Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thank you, Lord!

In this week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., I encourage you to take some time to really slow down, reflect, look, taste, and see the goodness of God. (Canadian friends, you have already had opportunity to do this since your Thanksgiving Day is earlier – however, if you didn’t take the time to reflect well, then do it now!)

Below is a wonderful short video that captures well the joy we feel in being a part of God’s created order. I encourage you to read the next post as well which beautifully articulates the joy of the life given to us and our appropriate response.

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The real SAT test

(Thanks to my friend Mark Eckel, Director of the Mahseh Center for allowing me to re-post this blog post which originally appeared as “Genesis: ‘The Real World’ (Part 7)” on his Warp and Woof blogspot.)

Bright, shiny copper pots: I have never seen anyone so excited about cooking utensils!  Jon was explaining his historical finds that coincide with his love of preparing gourmet foods.  One of the cooking pots had actually been “resurrected” from an underwater shipwreck.  Jon’s love of cooking is displayed as decoration in his home.

One expedition for book boxes prior to a move found me in a bar. While there, the manager showed me his latest technique for dispensing drinks: a gravity system that worked from the room above.  Exact specifications created the beverage ordered by patrons below.  I’ll never forget the excitement of the owner.  He was so pleased to offer exceptional service.  Loving his vocation meant enjoyment of his life within the world.

I received a text from a former student the other day while he was in a tree stand hunting deer.  Back and forth electrons flew as I expressed amazement that he could hunt and text at the same time!  Guy told me that when you spend 200 days a year in the wild you learn to do many things at the same time.  Visiting his website I saw the pure joy in Guy’s eyes as he taught people lessons about life through hunting.

When God created “the heavens and the earth” He had such human enthusiasms in mind.  God’s assessment of His work speaks for itself: “And He saw that it was good.” The word means “beautiful” setting the standard for human excitement in creativity and aesthetics.  The material world is good.  We are not Gnostics, legalistically binding ourselves to human-centered regulations. To enjoy God’s good gifts of life is a sign of gratitude; thankfulness to One outside of ourselves.  The Psalmist is blessed by astronomy, agriculture, biology, law codes, wildlife and human life.

Delight in this God-given life is one of the reasons why I disdain certain gospel songs.  Growing up, one of the little ditties we sang in church was “This World Is Not My Home, I’m Just A Passin’ Through.”  I have been teaching a seminar for some time with the title “This World IS My Home!  I’m NOT Just Passin’ Through!”  I love the smell of crisp fall air.  I love the smell of the air just before it rains.  I love the smell of wood fires in the night air.  I love the smell of a bakery, sautéed onion-pepper mixture on the stove, and Kentucky Fried Chicken®!  And that’s just a few smells!  The list is endless of what I enjoy in this life!

So it is with great admiration that I mention a hymn which perfectly explains my joy:

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the beauty of each hour, Of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale, and tree and flower, Sun and moon, and stars of light.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of ear and eye, For the heart and mind’s delight,

For the mystic harmony, Linking sense to sound and sight.

Lord of all, to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise.

Satisfaction, Appreciation, and Thankfulness is the most important SAT test we will ever take. To be ungrateful for the gifts given to us is to reject The One Who has given those gifts to us. We ought to give thanks for the reality of this life since He has given everything for us to enjoy.

E. M. Forster would cringe when people would tell him to “face reality.”  Turning round in a circle he would ask, “Which way should I face since reality is all around me?” In a similar vein, Cornelius Plantinga rightly takes to task those who think paying bills, going to a 9-5 job, and balancing work with leisure is “the real world.”  He says, “Someone who lives in the ‘real world’ lives with an awareness of the whole world, because the whole world is part of the kingdom of God.”

“The whole” compels me to contend “the real world” includes the seen and the unseen.  The five senses do not make sense apart from the sixth sense.  There is another world to which I must give an account.  The supernatural creates the natural.  The invisible God made the visible creation.  To neglect our responsibility to live under Heaven’s authority creates a disjointed view of life.  We succumb to naturalism, materialism, and pragmatism.  We begin to think that success is based on production.  “The bottom line” becomes our “finish line.”

God draws “a line in the sand.”  Unless we are careful, Deuteronomy 4:15-19 declares we are prone to worship, honor, and subscribe to the standards of this world.  I would encourage us all to ask ourselves this question: Is our Christian distinctiveness informed by “the real world’s” accountability to Another World?  As much as I enjoy this God-given life, I am constantly reminded that the creation has a Creator.  I will continue to revel in sights, smells, tastes, and human ingenuity as I remember that earth depends on Heaven.

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Learning from the stranger

(Thanks to two good friends – David Smith, for once again enriching the Christian education community via his newest book, and to Bruce Hekman, for providing this review of the book!)

In my city of Holland, Michigan, where the annual celebration of Tulip Time celebrates our Dutch beginnings, I was startled to learn recently that fifty-one percent of young people, aged eighteen and under, are Hispanic. What’s happening in Holland is being replicated across North America, in rural areas, cities and towns.

We’re been hearing it and reading about it for years: North America is becoming increasingly multicultural. Some schools, such as those in urban centers and along the coasts, have experienced a steady rise in the number of non-North American students for some time, and have added staff and programs to help them adjust and become full members of the school community (English as a Second Language programs, tutors, new admissions policies for International students, school to school partnerships, immersion language programs.

A number of schools have added out-of-country short-term mission trips to their programs, where students and staff spend a week on projects (often building) through programs such as the Hands program offered and facilitated by World Wide Christian Schools. Other schools, such as Fraser Valley Christian High School and Zeeland Christian School have developed partnerships with schools in other countries.

But many schools have found their attempts to work interculturally to be like building a bridge as they walk on it. They want to find ways to welcome the strangers and to equip their students and faculty to be sensitive to the needs of these new, often non-English speaking members, but it’s often discouraging work and the bridges don’t lead anywhere (as we discovered with the trendy workshops on “diversity training” that proliferated for a decade or more).

Now there’s a wonderful new resource for all schools and churches interested in a deeper, better way to imagine intercultural learning from a biblical, Reformed world view.

In his recent book Learning From the Stranger (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), David Smith makes a detailed biblical argument that “hospitality, humility, and hearing belong together.” “If they part ways, then the idea of hospitality easily becomes a new form of condescension in which I am always the host and the other is my needy guest.” At its best, intercultural encounters move us from learning about others to learning from them and finally to learning with them.

Smith, from Britain, teaching German at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has thought for a long time about “the need for a framework for thinking in Christian terms about learning other languages and cultures in a way that takes seriously learning from the stranger.” (p. 149) In the seven chapters of the book he lays out such a framework and attempts to ground it theologically in scripture, looking in great detail at the story of the nomad Abraham’s fears and failures, Jesus’ challenges to the teacher of law to learn to obey scripture from an outsider, a Samaritan, and finally at the birth of the early church at Pentecost.

Learning from the Stranger articulates what “culture” is, and discusses the ways in which our cultural differences affect our perceptions and our behavior. His analysis and his stories resonate because virtually none of us interacts exclusively with people who look, talk, behave, and think like we do in our culturally interconnected world.

To be Christian, Smith argues, means first, “that on theological grounds, …to profess Christian faith implies a willingness to grow together with fellow believers whose ethnicities, languages, and cultures are different from my own….to be Christian is to imitate Christ’s open-armed embrace of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, barbarian, Scythian, African, European, Latino, Asian. To be Christian is, furthermore, not to reserve for oneself the role of host, the one who sets the table, but to learn to see Christ in others, to receive correction from them, to be joined to them, to learn from the stranger.” (p. 145, 146).

Smith’s insights into the biblical story are supported by his experiences as a teacher of German language and culture, his experiences as a stranger to North American culture, and his wide travels around the globe. He persuasively argues that learning other languages and cultures is a task for everyone, not just those who hope to serve as cross-cultural missionaries.

I highly recommend this book to any person or organization who is looking for a biblically grounded way to think about the growing multicultural nature of our lives and our work. It’s a challenging, and very helpful book that points us in the right direction as we struggle to understand what it means to “love our neighbor.”



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If you work with kids, read this book!

If there is one book about kids that you should consider reading in the next few months, I would recommend that you dive into NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  The authors take a chapter each to explore ten subjects related to kids, analyze the related research, and present conclusions that challenge conventional thinking. Chapter topics include praise, sleep, race, lying, kindergarten, siblings, teen rebellion, self-control, playing with others, and infant language skills.

The conclusions in this book should provoke healthy and productive discussion among K-12 teaching faculty at school or church, parenting groups, or husbands and wives.  The authors have done a great service in synthesizing a wide range of research, field interview material, and resources into an enjoyable and readable book that will appeal to a wide range of adults who work with and nurture children and youth.

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