Learning to Forgive

God can provide the power to forgive.

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In an excerpt from her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom relates the following story:

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. “When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.…”

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying, “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me.

“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,” again the hand came out—“will you forgive me?”

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “… Help!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.[i]

If we have received unmerited forgiveness from God, then we must give that forgiveness freely to others. For the truth is, it is not our mercy we are to keep; it is His mercy we are to give.

Scripture: Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (ESV)

Question: Is there someone in your life that has hurt you, someone you struggle to forgive?

Prayer: Father, even reading that question brings up hurt feelings over what someone said or did, and I don’t know how I could ever forgive them. Please give me the strength to reach out with your supernatural love by remembering how quickly and thoroughly you forgave me. By saying I can’t forgive, I am limiting your ability, and I know nothing is impossible with you. Please help me take that first step toward reconciliation, and may your power of love be demonstrated through me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

[i] Ten Boom, Corrie. “I’m Still Learning to Forgive.” In Guideposts, 1972. Quoted in “Guidepost Classics: Corrie ten Boom on Forgiveness,” July 24, 2014. https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/positive-living/guideposts-classics-corrie-ten-boom-on-forgiveness.

Heaven is Watching

As Bob Marley would say, it’s time to “stir it up”!

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Before he passed away, bible theologian J. Vernon McGee was invited to a kickoff luncheon for the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, where he heard an inspiring story from the newscaster. 

He told of a famous football coach in the East. The coach had a player who was known for two things. The first thing he was noted for was his faithfulness at football practice. He was the first one out and the last one to leave, but he never could make the team-he just wasn’t quite good enough. The second thing he was famous for was that his father often visited him on campus, and they would be seen walking arm in arm across campus, very much engrossed in conversation. Everyone noticed that and thought it was sweet. Well, one day the coach got a call saying that the boy’s father had died. The coach was the one chosen to tell the sad news to the boy, so he called him in and told him. The boy was greatly shaken, of course, and had to go home for the funeral. But he was present at the next game, sitting there on the bench. Then he came over to the coach and said, “Coach, this is my fourth and last year, and I’ve never played in a game. I’m wondering if today you could put me in just a few minutes and let me play.” And so the coach put him in because the boy’s father had just died. To his amazement, the boy turned out to be a star! The coach had never seen anyone play a better, more brilliant game than this boy played-so he never took him out of the game. When the game was over, the coach called the boy off to the side and said to him, “Listen, I’ve never seen anyone play like you played today, but up to today, you were the lousiest football player I’ve ever seen. I want an explanation.” And the boy said, “Well, coach, you see, my dad was blind, and this is the first day that he ever saw me play football.”

While most of us will not have the opportunity to run on a field surrounded by bleachers filled with shouts of acclimation, we all have an audience. Although not seen with human eyes or heard with human ears, we are all surrounded by very vocal and passionate encouragers

On the tennis team in high school, I had many tournaments both at home and away. And, I always performed much better at games on courts in our hometown. Why? Because our home side of the bleachers was full of supporters cheering me on, that was not the case for games miles away. There is just something that happens to a soul when surrounded by supporters cheering them on; it’s powerful to know you are being watched and actively encouraged to perform well. No wonder the Bible commands us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24, ESV). That word “stir” actually means encouraging, spur, prod, and stimulating; in other words, we are to enter the bleachers of each other’s lives and fill their ears with shouts of support. 

What about those times when we look up from our “race” to discover the bleachers are lifeless or empty, with no encouragement or support for what we are doing? Or even those times when it seems the opposing team is the loudest voice, filling our ears with criticism; judging our motives and methodologies? It is through these difficult and lonely times we must remember that Heaven is watching. And, while you won’t be able to physically hear or see those in Heaven cheering you on, you can be sure that group is your loudest and most supportive force of encouragement in your life. Remembering this can keep us all going strong and see us cross the finish line triumphantly; just to know you are not forgotten and Heaven is watching is enough to motivate our direction and inspire us to go the distance.

Scripture: Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (ESV)

Question: Have you ever felt all alone, like the bleachers of your life were empty?

Prayer: Father, there are times that loneliness sets in when I am trying my best to serve you and make a difference in this world. Times when it seems the only voices I hear are complaints and criticisms, second-guessing my motives, and misjudging my methodologies as I serve you. Father, may I focus my spiritual eyes and incline my spiritual ears to become more aware of the cloud of witnesses in my life and rejoice that Heaven is always watching and cheering me on. Thank you, Father, that I am never alone, and even when everyone else is leaving the stadium of my life, you have filled it up with an audience of Heavenly support. Thank you for encouraging and loving me as the ultimate Coach in my life. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

To Think I Saw It On An American Street

Heard Dr. Seuss had been tossed, so I wrote a poem about a country so lost.

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In a world that is tossed 
And morally lost
I walk along
Singing a song
On an American Street
With my offended feet
Offended by this
Offended by that
Making sure to straighten
My politically correct hat
Cancelling all that does not belong
In my all-inclusive view
Singing the acceptance song
But only for the few
Just do you on the earth’s sod
As long as it doesn’t include your God
No room for the Commandments of Ten
Prayer in class or godly men
We must cancel creation too
Since we come from the apes
That live in a zoo
Approve what you want
Cancel the rest
What used to be right 
Is no longer what’s best

That's what I hear on the street
In many American Towns
Some call ‘em politicians
Others call ‘em clowns
Kneel at the games
Build new rooms to pee
Conform to the world
And worship those on T.V.
Remove from the shelves Mr. Potato Head
Read liberal books to the children in bed
Refuse to watch Charlie Brown on TV
Or listen to Rush talk about being free
Then we ask, “where is God?”
As we toss the Bible
Giving humanism a nod
We kicked Him out and wonder why
He pulled away with a tearful sigh
Is there any hope for a country so lost
Or will it come with a price or a cost?
Can we continue to live how we please?
Or would we have to confess from our knees?
Deep down I know what must be done
We must go back to the One, God’s only Son
To confess our sin and struggles within
And repent of our ways to the Ancient of Days
It’s not too late
To change our fate
There is still hope
At the end of our rope
Time is something we can’t afford
Very soon the clouds will present the Lord
We must act now and plead our case
To be wrapped up tight in God’s loving grace
Our country has a future, this is for sure
Whether we are blessed or cursed depends on the door
The road on the left is wide and free
But leads to torment many will see
The road on the right is narrow and rough
But those who walk find Jesus enough

The Power of the Word

Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, was mistaken.

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Texan Deleese Williams was so excited when ABC-TV’s producers reached out to offer her a spot on an episode of their very successful Extreme Makeover, a beast to beauty type show that promised a life-changing physical transformation via a series of procedures and external modifications. As the date for the show quickly approached, producers were busy with Deleese’s family, getting video footage of her, for those “before” shot’s, and interviews with her family members who, at the prompting of the producers, verbally exaggerated each physical “flaw” and imperfection. The producers were looking for that “shock and awe” moment when the before and after was to be revealed at the show’s climax. 

Just days before the first surgery was to occur, Deleese was flown to Los Angeles and scheduled for a string of procedures, one of which was plastic surgery. At the last minute, the show was canceled due to a scheduling conflict with the doctors. Deleese was issued a ticket to return home, yet she didn’t want to leave. Why? After weeks of hearing her family members point out so many of her physical flaws, she had begun to see herself as ugly and just wanted to hide away from humanity. Back home in Texas, struggling with depression, she refused to leave the house, only venturing out to Wal-Mart for groceries after midnight. 

Deleese’ sister Kellie recognized that she had allowed herself to be drawn in by the producers, goaded into videotaping “hurtful and horrific statements” about her sister’s appearance. Now, faced with the consequences, Kellie could no longer stand the lasting effects of a show gone wrong, took her own life only four months after her sister’s appearance was canceled, leaving behind two children, who now are being raised by Deleese.

The person that coined the phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, was either deceived, naïve, or a liar; words do hurt. 

And no one is exempt. The great prophet of God, Elijah, knew the devastating effects of negative words. Coming off a great victory on Mount Carmel, where all the false prophets of Baal were destroyed, and a great revival sweeping over the land, Elijah received a letter. The king’s wife, Jezebel, was the author of a letter that essentially let Elijah know he was hated and not worthy of life. Elijah withdrew from the mountain of victory and ended up under a tree, asking God to take his life (I Kings 18 & 19). Words do hurt. 

The same thing that got Elijah out from under the tree is the same thing that can get Deleese out of her house-to start seeing ourselves as God sees us, His most incredible creation and the object and expression of His love.

While we can’t change the Williams family tragedy, we can be part of a movement that can ensure it is never repeated. There are many voices in this world that communicate our physical insufficiencies, Hollywood, media, co-workers, and at times, even friends and family. Yet, the voice that matters, our Creator, says that we are all created in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:27) and that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)! Perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to share that message with those in our lives; it won’t hurt, and it might just make a difference.

Scripture: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” Hebrews 10:24 (ESV)

Questions: Have you ever been discouraged by the words of another, allowing the views of someone else to affect how you feel about yourself? Would you be willing to count how many compliments you give out to others each day and work on improving that number each week?

Prayer: Father, may today I be reminded that you created me and that you don’t make junk! Please help me start to see myself, not through the eyes of Hollywood or media, but through your eyes. I have been designed by you personally; therefore, may I rejoice and celebrate every wrinkle, freckle, and spot as marks of your creativity and love. Please help me encourage others to do the same, for all were created in your image and likeness. Thank you for using me to stir up others in loving themselves as objects of your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen. 

Believing is Seeing

With faith, we must first believe before we can see.

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When I almost failed my recent exam at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I gave in and decided to pay a visit to my optometrist. It had been 11 years since my last appointment when I was prescribed glasses that I stopped wearing over ten years ago! The recent exam showed my vision to be 20/220, a new prescription was written, and glasses ordered. Yesterday I picked up my new glasses, went out to my car and spent 30 minutes looking at the world! I took them off and looked across the street, put them on, and saw a building. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but it was life-changing. When I got home, I spent an hour on my back porch just looking at the clarity of the clouds, laughing about the radio tower on a distant mountain I had never seen; simply admiring the colors, transparency, and details in God’s creation, lamenting that I had been missing out on so much for so long.

I am not the only one to consider the issue of sight. When Fanny Crosby was but six weeks old, she developed a cold and inflammation in her eyes. A doctor applied a mustard plaster to her eyes which, according to Fanny, damaged her optic nerves causing complete and permanent blindness. Looking at the world through my new glasses, I can’t imagine not seeing the beauty that God created; seeing is believing, or is it? 

Fanny Crosby did not end up discouraged nor trapped in a state of regret or bitterness; she surrendered her life to Jesus Christ, and starting at the early age of ten years old, she committed to memorizing five chapters of the Bible every day. Five years later, at 15 years old, she had memorized the first five books of the Old Testament, the four Gospels, the Song of Solomon, all the Proverbs, and most of the Psalms. By the time of her death, at 94 years of age, she had written over 8,000 hymns, five cantatas and published over 1,000 poems. But, even more impressive was her attitude concerning her seeming disability. Many would have been rendered incapacitated if blind, living with regret-consumed by what could be, yet Fanny lived as if she enjoyed a view only experienced through her physical blindness.

When asked about her disability, Fanny wrote, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered to me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.” For Fanny, seeing was not believing, instead, believing was seeing; through faith, Fanny Crosby had perfect 20/20 vision. 

No matter your disability, God created you and has a purpose for your life; to glorify Him and make Him known, being satisfied with who God has created-using any perceived handicaps as opportunities- not obstacles, to praise Him. John Piper once said that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” When we purpose to view life through the lens of God’s will for us, we will see more clearly than ever before. In the words of Fanny, 

Sound His praises! Jesus who bore our sorrow 
Love unbounded wonderful, deep, and strong
Praise Him! Praise Him! Tell of His excellent greatness
Praise Him! Praise Him! Ever in joyful song

You see, it’s not seeing is believing, but believing is seeing!

Scripture:Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” -Phil. 4:11-13 (ESV)

Question: Have you ever allowed what has happened around you to impact the power within you?

Prayer: Father, there are times when my circumstances affect my faith, times when I get so discouraged with the pain and suffering in my life that I forget how much you love me and that you never take your eyes off of me. During these difficult times, please give me the strength to persevere, the wisdom to refocus on your love, and the peace that comes from being content with whatever you have allowed me to endure. Please use my obstacles as opportunities to praise you and tell of your great love to others. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Smoke in the Kitchen

God sees past our failures to hearts that He loves.

Earlier in the afternoon, my amazingly gifted wife Laurie successfully defended her doctoral dissertation and was recognized, for the very first time, by her board chair as Dr. McCracken. According to Dr. Gary Chapman, who confirmed this personally, my love language is gift-giving, which supplements one of my favorite hobbies, cooking. So, off to the local Fresh Market I went, hand-selecting the two finest specimens of filet mignon, fresh asparagus, and the largest potatoes I could find. That night I did everything right, got the filets to room temperature, dry brined each steak, reverse-seared the meat by starting them in the oven at a lower temperature, and then finishing on a cast-iron skillet. With both ovens employed, and two stovetops active, I owned that kitchen like Guy Fieri until it was time to butter the potatoes for that crisp skin, then I turned into Julia Child! In my head, my wife would soon be cutting into her medium steak, steam rising from the tender pink filet, and she would smile and say, “this is even better than Ruth’s Chris Restaurant, thank you.” That vision went up with the smoke coming from the skillet when our vent failed to work, resulting from a previous kitchen fire. The garlic basil butter I added increased the amount of smoke, and with no vent in the kitchen, I literally could not see the steaks. Blowing profusely, I thrust a thermometer into one of the steaks and was shocked the temperature was only 130, not the desired 160, so I kept flipping and counting and checking, even using another thermometer in case the first was faulty. Going with my gut, I pulled the skillet off the stove and placed it on the island cutting board, and waited for the smoke to clear. Once I could see the steaks, I moaned; they were no longer steaks but charred disks of burned cow meat; both thermometers were broken! Smoke alarm going off in the living room, I had the back deck door, and garage doors opened, fans on, as I made my way with plates of disgrace to be presented on the table. Looking at my wife, I apologized and bowed my head as she prayed for our meal. “Father,” she started, “please be with Tom and help him to realize that the time he spent preparing this meal means more to me than anything else” after she had finished praying, she lifted her head and reassured me, “it’s ok, I love you.” 

I am confident that whoever you are, there have been times when your final product looked, or tasted, nothing like you envisioned or dreamed. Perhaps even as you evaluate your life recently, you might confess who you are is not who you dreamed you would be. It may be that you don’t think you’re making that much of a difference for God, that you’re not doing, investing, going, or serving as much or as often as you had planned. Or that what you’ve done for God isn’t’ as great as others that seem to be accomplishing some fantastic things for the kingdom, making steaks while you serve charred patties. But, don’t you think that God sees your motivations, your efforts, over your own perceived quality of a final product? 

After Peter denied Jesus, he started to believe the devil’s lies, that he was no longer usable and that God could not, would not, forgive or love him ever again. Peter thought that his life as a disciple was over since the last meal he made Jesus was a scorched steak, I digress. Nevertheless, Peter did feel the effects of having his grandiose visions of loyalty to Jesus depart when he failed, so he gave up and went back to fishing. Yet early one morning, while out in the boat with his friends, a figure appeared on the shore and called to them; it was Jesus. Peter didn’t even wait to turn the boat around and paddle in; he lept off and swam as hard as he could! What did he find? Jesus was making him breakfast. It was at this time that Jesus reminded Peter that his calling and usability were still in force with the statement, “feed my sheep.” (John 21:17). Jesus was more concerned with the process, not the final product; Jesus understood that Peter was not perfect, he would make mistakes, and that was ok. 

My wife saw my heart, even through the smoke in the kitchen, and appreciated the love that motivated me to cook a meal for her, even more than the taste. God sees past our flaws, mistakes, baggage, scars, and imperfections, He sees our heart, and as long as you desire to please Him, you can be assured, even when you feel you’ve failed, He is saying, “it’s ok, I love you.”

Scripture: I Samuel 16:7b, “For the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (ESV) 

Question: Have you ever felt inadequate, unworthy, or as if what you offer God is not good enough?

Prayer: Father, there are so many times I feel so unworthy and inadequate, times when I don’t feel what I bring, is making a difference or matters. There are days when I have good intentions but not enough time and great ideas that seem to come up short. Please help me remember that you are not after perfection; you just want me to love you, and sometimes that is messy, chaotic, disorganized, and not pretty. Thank you for your patience and for seeing past the smoke of my imperfect life into my very heart. May I not be so focused on the final product that I fail to enjoy your love during the preparation. Thank you for your patience, grace, care and for making me feel special. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen

Teachers Make Too Much Money

Weekends and summers off. Too good to be true?

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That sentiment seems to flow smoothly off many tongues in today’s climate, but has it ever been challenged? Consider this, while darkness still prevails in the early morning hours, with many cozy in their warm beds, teachers have already unlocked their classrooms, updated all the boards and charts, and prepared their rooms for students that will pour in before 7:30. And, while many are just having their first cup of coffee at their place of work, teachers have an hour of instruction behind them, not having time for a cup of coffee or the use of the restroom. Teachers work daily from a schedule that accounts for every minute, and when they are not in the classroom, teachers are inundated with extra duties, from working in the lunchroom to serving as a hall monitor, to providing mediation to recess duty, and from extracurricular supervision to bus duty, the only possible break in the entire day is lunch. Yet, that generous 30-minute break for sustenance is rarely used, leaving the staff break-room empty as teachers trade that time to catch up on grading and preparing for the next round of students while they scarf down a pack of nabs and a few sips of water at their desk.

Oh, but teachers are done their day at 3 o’clock, you say? Nope. After making sure most children are safely on their way home, some teachers must wait for that late parent, the broken-down van, or the substitute bus driver who is overwhelmed with a new route and running behind. Then, classrooms need to be prepared for the janitorial staff, papers need to be organized, items left behind by students need to be placed, and the classrooms need to be prepped for the next day. Suppose a teacher is not feeling well and has to take off the following day for sickness? In that case, they remain an additional 2-3 hours, well into dinner time, finding a substitute teacher, and creating an in-depth packet to guide them through the next educational day. 

Coming home in the dark reminds teachers of their trip at the start of the day, also in the darkness. Being on their feet all day, traveling from class to class, room to room throughout a large school, teachers are greeted by excited children, loving pets, and perhaps a spouse, all wanting to know, “what’s for dinner?”. With no time to change or relax, dinner is made, chores are done, children are helped with homework, bedtime stories are read, and dogs are taken out. Then, it’s time to relax, or is it? It is usually around 9 or 10 o’clock, and teachers are generally at a desk grading all those papers completed earlier in the day. Suppose a teacher is lucky, and it was a slow educational day? In that case, exhausted bodies collapse on the bed sometime after 11 o’clock with the alarm intruding their much-needed rest at 5:30 in the morning to start that schedule all over again.

Well, teachers enjoy every weekend off, right? Nope again. All of those hours of daily classroom instruction require many hours each week to create lesson plans. Also, since there is no time during the workday, teachers are very busy during the weekends returning e-mails and phone calls from parents upset about grades, discipline, lost hats, homework questions, or help with paying for supplies or trips. Then there’s the school district required meetings, training sessions, and events, not to mention the field trips, sporting events, music concerts, plays, car washes, and school supply drives teachers often attend, sometimes just because they want to support your child. So, by the time Monday morning arrives, most teachers are still struggling to recover from the hectic week prior yet arise with the passion for serving another day.

What about having every summer off! That is funny! Because teachers are required to hold a four-year accredited degree, pass several state exams and take a certain amount of continuing education to receive and maintain their license, they find themselves overwhelmed in school debt and paid significantly less than other positions requiring a college education. Therefore, summers are often spent working another job; lawn-care, daycare, tutoring, summer school, painting, stocking shelves at Wal-Mart, and waiting tables at Olive Garden, just to keep up financially since they are not paid all twelve months of the year. And, if a teacher has a desire to enter administration, they must hold at least a master’s degree to be competitive or a doctorate if they aspire to be promoted to service at the central office. No wonder one in ten teachers leaves the profession each year, and the annual turnover rate is between 20 and 46%! And that was all before the stress the COVID pandemic brought to the halls of education.

Lastly, let us not forget the lack of support teachers often experience, at times, from all sides. The lawnmower parents defending their children by yelling and cursing at the teachers for giving a deserved low grade to central office policies that can complicate the process with confusing and difficult expectations almost impossible to flesh out in the classroom. Teachers are questioned, second-guessed, criticized, maligned, mistreated, and disrespected by students and parents every day, with parents often expecting more from the teachers than they do themselves in their child’s life. And to make matters worse, teachers are now fearful of the lives of their students and themselves. Many districts have kept teachers in the classrooms for most, if not all, of this pandemic, mandating teachers place themselves on the front lines, risking their very lives to maintain their students’ instruction. Add that emotional stress to the daily toll their profession takes on their physical and mental well-being, and perhaps, you may reconsider your position that teachers “have it made.”

So, this Christmas, while you enjoy unadulterated time with your family around the tree, perhaps take a moment and thank God for your child’s teacher, and even consider a tangible gift of encouragement; it certainly can’t hurt. And the next time you think of casting shade or criticizing a teacher, remember, that teacher may be investing in and loving your child almost as much as you do.

Tom McCracken, Ed.D(c)

A Yes Fish World

One of the greatest attributes a Christian can have is always to remain teachable. 

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There is a story told in Muppet Land called the Yes Fish. This story finds baby Ms. Piggy traveling to the bottom of the ocean in search of a treasure chest rumored to contain great power. Throughout her trip, she is surrounded by a group of fish called Yes-Fish. These yellow fish look very cool with blue fins and crazy glasses, seemingly smart and comforting. And these fish answer every question Ms. Piggy asks with a “YES!”; should I touch this? YES! Should I enter that cave? YES! Should I keep searching for the chest? YES! Eventually, Ms. Piggy finds this chest but has second thoughts about the opening. She remembers those that advised against her journey that the chest contained a great evil that should never be released. Torn between excitement and fear, Ms. Piggy leaves it to those fish that have been with her the entire trip. So, she asks them, should I open this chest, to which they reply, YES! So, with excitement, she flings open the chest, and immediately two large black blobs seep out and start to consume everything they touch. They grow bigger and bigger with everything they consume, eventually finishing the entire ocean, leaving only a path of destruction and desolation. Ms. Piggy, now standing on the dry ground that used to be the ocean floor, and surveying all the death around her, regrets her decision. 

While she listened to the Yes fish, she failed to recognize that Yes Fish always say “yes,” don’t always tell the truth, but their counsel almost always leads to trouble.

What a great life lesson for us. How often do we intentionally surround ourselves with people and information that simply confirm our beliefs, justify our responses, support our decisions, and reaffirms our evaluations of self or circumstance? While this may be the path to “feeling good,” it rarely results in growth or success. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (ESV). 

When you limit your counsel to those in your circle, thereby surrounding yourself with Yes fish, you reject godly advice from a different view, thereby missing out on potential growth. 

One of the greatest attributes a Christian can have is always to remain teachable. 

Oh, how many folks hear criticism and simply shut down and stop whatever they were doing instead of considering the input and doing the difficult thing; growing. We live in a Yes Fish world where folks only want to listen to what they want to hear, and any voice that goes against their opinion is discarded at best or violently silenced at worse. 

May today, we all open ourselves to those voices that God places in our lives that may not feel good but maybe for our good.

Scripture: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” -Proverbs 19:20

Question: Think back to when you were given some criticism that hurt your feelings. Did you use it to grow or allow bitterness to flow?

Prayer: Father, sometimes hearing from an opposing view is challenging, yet may I recognize that you can use those voices to stretch my faith and grow in grace. With your strength, I desire to open my circle of influence to opposing views and different ways, that once filtered through your Word, I genuinely consider as tools in expanding my beliefs, changing my practices, and becoming more equipped to serve. Thank you for your instruction, and may I always remain teachable. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen. 

On The Winning Side

God has your six.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Shaking, almost uncontrollably, I lunged toward a small rope ladder on the side of a Japanese container vessel in the Bearing Sea. It was dark, and the freezing rain stung my face as I made my way up about 20 feet to the deck of a vessel the Coast Guard deemed suspicious enough to investigate. I was part of a six-man boarding team whose mission was to clear the ship of illegal drugs or contraband. As the group’s newest member, I was positioned in the second row, armed only with a can of military-grade mace. That first turn we took, I was overwhelmed by the foreign whispers resonating through the darkened hall to the point my shaking must have been noticed by one of the two sailors behind me. Leaning up to my left ear, my shipmate simply said, “McCracken, we got your six; “six” referring to the number on a clock in relation to the 12; in other words, he was saying my back was covered.

Many times, in my fourteen years of military training, in both the Army and Coast Guard, this concept had been reinforced; soldiers and sailors protect each other’s six. Even our military’s modern armor reflects this as the Kevlar bulletproof inserts and shielding are to be worn on the front, never the back. This is not unique, the Roman military in the Apostle Paul’s day maintained the same practice. When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he likened the spiritual resources available to the Christian soldier to the military’s practical ones. The Apostle Paul said to “take up the whole armor of God” so that Christians could stand victorious on the battlefield of the faith. The word “whole” speaks to the completeness of the armor God issues to each Christian in His army; in other words, nothing is lacking; God supplies all that is needed to achieve victory. But, if we look closely at each component of our “God issued armor,” there appears to be a point of vulnerability.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul identifies six distinct pieces of armor the Christian must don when engaging in spiritual warfare; the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit. Every part of the body is covered, or are they? Notice that each piece of armor is designed to protect the wearer from the top, bottom, front, and sides; the breast, head, feet, and shield, yet God’s supply locker has nothing to cover the back! Remember that young and scared sailor on the Japanese ship, concerned about what he couldn’t see or defend lurking behind him? It was that quiet and reassuring voice that whispered, “We got your six,” that instilled a sense of peace and calm.

There are a few reasons God does not provide for our back:

1. Retreat is never an option for the Christian. There should never be a time when a Christian soldier should turn their back on the enemy and run for fear. God has defeated that miserable snake and given every believer the power to storm the gates of Hell (Mt. 16:17-19).

2. As Christians soldiers, we should all be protecting each other’s six. There’s no place for disunity among the ranks of God’s army, hence no need to fear an unprotected back when surrounded by Christian comrades (John 15:13).

3. Our Commander is always with us. As we march into spiritual war, I can almost hear the Commander-our Heavenly Father-whispering through the ranks of those overwhelmed, anxious, and scared, “I got your six.” No matter who might conspire against us, abandon their post beside us or hurl weapons at us, God will always protect us (Isa. 54:17).

The battlefield of our faith has never been so active as it is in our current culture. And, more and more Christian soldiers have walked away from the battle, hung up their armor, and given up the fight; many viewing victory as a hopeless and hurtful cause.

There is one nugget in Paul’s address to the Christian soldiers that perhaps can encourage you. Before Paul tells each believer to put on the armor of God, he first says to “Stand.” In Paul’s day, that was a wrestling term, and the only wrestler that could stand was the victor after the match. By Paul telling us to stand before we put on our armor for battle, he reminds us that Jesus has already obtained victory through the cross. The war is not ours, but His, and He has already fought and won; we are now just marching home carrying the banner of our victory and fending off any disgruntled enemies along the way!

Scripture: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” -Ephesians 6:13-18, ESV

Question: Have you gotten so discouraged, fighting for your faith, that you have given up? Have you surrendered to this world? Resigned just to hide out and wait until your Commander calls you home?

Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding me of your power inside of me. At times I feel so lonely as if I am the only one on the battlefield. May I have the faith to believe that you are enough, even if everyone else does abandon me, your power and presence are more than sufficient. Please give me the strength to continue and the power to overcome. May I be so confident in you that I march boldly through this world as a victorious child of the King. Thank you for overcoming the world, sin, and Satan, and thank you for the reminder that I am on the winning side. May I be faithful in your fight today. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.