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/

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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!

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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

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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!

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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.

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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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Atypical Day

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A typical day in the life of St. Paul Lutheran School on Chicago’s South side.  For those of you who have never been there, St. Paul is located on Dorchester Street in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood of Chicago.  If you look closely, you might spot it next time you drive by on your way into town on the Chicago Skyway.  Google Maps tells me it’s only 3 miles away from the Museum of Science and Industry, but life teaches us that an entirely new world can be found in a ten minute drive.

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It was only the second day back in session after the long Christmas break, so as you might imagine, returning to the routines of school and homework were among the biggest challenges facing the teachers and students.  Many parents and teachers will tell you that it is often that second day back that is the hardest in terms of readjusting to early bedtimes, earlier alarm clocks, and the resumption of homework back into our lives.  So as the school day came to a close, there was undoubtedly a sense of joy knowing that everyone had made it through unscathed.

3:15 pm brought about the start of school dismissal.  St. Paul isn’t a large school, so the dismissal process doesn’t really take too long, except for the fact that like many schools, St. Paul is a community of people who care and connect.  So in the 15 minutes after school ended a few parents and teachers still lingered in the parking lot as others walked or drove away from the school.

Sound familiar?  Remind you of the school you attended or where your kids go?  Those similarities would come to a dramatic end when moments later the peace would be shattered.  Three neighborhood teens were walking about half a block away from the school parking lot.  Unnoticed by the group at the school, but unfortunately recognized by another group of teens in a nearby car.  The car pulled up, shots rang out and in a moment three children lay wounded in the snow.

The families and teachers who lingered in the parking lot could hardly believe what they had witnessed.  As the shooters sped off, one of the teachers sprinted to the wounded children.  Prior to teaching, she had worked as a nurse so she instinctively began to help care for the victims.  One child had been struck in the hand.  The other two had wounds that were far more serious.  Police were on the scene in moments to assist but the ambulance didn’t arrive for nearly twenty minutes, a span of time during which one of these children died in the arms of a teacher they had never met.  All told, the day left two people dead, one wounded, and a community in shock.

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The next day brought the school community of St. Paul back together again in a familiar Lutheran school location: Wednesday morning chapel.  Led by Rev. Jeffrey Howell, the entire school community came together to talk and share their feelings with each other and with the Lord.  Everyone recognized the tragic nature of the shootings which took the lives of children not much older than those sitting in the pews.  They also understood the protection they were afforded by God for this not to have happened ten minutes earlier or 100 feet closer to the school.  But more than anything else, they knew that God was there.  He kept them safe, He knew their fears, He comforted their anxieties, and He would never leave them.  Once again, God’s people entered into His presence and He provided them with exactly what they needed.

After the service a Kindergarten student asked if he could pray with Pastor Howell.  Apparently, he was walking down the street with his family and had just turned the corner when the shooting took place.  Pastor led the boy to the altar and listened as this young man thanked God for keeping him and his family safe. What an amazing testimony to the power of God working through the men and women of St. Paul to partner with this boy’s family to assure him that in the worst moments of life God is there, protecting us, delivering us, and sustaining us out of His great love for His most precious creation.

Since that day, God has continued to bring healing to the school community at St. Paul.  The comfort dogs were brought in on Thursday to help lift the spirits of the students.  The teacher who raced to the scene has had the chance to talk with an eighth grade student in the school who witnessed the shooting as he stopped to tie his shoe while walking home with his little brother.  Their conversations have helped each other cope with what they saw and support one another through the healing process.  Of course, the school has grown far more cautious in being aware of their surroundings, but emotionally they find themselves returning back to normal.  As Pastor Howell puts it, “We’re wounded but healing, moving forward stronger as a staff and as a school.”

January 24 through January 30 will be celebrated by many LCMS schools as National Lutheran Schools Week.  It’s a time when those of us within this great ministry give thanks for our schools and the work that they do.  To many of our students – it is a week to wear silly clothes, to experience field trips and unique events, and to have a little more fun.  Some welcome the celebration as fun, some may consider it a bit of a distraction for the students, and in true Lutheran fashion, some insist upon waiting until the first week of March to celebrate because up until a few years ago, that’s when it was and change is something we dislike.  Whenever and however you celebrate, please never lose sight of the importance that Lutheran Schools have in the lives of the children they serve.  I pray you never have to experience anything remotely similar to the events of January 5 at St. Paul.  But know that some within our ministry will.  Pray for one another, offering support at every opportunity.  Recognize that many of the worst experiences you face would be gladly exchanged by another who faces far worse, but also know that no matter how difficult your situation may be, God is and always will be there.

Photo Credits:
Google Maps
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-shooting-violence-20160105-story.html

 

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One Thing Becomes Everything

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6

 

I first met Trisha during my freshman year at Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw, Michigan.  I had several classes with her, plus she was a cheerleader for my freshman basketball team.  Where I really began to interact with her was in choir.  After our freshman year we both joined Valley’s Golden Voice choir.  For three years we sang together in numerous performances and went on three choir tours.  What I remember most about her from those days was her jovial personality and happy-go-lucky attitude.  Trisha always seemed to have a smile to share – especially with those of us who enjoyed to joke with her.  She was an important member of our gang.

 

Years later and with the help of Facebook, I came to learn that Trisha was living in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We chatted a few times – catching up and sharing where life had taken us.  Later that summer I had the opportunity to travel to Delaware for a friend’s birthday.  Having nowhere in particular to go, I tacked on a few days to my trip and drove down to Charlottesville to visit Trisha.  I remember calling her when I arrived in town only to learn that she was moving into a house and wouldn’t be able to get together until after she was done.  I hopped in my car and drove to her house and helped lug a few boxes for her before heading out for dinner and a walking tour of the city.  As we walked through an outdoor shopping mall, she told me more about the struggles she faced as a result of her health problems.  Like most of us would, she grew frustrated.  But in spite of the problems, she maintained a tremendously strong faith that God was seeing her through, providing her with healing and restoration.  Many people will say these things when they face obstacles, but the more we spoke the more I realized that Trisha really meant it.  Her faith was the foundation upon which her life was built and absolutely nothing was going to tear that down.  As the years passed, I continued to hear about her problems.  But in every comment she posted, she always managed to give thanks to God – no matter how bad things were.

 

A few days ago, I was shocked to receive the news that Trisha’s health issues had finally caught up with her and she passed away.  Many of her friends took to social media to share memories and remembrances of Trisha.  What resonated over and over again in the comments was the strength of her faith in the face of adversity.  I was amazed to see just how many people drew inspiration from her unflappable faith and to be honest, I was a bit sad to realize that her voice of encouragement had been silenced far too soon.

 

A day or two after hearing the news, one of Trisha’s friends named Tom went to her house to help clean up things and he shared a picture of a message Trisha had written on a chalkboard.  It said…

 

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In our lives we will often find ourselves going to God in prayer asking for something.  Many of us feel guilty about doing so, wondering if our requests are petty or selfish.  We certainly don’t want to be ungrateful for the many blessings God has given us by grousing about things we want or don’t have.  But we also know that God has instructed and encouraged us to come to Him in prayer with the desires of our hearts. 

 

All of them.

 

I have no doubt that Trisha prayed fervently to God for healing and relief.  I would also go so far as to say that she even grew frustrated with her situation from time to time as pain and fatigue would enter into her mind and body.  But Trisha knew that she had a God who loved her deeply.  He never turned a blind eye to the needs of His dearly loved child.  She could come to Him with anything and everything and He would provide to her exactly what she needed.  And in those final moments of her life as she found rest in the arms of her Savior, Jesus kept His promise to her.  She asked Him for one thing, but now, and for the rest of time, Trisha has received her everything!

 

Thank you for the sign my friend.  Enjoy the dance…….

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