Friday, July 27, 2018 all hinges on a tree

In the Garden of Eden, God put everything in place to take care of His creation. He gave us the fruit of every tree except one--the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan knows Scripture, and he knows humanity. He twisted God's command, playing into the idea that God is keeping the good stuff from us and setting up a list of rules we have to follow. He preyed on human pride--you are smart enough to decide right from wrong; you don't need God to tell you what to do.

With the fruit from that first tree, sin entered the world. all hinges on a tree. The blood poured from the raw, open flesh on Jesus' back and soaked into the wood of the cross that He was forced to carry to Golgotha. The sacrificial Lamb took on the weight of all the sins of mankind and carried that burden to a second tree. His death bridged the gap between humanity and God that had been created when sin entered the world.

With His death on that tree, sin was paid for. all hinges on a tree. In the new Jerusalem, a river that shines like crystal flows out from the throne of God and of the Lamb. This river flows down and splits the street. A more spectacular view in my opinion, though, is the tree of life. This tree is so big that it straddles the river and stands on both banks. Its leaves provide healing, and it grows 12 different types of fruit that grow all year long. Throughout eternity, we will no longer have to toil under the curse of sin.

With the fruit of that tree, God's children will live forever with Him. all hinges on a tree.

Friday, July 13, 2018

faith like a dog

Dogs are pretty incredible. It doesn't take much to make them happy--the smallest pat on the head, and they're good. Our two follow us everywhere, even when it is 95 degrees and sunny and they would be much more comfortable hanging out in the shade with the goats. They go blackberry picking with me, even though they don't eat blackberries. Stella is on my heels first thing in the morning when I go up to milk, and she follows me back to the barn every evening. Knute thinks the best place in the world is beside me.

I don't have to convince them to follow. I don't have to tell them where I'm going or what my plan is. If I get on to them, they know they've done something wrong and want nothing more than to please me again. "Good dog" makes their day. They greet me with tails wagging every time I come home, no matter how much (or how little) time has passed. They would follow me into danger if I told them to, even though they wouldn't understand my reasoning. They see mas as their master, and that's good enough of a reason to do anything I tell them.

God, give me the faith of my dogs. Help me to trust You to take care of me simply because You are my Master and You have promised to provide for me. Give me the desire to want nothing more than to be close to You--not because I want something from You, but just because being close to You is the best place in the world. Help me to follow You, to go where You go even when it would be more comfortable to stay where things are easy. Make pleasing You the desire of my heart--not because I have something to earn, but just because I long to hear "Well done" when this life is over. Let me come to You with joy every time I meet with you, simply because You are the One who makes my heart joyful. Let me see you as my Master and trust that You have my best interests in mind when You lead me, even when I don't understand Your reasoning.

***Thanks, Pop, for using this illustration. It has stuck with me for quite a while now...

Friday, June 15, 2018

a letter to my kids

First of all, whether you like it or not, "my kids" is how I will always think of you. No matter where you go in life or what you do, keep that in the back of your head. Hear my voice telling you "You're better than that" when you're thinking about doing something dumb, or "I knew you could figure it out" when you've pushed your way through to doing something spectacular that nobody else noticed.

My first year of teaching was hard, and when I left those kids it broke my heart a little. So when I started teaching you guys, I told myself that I would keep my distance. But then, you all pushed aside the barriers I had put in place like they were nothing. It didn't take long for you all to get into my heart.

I know I frustrated you beyond belief by saying, "I don't know--what do you think?" when you asked me questions in class. I hope you know that I said that because I had faith in you and knew you could figure it out if you worked just a little harder. Remember that going forward, because it's true about most things in life. If you'll work just a little harder and push yourself just a little more than you think you can, you can figure out how to deal with just about anything that comes up. I believe in you.

That's why it breaks my heart now to leave you. It wasn't something I planned to do--I figured I would see all of you through to graduation. The thing is, quite often God's plans for us are different than the plans we make for ourselves. And when He opens a door, no matter how scary or how far out of your comfort zone it is, you need to step through.

The last three years have meant so much to me. It has been a privilege to be your math teacher, even when you were asking me when you would ever use math in your future (and I hope my voice pops into your head every time you use math in the real world, telling you "But you never use math in the real world...!"). You guys have challenged me in ways I never thought possible, both good and bad.

You've tested my patience and pushed ALL my buttons. I've stayed up late more nights than I can count, trying to figure out how to get through to some of you. I've prayed for you. I've cried tears over you, believe it or not. My heart has broken for you all time and time again. I've seen you all hurt each other (and told you that you know better) and I've seen you deal with hurts kids should never have to deal with. You've pushed me to the edge more than once, leaving me struggling to hold on to my sanity.

At the same time, though, you all have brought me so much joy. You've made me laugh and smile even on my hardest days. I've seen some of you all grow from awkward junior high kids trying to figure out who you are to young men and young women who are finding your places in this world. I've seen you stand up for each other and push each other to be better. I've watched you work through math problems you never thought you could handle, and I've seen the pride in your eyes (even if you wouldn't admit it). I've seen you become better people, and it has been an amazing thing to get to watch.

It hurts to think that I won't be with you guys all the time as you finish your high school careers, but it eases my heart and mind to know that I'm leaving you in good hands. My sister is an amazing math teacher, and she will love you guys as much as I have. Don't give her too hard of a time, but push a little bit--she needs that from time to time. I know you all are going to love her and find your way into her heart, too.

Know I'm always here if you need me. I'm in the phone book (or stop by--most of you know where we live) or shoot me an email or facebook message. I know I'm a little hard to read sometimes, but know that I love you guys. Sometimes it's tough love, but sometimes that's what you need. Like I said at the beginning, you're my kids and you always will be. That means I want nothing but the best for you. You will still be in my prayers and my thoughts, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for you.

Monday, May 21, 2018

when God seems slow...

Why is God waiting? Why does He watch this world as it falls apart, just sitting back while it spins out of control? Why does He let bad things happen? why doesn't Jesus just come back already?

In the midst of all the chaos and unrest and fear, God is still at work. He is there with those who are in the fire. He is there with those who sink down into the pit. He is there when the earth shakes or when the flood waters rush in or when the stars fall from the heavens.

Because the thing is, if even one soul turns to Him in that moment, it was worth it. If one person sees the waves crashing around him and cries out like Peter did, "Lord, save me!" then who are we to say that God should have held back the flood waters?

Or, on a more personal side, if there was one single person who was drawn to God's side in part due to my brother's death, who am I to say that God should have spared him on that August day in Najaf? I know where my brother ended up. Why would I want to take that chance away from someone else?

It's easy to look at how things seem to be spiraling down and think that God should simply have the angels sound the trumpets and bring all His children home. It's easy to ask why He lets bad things happen to good people. What's hard to do, though, is to see the big picture. It's hard to see the good that can come out of something bad, the lessons that are learned in the waiting, and the light that shines brightest in the midst of the darkness.

"Now the Lord is not slow about enacting His promise—
slow is how some people want to characterize it—
no, He is not slow but patient and merciful to you,
not wanting anyone to be destroyed,
but wanting everyone to turn away from following his own path
and to turn toward God’s."
2 Peter 3:9

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

to the class of 2018

I have high hopes for you. I don't wish you fame and fortune, and I hope that's not what you spend your life chasing.

Instead, I wish you a good life.

I don't mean an easy life. Easy lives have a tendency to make weak people.

I wish you enough hard times to help you develop the grit you will need to become a strong person. Helen Keller once said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved." 

I wish you people who will stand against you, because it is only then that you truly develop an appreciation for the people who stand beside and behind you.

I wish you times that knock you flat on your face, because sometimes those are the only times that remind you of the importance of being on your knees before God.

I wish you boredom, because it is only when time seems to slow down that you take the time to look around you and notice the blessings of quietness.

I wish you hard work. Very few things in this life that are worth having come easily, so I hope you have the chance to work really hard for something incredibly important...even if the rest of the world thinks it doesn't matter.

I wish you love. Not the fairytale, happily-ever-after type of love. Instead, the 1 Corinthians type--a love that is sacrificial and protective and forgiving. A love that "can walk through fire without blinking," like Alan Jackson sang. A love that stands true through the ugly times and the hard times.

I wish you a goal you can't reach. I hope something you want stays just a little bit out of reach, because that's what keeps you striving to be better.

I wish you two sunrises--one you see because you stayed up all night, and one you see because you got up early. There's a different type of beauty in each.

I wish you tears over the loss of someone dear. As much as it rips a hole in your heart, you don't know just how deeply you love people until you've lost someone you never thought would be gone. I wish you the kind of sobs that leave you breathless, because it is only after the tears have finally stopped that you realize the importance of smiling through the memories that once hurt your very soul.

I wish you the opportunity to become a hero to someone, but I hope you don't do it for the recognition. I hope you brighten someone else's life just for the sake of it, because you want to make someone's day just a little brighter.

I wish you the chance to defend your faith, because it makes you stop and actually think about what you believe--and why you believe it. Blind faith is often dangerous faith, so approach God with your eyes wide open. I hope you are able to defend your faith with grace, humility, and clarity.

I wish you have a burden too heavy to carry on your own. Even the most introverted of us was made for community, and communities are made for helping you when you have too much to handle.

I wish you exhaustion, both physical and mental, because you don't know how far you can push yourself until you've reached what you thought was your limit--and then pushed further.

I wish you laughter that makes your stomach hurt, and I hope you share it with someone you thought you had nothing in common with.

I wish you the chance to get so lost that you have no choice but to rely on the kindness of a stranger.

I wish you the opportunity to spend time with somebody's grandparent, and I hope you take the time to really listen to the stories they tell.

I wish you a glimpse of this world through the eyes of a toddler, someone whose view hasn't been dimmed by cynicism and who still knows how to run without fear of falling.

Most of all, I wish for you to spend your life. Don't try to save up all your living for some far away tomorrow, because we aren't even promised the next breath. So take every gift that God has given you and pour them all out into those around you. Let Him use you, because His purpose for your life is so much more than anything you can imagine. Strive to become more and more like Christ, to follow in His footsteps even when--especially when--it's hard, to love the unlovables and reach out to the untouchables.

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:33&34

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

the agony of Christ

Have you ever prayed for rescue? I don't mean a nice, neat, "Dear God, please help me get through..." prayer wrapped up with a pretty "Amen." I'm talking about a gut-wrenching, tears streaming, no real words forming type of prayer, one without any real sentences and that's poured out in between sobs.

I've cried and begged, full of the knowledge of God's power. I know that He is the One who has the ability to control everything that happens around me. If He can speak this universe with all its intricacies into existence, it would be simple for Him to put a stop to whatever it is I'm needing to be rescued from--whether it is physical, emotional, financial, or psychological. I know that He can reach down and pull me out of any bad situation, so I pour out my heart to Him through one of those ugly cries, begging for Him to take away the pain.

And if God hears me, if He is truly listening and if He's truly good, He'll swoop in and rescue me. If I don't see things work out the way I want and expect, my human nature tells me that God didn't hear my pleas.

It's easy to forget that we aren't alone in our tears. When Jesus was in the garden, His own tears fell as He begged God to spare Him from the agony of the cross. His anxiety was so intense that His sweat was mixed with blood, a condition known as
hematidrosis which occurs when the tiny capillaries that feed blood to the sweat glands rupture, letting blood seep into the sweat. This condition is said to leave the skin feeling tender. Growing up under Roman rule, Jesus would have seen crucifixions. He would have known all about Roman punishment and all that it entailed. He knew what lay ahead.

He lived His entire life with the knowledge of the cross looming before Him, knowing that the prophet Isaiah was talking about Him when we wrote,

"Indeed, who would ever believe it?
Who would possibly accept what we've been told?
Who has witnessed the awesome power and plan of the Eternal in action?
Out of emptiness He came,
like a tender shoot from rock-hard ground.
He didn't look like anything or anyone of consequence--
He had no physical beauty to attract our attention.
So He was despised and forsaken by men,
this man of suffering,
grief's patient friend.
As if He was a person to avoid, we looked the other way;
He was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of Him.
Yet it was our suffering He carried,
our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness.
We just figured that God had rejected Him,
that God was the reason He hurt so badly.
But He was hurt because of us.
Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed Him.
He endured the breaking that made us whole.
The injuries He suffered became our healing.
We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep,
scattered by our aimless striving and endless pursuits;
The Eternal One laid on Him the sins of us all."
Isaiah 53:1-6

In that night in the garden, Jesus was in agony. He knew He was about to be beaten, bloodied, and broken by the very people He came to save. So He spent the night in prayer, begging His Father to rescue Him, to put a stop to the pain.
"When Jesus was on the earth,
a man of flesh and blood,
He offered up prayers and pleas,
groans and tears to the One who could save Him from death.
He was heard because He approached God with reverence.
Although He was a Son,
Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered."
Hebrews 5:7 & 8

"He was heard..." Jesus was not spared the pain of the cross. His tears in the garden didn't end there--they once again mixed with sweat and blood as He hung on the cross, the blood pouring from just about every inch of His body. It coated the wood of the cross, probably mingling with the others who had hung on that cross before Him. His blood mixed with the blood of thieves and murderers, the worst of criminals in Roman eyes, and He died the death of a criminal. He was ridiculed and spit on, beaten and mocked.
"He was heard..." Despite all He suffered, Jesus was heard. God didn't rescue Him from the bad situation. In fact, He put Jesus right into the middle of the worst punishment the Romans could think up. Jesus watched His friends abandon Him. He looked into the agonized eyes of His mother as He hung on the cross.

"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things He suffered." When I've gone through hard times--the times that have left me crying those ugly cries that make your stomach hurt--there have always been lessons. I haven't seen the lesson in everything yet, but I'm slowly learning. That's not to say that I accept the suffering like Paul, saying that I rejoice in it. I still wallow in self-pity, asking "why me?" and begging for rescue. I'm still working on that lesson, I guess.

What I'm trying to do is learn from Jesus. I don't think it is wrong to pray for rescue. After all, Jesus begged for that very thing. What's important, though, is what He added to His prayer--
"Yet not My will, but Your will, be done."
Luke 22:42

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

the classroom as a basketball team...

You're a basketball coach. You got into the field because you wanted the chance to work with kids, to give back by helping kids develop into the people you know they are capable of being (because let's face it--coaches do so much more than shape players. They shape teenagers into the young men and young women they will become.). You know the superstars will be few and far between, but that's okay. You're happy to spend most of your time helping your players develop the basic skills they'll need to be effective on the court. You know that they can't move forward to accomplish big things unless they grasp the fundamentals.

Over time, though, something changes. Instead of having players who understand responsibility and the importance of self-discipline, your players start getting lazy. They stop coming to open gym and shooting around to practice on their own simply because that takes extra effort that they really don't feel like putting in. Basketball just isn't a priority to them any more. At first, that's okay. When someone stops trying, you can cut them from the team. But then, someone decides that every kid should have the chance to play and they do away with cuts. No big deal--you can just bench those players who refuse to work. If they don't put forth the effort, they don't get to play--it's as simple as that. You give everyone the workout and you teach them all the fundamentals, but if they choose not to work, that's not on you. The players are responsible for their own effort, because that's not something you can control.

Then one day, you're told that your focus has to change. You are told that there are too many players who aren't getting playing time. You explain why those players are on the bench, how they are skipping practices and barely working when they show up. You talk about the kid who doesn't even try when the team is shooting free throws in practice; instead, he stands at the line and plays around, tossing the ball up in the air but not actually shooting. Obviously, that explanation should be enough. You can't control whether or not a kid actually tries in practice, especially since the school has done away with cuts. And then they make another change--since basketball is something everyone should have some knowledge of, they are going to push every kid to play. Now, you will have a full team from 9th grade through 12th grade because 4 years of basketball are required for graduation.

And oh yeah--you are supposed to get 80% of those kids to master the game. That means they should be hitting 70% of their shots from everywhere on the court. It doesn't matter that some kids have the ability to shoot 3s and other kids struggle just to make a shot from right under the basket. You, as a coach, should find a way to reach each and every kid who comes through your gym. You should be able to find a way to motivate each one and encourage them enough to make up for any differences in ability levels, right? It's not just shooting, though. Your players should master everything about the game of basketball, including everything from dribbling around defenders to stealing the ball to running plays, and everything should be done with 70% accuracy.

By the way, you should really start using the internet to teach them these skills. Technology is a wonderful tool, and we should include it in every aspect of practice. Your kids should be able to learn just as well that way. After all, the school sunk a lot of money into programs that claim to increase accuracy and even make learning the fundamentals not seem like work. And we all know how much people (especially kids) value things they don't have to work for, right?

You know this isn't going to be what's best for the kids, but you're told you don't have a choice. You either do what's required, or you find a new job. So you do your best. You take those kids who have never been able to dribble, and you start working with them. Not only do you have to get them dribbling, though, you have to get them shooting 3s. So while you're trying to get them caught up on the basics, you're also trying to get them to understand the nuances of a good shot, an effective screen, and that 2-1-2 defense. You should also get them to develop an incredible court awareness. It's not enough for them to be able to do the skills when you tell them to; a good basketball player should be able to see the game as it unfolds and figure out which skills are needed and when: zone vs. man-to-man, or driving to the basket vs. setting up a 3.

It doesn't matter that you have a bunch of kids who have no interest in basketball. Even if they are an accomplished musician bound for Julliard, they still need to master advanced skills in basketball. That math genius who is doing Calculus at 14? Doesn't matter--basketball is required for her. Or the kid who is a computer aficionado and hacked into the Hubble telescope? Yeah, he needs basketball, too. That's part of a well-rounded education, and we need to show that all of our kids (not just the ones who want basketball to be part of their futures) are better at basketball than every other set of kids in the world.

It doesn't take long before your whole team starts to suffer. Since every player is supposed to get the same amount of playing time, your former stars are riding the bench more than they're on the court. In practice, you're stuck having them help the kids who are struggling with the basics, because you have to figure out some way to teach everybody separately, at the same time. The higher-ups have a solution, of course--simply have those more talented players move on and practice on their own. They should obviously be able to teach themselves the more advanced skills, right? Why should they need an actual coach when they have all these other resources at their disposal? Just give them some videos, diagrams, and a court, and they'll go on to develop their talents on their own.

It sounds insane, right?

Sadly, that's what is happening every day in classrooms across the nation. I'm a math and physics nerd, and I love the puzzles and beauty of those subjects. I think it would be wonderful if everyone loved what I love, but I know that's not the case. In fact, some people actually hate both of those subjects. And you know what? That's okay. Part of the beauty of people is that we were all created with different interests, strengths, and weaknesses. That's what makes things so amazing. If you are interested in something, that becomes your focus and your passion. If you don't like something, you leave it to others. You don't have to become 70% proficient in every topic. You try some things and fail spectacularly; you try other things and become an expert.

In our schools, though, somehow the people making the decisions don't see things that way. Teachers are expected to find a way to take a lack of ability and take all the apathy that gets thrown at them from kids who don't care and turn all of that into mastery of the huge list of topics that gets thrown at us.

We need to focus on individualized education, but not in the way that is being pushed right now. If a kid is interested in trade school, why can't that start in 9th grade? If we have a kid who is gifted with welding, or wiring, or engines, or a whole host of other things that I can't wrap my brain around, why do they need to sit in a classroom learning Algebra II or American Literature or (as much as it hurts me to say it) Physics? And if we have a student who is planning on medical school, shouldn't that student be given the chance to be in advanced math and science courses without having to be that kid who pulls everyone else along?  What about our writers? Singers? Artists? Farmers? Architects?

I completely agree that there are basics that every student should get. It's a throw back to the "3 Rs" of "Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic" that we used to see when compulsory school went to 8th grade. But when did we decide every student needed to be an expert in every subject?

And when are we going to realize that those making the decisions about education are pushing a system that isn't in the best interest of our kids, and start pushing back? all hinges on a tree

In the Garden of Eden, God put everything in place to take care of His creation. He gave us the fruit of every tree except one--the tree of...

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