What Did I Just Say?

As a teacher, sometimes I feel like a broken record.  I’m sure other teachers can relate.  I repeat instructions many times.  I review concepts that students should have already mastered.  I remind kids to wash their hands, wipe their nose, and write their name on their paper. Sometimes my students are just not paying attention.  On many a day I will catch myself saying, “(Jimmy), what did I just say?” Sometimes I feel like my students will never get to where I want them to be.

And yet, isn’t that how we are with God?  He gives us countless examples of his faithfulness, his forgiveness, and his sovereign control in our lives.  Still, we stumble.  We forget.  We get distracted.  We don’t hear his voice.  We don’t see the evidence of his hand in the day-to-day of our lives.  Sometimes I can almost hear God saying to me, “Elyse, what did I just say?”

I feel overwhelmed.  God says,

  • “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
  • “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

I feel like a failure.  God says,

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
  • “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him” – Daniel 9:9
  • “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!” – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I feel fearful.  God says,

  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

I am so thankful that I serve the Lord who never gives up on me.  Who never tires of repeating himself.  No matter how many times he has to teach me something, he does it with grace and love.  He takes my hand, tells me to look him in the eyes, and gently speaks truth to my heart.

When I am tempted to lose patience with my students who need me to remind them of something, may I remember how patient God is with me.  He gently pulls me aside and says, “What did I just say?”

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Grace

5 letters that mean so much.

Google defines the word grace as “the free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”

In other words, God saves us and blesses us even though we don’t pay for it or deserve it.

Wow.  I have been a believer and follower of Christ for 20 years, and I still can’t wrap my head around how amazing God’s grace is.  In my own life, I have done and thought so many things that should disqualify me from God’s presence. Thanks be to the Lord that He sent Jesus to cover my sin.  Every thought and every action.  Jesus took my sin on His shoulders and paid for it all.  He died in my place.

The Bible refers to Jesus’ sacrifice many times.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is “by grace that you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Romans 5:8 says that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

Titus 2:11 says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”

In short:

I don’t deserve it, but I am so thankful for it.  Praise be to God!

This has become even more evident to me in recent weeks.  In the past year I experienced a challenging season of doubt.  I was striving to trust God and His goodness, but it was proving to be very difficult for me.  I was seeking Him, praying, and trying to be obedient, but I felt dry.  I felt that my prayers were not being answered. Then all of a sudden, one day some circumstances changed, and I felt it.  An outpouring of His grace over me.  I was astounded.  I knew I didn’t deserve it, and I couldn’t fathom it.  I am not one to get emotional, but I cried tears of joy at the thought of it.  His grace.  His love.  Because really, God’s grace is His way of showing us His love.

So what does this mean for my own way of life?  The truth is that if God has shown me this love, then I should be showing this love to others.  1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.”  Paul Tripp expresses this principle well.  He says, “I think my job is to make the grace of an invisible God, visible, wherever I am.”

Let’s be honest.  This isn’t an easy way to live.  As humans, we like to keep score.  But, living a grace-full life is something that we should strive for.  Something that we should grow in.  2 Peter 3:18 says “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

May I be someone who rejoices in God’s grace.  May I also be a person who, through God’s grace, can also extend grace to others.

Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  I’m not bitter.  I’m not against love.  I’m definitely not anti-flowers or anti-chocolate.  I just don’t like Valentine’s Day.  I think it’s the pressure of it all.  It feels forced to me.  However, last week I read an article that changed my perspective about Valentine’s Day for the better.  You can read it at Darling Magazine: Love, Actually: Why Love is So Much More than Valentine’s Day.  The author’s point of view is not an incredibly earth-shattering idea, but it touched my mind this week so I thought I would share a few of my thoughts in response.

Swindell suggests that “love manifests in so many ways, too many to count.”  She then proceeds to list a number of ways that love is manifested in daily life, from the parent who calms the crying child in the night, to the roommate who does the dishes for you, to the stranger who offers you a kind word on a difficult day.  Swindell suggests that when we reflect on the ways that we experience love in our lives, Valentine’s Day can actually be a day for thankfulness.  She asks, “who are you grateful for this Valentine’s Day?  What capacity of love have they shown you?”  So, in light of these questions, I’d like to make my own list of ways that I see love in my own life.

Love: unexpected hugs from my niece and nephew.

Love: my mom making me supper after a long day.

Love: the student who offers to help me clean up.

Love: a text message from my friend just to touch base.

Love: an encouragement email from my principal.

There are so many blessings in life that others bestow upon us… sometimes without even realizing.  I think we need to take the time to be thankful for the love that we receive.  Swindell suggests that “we can let [our] thankfulness lead us into being initiators of love.”  Initiators of love.  Sounds like challenge.  So, the question is: what can we do to show love to others this Valentine’s Day, and every day?

valentines-day

This Smells Good

This year I am teaching a variety of subjects and a variety of grades.  It keeps me on my toes!  This past week I was teaching primary art, and we were working on outlining our “Pop Art Hearts” (an idea I got from Art with Jenny K).  I let my students use Sharpie markers to outline, which was a pretty big deal to them considering that they are PERMANENT markers.  Anyway, this particular afternoon had been a bit hairy, it was nearing clean-up time, and honestly, I was counting down the minutes until the bell.  It was then that I heard a “sniiiifff” sound behind me, and then a quiet, “hmmm….. this smells good” from one of my students. I couldn’t even stifle a laugh.  It was that funny.  I didn’t even have to correct the student either, because one of my other students quickly piped up that Sharpie markers “are not good for you and that you shouldn’t smell them.”  What can I say?  Sometimes it’s the little things in life that bring joy.  For my student, it was experiencing the smell of a Sharpie marker for the first time.  For me, it was an overheard conversation between two primary students.

In Response to: “Public Schools Aren’t the Enemy”

Over the past number of days, a friend and I have had an engaging and fairly comprehensive email conversation about the following article: Public Schools Aren’t the Enemy.  Over the past week, I’ve thought that it would make a great blog posting.  So tonight, as I made myself a soothing, delicious cup of Creme Carmello tea (rooibos, hazelnut, calendula, and natural flavouring, in case you were wondering), I thought I would edit my emails into a blog posting.  If you haven’t yet read the article, I’d suggest popping over to Relevant Magazine (link above) and reading it before perusing my thoughts.

I’d like to start by admitting that I think the author has an interesting perspective.  Considering the title/content of the article, I think that it’s safe to say that the author is defending public schools, and presenting a different view of them because she assumes that “many Christians believe that the public school is out to get them.”  The author suggests that public schools are beneficial places where children can grow in their faith and be a light to unbelievers.  I’ve heard this type of argument for public schools before, and I think that it’s a valid point of view.  Public schools can be great places for kids to be.  I definitely do not think that public schools are an enemy.  However, I do think that the author missed some important points of discussion that pertain to this conversation.

First of all, I am not convinced that the majority of Christian families view public schools as an enemy.  Knowing whether or not this perspective is reflective of the “collective sentiment” (I’m borrowing my friend’s words) of Christians about the public education system is really critical to the discussion.  Personally, I think that there is a wide range of views within the Christian community regarding education.  I think that some Christians view the public system negatively, but I think that more Christians do not.  In fact, I would argue that some Christians don’t even know that there are any viable options other then public schools.  At the same time, there are others who feel very led by God to send their children to public schools.  Others believe for various ideological and pedagogical reasons that public school is not the right fit for their child and choose to home school.  In short, my guess is that like many things, there is a mixed bag of opinions that Christians hold about the public school system.  I think that the author chose to focus on the negative one for the purpose of sparking a conversation. However, if she truly believes that all (or even most) Christians share this “evil public school” sentiment, then I think that we have a problem.

Okay, now to move on to a few more specific critiques.  First of all, the author suggests that “even the most homeschooled of homeschooled children will still have interactions with the outside world that will challenge his beliefs, raise doubts in his mind and question his understanding of God.”  Of course this is true.  I believe that every Christian child (no matter how they are educated) will experience things that will challenge his/her beliefs.  I don’t think that any homeschooling parent would question this fact, and I don’t think that homeschooling parents home educate so that they can completely isolate their children from interaction with the outside world (which seems to be what the author is implying).  To me, this implication could be interpreted as somewhat offensive to some homeschooling families.  Further, the author seems to be suggesting that public school is the main way that we can prepare children for those types of faith-challenging interactions.  I believe that public school is perhaps one way to help children to think about their faith and to interact with non-Christians, but I would argue that homeschooling and private-schooling families can also prepare their children for faith-challenging experiences and encourage their children to interact with a variety of peers in other ways, too.

The author also encourages readers to think about others.  This is good.  Definitely.  She states, “but what  about other people’s children? Are we so rooted in fear of our child falling in with the “wrong” kids that we avoid having them even interact at all?”  That said, I think that many homeschooled and private schooled children interact with “wrong” kids (the author’s words) outside of school.  Before I address that, though, I wonder what the reference to “wrong kids” even means?  Does the author mean non-Christian kids, kids of a different socio-economic status, or kids of a different race?  She’s not clear, which I think is problematic.  Anyway, I think that children can interact with a variety of peers in different ways, such as on sports teams or other extra-curricular activities, etc. The author’s statement seems a bit like a blanket one to me.  I also think that the idea that kids should attend public schools to be “missionaries,” so to speak, can be somewhat dangerous because I believe that all missionaries need training to be effective.  My hope is that all Christian parents, whether they are public schooling, private schooling, or homeschooling, are taking an active role in training their children in God’s truth so that they are ready for faith-challenging experiences, wherever they experience them.

Next, I’d like to address the author’s statement that “for many, the choice of school is an entirely self-centered decision. We want to decide what is best for “us” or what will serve “our child” most completely. We want the best school for our kid in our neighborhood with our beliefs.”  The author almost makes it sound as if wanting the best for our children is somehow wrong, or at the very least, self-centered.  If that is her perspective, then I definitely disagree.  If someone believes that the best thing for their child is to attend a private school (or a public school, or a home school, for that matter), who are we to judge them for wanting/providing what they believe is the best for their child?  I think that this is even more true for parents who are prayerfully seeking God to help them to train up their children according to His will/ways.  I think we should be commending parents who are seeking to give the best to their children.  Further, if God has given someone the resources to send their child to a Christian school, or to homeschool, and they feel led by Him to do that, then I don’t think that’s a “self-centered” decision, as the author seems to suggest.

My personal perspective on Christian schools and homeschooling is that these educational options provide the teacher, and/or parent, with more time to train the child in the ways of the Lord.  While there are some pedagogical reasons that cause me to see benefits in these alternative forms of education (more about that another time), one of the reasons that pertains to this conversation is that faith and education can be intertwined.  Each subject can be taught from a Christian perspective and character education can be woven into everything throughout the day.  It’s important to note that I’m not saying that kids can’t learn morals in public schools, and I’m not saying that kids can’t grow in their faith in public schools.  They definitely can.  There are many amazing public school teachers who instill quality morals and foster important character traits in their students.  That said, the reality is that public school teachers cannot teach their students faith in the same way that private school teachers or homeschooling parents can, because they are constrained by a government that claims to take a strong stand against indoctrination.

My opinion is that ultimately, parents need to be informed about the options that are available to them, and then prayerfully consider what is best for their family, and potentially, each individual child.  I will never (ever) say that one type of education (whether it is public, private, or at home) is right for everyone.  The bottom line is that no matter what method of education parents choose for their child, I believe that they should know why they have made their choice.

I’d like to close by acknowledging that it is difficult to “hash out” various sides of a topic like education in a short article or blog posting.  Further, I don’t think that the author’s purpose was to fully discuss the topic.  I think that her purpose in writing the article was to get readers thinking and to challenge the way that some people view public schools.  In this, I think that she succeeded.  If articles like this one encourage us to “question assumptions and to reify the positions we take” (again, I’m borrowing my friend’s words), then they serve a valuable purpose.  My only concern is that if some points or misguided, or they are not based in research, then they could cause confusion for people who don’t read with a critical eye.   A discussion such as this one should challenge us to carefully consider what we read/hear no matter where it is coming from.

As, What, When

Another book that I have been reading is the Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.  My small group tackled this one in the fall and we are about halfway through.  The book is designed to foster (no pun intended) spiritual growth by teaching readers about the various inward, outward, and corporate spiritual disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

In the chapter on submission, Foster encourages readers to pray the prayer of Thomas a Kempis: “As thou wilt; what thou wilt; when thou wilt” in an effort to “yield our body, mind, and spirit for [God’s] purposes” (p.122).  I translated this simple prayer into language that works for me, and I try to include it regularly into my prayer time.  It’s just another way that I can daily attempt to surrender my will to His.

As you will.

What you will.

When you will.

What I Learned from Reading “One in a Million” by Priscilla Shirer

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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “title” as “the name given to something (such as a book, song, or movie) to identify or describe it.”  Sometimes, book titles give a significant part of the plot or message away.  As an elementary school teacher, the first book that comes to my mind that fits this category is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.  Not so surprisingly, the book is about a very hungry caterpillar.  That said, some book titles are much more vague, or secretive even.  They are designed to create interest.  Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell might fit into this category.  I think that the title One in a Million, by Priscilla Shirer, sits somewhere in the middle.  It grabbed my attention and gave me an idea of what I was signing up to read without giving too much away.

When I saw One in a Million sitting on the shelf at my local Christian bookstore, I was looking for a book to read that would foster personal growth.  I had previously enjoyed a Bible study written and taught by Shirer, so I turned the book over to read the back.  I discovered that the book’s purpose is to encourage readers to live life as “one in a million.”  Shirer explains that this is someone who seeks a “deep, daily experience of [God’s] ever-abiding presence” (back cover).  That is something that I want in my life.  The back of the book promised that Shirer would explain some strategies to live this way, while taking a closer look at the Israelites’ time travelling in the wilderness, a story that is chronicled in Exodus.  I was intrigued, and picked up the book.

There are few books that I have read that have gripped me as much as this one.  I have to assume that God led me to read this book during a difficult season of my life because He knew that it would be an encouragement to me.  Not only that, but it challenged me to grow.  As I read each chapter, I felt that Shirer had written the book just for me.  I’d like to record some of the important learning that I experienced during my reading.  Reflecting on information is a great way to consolidate learning and to help it sink deep into the long-term memory.  Further, if anyone will benefit from these thoughts, or are encouraged to read the book for themselves, this blog posting will have served an even greater purpose.

The book is divided into three sections:

  1. Deliverance
  2. Development
  3. Destiny

The first section discusses the desire that we have for abundant lives.  Fortunately for us, God wants to give us the desires of our heart!  He longs to give us confidence, joy, discernment, anticipation, and power.  Shirer points out that in order to attain these things, we must flee Egypt.  Keep in mind, that if you don’t live in Egypt, this statement still applies to you!  “Egypt” can be a state of mind.  “Egypt” can be brokenness or bondage in our lives.  “Egypt” can be a bad attitude.  We must yield to God’s Spirit so we can be free of places that Satan rules… our “Egypt.”

I believe it is so important to ask God for deliverance in areas that we struggle with.  Psalm 139:23-24 says: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”  I have learned that when we ask God to reveal our sin to us, He will!  Then, we can do as Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to do: “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

All this said, it’s important to remember that if we ask God to search us, or if we ask God for guidance, we can’t run away or ignore Him when we hear His voice.  If we are going to live abundant lives as “one in a millions,” Shirer encourages us to be “willing to step outside your cozy comfort zone”.

Once we have decided to leave Egypt behind and follow God unreservedly where He is leading, there comes a time of development.  For me, one of the main lessons in this section of the book was that God’s path is not always where we might expect.  Sometimes development requires a detour to the wilderness.  Shirer explains that for the Israelites, a straightforward overland route to Canaan would have been the shortest way to get there.  That said, “[God’s] purpose was not to get them to Canaan as quickly as possible.  Instead, He wanted to teach them trust and faithfulness.  He also wanted them to know Him as their Lord.  For us, the wilderness can be a season of struggle.  A season when it is harder to have our quiet time.  A season when we doubt.  Nevertheless, we are called to trust.  God desires for us to trust in His ability to provide, regardless of whether or not we understand the path that He is leading us to.  If nothing else, following God’s leading into the wilderness will produce endurance!  Fortunately, there are many other purposes of the wilderness:

  1. To protect us.
  2. To humble us.
  3. To teach us dependence on God.
  4. To teach us to trust.
  5. To put us in a position where we’ll start expecting more from God.
  6. To determine who or what is ultimately satisfying us.
  7. To know our Lord.
  8. To refresh us.
  9. To teach us patience.
  10. To engage our faith.
  11. To draw us near to Him.
  12. To bring God glory.
  13. To teach us to be willing to follow.
  14. To bless us.

In other words, the wilderness can be a time of incredible growth in our lives if we will yield to it.  Realizing the purpose that can be found in these times was incredibly encouraging to me as I waded ankle-deep through the sand and sat at the foot of Mount Sinai!  That said, Shirer explains that when we truly desire God, we don’t want anything to stand in the way of intimacy.  Even the wilderness. When we desire God, we obey, even if we have to experience the wilderness for a while for God to complete His purposes there.

Fortunately, there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”  Eventually, the “winds change” and God leads us out of the wilderness.  However, Shirer explains that “Promised Land living is reserved for those with a ‘different spirit’ (Numbers 14:24,30).”  We must follow wherever he nudges.  Whenever he nudges.  Fortunately, He is there with us every step of the way.

Shirer suggests that in order to live abundantly, we must never grow complacent in our faith.  We must draw near to Him to ensure continued intimacy.  Further, sometimes we must let go of good things to make room for better things.  So, how do we do this?  We must:

  1. Advance with courage.
  2. Accept your post.
  3. Adopt a willingness to stand alone.
  4. Act immediately.
  5. Activate your faith.
  6. Acknowledge God’s presence.
  7. Anticipate God’s miracles.

With God’s help, we can do these things!  Philippians 4:13 says that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  He will help us, but we must do our part: Seek Him.  Surrender.  Follow.  Obey.  If we do these things, we can experience “Promised Land living!”  I want to… don’t you?