A Teacher Prayer for the End of this Year – 2021

Lord,
Like Moses standing before the Red Sea with Pharoah’s army at his heels, last August we stood before a school year with Covid restrictions and virtual students and we were overwhelmed. We were trapped with an ocean of obstacles ahead and Covid at our heels. “Impossible,” we thought. But you Lord. . . . but YOU LORD, have brought us through. As we bravely determined to march ahead, You moved the waters. You went before us and made a way where there was no way. Digital technologies made virtual learning possible. Masks allowed students to return to regular classes. Teachers worked together to find good strategies for teaching in this new learning environment. We see Your hands at work in all of these things.

You LORD brought us to THIS DAY! Today we celebrate You for guiding us through the depths of destruction of Covid and the barriers to teaching that were literally strapped to our faces. In the desert, You miraculously provided manna and water for Israel. As we marched through our educational desert, and in spite of the odds, we had virtual students who actually grew and learned new concepts. You refreshed us in those moments. Now, at the end of this long trek, today we celebrate how You brought us to the promised land of summer break and we remember the depths from which we came.

You provided everything that was needed for Israel to be free from slavery in Egypt so they could become the people You had called them to be. . . . . your people. . . . . people who would represent you to the world. As teachers, you have brought us through our struggles for a purpose too. You are calling us to represent You as well. These struggles have shaped us. They have brought us together and strengthened our relationships. They have forced us to let go of some of our own burdens and begin leaning on one another. You have brought us to this place today so we will be “better together” . . . . . so we will be able to represent You to our students. Lord, continue to guide us to become the people (and teachers) that You have called us to be.

Lord, today we are excited for summer break, but we also remember all that You have done and we celebrate You! You are worthy of all our worship, not because You brought us through this crazy year, but simply because You are God and because You have loved us so greatly. Your son, Jesus is the full expression of Your love and for Him, we give You thanks and praise. It’s in His name that we pray.

AMEN

Arrows – Be Brave

Steve’s Word:
I am very blessed to have my children. God has shown immense and undeserved favor to me in bringing my kids into my life. I feel humble and inadequate for the task of raising them to know Him and to bring Him glory, but by His grace, empowered by His Spirit, I will. Notice, I did not say “try.” Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And that is very appropriate here. “Trying” is not good enough in this monumental endeavor. It’s not enough to “try” to raise them as God has called. I must “do.”


God’s Word: 

Psalm 127:4 – Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Steve’s Word:
According to this verse, my kids are my arrows, but what does that mean? What do arrows do? Answer: They are launched into the world by the archer (the Father) in order to advance His army into enemy territories. It is my prayer that their young lives will be spent “becoming” arrows and that as they grow, they will be launched into the world to “take ground” from the enemy so that God’s army can be advanced. The arrow’s purpose is to help Him with His purposes for His Kingdom and His glory. Arrows also go into dangerous places – enemy territory. They take risks for a greater purpose and penetrate the darkness with light. Arrows are aimed at specific targets, not just thrown out randomly. The archer “plans” his shot. God is a skilled archer, He has a plan and is able to place you in the exact place He needs you to be.

My children are the only arrows I have and I pray that they will be all of these things. It will take bravery, but they are children of God who I pray will be empowered by the Spirit of God when one day they choose to honor Him and give Him their lives.

God’s Word:
Romans 8:31b – If God is for us, who can be against us?

Psalm 45:5 – Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.

Famous Words:
“With God, you are stronger than your struggles and more fierce than your fears. God provides comfort and strength to those who trust in Him. Be encouraged, keep standing, and know that everything’s going to be alright.” – Germany Kent

“Playing it safe is risky. The greatest risk is taking no risks.” – Mark Batterson

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Khalil Gibran

“Life is like an arrow. The farther back you are pulled, the farther forward you will end up.” – Unknown

“A single arrow is easily broken; a quiver of ten is not.” – Japanese proverb

“Jesus didn’t die to make us safe, but to make us dangerous.” – Mark Batterson

“You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham

Personal Story:
I haven’t had the pleasure of launching my children out into the world just yet, so the only story I can tell is about some of my students from when I was in youth ministry. One of my greatest joys is watching my ex-students who have grown up and continued to follow Jesus into their adult lives. I have old students who have done mission work all over the world. Off the top of my head I can think of students who have served in Egypt, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Liberia, Scotland, South Africa, China, and Thailand. I have also been able to download sermon podcasts from some of my old students who are pastors. Others have been involved in youth ministry, music ministry, church planting, and other local church ministries. I can think of at least 15 of my ex-students who have served in ministry in a full-time role. There are countless others who are serving in other ways. I even have connections with a couple of my old students who are living out their faith in Hollywood. One is in the modeling/acting world and another is a musician. Both travel all over the world regularly and share their faith in each of those places.

One of my favorite things is when there is some sort of event that brings these people back together. A couple years ago, we got to attend a retirement party for our friend Jon Godbold and we had the chance to see and catch up with a lot of those students. It’s truly a joy for me to watch how they are serving the Lord and to know that God was working among us during our times together to lead them to those places. If that’s how I feel about ex-students, I can’t imagine how great it will be to watch my own children grow into the people that God has planned for them to be. I’m excited to watch as they are launched into the world and take ground for His kingdom. As the verse says, I am blessed to have some arrows in my quiver.

Not the Place

You may see a group of cabins and a firepit, but I see people too. . . . friends gathered around that fire singing songs and sharing some of the deepest parts of their lives. The sound of that door springing open unleashes thoughts of 80’s hair bands blasting through a jambox and floods my heart with joy and the emotions I experienced in those cabins. I can smell the wind as it carries laughter through the trees, and in spite of my attempts to describe it, you will never be able to hear that laughter. And how could I blame you? You weren’t there.

I love being in certain places. There are places that conjure deep emotions for me and some that make me feel light and free. Each of these places is filled with memories.

As much as I try, I have found that I can’t really ever go back to those places though. I mean. . . yes. . . I can be in the same space and I can enjoy being there and remembering, but it’ll never quite be the way I remembered it. What I remember is not just the place, it’s the people who were with me and the circumstances around my life that shaped the way I experienced that place. Even if the place has by some miracle stayed the same, the people and circumstances around my life have changed and so I experience it differently.

David Wilcox says, “The measure of that place is the pleasure on your face.”

It’s not the place that makes it special – it’s the people and it’s God. What makes certain places stand out and become memorable to us is God’s hand stirring our hearts and guiding our thoughts/emotions as we interact with others in the space that we’re in. (By the way, even if you’re alone in the space, God is still with you.)

 

Train Up a Child

Proverbs 22:6 – “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I don’t know what you hear when you read this verse (or hear someone using it to tell you how to raise your child), but this is what I hear: “Raise your kid right. Teach him all the rules about how to live a Godly life and how to treat other people and when he is old, he will live that way. Train him to be a Godly man, and he won’t go down the wrong path. Whatever you teach him or forget to teach him, will determine how he will live and if he will be a productive member of society.”

Well..I hear something like that anyway. However, this is NOT what the Scripture says. I’m not going to debate all the ins and outs of what I hear, but I do want to point out what the verse actually says. Charles F Boyd says:

“The phrase ‘in the way he should go’ does not refer to some prescribed path that every person should follow. In the Hebrew language, the phrase is better rendered, ‘according to his way.’ And the Hebrew word for ‘way’ is derek, which literally means ‘bent’ and refers to a unique inner design or direction.” 

This verse is not about rules and a path, but about a relationship with my children. It means I’ve got to learn how God made them – their spiritual gifts, their skills/abilities, their passions/heart. I need to work at God’s side. God designed my children a certain way for His specific purposes and my role is to watch them closely, to recognize God’s handiwork, and then to join Him to strengthen and grow those gifts within them. I need to pay attention to the people in their lives and the opportunities that God presents to them. All of these things can be pieces to discovering God’s will for their lives. In order to “train them up in the way they should go,” I’m going to have to know something about the way they should go. Building close relationships is my best chance at getting that part right.

In the world we live in, it’s clear that people are able to accomplish more when they operate in the their strengths. That’s what this verse is about: finding our kids “strengths” (spiritual gifts) and then training them to develop those gifts to their full potential.

Worst Dad

Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.

Presence

The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

Quiet – The Internet Can’t Do This

Quiet – The internet doesn’t do quiet. It’s good for a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The internet overflows with information. It is loud and noisy. It’s a million voices. It’s full of people. (Many who would never be so obnoxious in person.) This can be a great thing. Sometimes, we need sensory overload and we need to fill our brains. Only then, can we sort through it all and make sense of the world around us.

Unfortunately, we need quiet for that part to happen. We can’t live our lives fully online, ’cause the internet doesn’t do quiet. When we’re online, we don’t see the long, quiet, thoughtful moments where people wrestled with themselves or with God or with other people. No one communicates the deep unsure quiet space where they work through things…..where they pray or where they seek guidance, but we need these times to sort through all the noise and settle in on the quiet where we find the “still small voice.”

I studied under Mike Ayers in college and he used to say, “A leader needs time to sit and stare out the window.” We’ve all got to have time to stare and imagine what life “could” be like and maybe more importantly, how it “should” be. Staring out the window gives us a chance to imagine and create a way to get to these new places, how build something new, to develop a new strategy. It allows us space to dream. Maybe daydreaming should be a bit of a discipline? When we need to make big/important decisions we need space and margin. We need quiet. Internet can’t do this.

Confession: Quiet is what I need. Soccer games, and football practices, and dance classes, and church responsibilities, and work, and family, and lifegroup, and, and, and. It all just overwhelms me. My life seems like a lot of noise. Then I come home to the internet……and it’s just more noise, more information, more, more, more. The stress builds and just piles on. I feel like screaming. I just want it to stop. I need quiet. I need margin and space so I am working on it. As a family, we are taking January off from sports – no soccer games or practices. We didn’t sign up for basketball. We’re planning to go camping. I’m also refraining from tv and much of the internet – planning to read more and write (on this blog) – to contemplate and sit and “stare out the window.” Pray for me.

I’d also encourage you to do the same – take a break from the internet. Disconnect and I believe you’ll find real connections – deep connections which the internet cannot provide. Get quiet. Listen to God. He is so much better than the internet. He has real answers without the booming voice – without all the sensory overload and confusion. He is the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

Handle It

“God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.” – Ugh! I hate it when I hear this statement. I don’t think Noah could have handled the flood without God’s intervention and instruction. Moses wouldn’t have gotten Israel out of Egypt without the plagues that God provided. The walls of Jericho didn’t fall ’cause Joshua could handle it. They fell ’cause God handled it and Joshua obeyed. Would David have said, “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle?” He cries out to God regularly in the Psalms. He understood that he couldn’t handle it. We can’t “handle it” either.

The phrase is not a horrible thing to say. It’s not that it’s completely wrong. It just strikes something in me strangely. When people say this, they are trying to say that they trust God. They recognize that He is in control. However, it also makes me think that they might be confused about something. I mean – Do they think they can handle the situation? Do they think that God knows how awesome they are and that He is trusting them to handle it? Do they think God is acting as some sort of self-esteem booster giving them a vote of confidence in their own strength? ‘Cause I think that’s what our culture hears when we say it. Listen to it again – “God won’t give me anything ‘I’ can’t handle.” – It sort of implies ’cause “I am strong.”

I think God allows us into all kinds of situations that we can’t handle on our own. Sometimes I even wonder if He puts us into situations that we can’t handle? The key is – we can’t handle them “on our own.” We need His intervention. We aren’t relying on our own strength. We rely on Him. He is the provider. He is our strength. Yes – we can handle it, but only when we’ve got Him. The phrase we use leaves Him out of it in some ways. It places the power to overcome in the hands of “I.”

You see, when people use this phrase, some believe they are quoting Scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you will be able to endure it.”

This passage in context is talking about the temptation of idolatry – not every life situation that you find yourself in. Temptation, not circumstances. Yes – of course almost every circumstance can be reduced to some sort of idolatry so it sort of applies, but the critical part of the verse is not the part about our own “ability.” It’s the part about God’s provision and intervention on our behalf. We are to watch for His action – his “way of escape”, trusting that it will come, and then walk in faith into the “way of escape” that He provides. The power in this verse is in God’s hands, not our own. We are in need and He intervenes – providing a “way of escape.”

I’ve been through some things that I couldn’t handle. God allowed those things to happen to me. I couldn’t handle it when my dad died of leukemia. I couldn’t handle it when I lost my job and couldn’t provide for my family. I can’t even handle it when the lady in front of me at the grocery store has a bunch of coupons. The point is – I need God’s intervention. I need the “way of escape.” God gives me lots of things I can’t handle and I can choose to either let those things drive me closer to Him or drive a wedge between us. If I believe that the power to handle the situation is in my own hands, then I’m more likely to abandon God and go it alone. On the other hand, with a right understanding of this verse, I will look for His actions and be drawn closer to Him.

Friends, this is just sort of a pet peeve of mine. Instead of saying “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle,” please just say “God will help me through this one.” This way, my mind won’t launch into some ill-conceived idea that you don’t understand the Scriptures and that it’s my job to make you see it my way. I’m pathetic.

OK – My rant is over now. What do you guys think? Am I crazy? Am I reading too much into what people are saying or do you think there might be some misunderstanding as well? Are we communicating something unintentionally when we use this phrase?

Lost

Surrounded by strangers, my mind raced. . . .she’s not here? My heart sank. I went into denial. She has to be here. There’s nowhere else she can be. My heart sank deeper. No. It can’t be. No! No. No. No. My baby is missing. The tears started rolling down my face as I slammed my face into my hands.

My extended family (brother, sister, in-laws, nephews, nieces) was skiing in Angelfire, New Mexico and Kesleigh (6yrs old) was a brand new skier. We all started at the top of the mountain together and headed down a run we had done together multiple times that day. My son Kasen had a little spill and so I stopped to help him and allowed my daughter, Kesleigh to continue down the slope with our group. After getting Kasen settled, we raced toward the rest of our group and caught up with my brother about 1/3rd of the way down. He pointed Kesleigh out to me quite a ways down so I sped up and headed in her direction flying past lots of other skiers. I could see her with my sister as she turned a corner. When I made it to the turn, I saw my sister helping her son get up but didn’t see Kesleigh anywhere. She told me that she must have followed the others on down to the ski lift. There was only one ski lift at the bottom of that hill and she had been skiing with our group all morning long so I felt pretty good about meeting her at the bottom, but raced down to catch her anyway.

That’s when my mind started racing and my heart sank. She wasn’t there. Where could she have gone? What could have happened? Maybe it’s irrational, but I imagined some crazy abduction case or that maybe she had not made it down the mountain and was stuck hanging over the edge of some cliff. Why did I leave her? How could I have let her go on without me? Why? OK…….OK….Calm down. What should I do? OK – be smart. Alright. I asked my family to head up the lift looking for her and then to make another run down sweeping the area in search while I waited at the bottom in case she came down in the meantime. Waiting. . . . Oh, this can’t be. What kind of father are you? Is she alone? Please God. Keep her safe. Bring her back to us. Time moved so slowly. Please God. If I can’t be with her, please put someone else with her to help. My phone started ringing. My sister. She said they had seen Kesleigh from the lift and that she would come over the hill at any moment where would be able to see her. Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God. Oh. . . . there she is. As she approached, I could see her whole body quivering from her cry. She skied right into my arms and held her quivering dad who couldn’t control his own crying.

Evidently, she had crashed near my sister in between some trees where no one could see her. By God’s grace, and as an answer to prayer, another skier just “happened” to stop a few feet away from her and heard her crying. She helped Kesleigh out of the trees and got her back on her skis. After waiting a few minutes for someone to come looking for her, they decided that we must be waiting at the bottom. She told me that she knew she’d find some very worried parent at the lift. She was right. I couldn’t thank her enough and have prayed for God to bless she and her family many times since that day. She was an answer to prayer.

After the whole incident, Kesleigh and I talked about it and she forgave me for not being there. She also learned that God is watching over us and helping us even when no one else is. God never leaves us or forsakes us. Even when we are alone, we are NOT alone.

Thank God.

Lowering the Bar

I was inspired by a friend (Denice Lambert) who posted this on facebook:

J: What do you want these boys to wear?
Me: They already dressed themselves. They sort of match and their clothes don’t have any holes or stains.
J: So those are the standards now?
Me: Yep.

Lowering the bar might be the most Godly thing you can do. (as long as it’s the right bar/standard) Lowering one bar is sometimes essential in order to raise another.

One simple example: Our house doesn’t always have to be spotless. When visitors drop in, it’s highly unlikely that they will find an OCD dream. Most of the time, we have shoes piled in one corner of the room and there might be clothes folded on the couch or backpacks opened with school supplies falling out onto the floor. It’s “lived in.” When I come home from work, I could focus my attention on cleaning up the place, or I could go outside and play with my kids. Some of you may disagree, but my calculations say that time with my children is more important. By lowering the “clean house” bar, I can raise the bar for my relationships. (Let me also say, that this one with my personality is easy for me to lower. My beautiful bride, who is usually correct, would like for me to pick this bar up off the floor a bit more.)

By choosing a specific bar to lower, we can focus on those things which are more important. By lowering one bar we might also grant permission to others to do the same. Using my previous example….maybe my wife only feels like the house has to be clean because her other friends have raised this bar…because our culture has said this is the “norm.”

By continuing to follow our cultural standards to always raise the bar, we perpetuate the myth that we can have it ALL together. It’s simply not true. We can play this game and mask the fact that we are not perfect, but that doesn’t make us perfect. In reality this game, forces us to neglect some other area in our life – quite possibly an area which is ultimately more important. Also, by continuing to raise all the bars, we overload ourselves with unreal expectations. When we fail and these expectations aren’t met, we feel an unnecessary sense of guilt.

When I attended CBS (College of Biblical Studies) they used a system called “Contract Grading.” They set a standard of a specific grouping of assignments and explained that if the student did each assignment successfully, he would receive an “A.” A smaller subset of those assignments would receive a “B” and an even smaller set would receive a “C.” They did not put pressure on students to work for the “A” all the time, and even explained that they understood that each of us had a life outside of school. They said that it might even be “sinful” to get an “A” in the class if it took us away from something that might be more important. I LOVED this approach and was set free emotionally to put as much or as little into each class as I felt like God would want me to do. These teachers communicated a trust in our own judgement and yet still held us to a standard that would stretch each of us. They gave us the option to “lower the bar.”

What bars/standards consume your time and drain your energy? Are they getting in the way of more important bars? Is someone else’s high bar making you feel inadequate? If so, evaluate the bar, is it important or will you choose to keep it low and focus elsewhere?

Prayer:   LORD, Help me to see which bars I need to lower and which ones I should raise. Give me discernment. Lead me to a schedule that will allow me to focus on the standards which you think are important and whittle away those which are not. AMEN.