Category Archives: devotional

I just need time to think!

Mark Eckel bookI am not really a big fan of “devotional” books. I sometimes find them less substantive than I had hoped for or a bit forced and trite. Despite that reservation, today I am delighted to be recommending a book to you that at first glance might fall into that category, but let me explain. Mark Eckel has put together a wonderful book entitled I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice. It is a collection of fifty thoughtful essays organized into these ten topics: study, retreat, discipline, holiday, reading, reflection, obstacles, walking, path, and place.  They are written in bite size amounts – perfect for use in a daily reflection time, and rich like cheesecake – even though tasty, you shouldn’t try to eat too much at once, but just savor it instead.

Let me tell you a bit about Mark: he is an outstanding Christian educator and a master weaver as a writer. In fact, the name of Mark’s blog (which I highly recommend you read) is Warp and Woof , which he describes as “the vertical-horizontal weaving of threads that create fabric. The intersection and unification of everything is the tapestry of life under the Lordship of Jesus. Wholeness begins with Him.” One of the beauties of this book is that he weaves together extensive reading he has done and study of the Bible and great books with practical insights about living out one’s faith. He expertly synthesizes historical Christian perspectives and has a knack for finding just the right quotation to underscore his points. He is a bridge builder – helping us to reflect on the accumulated wisdom of the ages to move to concrete ideas that we can implement (not to mention dozens of possible books to read!) His passion is to teach others how to think Christianly and to honor Christ through reflection and learning. We need more thoughtful weavers, bridge builders, and translators like Mark. It is evident that he has made the spiritual disciplines of reading, writing, and reflection a priority in his life – and you as reader get to benefit!

With Mark’s permission I want to share a poem that appears in his reflection entitled: Retreat: Cutting Wood on Sunday. His subtitle for the chapter is “Rest is doing something other than what we would normally do.” As someone who has looked for a good way to describe what Sunday is about, his statement that “we need to rest from our giftedness” struck me.  I know that when I do not do this, I do not rest well and I also violate what God intended for me when he gave me a day of rest. Here is Mark’s poem that he wrote to remind himself that rest is crucial:

Lord, when the alarm clock, stove clock, and time clock demand my presence,

When the pace of life is hectic,

When I wish there were six more hours in a day,

When the traffic light is stuck on red

And my family’s schedule demands I be in three places at one time,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when people expect too much of me,

When the boss has forgotten about the eight-hour day,

When I am constantly at others’ beck and call,

When the cell phone, Twitter, fax, and email all go off at once

And I begin to hate the human race,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when work occupies all my waking hours,

When television commercials say I must have more,

When my neighbors flaunt their newest toys,

When alcoholic does not apply but workaholic does

And I decide to go to the office on Sunday to catch up,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, when money means more than people,

When I read The Wall Street Journal more than my Bible,

When overtime becomes my primetime,

When promotions and pay hikes are my ultimate goals

And looking out for number one has become my slogan in life,

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Lord, may I refocus my life on you.

May I restore my thoughts in your Word.

May I refresh my schedule by meditating on all your blessings.

May I relax my activity every week to enjoy the life you gave me.

May I take time to rest, Lord.

Eckel, Mark D. (2013-12-24). I Just Need Time to Think!: Reflective Study as Christian Practice (Kindle Locations 585-599). WestBowPress. Kindle Edition.

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If we saw God in each face

Do we see God in each face we encounter as we walk through our days?

If we saw God in each face, would we take more time to understand the pain we see in the face of another?

If we saw God in each face, would we pass by needs so quickly?

If we saw God in each face, would we do a better job of listening?

If we saw God in each face, would we see past race? Age? Deformity?

If we saw God in each face, would we speak of kids as problems to be managed, as just names and grades?

If we saw God in each face, would we verbally shred any student in the faculty lounge?

If we saw God in each face, would we accept the bullying or destruction of any person?

If we saw God in each face, would we find a way to bless those we meet instead of rushing to our next task?

If we saw God in each face, would we help them understand who their Father is?

If we saw God in each face, would we want each one to understand how this world belongs to God?

If we saw God in each face, would we desire to help all students understand why they are on this earth?

If we saw God in each face, would we desire to help all students identify and use their gifts to worship?

If we truly saw imagebearers, how would it change us?

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Walking among the giants

burned treeA recent speaking engagement near Yosemite National Park afforded me the opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful parks in the world.  One of the most striking features of the park is the Mariposa Grove containing ancient, giant sequoias. The enormity and majesty of these trees left me speechless, in awe of their beauty, size, and age, and lifted my heart to worship. My mind began to continue down this worship track as I walked down the trail on a perfect, sunny day for hiking. My first thoughts were of comparing these physically imposing giants to the spiritual giants/mentors in my life and how grateful I was for both such beauty and strength before my eyes and the beautiful, strong saints God had placed in my life.

One of the first signs along the trail talked about the humble beginnings of the sequoia trees. Both Douglas squirrels and boring beetles play a role in the egg size cones getting their start in life. Fire also plays a key role in opening space for seeds to start and in their spreading. I thought about the humble and sometimes trying beginnings of many giants in my life.

Grizzly giantAt the center of a sequoia, the wood is called heartwood – the structural support of the tree. Next is the sapwood, where the “veins and arteries” of the tree move the precious water and nutrients throughout the tree. The next layer, the cambrium, is the growing part of the tree. Finally the outer bark is quite thick and while protecting the tree, is renewed from within. The idea of “from the inside out” is a great metaphor for protecting our hearts so that we may continue to grow and also have the protection for our “outer bark” that encounters the outside world.

On my hike I saw many enduring giants, but none more impressive than the Grizzly Giant. The sign told me that this 1,800 year-old tree stands about the height of a 19 story building, a 747 jetliner, or the Statue of Liberty! What impressed me is that this tree has survived fires every 5-20 years. I wondered about the testing that great saints of the faith have endured and if the frequency of fire/testing in their life was similar. What an impressive tree – one of its limbs was estimated to be 7 feet in diameter and its trunk showed the centuries of fire scars.

One of the most interesting trees was one that I could walk through – the surviving Tunnel Tree. It was one of two trees that a tunnel was cut through for cars, to be used in promotional pictures of the park. While the more famous Auto treeWawona Tunnel Tree fell in 1969, this tree somehow has survived the tunnel carved through it in 1895. I wondered if the park would be here if these two trees had not suffered this fate. The sign at the tree indicated these trees were very helpful in building understanding of the uniqueness of this area and to eventually have this area preserved as a park. In this sense, these trees gave their life and suffered a near fatal wound so that many other giant trees could be preserved.

Visiting the Mariposa Grove was a deeply spiritual experience for me. In addition to assisting me in worshipping God for his truly awesome creation, it led me to consider with gratitude the giants of faith in my life. Many came from humble beginnings, developed strong cores nurtured by faith in God and spiritual disciplines, were tested by many life difficulties, and served as Christ types for those around them – giving their lives so others may flourish. Praise God for such giants in our lives!

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Filed under creation & environment, devotional, encouraging the heart, leadership, worship

Some sweet tweets for Thanksgiving feasting!

Go ahead – eat till you are full and come back for leftovers at a later time! I have enjoyed the stimulation of Twitter and have benefited greatly from the wisdom of many others. The things that others have learned from, and then shared with me, spontaneously encourage my own learning on a daily basis. I share some of the feast below and if you like a particular Tweet source, sign up to follow them!

Wisdom!

C. S. Lewis ‏@CSLewisU

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

walter kirn ‏@walterkirn

I just finished reading the Internet today. It took a while but I can now report that there’s not much there.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

I’m all for celebrating war heroes but also want to celebrate peace heroes? Doesn’t peace demand equal if not greater heroism than war?

Pasi Sahlberg ‏@pasi_sahlberg

In the U.S. question is how much education increases private earnings. In Finland we ask how much lack of education will cost to the nation.

Robert Sommers, PhD ‏@RDSommers

I’ve met teachers that use Scantron tests that don’t like state assessments with multiple choice questions. Hmmmm.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“There’s never been a sinful heart that’s said I’ve had enough success, enough love, enough approval, or enough comfort.”

Rob Jacobs ‏@RobJacobs_

Leaders must convince people that status quo is extremely dangerous for any organization.

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

For some, most important thing is “What’s your salary” or “Your religion?” For Jesus, most important thing about life is “Whom do you love?”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

When asked what’s due emperor, Jesus tells what’s due God. Money bears image of its owner: state. YOU belong to God. YOU bear logo of Logos.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Every advancement in science, human learning, and work of art is also God opening his book of creation and revealing his truth to us.”

Karen Duke ‏@krnduke

A word may be all it takes to set somebody’s heart on fire or break it in two. F. Buechner

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

If every teacher asked every kid “What are you passionate about?” & recorded & used the answers, our education would improve overnight.

Mike Morrell ‏@zoecarnate

“Talent is not in short supply. Passion is.”

Marc Prensky ‏@marcprensky

Technology provides tools (nouns) to do things (verbs). FOCUS ON THE VERBS & use the most up-to-date nouns you can.

Miroslav Volf ‏@MiroslavVolf

The first act of God (ad extra) was not resistance, but creation; the first word of God was not negation, but affirmation.

Tim Keller Wisdom ‏@DailyKeller

“Accepted in Christ, we now run the race ‘for the joy that is set before us’ rather than ‘for fear that comes behind us’.”

Leonard Sweet ‏@lensweet

Do you bear the “Maker’s Mark?” One “mark” of the Maker–do people become better, or feel inches taller, when they are in your presence?

Wonder!!

Shazam for insects – an app that identifies insects by their call!

25 incredible camouflaged insects 

World’s largest archive of wildlife sounds and videos 

Inspiration!!!

Sometimes the “Tough Teen” is Quietly Writing Stories

From the Center for Faith & Work – Humanizing Work: Xu Bing and the Phoenix

Landfill Harmonic- The World Sends Us Garbage… We Send Back Music

So, if you have digested all this in one sitting, move away from the screen and take a good long walk outside! Happy Thanksgiving! @DanBeerens

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Honoring Mom

I just received word this morning (written 9.21.13) that my mom has passed away. You may think it strange that I am writing at this moment, but writing is a way that I am able to express myself, and secondly her death does not come as a surprise. You see my mom lived to the ripe old age of 94 and was very ready to move on to her next life. I hope you won’t think it indulgent, but I would like to tell you a bit of her story and in the process honor her passion for Christian education as well as hopefully encourage your heart.

My mom loved learning – she must have done well in school as she was the valedictorian of her high school class. As a product of her times, college was not an automatic option, at least not for a rural farm girl. However, she managed to save some money and convince her parents to let her attend the closest available college to take business courses for one year. Lacking further financial and parental support, she was unable to continue her education and married my father, a farmer.

Mom continued her education on her own through reading, crossword puzzles, writing the church bulletin and writing family members on a regular basis. Having been denied a college education, she made education a priority for her children. When I dropped out of college my mom was very frustrated with my choice and I know that intensity came from her not wanting history to repeat itself.

My mom came from a family that valued public education highly; her cousin went on to become the local public school superintendent. My parents chose Christian education for their children and my mom took a lot of grief from her family for that decision. However my parents were convinced that this was the best way to fully educate their children about all of life in the ways of the Lord.

My mom backed up this decision with hours of volunteering over the course of her lifetime. One of the major fundraisers for our little local Christian school was the Hunter’s Supper. Hundreds of hunters would descend on our little farming village in November and the ladies would serve them hot mashed potatoes, ham, and home-made desserts. My mom used her excellent leadership skills for years to chair this event which required hours of preparation for an unknown number of hunters. The hunters would line up outside of the church to file into the basement for this wonderful feast of home cooked food.

I saw my parents’ sacrifice for Christian education: sometimes the milk check was small, but the church and Christian education were the first two checks written out, and we lived on whatever was left. That example has shaped my priorities about, and I am grateful to, my Mom for her passion for Christian education and learning!

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Monsieur Lazhar – sowing seeds

(Thanks to my friend Paul Marcus, COO at Community Christian School, Drayton, ON and COO at Orangeville Christian School, ON, for sharing this blog post. Paul blogs at Paul Marcus Online.)

I had the opportunity to watch this  beautiful film on the weekend.  I’d never heard of it before doing some rummaging through the dearth of information on rottentomatoes.  It’s amazing what you find when you dig below the surface of mainstream monotony.

I’m not going to give a review here, there are many sites that can do that justice better than I.  However, I wanted to share a piece of a conversation that Monsieur Lazhar has with one of his colleagues at the school in which he just started teaching.  In fact, as we find out eventually in the film, he hasn’t actually taught before.  The internal struggle that he has is one that I think every educator has had at some point in their careers; I call it the ‘Just Sowing the Seed” struggle.  This is a struggle that exists because, no matter what consultants and pedagogues tell us, there’s no way to measure the meaningful progress that we’re making with students.  How many of us have had a child leave our classroom at the end of a year where we can’t discern a noticeable difference in their lives?

Monsieur Lazhar has this struggle as he works through his pedagogy.  He walks into a neighbouring classroom to see that it doesn’t ‘look like a hospital’ as his does.  Later as he’s having a drink with this colleague, the following dialogue ensues arising from his frustration and lack of confidence:

M. Lazhar: “And it’s my fault because I’ve forgotten to put some colour in their lives.”….”I feel guilty for having abandoned them”.
Colleague: “Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.”

We find out that Monsieur Lazhar’s comment may arise as an allusion to a life experience of his, but the response by his colleague is meaningful.  Even the ones we’re not able to reach we don’t abandon.  I’ve often been sitting with a group of teachers where we’ve felt equally discouraged and we’ve had to admit that we just have to ‘sow the seed.’  Teaching is one of those jobs that is thankless.  Sure, we get the gift cards at Christmas for Chapters and Tim Horton’s (Starbucks if we’re lucky), but we rarely see the product of our labour.  We have to submit that our work is a work of scaffolding: we do the work we can and we have faith that God will continue our work when our students have moved on.

Only if we stay in our craft for long enough do we have the opportunity to have a student who we’ve taught come and say “thank you,” and even then only if we’re the lucky few.  For now, we’ll have to take solace in the faith that God goes before us and with our students.

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Filed under devotional, early faith, encouraging the heart, mission measurement, student outcomes

Made for goodness

imagesAdmittedly, I read a fair amount of books in a year. So, when one sticks in my mind and continues to provoke my thoughts, it moves to my mental list of “exceptional books” and I tend to talk to others about it. Recently I picked up Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book, Made for Goodness: and Why This Makes All the Difference, written with his daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu. What a compelling and inspirational book!

I was curious how Tutu might hold this view of goodness in the face of all the evil that he has seen and heard. Yet Tutu argues that, being made by God in his image, we are both attracted to good and outraged by evil. God holds us in life, and we can face evil squarely because we know that evil will not have the last word. We are lovable and capable of good because God has loved us since before eternity. The Tutus encourage us to live into the goodness that God has hardwired into us, as opposed to “doing good” out of fear that we are not doing enough to please God. One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following: “The invitation to Godly perfection, God’s invitation to wholeness, is an invitation to beauty. It is God’s invitation to us to be life artists, to be those who create lives of beauty.” (p. 48) In teaching, we have so many opportunities to be life artists, instruments of God’s goodness, impacting the lives of our students around us.

The Tutus do not deny the power and pervasiveness of evil. They recount personal experiences and the horror stories of other’s suffering. As the leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to investigate apartheid era crimes, Archbishop Tutu heard stories reflecting the worst of human evil, yet is able to affirm that even in suffering, God sees and stands with us in all that we experience and endure in life.

I was struck by, and very appreciative of the Tutus’ description of forgiveness:

“We miseducate ourselves and our children with the trite phrase ‘Forgive and forget.’ Forgiveness is not a form of forgetting. It is, rather, a profound form of remembering. When we forgive, we remember who and whose we are. We remember that we are creative beings modeled on a creative God. When we forgive, we reclaim the power to create.” (p.150)

The authors remind us that we all long for goodness, for a return to Eden. They encourage us in closing to be much in prayer, to be listening for God’s voice: “God can help us choose, from among the plethora of paths that are spread out before us, the one that leads to flourishing.” To begin, we must see ourselves as God sees us, as the crown of his creation, created for his joy and beloved. This has implications for how we view others: “As we allow ourselves to accept God’s acceptance, we can begin to accept our own goodness and beauty. With each glimpse of our own beauty we can begin to see the goodness and beauty in others.” (p.198)

This book caused me to wonder if sometimes we focus too much on the shortcomings of ourselves, our students, our colleagues and allow ourselves to become negative, discouraged, cynical, and even bitter. The hard lessons learned in South Africa would point us in the direction of not ignoring the reality of evil, and certainly not letting it have the last word. We live in the hope of Eden and have daily opportunity to exude the goodness and beauty of our Creator, to image him and to celebrate it in other image-bearers before us.

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