Jesus is always the object of the lesson

Mark Chapter 11:

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke andrebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

There have been many times in my life, even recently, where I have cried out in own words to God, asking, “Teacher, don’t you care that …” fill in the blank. Sometimes, I don’t feel it, or I just forget. But usually, I’m asking God if He cares because I don’t understand. I want to have faith, but having understanding, knowing why—it feels safer. It’s easier. Having faith when we don’t understand—that’s the hardest. We’re human! We like to think and reason; we like black and white. We like answers! I just went from I to we because I’m going to pretend you’re all a little (or a lot) like me sometimes.

But Jesus says to me, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” He’s not saying, “You failed. Now Imma let you drown.” He’s not saying, “Things would have ended differently if you had more faith.” And He isn’t saying, “If you had faith in the first place, this never would’ve happened!” Our faith doesn’t change the circumstances. God is already in control. Our faith is trusting that God is in control. Our faith brings the perseverance and peace to make it through. When I don’t feel it. When I forget. Or when I don’t understand.

When I read this passage yesterday, I thought of David and the army of the Israelites. What if one of the disciples had David’s faith in that moment? “Guys! Wait! Check this out! I can’t wait to see how Jesus takes care of us! Because of course He will. He’s God!” I think it would’ve been the same story–Jesus calming the sea–just a lot less anxiety and stress.

“Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Well, He’s someone I should probably trust. I should have faith that He’s going to bring me through whatever comes my way.

The object of this lesson is that God is faithful to us. always. Their lack of faith didn’t cause the storm, nor did it stop Jesus from calming the storm. He knew they didn’t understand. He knows we forget. He knows I don’t always feel it. He’s God. So He puts his arms around us and says, “Why are you so afraid?” I don’t think He says, “Why are you so afraid, you idiot! When are you going to learn!?” He calmed the storm to remind them that He is faithful. And then He asked them to trust Him. always.

 

 

 

A New Year’s Prayer

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Worshiping with Matt Chandler this morning

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:14-19

  1. Strengthen me with power through your Spirit, in my inner being.

I’m always praying for God’s strength and power in my life. But after reading Scary Close, I took careful notice of the phrase “inner being” here. I want God to help me get back to the me who is hiding inside. The real me. The me He loves. Not the me I’ve created to impress the world. I want God’s power to begin in the deepest part of who I am, and grow outward from there.

     2. Root me, ground me in love. 

I want God to help me use love as my motivation, my encouragement, my self-discipline. I want each action, each day, my life, to be grounded in love.

2b. Forgive me for my selfishness.

As I was praying for God to root and ground me in love, He brought to my attention specific ways that I do things, not out of love, but for attention and praise. Lord, forgive me. 

    3. Help me to know your love that surpasses my knowledge.

I can boast about knowledge. But if I’m going to talk about God’s love, I’m boasting on who He is. I want to know His love, to see it, to feel it, to experience it…. but it will always surpass my knowledge. My mind is limited. His love is infinite.

    4. Fill me with all your fullness.

When I prayed this, I had to ask what does that even mean? God is Holy. God is just. God is love. God is patient. Everything that God is, I want inside me, and I want to be FULL of Him. Drench me. Cover me. Fill me.

Matt Chandler also asked that we pray this for our church body. Imagine if each individual in the church prayed this for himself and for the church body. What power.

 

Change

Baptists believe that God is immutable: He cannot change. I was raised with this doctrine, and I still fully believe it. I guess there are probably several other denominations, and even other faiths, that believe God is immutable, but since I was raised in Baptist doctrine, I used it as my opener.

So as I’ve learned about God, and as culture morphs and humans change, it’s been embedded in my brain that God doesn’t change, so then, these things I’ve always known to be true won’t change either. Because truth doesn’t change.

But another thing I believe is that we get to know God more and more each day. We can never fully understand everything, but with each trial, each blessing, each experience, each moment, we know Him more. Guess what happens as we learn more about Him! We change.

So what happens if the God I saw 5 years ago looks so different from the God I see today? God never changed. I did. I learned. I grew. He changed me. I’m a sinner. I live in a fallen world, in a broken body, with a corrupted heart and mind. There are going to be errors. mistakes. misunderstanding. But the more I seek God and his face, the more I understand Him better. Maybe he teaches us about himself little by little to keep us humble, to keep us from thinking we have arrived.

As God grows me in my spiritual life, I find I care less about certain rules that at one time seemed to be important. As I draw closer to Him, relationships supersede rules. People become more valuable than programs. Love trumps lists. How’s that for alliteration and assonance?

When I see Jesus, He was never harping on the the laws of Leviticus. He was praying with sweat drops of blood. When I read about Jesus, I don’t find him screaming hell and damnation on the sidewalk. The stories of Jesus scream love and redemption, justice and equality, second chances and transformation.

What I do. How I live. Where I go. What I say. I want my life to look like Jesus’s life. I want to be part of the story where Christ reconciles people to himself. I want to see redemption, justice, equality, second chances, transformation.

So though God never changes, He has certainly worked  a lot of change in my heart and my mind and in my life. We’re not going to get it all right this time around. Look at the Crusades. Look at slavery. Look anywhere in history, and you’re going to see Christians who got it wrong. But little by little, each of us can hear God’s voice, know him more, and He’ll help us figure out this path called life.

So when you see someone living a certain way, and you think, oh they’re not as Christian as they used to be, remember what it means to be Christian. Maybe they just understand Jesus a little better now.

Gracia, Papa Dios, por un día más de vida

 

 

“Gracia, Papa Dios, por un día más de vida.”

Thank you, God, for one more day of life.

Every time I go somewhere with my friend on his moto taxi, he says this. Sometimes right away, sometimes mid ride. For a while, it annoyed me. It wasn’t relevant to anything going on, I thought. In fact, I kind of thought he was just saying it to impress me because he knows I’m a Christian. It was rote. Or so I thought.

In a recent conversation, my friends and I were talking about suicide rate. We wondered what the rate was in the Dominican Republic. Up until this last week, I’d never heard of anyone (news-wise) taking their own lives here. I’m sure it happens, but you don’t hear about it like you do in the states.

So I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, in a list of 170 countries, The D.R. falls at 139 (1 being the highest rate). The United States? 50.

Doesn’t it seem like Americans, with all the opportunity and prosperity, would be happier? More excited about life? More excited, than say, a Dominican who lives in a cinder block home without a kitchen or a real shower?

Nope.

I think there’s so much to be said here.  So much about joy, about simplicity, about what life is. When you meet someone, no one asks what your job is. Do you know what they ask you? “Do you have children? Are you married? How is your family?”

The central focus of joy here is family. Children. Life!

They value life. Value life? I think that’s the answer to so many problems I see in my home country… we don’t truly value life.

I’m challenged and encouraged by this way of thinking, this way of living. Many Americans visit or hear about living here and think about the challenges and inconveniences that come with living in a developing country. But for me, living here has been a healing adventure for my soul. The people have shown me how to love life, how to let things go that don’t matter (Ok, so I’m still learning that). They’ve taught me that things don’t always go how you plan, and that’s ok. I have another day of life. Joy is in life itself.

Isn’t that what Jesus is all about? Life! He came to give life and to give it more abundantly.  I came here to serve the people of the D.R. and to teach them about Jesus, but in so many ways, I see Jesus in them. They have helped me to know Jesus better. And they’ve helped me to value my life more.

When my motoconcho thanks God for another day of life, he’s not being rote. He’s genuinely grateful for his life. Here in the D.R. I am daily refreshed by the love of life itself.

December begins…

My December began with a whole lot of busy going on!

This week was Spirit Week at Las Palmas. The students and teachers (and parents!) dressed up for a new theme each day, and we cheered for school spirit. The kids always have a great time, and the teachers do too, but we are also pretty exhausted by the end of the week, moreso than usual.

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Monday was “favorite sports team.”

This week I also started working with a ball player on his English. I met him last summer because he was working for the team in Bowie, Maryland, where I live. He knows a lot of English, but it’s been fun helping him to learn more. He also just signed a new contract with the Orioles organization, so I’m very excited for him.

This week Marco found out our little league ball fields will be closing for about a month for renovations. It’s kind of a bummer, but it will be nice to have the fields fixed up! December is the time of year most Dominicans do renovations, repairs, painting, and so on. It’s Dominican law that people receive double pay (or so I’ve heard… I’ve not really looked into it) in December, so it’s only natural they use the extra money to do larger projects. We’re also hoping this means the new field for the little guys will be done, but we don’t know for sure.

One of the journalists from the stadium gave me a bunch of tickets to share with my students for the 7th annual Latino Baseball Hall of Fame Inductions. Some friends and I went as well, and I was able to see some big names like Omar Vizquel, Tommy Lasorda, Manny Acta, Ivan Rodriguez, and Sammy Sosa. I even got a picture with Pudge!

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I still can’t believe this is my life. Jesus. Children. Baseball. Every day! I’m so thankful. I don’t know why He’s chosen me to be here, but I sure am thankful!

 

Fill My Cup, Lord

A believer cannot continually pour out into other people without others pouring into them. It’s essential, and it’s the way God planned community. We are here to lift each other and encourage each other. When I try to do everything in my own power, and pretend I don’t need someone to hold me up, I’m going to fall.

But even before we have others pouring into us, we must go to the source: the Fountain of Life.

This morning, I made a list of verses I’d memorized (thanks AWANA), and searched for the full verses when I couldn’t recall exact words or references. I hope these will be an encouragement to others as they have been to me this morning.

Isaiah 43:2

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Matthew 11:28

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

1 Peter 5:7

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Isaiah 41:10

fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 

Isaiah 40:31

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk andnot faint.

 

Psalm 59:16

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.

 

What is Love?

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I’m using the Children’s Storybook Bible for morning devotions with my 5th grade class. It’s meant for kids, but boy is it ever giving me some great perspective on God, his plan, and how the whole Bible points to Jesus!

This week, we read the story of Jacob and Rachel, and how Jacob wanted to marry her, but was tricked into marrying Leah first. The book reminds us how God chose to use Jacob in spite of his foolish choices (lying to his father, stealing from his brother). The book pointed out how God loved Leah, and it didn’t matter what she looked like.

So then I talked to the kids about love. How God loves us unconditionally. How he chases after us. But as I was speaking, I got that feeling you get when you’ve said a word so many times, that it has lost its meaning. “Sometimes, I don’t think we understand what LOVE means.” We think love is this feeling when you like something. And then…

“Me gusta.”

“Te gusta.”

In English, we use the word love with something such as baseball. Well, I do, anyway. I LOVE BASEBALL. But do I love baseball? Would I sacrifice for baseball? Would I put myself and my wants second … for baseball? No. I don’t love baseball. Baseball pleases me. In Spanish, the way to say you like something is the phrase, “me gusta,” which literally translates to “Pleases me.”

Too often we confuse the word love with the idea of something pleasing us. We don’t please God daily. But he loves us. Jacob wasn’t pleasing God in his sin, but God loved him. His love is an all-consuming passion for us, regardless of what we do. Now, our obedience DOES please him! But that’s what we do. We give our love and submission in obedience, and we please God. But pleasing God and having his love… they’re not the same.

It makes me wish, “That pleases me,” was as common in English as it is in Spanish.

I talked to my students, and to myself, about love. Love is saying you’re sorry. Love is patient. Love is kind. Too often in life, I am looking for what pleases me. I’m responding in a way that pleases me. I’m going for a feeling. I’m going for what I like. I’m not really loving. Love isn’t about me. It’s about others. It’s about God.

As I challenged my students, God challenged my heart. Do we love God in how we act? Do we love God in how we treat our neighbor? In how we get frustrated with them? In how we talk down to them and are quick to anger?

Lord, help me to love, and not to focus on what pleases me.

Baseball: Dominican Winter League is About to Begin!

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There’s not a whole lot to do in the evenings here in San Pedro, which is one of the reasons I really look forward to baseball season. There’s also the fact that I really really love baseball.

Last year, our team, the Estrellas, went to the finals, but were not able to win the championship. In fact, they haven’t won since the 1950’s. And there are only 6 teams in the league, so, yeah, they call the Estrellas the “Cubs” of the Dominican. That’s also amusing because the GM works for the Cubs.

They play a few exhibition games before the season begins, and I went to yesterday’s game. But yesterday’s game was special for another reason: My friend, Ordomar, was drafted by the opposing team, and I got to see him play in his first game! In the states, he plays for the Cleveland Organization in A ball.

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It was fun to see all my friends at the stadium and say hi to the players. I’d made a photo album, so I am hunting down the players to sign their pictures. 12092631_10153108011351606_454523550_n

The atmosphere here is so different than at MLB parks. It’s so much more casual. I brought blowpops for a couple players. When the players finished pitching or playing (they swapped a lot since it was exhibition), many of them came and sat in the stands. That’s how I got to talk to Marlon and Mario, who both wanted to know why they weren’t in the photo album. So, of course, I said they could be in the book next year.

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And so, another year of baseball, friends, and photos begins!

My Teacher Life: Punctuation Sound Effects

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As mentioned before, my English class is formatted like a grammar class in the United States. This week, my students are learning to apply comma rules to sentences. They are still trying to perfect capitalization and punctuation for 4 types of sentences, so adding another set of rules can be quite a challenge.

A few years ago, I came up with an activity that helped with punctuation. I’ve since tweaked it and applied it to several grammar/mechanics activities.

ORAL READING

During oral reading, students who aren’t reading have a hard time following along. To improve this, we put sounds to all the punctuation. As one student is reading, the others make the sound effects for the punctuation. One student, several, or all, can be chosen for the sound effects.

  • End punctuation: BOOM!
  • Comma: WHOOSH!
  • Quotation mark: PING!

This activity helps students in many ways:

  1. Involves all students in oral reading.
  2. Keeps students focused on the text, so the next reader knows where they are.
  3. Keeps the reader paced, so he/she isn’t reading THROUGH the punctuation.
  4. Puts the focus on punctuation in a sentence—saying “boom ping!” enough will teach them the correct order for end punctuation and quotation marks.
  5. Creates questions: “Why are there 2 sets of quotation marks here?”

GRAMMAR ACTIVITIES

As students are learning the comma rules, I want to keep them focused on the skills we’ve already covered. As we practiced our first comma rule today, I had several students read the sentences, calling for boys to do the sound effects. Then girls. This allows for more oral reading practice, but also focuses attention on the commas (WHOOSH!).

I noticed students were still forgetting capital letters, so I added a new sound effect: The trumpet call, much like that of Jerry Stiller’s character in Zoolander. As the students were instructed to work independently, I told them there was no talking, but that I wanted to hear their sound effects as they wrote.

So my classroom sounded like this: “Ba ba ba baaaaa” … “WHOOSH! WHOOSH!  BOOM!”

No one forgot their end punctuation! And they remembered to capitalize.

Students wanted to add their own sounds, so I allowed “KABOOM!” for exclamation points, and reading BOOM? like a question for interrogative sentences.

HICCUPS

Some students wanted to make the noises to be funny, but were not working. I reminded them that I only wanted to hear the sounds if their pencils were working.

A couple kids got a little out of control with the sounds, and I had to reel them back in, but overall, the activity was definitely more successful than not.

How can you use this in your classroom? What would you add?

My Teacher Life: English

students

I teach in a bilingual Christian school. The students have 3 classes with me: English, science, and math. These classes are all taught in English. All 3 textbook sources are from the United States. The math and science are on level, while the English book is one year behind to compensate the EFL factor.

By the time they reach my 5th grade class, I’m really teaching English the way we would teach grammar in the states. They have a language foundation at this point, and my job is to build on that with vocabulary, mechanics, and grammar.

In English right now, we are identifying sentences, creating sentences, and classifying sentences as declarative, interrogative, imperative, or exclamatory. They’ve also been introduced to changing run-together sentences into compound or complex sentences.

For many of them, the challenges are the same. Two common challenges for them are pronunciation and the mechanics of questions. We have a lot of sounds that don’t exist in Spanish, making it difficult for them to correctly pronounce words. Seriously, pronounce “e,” and “i” by their sounds. Now consider that the “e” sound doesn’t exist in Spanish the way we say it. Now, try to differentiate those sounds. Good luck!

Students have to retrain their brains to read the vowels with English sounds rather than Spanish. On a recent test, they had to use “leaving the car” in a sentence. One student wrote, “I am leaving in the car with my dog.” The student knew the difference between “living” and “leaving,” but when she read it, her brain heard herself SAYING “living,” and therefore she used it as such in the sentence.

With questions, the kids have a difficult time reversing subject verb: “I can go to the bathroom?” I reply, “That’s declarative. Can you make it interrogative?” This becomes even more challenging when you realize we often have to add do,does,did to our questions. This doesn’t exist in Spanish questions!

It’s really exciting to see the kids making progress in their English. It’s also quite a challenge!

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