Friday, November 28, 2014

School's Out

I love Thanksgiving and Christmas but as a teacher, I think Spring Break may be my favorite school holiday. It comes at just the right time to catch your breath and head for the homestretch. But with all three of those mini-vacations, I know I'm going to see the kids again. There are no guarantees with the last day of school. The following, from May 23, 2007, is about the end of that school year.

They walked out at 11:15 this morning. My sixth period, eighth grade Bible class took the last exam on the final day. We prayed right before the announcement came ending the school year and I asked God's blessing on them before they sprinted into the summer. Suddenly, it was over. Ruby and Haley, two of my players, trickled back in to say good-bye and then I was left with my last two sets of tests to grade. My room was empty, the halls were empty, and I already miss the kids. I told both my classes of middle schoolers that today was the last time I would ever see some of them again. It's doubtful most of them grasped what I told them- I probably would not at their age- but you still have to try. Tomorrow, I will clean Room 258 and go through my shut-down checklist. I'm always the last teacher to finish but I hope this year will be different. There is so much to get done and only seventy-nine days until the next kids stroll in on Day One of the new year. I'll be ready.

It was a good year but it will take time to find out if I was effective. I helped plant some seeds of the word of God and maybe watered them as well. The growth that Paul say comes from God isn't always readily apparent. It took me decades to appreciate some of my teachers and invariably, they were the ones I couldn't stand when they stood in front of my classrooms. Is there a connection between competency and being liked? I hope not; my students tend to like me. Sometimes you have to tell them what they don't want to hear and sometimes, you have to supply the discipline they don't find in the world outside of school. I'm already excited about next fall. I know many of the kids who will sit and listen to me open the word of the Lord from Matthew-Mark-Luke-John. The ones I taught in middle school will recall our class traditions and the first-timers will learn them. Everyone will start off with an A for their grade and an E in their conduct evaluation. It won't end up that way but we all jump off at the same place. It's a big responsibility. The great thing is that I get paid to do what I love to do. How many can say that? My vacation is commencing but my fun won't start until next August. The Lord has truly blessed me.

Applicable quote of the day:
"The difference between school and life? In school you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson."
Tom Bodett

God bless,

Luke 18:1
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Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Macy's Moment

I watched most of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning at the home of Phil and Susan in Haven, Kansas. Susan is Sally's sister and her husband, Phil, is a distant cousin on our mom's side. It was # 88 for Macy's, a holiday tradition for many American families which first marched down 34th Street in 1924. I'm not sure if Mom and Dad went in person when we lived in New York- I was too young to remember- but I know Mom loved parades. 

My earlier statement about watching the parade was semi-inaccurate. A more precise way of putting it is that I watched Jane watch the parade. Jane, who will turn three in late December, is the daughter of Katy and Bryan and Katy is the daugher of the aforementioned Phil and Susan. Jane was transfixed by everything on the television screen. When she recognized a float, she would point at the screen and excitedly blurt out, "Thomas the Train!" "Dora the Explorer!" "Elmo!" She loved the marching bands and The Rockettes, too. Everything was new and exciting to Jane. To me, it was no different than the countless televised holiday extravaganzas I've snoozed through. To Jane, it was an amazing new world.

Jane is a charmer, very personable with a good vocabulary. I smiled later in the day when Jane prayed and thanked the Lord,
"for everyone who is quiet"- the family had been on the boisterous side- and "for the boxes!"- her cousin, Rachel had just opened several presents for her wedding in three weeks. The ability to be astonished by the world around us and to be grateful for the smallest blessing is a characteristic we tend to lose as we grow older. I love the old hymn Can You Count The Stars? by German theologian Johann Wilhelm Hey which was translated into English by Elmer Jorgensen. We sang it often when I was little and I particularly grew to love verse 3: 

Can you count the many children
In their little beds at night,
Who without a thought of sorrow
Rise again at morning light?
God the Lord, who dwells in heaven,
Loving care to each has given.
He has not forgotten thee.
He has not forgotten thee.
I greatly admire that little ones can live without worry. Jane had a few dramatic moments today- she is after all not yet three- but she lives a life of wonder and honesty, knowing she is loved. I'm trying to wangle a birthday party invitation from her but that's another story. This Thursday morning, Jane didn't let the parade pass by unnoticed. On this Thanksgiving Day, I'm thankful for her example and reminder to open my eyes to the blessings around me.

Applicable quote of the day:
“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”
Charles Dickens

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Gathering

I am at Dave and Sally's in Wichita and soon we will leave for the home of Sally's sister, Susan, in the nearby village of Haven. Many of Sally's family get together during the two bg winter holidays and since I'm invariably in Kansas this time of year, I am included in the festivities. I spent my first three days here at Scott and Karen's house and now I have transferred to my other brother's home. I like being fought over! The holidays always remind me of one of my favorite hymns, We Gather Together. I rarely, if ever, hear it sung any other time. By the wording and phrasing, I assumed it is very old and it is. It was penned in 1597 'by Adrianus Valerius as "Wilt heden nu treden" to celebrate the  Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. It was originally set to a Dutch folk tune.'  (from Wikipedia) At the time, Dutch Protestants were forbidden to assemble to worship so the first three words are incredibly symbolic. The English version came from Theodore Baker who translated the words in our hymnal, not from the Dutch but from German. There is some thought it gained popularity in the US during World War II as 'the wicked oppressing' became synonymous in the American psyche with the Axis powers.  

I love this hymn for the gathering emphasis, both as a spiritual family as the words suggest and the biological family as its application has evolved. To come together, bonded both though the blood of Jesus and the blood of our ancestors, is a blessing almost beyond comprehension. I'm reminded of holidays past with relatives who were also brothers and sisters in Christ. To me, that is the Lord's blessing. Happy Thanksgiving, 2014.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

Applicable quote of the day:
Thanksgiving is a time when the world gets to see just how blessed and how workable the Christian system is. The emphasis is not on giving or buying, but on being thankful and expressing that appreciation to God and to one another.                                John Clayton

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Word Man

Kids come and go in schools and some make lasting impressions. The reasons you remember more about them are diverse and never predictable. This entry is about Kenny and it is from September 7, 2007.

Kenny is in my sophomore Bible class this year. I met him last Spring at our WCS Talent Show where he performed a rap song I'd never heard of which pretty much covers every rap song of all time. (His entry passed the censors!) Last year was his first at Westbury Christian so I never taught Kenny as an eighth grader. He's doing well in my Gospels class. He pays good attention and is interested in our topic of the day, which this afternoon was the coming together of Joseph and Mary. (Do you know we have zero girls named Mary in our Upper School? There is a plethora of Jessicas but no young lady who shares the name of the mother of the Savior.) I try to increase the vocabulary of our kids by using words they might be unfamiliar with but will need to know for the SAT/ACT exams which help determine where they spend their college years. Last week, I was trying to get the students to guess what word I was looking for and Kenny correctly volunteered jurisdiction. I complimented him as he left that day and I gave him an assignment: find out before class tomorrow the definition of recidivism. He came back with the answer so we kept going. The following afternoon, Kenny informed me of the definition of abysmal. Since then, he has learned the meaning of contiguous and aberration. Tomorrow, his search will be for the term carte blanche. It's making me work coming up with words we should know which aren't too common but also not too far removed from the vernacular. (There's a good one for Kenny!) I'm going to require another planning period just to keep pace with my latest responsibility. Maybe I can get by with an additional teacher's aide.

This is what I like about Kenny: he's searching. I'm throwing him a little extra credit as a token of my appreciation but I can tell it's important to him. He's asked me questions in the hall, at break time, in the cafeteria, etc. It's one thing to want a bonus on your grade but it's another to want to improve your educational resume'. I like kids that love to learn and Kenny falls into that class. Learning a couple of extra words per week might not seem like a big deal to most youngsters but it is a big deal...and Kenny has grasped the significance. I would compare Kenny to the Bereans in Acts 17. They were not content to be stagnant in their knowledge of God's law. What they were told, they investigated:
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."
Acts 17:11

I respect searchers. Their minds remain in motion and they never stop learning, even if the reward might seem distant or insignificant. Too often, we park our brains and coast. You know, they have found that doing crossword puzzles might forestall Alzheimer's. By Christmas, we will have one student ready for the New York Times Sunday Edition. What's a five letter word for success? I'm going with K-E-N-N-Y.

Applicable quote of the day:
"One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die."
Evelyn Waugh

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Monday, November 24, 2014

J.J. Watt's Alter Ego

Isabel is almost four years old. Her mom, Kristina, works in our lower school as does her grandmother and there are several other relatives scattered throughout Westbury Christian, We also have a connection, Isabel and I, although she does not yet realize it. You see, I preached her parents' wedding back in March of 2009 the only nuptials I have been involved with as officiant with the wedding video featuring a Star Wars theme! It was sweet! Mom Kristina is also a HUGE Houston Texans' fan which may explain the following interaction. Last Thursday morning before school, I was walking down our lower school hallway when Isabel, accompanying mom, spotted me. Excitedly, she pointed out that I was J.J. Watt! I can't remember exactly but I think Kristina corrected her. Nevertheless, later in the day, Isabel informed her grandmother that, "I saw J.J. Watt!" And the legend is born!

In case you don't know the identity of Mr. Watt, I would guess he is the biggest celebrity in Houston now, even maybe bigger than Beyonce. A fourth year player from the University of Wisconsin, Watt is revolutionizing the way the defensive end position is being played in the NFL. He is on countless commercials and you can't watch TV long in Houston without seeing him pitch a product, always wearing his Texans' jersey, the kind you see being worn by non-football players all over the city. But J. J. Watt is also 6'5", weighs 290 pounds, has blonde hair, and is twenty-five years old. How on earth did Isabel confuse the two of us? It was before our first period basketball practice and I was dressed in athletic gear so maybe that's it. Or maybe, it's just because she's three years old. I've penned blogs about adults saying I looked like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lyle Lovett but they knew the truth. Isabel talks and thinks and reasons like a child which is understandable because she IS a child. When we reach maturity, all that needs to change. How will it be if Isabel as an adult still is on the pre-kindergarten level? And yet, so many of us remain on the nursery school level spiritually. Paul addressed this is 1 Corinthians 3, verse when he wrote, 
"I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able." 
The writer of Hebrews' writer echoed that sentiment when he chastised his readers with these words in chapter five and verse twelve: 
"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!"
I'm preaching to myself here. I find when I get too busy to pray and study much, my spiritual development needs remedial tutoring. I don't think or talk or reason like a grown up believer should. I guess Paul was on to something. I just hope Isabel doesn't recognize me on those days!

Applicable quote of the day:
"J.J. Watt is larger than life and Houston's newest sports hero, in every sense of the word. He is a guy who spends NFL Fridays at high school football games and actively seeks out those in need of his kindness."

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Home At 3 A.M.

Hello from Kansas where I am visiting my brothers and their families for Thanksgiving. The following is from December 30, 2010.

I'm back in Houston where it's warm. When I got up this morning in Kansas, my car was covered with ice from freezing rain. Once the windows were de-iced, it was an uneventful trip, always a blessing. This was an unusual Christmas for me. Since our parents died, I drive to Wichita for holidays and split time with Dave and Scott. My brothers teach/coach in the same school and with their families, worship in the same congregation where Scott is a deacon and Dave is an elder. While I was in Wichita this trip for twelve days, I only saw Scott and his wonderful wife, Karen, for five hours. During the rest of my visit, they were in Iowa with Karen's family and as we speak are in Texas with their daughter-in-law, Lauren, and grandson, Noah. (Their son, Seth, is mid-transfer from one US Army base to another.) So, I really spent Christmas with Dave and the lovely Sally with a three day excursion to western Kansas to be with Sally's family. Yesterday, all of her brothers and sisters and their kids/spouses/grandkids came to Wichita for New Years meaning last night there were approximately twenty-five relatives scattered over Dave and Sally's house. Since I was leaving very early this morning, I decided to stay at Scott's house and free up some space.

Dave and Scott live about two miles apart. Scott and Karen's two other children, Karis and Nathan, did not accompany their folks to Texas. I was only there with them about an hour, long enough to watch two Season One episodes of Bones, before I excused myself to go to bed. When I said early, I meant I would leave around three AM so I turned it at 9:30 PM, after hugging my niece and nephew good-bye. It did not take long for me to be sound asleep with a cup of cold Starbucks waiting by the bed for me. Some addictions probably aren't life threatening... we hope.

About two hundred miles from Houston on I-45, I heard a John Denver song on the radio that I used to despise,
Back Home Again, which you can watch from youtube at the top of this entry. Something about hearing it today hit me just right. It's about a husband and wife separated for a short time by his work and how they missed each other. This morning, at three hours past midnight as I got ready to leave, Nathan came out and told me good-bye again and we promised we would pray for each other. ( I can't say Nathan got up to wish me well because like many college kids home for break, he hadn't gone to bed yet.) When I went in the kitchen to grab something for breakfast, Karis had left me a note.... and a pot of coffee she had made just for me with a reminder of where the pumpkin flavored creamer was in the refrigerator. And when I stepped into the bathroom to take a shower, I found another long note Karis had taped to the mirror for me. I left their home in the middle of a miserable night but I left with a glow. What my niece and nephew did is what we don't typically do for strangers but for those we love. And as I drove out to Kansas Highway 96 through the borderline sleet, I remembered the day Nathan was born and how I held him, afraid I would mess up. And I remembered how I babysat sat for Karis the whole four years when Scott and Karen lived in Tennessee and how I was there for her first day of kindergarten. Now, they are all grown and part of me was nostalgic for the time when they were little and I helped take care of them. Today, the shoe was on the other foot. In Psalm 68, verse 6, David proclaims that 'God sets the lonely in families.'
There's no better place for any of us to be, especially at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Applicable quote of the day:
"Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family. Most of us would give our own life for the survival of a family member, yet we lead our daily life too often as if we take our family for granted."
Paul Pearshall

God bless,

Luke 18:1
me at

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Beatitudes Updated.....Closing Performance!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

My Bible classes began working on the Beatitudes recently. The nine statements of Jesus at the outset of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's chapter five are familiar to Christians but are often foreign to the way we act. How are we supposed to rejoice and mourn concurrently? Who feels good about being mistreated? Philip Yancey translated these teachings as Lucky Are The Unlucky. Our class periods centered around our own translations of these contradictory, to the non-believer, words of truth from the lips of the Savior. Each student was assigned the task of recreating the Beatitudes in ways that made sense to them in twenty-first century Houston, Texas. What follows is a sampling of the theology of my students. All are used by permission with boys in blue and girls in pink:

Blessed are the humble for they will be praised fully in the kingdom of God. (Justin C)

Blessed are those who are truly in love for you have found one of God's many great gifts. (Marie)

Blessed are the small for everything fits perfectly in heaven. (Ibe)

Blessed are you when people reject you for God has more in store for you! (Addie)

Blessed are those in ballet for they will dance every day for God. (Maggie)

Blessed are the men who will one day marry........ GOOD LUCK! (Steph)

Blessed are the poor singers for their voices will sing harmonious praise to God. (Natalie)

Blessed are the too busy for there are beds and couches in the house of God. (Kane)

Blessed are those who lose a friend for they will be given multitudes of friends in the future. (Gaby)

Blessed are the self-conscious for there will be no mirrors in heaven. (Dylan)

Blessed are those who are never noticed because God will definitely see them. (Sydney)

Blessed are the shy for God gives them courage. (Jazzmin)

Blessed are the true friends for God will be their bestie in heaven. (Xavier)

Blessed are the weary for they will be rejuvenated in heaven. (Chloe S)

Blessed are the unwanted for God has plenty of room in His kingdom! (Tyra)

Blessed are the lost for their map is with God. (Grant)

Blessed are those who don't get playing time down here for God's time is unlimited in heaven. (Tucker)

Blessed are the quiet for I will be the person to change that! (Jasmine)

Blessed are the unrecognized for they continue on despite that fact. (Justin W)

Blessed are the humble for they will be venerated. (Matthew)

Blessed are the dying for they will be truly alive in heaven. (Sheyi)

Blessed are the depressed for they will find great joy in the word of God. (Erin)

Blessed are the lonely for they will forever be self-sufficient. (Baxter)

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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