Saturday, October 22, 2016

Map Mystery

It won't be long until it's traveling time for me with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up! This is from December 28, 2012. Greetings from the McDonald’s in Nashville, Arkansas. I arrived last evening after leaving Wichita following four days with my brothers Dave and Scott and their families. It’s become a tradition of  mine, if you can call two years in a row a tradition, to spend several days during the Christmas holidays on the farm where my mom was born and raised. It’s now owned by my Aunt Jerry and Uncle Jack who live in El Dorado but come here once a month or whenever any of my generation visit. It brings back wonderful childhood memories for me and this year an extra treat, SNOW!

Leaving Texas, I carried printed Mapquest directions from Houston to Kansas to Arkansas back to Houston. I could probably get by without them on the first leg of my journey but not on the other sections. Yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to leave, Scott asked if I wanted their extra  Magellan navigation system since they weren't using it any more. I explained that I was grateful but that I didn't know how to use one. Scott told me that it was easy and that he would program it with the address in Arkansas. It looked easy and I figured I could teach myself, even though I’m technologically deficient, so I accepted Scott’s very gracious offer. It was so cold, Scott could not get the Magellan to attach to the windshield so he just laid it on he passenger seat. And it was great! I loved the woman’s voice directing me at each turn, warning me of impending changes in highways. But as I reached for my wallet at a toll booth, I made contact with the screen and it went to main menu. I panicked and pulled off the road to call Scott, who talked me through resetting it. Several hours later, it happened again, shortly before I was to exit the turnpike. I simply switched back to my written directions and exited. When I reset the Magellan, I found it at odds with the Mapquest which led me one way while the Magellan told me to get back on the Indian Nation Turnpike. Immediately, I began going around in circles, not knowing what to trust. I lost faith in both began drifting in my Honda Fit. I could not find the road Mapquest suggested and the Magellan kept telling me to turn around. I tried to combine the advice from both and ended up driving an extra thirty miles or so. At least the Magellan could make corrections from my current locations and eventually I arrived in Nashville an hour or so behind schedule. Aunt Jerry and Uncle Jack were understanding.

Are you ever caught between conflicting ways to travel in life? Do you have two friends who both care for you and want the best for you but give diametrically opposed advice? Do you try to please both and compromise and end up just going around in circles? How do we handle it when our instincts tell us to turn right and everyone else says to turn left? When I was a boy, one of my favorite hymns was Lead Kindly Light, written by  John Newman:

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till the night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile, which I

Have loved long since, and lost awhile!     

I need that kindly light to guide me. I need it when I'm pulled in different directions and I don't know which path to take. But when I really need it the most is when I think I don't need it, when the self-reliant part of me is arrogant
and my own drummer I'm marching to is out of step but I'm too self absorbed to notice. Jesus proclaimed Himself the light of the world as well as the way/truth/life. That's a pretty good road map for life. His directional steps aren't contradictory and if I can stay out of my own way, I won't keep going around in circles. But, I'm still determined to figure out that Magellan so I can handle the short journeys that together make my life. I'll call you if I get lost.

Applicable quote of the day:
“Maps are essential. Planning a journey without a map is like building a house without drawings.”
Mark Jenkins (The Hard Way: Stories of Danger, Survival, and the Soul of Adventure)

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Friday, October 21, 2016

The Accounting

My ability to keep up with my finances is suspect; so is my ability to watch what I say. At some point in time, both of those areas in my life will be addressed. The following is from December 29, 2006.

The New Year is upon us. With only fifty-some hours until the calendar rolls into January, it was time for me to start balancing my checkbook. To be truthful, balancing is a bit deceptive. I never really get it to that level of exactness. Every time I make a deposit, the nice tellers at Washington Mutual give me a computer printout which tells me my current balance so I don't feel the necessity to update on a monthly basis. When I departed Houston for two weeks with my parents, I threw all my cancelled checks/monthly statements, still in their unopened envelopes, into a carry-on bag. This afternoon, as I began to piece the puzzle together, I discovered that I had only found eight of the eleven bank communications, not including December. Still, with the aid of Washington Mutual's 1-800 automated system, I could access the checks which had cleared. But, there is one check I can't account for in October. There is a numbering mistake in the sequence in my checkbook which must be the missing check. The electronic phone system doesn't go back that far but I know who the check was written to and the dollar amount inked in both letters and numerals. This check is vital because it was a charitable donation and I need to list it when my taxes are sent to the IRS. Every penny counts when you try to be a good steward and have money refunded by the federal government. My hope is that when I get back home in six days, I can find either another envelope of checks with a statement or at least the receipt from the organization, Mission Lazarus. A messy apartment is a problem waiting to develop.

It's just one check. How hard is it to keep up with just one slip of paper? But, it's my responsibility to account for it. As I went line-by-line through my checkbook several hours ago, I revisited the financial record of my year. It brought to mind the purchases, bills, and obligations that shaped my economic fortunes of the past twelve months. I was pretty accurate in keeping up with my recording of transactions...but that isn't quite good enough. Something is still unaccounted for. The Bible provides several strong statements in regards to accountability. In Matthew 12:36, Jesus tells us,
"that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken."
We also read this warning in the thirteenth verse of Hebrews chapter four:
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

Pretty close might get me through my checkbook/tax issues but a much higher standard than the April 15th variety awaits me when the bank statements no longer appear in my mail box. I am reasonably certain I can't account for everything I have ever done, everything I've said. There is also no hope that the Lord's ledger, like mine, is missing an entry or two. The great news is that our judge/auditor in his great mercy can override our blunders:
"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him..." (Psalm 32:1, 2a)

I may never find that check but in the long run, it won't matter much. Balancing my checkbook is inconsequential. Balancing my account in the Book Of Life is the only audit that matters for eternity.

Applicable quote of the day:
"We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs."
Gloria Steinem

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Cups Of Cold Water

In case you didn't know, Houston is a hot and often humid place to live and there is the need for its citizens to stay hydrated. Our school is well air conditioned but kids still get thirsty, especially the kids in sports. Like all schools, we have a number of water fountains scattered around our halls but with four minute passing time slots, they aren't always practical when you have to make a trip to your locker. Students are not allowed to bring any sort of drinks into the classrooms for reasons that take time to explain but with which I am in concurrence. Not long after this school year began, I began filling my smallish IGLOO cooler with ice water and sitting it at the front of my room. I have a number of coffee mugs I keep in a cabinet for my twice-a-year finals review plus I had some leftover styrofoam cups from those same review sessions. It was a hit but you know what happened; the cups ran out and the ceramic ones just couldn't keep pace and the cold water just about tapped out. That brings me to James.

Unless they are in my classes which doesn't happen until eighth grade, or on my basketball team, which limits it to only one gender, I don't really know our middle school kids very well. I teach three high school classes and eat lunch with our elementary grades so I don't have as much contact with our junior high as you might think. I knew who James was when school started in August but that was about it. He seemed like a nice young man and I've found that to be true. I've also found him to be smart and caring. Today, his class penned notes to some good folks who have helped WCS and the words James wrote were particularly touching. Last week, he brought me some homemade apple cobbler in a Tupperware container and it was excellent! I'm not saying it helped his grade but.... it didn't hurt it either! But back to the water. When we ran out of our non-reusable utensils, James took it upon himself to go to the store and buy us some more, a package of eighty to be exact. Last week, he did it again, this time purchasing two bags of eighty cups. That supply is running out now but like the first bunch, it has been both utilized and appreciated. I even have brought coasters from home to keep our desks dry. I typically serve as waiter while the kids take their quizzes. If I ever were to give up teaching, I would kill it at IHOP!

James' small act of kindness doesn't seem like a big deal but like most small gestures, it has a ripple effect. The kids in my class are more likely to be focused, less likely to ask to go to the water fountain, more apt to feel comfortable, and thus more likely to make good grades. I have north of eighty five students, really good kids, in my five Bible classes but James is the only who did something about others' needs. Others might have thought about it but he followed through, which means he thought about it after school was released at 3:25 PM. You know where I'm going with this because everyone in the Christian world can at least semi-quote Jesus from Matthew chapter 10 and verse 42: 
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward."
Easy to quote, simple to plan, not always easy to accomplish. Some rewards are more eternal than points on a test or bonus on a memory verse. They don't show up in our RENWEB grading system but make no mistake, they are being tallied somewhere. And my belief is that Jesus is more than just an adequate accountant of that reward system. Drink up!

Applicable quote of the day:
Life is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what preserve the heart and secure comfort. 
Humphry Davy

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shoes And Sally

I still wear these shoes on a daily basis! This is from Christmas Day, 2012. Merry Christmas from cold and windy Wichita. I arrived on Sunday afternoon and stayed with Dave and Sally the first night before they left yesterday for Oklahoma City to be with their sons' families. I moved over to Scott and Karen's last night where we opened presents and participated in the annual Christmas viewing of The Hunger Games, which actually was pretty good. As always, Santa was good to me- I must have been on the nice list over the previous twelve months. St. Nick has a pretty thorough monitoring system!

When I got here, Sally asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I trotted out my usual answer; gift card from Jos A Bank or Barnes and Noble, etc. Sally would have none of it. She said it ought to be something fun. We kicked around a few ideas but she liked running shoes which I always need anyway. So right before they left for Oklahoma yesterday, and after lunch at Five Guys, the three of us headed to the shoe department at KOHLS. Since my recent boycott of Nike, my footwear choices have dwindled down to Adidas and New Balance, still very good choices. Sally quickly found several pairs of each and I proceeded to try them on. It boiled down to a pair of black Adidas with red stripes or a orange pair of Adidas with silver stripes. Since I'm pretty conservative in dress, I was leaning heavily towards the black pair because, well, if you wear orange shoes, people would notice and there are times I just want to blend in, even with something as seemingly as inconsequential as shoes. The black ones did not quite fit right and yet I was more than willing to take them. But Sally was insistent on the orange shoes, saying she liked them better- Dave agreed- and she finally talked me into taking what originally was my second choice. And you know, after we left KOHLS, I was very glad I went with the brighter shoes. I think I'm already attached to them! (Something else happened at the checkout counter while the shoes were being rung up but I'm too emotional to talk about it now. You know how emotional I am.)

Sally is very important to me because she isn't afraid to nudge me into new directions in parts of my life. (I've penned previous blogs how she has changed my school wardrobe.) Sally will speak her mind with me and is never afraid to tell me what she thinks I need to hear BUT she is never pushy about it. Orange shoes may not seem like a big deal to you but it is to me. We often are surrounded by people who never voice an opinion or intervene in our lives even when opinions and interventions are in order. Sally loves me enough to risk my getting upset with her and I love her enough that I will always listen, even if I disagree or her input might make me uncomfortable. I tell my students we all need a Sally in our lives.  The scriptures indicate the importance of someone who will take that role spiritually as well. It all depends on the relationship we have with the other person. I ought to let you know that Sally has already informed me that my next big shift will be buying a pair of jeans, a style of pants I have not worn in years. Oh well, I have time to prepare for that huge leap of faith which I'm  sure I will take in my orange Adidas. You know what that old hymn says:
One step at a time, dear Savior.

Applicable quote of the day:
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.
God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Kind Of Person

Top from left: Jalyn, Emily
Bottom from left: Walt, M.J.
We live in an unkind world. These youngsters, students of mine, broke that stereotype. This is from May 5, 2012.
I've mentioned several times that I give a grade every day in all of my five classes and that included in each quiz/memory verse/test is a bonus question. Most often it's a random question gleaned from the news with the help of Google, such as What was Larry Brown's jersey number in college at North Carolina (11) or What was the mascot of our arch rivals, Seward, when I was in high school? (Blue Jays) I always give nine options of the screen so they have an 11% chance theoretically to get it right. Once a week, the bonus is a prayer request, something they would like me to take to the Lord. Occasionally, I give them the chance to answer a question with several sentences, such as Which beatitude for you is the toughest to live by? Do you know what's interesting? I have kids more excited about getting a random extra credit correct than making a good grade on the quiz! Many of us have that hitting the jackpot mentality at one time or another.

Two weeks ago, I added the following bonus question to a quiz in my Gospels' classes which are predominantly sophomores with a sprinkling of juniors and seniors: 
What WCS student do you really admire and what about them has earned your admiration? 
These extra credit questions are totally voluntary but almost everyone in my classes participates. That night, as I recorded the grades at home, I was fascinated by what I discovered. From the seventy-odd teenagers in these three periods, over forty picked one of the four students shown above: juniors Jalyn Kuykendall and Emily Kefer and sophomores Walt Hill and M.J. Nelson. Each received in the neighborhood of ten votes apiece although I hesitate to use the term votes as it was in no way an election. There are some things I think are interesting. I don't have either Jalyn or Emily in class this year. Three of the four have siblings in our freshman class. All are active in school extracurriculars, whether athletics/music/drama/student government and there are cross-overs in these areas with the four. But none of those have any bearing on why I chose this as my topic tonight. You see, there was a common theme in the writings which singled out Emily/Jalyn/M.J./Walt. Invariably, my Gospels' students used this one word to describe each of them: kind. There are several New testament passages which highlight the value of kindness in the walk of the believer:
One is 2 Peter 1, verse 5,6,7:

 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 

Another is Galatians 5, verses 22 and 23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
You know, kindness has pretty good company in those oft quoted listings by Peter and Paul. And as I think about these four young people, I think they have the other traits which tie into kindness, as well. Maybe it's just that kindness is the avenue by which their walk with God is displayed. Many of the kids that picked these four are not close to them as far as I can discern. And yet, their character radar picked up on this characteristic that often is displayed in very subtle gestures and words and actions. This is intriguing to me: sixty % of my students nominated Jalyn/Emily/Walt/M.J. and yet we have about 275 high school kids. So how does 1.4% of the population make that kind of impact on the other 98.6%? I would guess the four could not tell you. They acted surprised when I informed them I was featuring them tonight. I think it is so ingrained into their hearts that kindness is akin to breathing for them. You ever hear folks  call someone a breath of fresh air? I know four kids who are walking advertisements for Febreze. Emily and Jalyn and M.J. and Walt are the embodiment of the aroma of Christ that we hope will always linger in our halls at Westbury Christian School.

Applicable quote of the day:
"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."
Abraham Joshua Heschel  

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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Monday, October 17, 2016

The Name

Three of my international students, all from China, were in my classroom not long after school ended for various reasons. This is about the Chinese language and a girl who would become my teacher's aide. It is from September 13, 2012.
During my eighth period Gospels class yesterday, I mentioned that one neat thing about almost one quarter of the students in that period is that they were were blessed to be able to choose their own name, at least in English. Six of the names on the roll in our last section of the day are international students, all female, and all from Asia. Five of these young ladies (Grace, Sophie, Angela, Tina, Jasmine) have taken English names of their own choosing. There  is another girl of Asian descent in eighth period, the one and only Minna. She is American born of parents from Hong Kong and her folks' native language is Cantonese. I asked Minna, who has never been to Hong Kong, if she has a Chinese name. She responded that she does and very graciously wrote it on the top of her memory verse- that is what you see at the top of this page. But Minna did not simply recreate her name; she explained the meaning of the characters. What I learned from those symbols is that Minna's name fits her like tailored clothes; it's as if she were born to fit into her name.

This afternoon, I mentioned to my eighth period class that Minna's name and paper would be the subject of tonight's devotional and told them, jokingly, I was looking for any dirt they might be able to provide. They laughed- the closest was one of her teachers praised her today for making a 100% on an assignment which was very difficult for an ESL student, which of course, Minna is not. (They also accused her of being obsessed with cats and kittens!) One of her close friends did provide me with a quote. She said, and this is verbatim:
"Minna is the least corrupted person I know."

Wow- that might be the best compliment I've ever heard one teenage girl pay to another.... and the friend was flawlessly accurate. Minna is uncorrupted but not because she is naive. She has chosen, as her Chinese name proclaims, to display and exert grace, no easy task in a polluted world. The memory verse from yesterday where Minna drew her name was John 1, verses 6 and 7 in which John the Baptist was introduced to the Bible narrative: 
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
I'm drawn to the words witness and testify because they describe how John set the stage for Jesus. Was there anyone among the pages of scriptures whose name was more perfectly descriptive than John the Baptist who came baptizing and even immersed the Savior? I think Minna is like that. She fulfills the promise given her at birth. Minna's life embodies her name in her mother's and father's native tongue. They must have seen something in their newborn and she models their choice every day of her life. And by the way, she made 100% on the memory verse. 

Applicable quote of the day:
"People's fates are simplified by their names."

God bless,
Luke 18:1
E-mail me at

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Title

This entry, from December 6, 2012, is why most of us coach. I missed practice this morning. I had a seven AM dental appointment in downtown Houston, which is another story. My middle school team works out first period each day and Ben Johnson, one of my former students and players in Tennessee, filled in for me. By all the kids' accounts, they had fun and accomplished a great deal, primarily in shooting. (I was told that Sydney forgot to mention me during the team prayer, an oversight which hurts but since she's eleven, I can overlook it!) But I really missed the girls. Yesterday we had the best practice of the year, maybe in several years, and the coach in me wanted to try to duplicate the experience as soon as possible.

Over the years, I've coached many teams, mostly high school and predominantly basketball, but this group is one of my two or three favorites. There are several reasons. One is that last year, we lost every game and some by  astronomical scores; 62-1, 60-2, 46-0. There were reasons, primarily that most of the girls were sixth graders playing against eighth grade teams and almost none of the girls had ever played before. This year, we are 7-3 and the kids believe we can win although we only talk in terms of improving. We say our opponent in every game is ourselves and the other team that shows up is................ (fill in the blank)  We celebrate Capri Sun Fridays and the Smurfs and stacking it up when we pray. We have fun on our carpool road trips. The seventh and eighth graders ride with one of the moms and the sixth graders ride with me. I laugh and laugh and laugh just listening to them being sixth graders and singing every Christmas song on the radio. During the games, the girls cheer for each other with no jealousy. They are respectful to the referees and to the young ladies from the opposing schools and they play hard. There's just so much for me to like.

But when I try to dissect exactly why I love this team so much, it comes down to this- they love each other. Having sixth and seventh and eight graders on the same team can lead to stratification by age but this group is immune; the older girls look out for and almost are protective of the younger ones which is how a family is supposed to work. Jesus told His apostles that the identifying mark of the believer would be love. His teaching carries over into the basketball arena on occasion. Last weekend, we won the consolation bracket of a tournament at a nearby private school. My players were stunned when we received a trophy- they all wanted to hold it and take pictures. It wasn't much as trophies go- it probably cost ten dollars and the sporting goods company inadvertently put the year as 1220 instead of 2012, a minor detail. But, it might as well have been the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl for all we cared. And the all-tournament team medals hanging around Roseline's and Mallory's neck might as well have been Olympic gold. In the end, though, the real winner this year is me. In the big time sports world,  professional franchises and huge universities compete for what the secular world covets,  titles. But as in many things in the world today, their emphasis is misplaced. You see, I have achieved greatest athletic title of all; these ten girls call me 'Coach.'

Applicable quote of the day:
Luke 18:1
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