into motion the plan to redeem us.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection freed us from the bonds of our sin and the death it causes, giving to those who have faith the assurance of eternal life in heaven.

Simply put – life matters because Jesus is Life.

May our continual prayer be that our world would turn away from the sin which divides us and cling to the Life that provides us with forgiveness, hope, love, and peace that can only come from our Lord and Savior.

EKG-prev

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Water Always Wins

Water Always Wins

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21

For years now I have been a fan of talk radio. This isn’t to say that I don’t like to listen to music on the radio, but if you stop and think about it, listening to music on a car radio is an exercise that usually leaves you searching the dial to hear the end of your favorite songs and commercials.  So my solution is to listen to talking heads tell me about the news, weather, sports, and any other topic that piques my interest at the time..

One of those talking heads is a “Master Handyman” who likes to provide callers with Do-It-Yourself advice. He’s a practical, informative guy who tries to help without a lot of hype.  He also has a few catch phrases that will help him drive home his points to listeners.  For example, when it comes to maintaining your home you should remember that water always wins.

When you think about it, the statement is true. A flooded basement can quickly cause thousands of dollars of damage.  Leaky walls and roofs lead to structural damage and mold.  Running water along the house will cause erosion to your landscaping and eventually your foundation.  Now before my examples lead you to believe that water is evil and shouldn’t be trusted, remember that water is a basic, essential part of life.  Seventy-one percent of our planet is covered by water. Obviously this has a tremendous impact upon our climates.  Without water plants and animals can’t survive.  In fact, according to information found on the United States Geological Survey’s website, up to 60% of a human adult’s body is water.  Funny how the same thing can be so beneficial and yet damaging at the same time.

This is just one of the many examples of how seemingly contradictory things exist within our world. The book of James talks about how the human tongue can so easily shift from praising to cursing.  Same part of the body possessing the ability to do great and horrific things from one moment to the next.  In fact, the tongue serves as a microcosm of how sin can trap mankind, twisting us into thoughts and actions that we otherwise would prefer to avoid.  How many fights have broken out over misunderstandings or ego run amok?  A simple glance across a room can lead to a lascivious thought which in turn can lead to the hurt and damage caused by any number of sexually immoral actions.  The gain of a friend or colleague can fester thoughts of inadequacy or jealousy.  Sin has twisted God’s perfect creation into any number of conflicting, complicated problems which we’d be better off avoiding, but it doesn’t stop there.  Over time, the sin so permeates our lives that we go from loathing it to accepting it to finally desiring it as a good and beneficial thing.  It’s the homeowner’s equivalent of going home today, turning on your garden hose and filling your house with water so you can invite your friends over to swim.  So if water always wins, sin always wins in a blowout!

Except it doesn’t.

We are powerless to the trap of sin in our lives. We were born in it, are surrounded by it, and create it on a daily basis.  So just like a person who is drowning in a pool needs a lifeguard to pull them out of the water, we also need someone to pull us away from the sin in which we have immersed ourselves.  God has provided us this life preserver through His Son, Jesus.  As true God and true man, Jesus was able to live without sin – not so much as a dip of His toe in the water.  But instead of being rewarded for being the one and only person in history to live a sinless life, He was forced to pay the wages of sin – namely death on a cross.  In human terms, we would declare this unfair, but Jesus understood that His sacrifice would make it possible for those of us who couldn’t escape our sin to be rescued, redeemed, and restored to be in a right relationship with God the Father in Heaven.

Jesus has won for us a victory that can never erode. But do remember to clean your gutters…Running-water

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