Category Archives: worship

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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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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I wonder as I wander

I can’t seem to get my head around it!  No matter how many times I talk to someone around the world and it sounds like they are sitting in the same room with me, I am filled with wonder. When I look at anything in micro and see how color and design pop forward that I previously hadn’t observed, I am amazed. No matter how many times I fly, I am still amazed at how such a large object is able to leave the ground, how quickly it moves me from distant place to distant place, and how infinite the places, spaces, and quantities of people, relationships, and details of life spread out below me as I gaze at large metropolitan areas below. My head starts to hurt when I imagine what God’s job must be like listening to all the people below and then adding in all the others around the world who live beyond the narrow strip of earth I am flying over at that moment.

Sometimes part of our problem in education is that we are too outcome focused – I imagine some of you are surprised to hear me say that! Life is meant to be a journey, and life is full of learning. We are on a journey/quest of learning and wonder – it is how we are wired as image bearers of God – we are wired for questioning and discovery. The role of science in this journey then is not to nail it all down, but to continue to expand our wonder. Robert Sapolsky, a distinguished scientist, reflects this sentiment: “The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it.” Sapolsky captures the sense of wonder and complexity in these words: “. . . an impala sprinting across the Savannah can be reduced to biomechanics, and Bach can be reduced to counterpoint, yet that does not decrease one iota our ability to shiver as we experience impalas leaping or Bach thundering. We can only gain and grow with each discovery that there is structure underlying the most accessible levels of things that fill us with awe.”

Part of the purpose of learning is to gain a greater sense of wonder. Well known physicist/genius Richard Feynman suggests: “The purpose of knowledge is to appreciate wonders even more.” Our process of learning then is not to produce certainty through a command of factual information, but to produce a greater appreciation of wonder, to be increasingly motivated to learn more and more and to engage in the study of complexities yet not understood. In the learning process the student should have questions multiplying rather than being answered – and sometimes this might mean the questioning of things we thought we knew…or had an answer for.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr suggests that wondering connotes at least three things: 1) standing in disbelief, 2) standing in the question itself, and 3) standing in awe before something. He suggests that it is spiritually healthy to remain open to all three things inside of you as long as you don’t let skepticism and negativity gain the upper hand. To remain in the question keeps us spiritually humble and open to what is possible.

Despite concerns about “science bleaching the world of wonder,” Phillip Ball suggests in his article “Why Science Needs Wonder”  that “science today appreciates that the link between curiosity and wonder should not, and probably cannot, be severed, for true curiosity – as opposed, say, to obsessive pedantry, acquisitiveness or problem-solving – grinds to a halt when deprived of wonder’s fuel.” I believe we simply cannot detach our emotions, our enthusiasm, our fervor, our aesthetic and moral impulses, our sense of awe and wonder – it is our innate response to worship, to bow in humility before a God whose “glory is beyond the heavens, whose ways are past finding out.”

It is the task and the joy of the Christian teacher to balance the two extremes – to not too quickly give religious answers to questions of wonder so that a student’s curiosity for further inquiry is dampened, and on the other hand to not advance the idea that we must be in doubt about everything and that what we do know is simply the result of man’s discovery.

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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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Flourishing – Determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Tenth and final post in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

One of the most significant flourishing outcomes that we hope for our students is our last item- a determination to bring joy and hope into the lives of others. In order to do this, we must be able to bring together all aspects of head, heart, and hands – our cognition, passions, and behaviors. It is not that a people with this determination are saccharine sweet, out of touch with reality, or constantly smiling; rather, they know what they believe, who they are, and have a sense of their impact on others as they go through life. This determination comes from a sense of deep faith, gratefulness for God’s gracious gift of salvation, and a desire to live out a life of grateful service to others, to be Christ to them in small and large ways.

What we are really talking about is what attitude we choose to demonstrate each day, in each situation and circumstance. One of the most helpful quotes that speaks to the significance of a positive attitude is this famous one by Chuck Swindoll:

“Attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is I have a choice every day of what my attitude will be. I cannot change my past. I cannot change the actions of others. I cannot change the inevitable. The only thing I can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent how I react to it.”
Charles R. Swindoll

Swindoll is saying that attitude is more important than most anything else in life:  it is a critical issue to address with our students. We can help students realize is that they have a choice about their attitudes. A broken or difficult past may haunt us, but we have a choice about whether we forgive and move on or not. We have the opportunity to choose our attitudes each moment and in each circumstance. We see this modeled by Paul and Silas (Acts 16:25-28) as they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel and chose to spend their time praying, singing, and eventually giving witness to that hope and joy that was spilling out of them. All students have the potential to flourish in this way – it is not dependent on intellect – in fact, some “special needs” students often can be the best bringers of joy and hope.

Our ultimate hope for our students is summarized in this final Flourishing Index statement – that they learn to become Christ-like – giving evidence of the hope that they have through Christ, being grateful in all circumstances, being humble in times of blessing, and living selfless lives of service to others, which is the faithful presence of Jesus Christ in the world.

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Flourishing – Demonstrating effective life habits and practicing spiritual disciplines

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

Source: Beth Chatto Gardens by antonychammond via Flickr

(Ninth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

If we desire that our students flourish, we must seek for our students to develop effective life habits and spiritual disciplines. All educators work with students to develop effective life habits, but in Christian education we emphasize with our students that their work is done for God’s glory and not for their own success. Working with students to develop spiritual disciplines can only be done in a Christian school, and is an important part of our work.

We want our students to learn effective life habits so that they may flourish in their lives now and in the future – simply put, people with effective life habits know how to get stuff done! A reasonable goal for our students should be that they know how to manage their time and respect the time of others. Their organizational skills will help them to not feel overwhelmed in their own lives and allow them to effectively give their time to lift the lives of others. The kinds of effective life habits I am talking about have been widely written about in books such as Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and my intent in this post is not to reiterate those but to consider our role as educators in helping to form these habits.

What role do spiritual disciplines play in a flourishing student’s life? Our desire is that our students not only believe in Christ, but seek to become like him – to connect what is in their hearts with how they live out their lives. In that sense, since we don’t know whether our students truly believe, our best opportunity as believers is to model spiritual disciplines for our students and encourage our students to understand the value of such practices to help us connect belief and action. We should consider both individual and corporate ways we could teach spiritual disciplines to our students so that they may become flourishing Christians who are more like Christ.

What spiritual disciplines might we as Christian educators want to model for our students? In Dallas Willard’s excellent book, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, he suggests two categories of disciplines that contribute to spiritual growth:

Disciplines of Abstinence – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement – study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission

Where do we naturally begin when we think about developing a desire to love and serve Christ in students? In James K.A. Smith’s recent book, Imagining the Kingdom (Cultural Liturgies): How Worship Works, he suggests that story and worship practices are critical to a truly Christian education:

1) Spirit – imagination – narrative – body – heart: “In short, the way to the heart is through the body, and the way into the body is through story. And this is how worship works: Christian formation is a conversion of the imagination effected by the Spirit, who recruits our most fundamental desires by a kind of narrative enchantment— by inviting us narrative animals into a story that seeps into our bones and becomes the orienting background of our being-in-the-world.”

2) Practices focused on worship – communal practices – formation of habits: “Christian education will only be fully an education to the extent that it is also a formation of our habits. And such formation happens not only, or even primarily, by equipping the intellect but through the repetitive formation of embodied, communal practices. And the “core” of those formative practices is centered in the practices of Christian worship.”

Are we up to the modeling challenge this year? Let’s work with students on life habits and spiritual disciplines so that they may flourish.

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Flourishing – thinking divergently and creatively about problems/solutions

(Fifth in a series that delves deeper into the characteristics of a flourishing student – click here to read the original post on flourishing.)

Are we fogging the mirror? The statement,“We believe all children are made in the image of God,” has powerful consequences that I invite you to think about related to this aspect of flourishing. Are the ways we teach our students encouraging them to be more creative and divergent thinkers and therefore increasing their flourishing? A flourishing student is certainly one who demonstrates a developed sense of thinking divergently and creatively about problems and solutions. How can this capability be developed and enhanced over the course of a student’s educational experience? One of the things that we grieve in the process of the education of children is the loss of creativity. In his well-known video, Sir Ken Robinson alludes to the book, Breakpoints and Beyond ,and a test of creativity. The gist of this study, and his point, is that creativity diminishes each year from kindergarten forward. Robinson wryly suggests that the common denominator in life for children is that they have attended school. A sad commentary!

Robinson is not alone in his concerns. In a recent blog post entitled “My Son is 8. He is a Maker,” professor Scott McLeod, writes about his 8 year old son, lamenting that the process of “making” is getting squashed out of his son’s life by school. Others who have had a similar personal experience share their stories in the comments to this post. I especially was touched by the woman writing about her 16 year old daughter’s experiences and the comment by a teacher who is attempting to teach her AP English class creatively.

School has wounded some learners and damaged their creativity and divergent thinking. In fact, wounds of creativity are one of the several types of wounds listed by author Kirsten Olson in her book Wounded by School. This controversial book says that the way we educate millions of American children alienates students from a fundamental pleasure in learning, and that pleasure in learning is essential to real engagement, creativity, intellectual entrepreneurship, and a well-lived life.

As Christians, we believe that each person bears God’s image and that we reflect his goodness, beauty, and creativity. I have asked the question previously in this blog: “If we ‘kill creativity’ through teaching that puts kids to sleep (physically or mentally!) and don’t encourage/allow children to be creative, have we limited their opportunity to image God?” This is a very sobering thought!

We have an unprecedented array of both technological tools and global awareness/opportunities today as we work with students. In his new book, Brain Gain – Marc Prensky, best known for his “digital native, digital immigrant” language, argues that technology actually complements and frees the mind for greater creativity. It is up to us as teachers and administrators to build an encouraging environment/opportunities, give permission/encourage students, and create a culture of expectation for creative work.

A word about standards and creativity – they are not in opposition to each other – it is not an either/or scenario. In the McREL (Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning) paper Five Things That Make the Biggest Difference in Schools, Bryan Goodwin suggests: “Standards should not be the ends of education, but rather the beginning, the platform for creativity, innovation, and personalization.” As we now recognize, creativity is at the top of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy – how perfect that the highest thing we can do is to image our creator’s creativity!

Some creativity links for you to explore:

What would happen if we “Let Kids Rule the School”?

Creative cities are happy cities – towns where learning is held highly and creative work is valued.

A creative young maker demonstrating creative things kids can do: Sylvia

Curriculum of Creativity – a compilation of ideas.

What might be done to produce different learning environments that stimulate creativity?

Will Richardson blog post: “How do we help our students establish themselves as a “node” in a broad, global network of creativity and learning? Shouldn’t that be one of the fundamental questions that drives our work in schools right now?”

Video creation –  by Rushton Hurley – Next Vista for Learning – five minute videos created by students about things to be learned, global study and service.

Careful – this video is just for fun, but you may recognize something you have said to stifle creativity: “Anti-creativity checklist” created by Youngme Moon, Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

And to close, some wonderful creative student efforts happening at two of our CSI schools in Canada:

Toronto District – Unique Programs

Abbotsford Christian – Student Showcase

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