Posted in Blogging for Books, Book Review

English Lessons

Hold on…don’t go anywhere. I’m not going to (intentionally) give you any lessons about English. Instead, I want to talk about an interesting little story that I recently read.

Through bloggingforbooks, I stumbled across a book by the daughter of Max Lucado, Andrea Lucado, that tells the story of her journey closer to God that happened to coincide with her journey to Oxford (England that is).

9781601428950

From the first page of this book, I was connected. This girl gets me. She and I both practically grew up in church, so our faith in God just seem connected to who we are. That doesn’t mean we were immediately saved upon birth or anything; we definitely still each had to make our own decisions about who God is to us. In fact, that’s the purpose of her book, English Lessons.  In this personal memoir, Andrea tells of how she traveled to Oxford thinking she could use it as her personal mission field (that’s how I felt in London). Once she arrives, she realizes that being the sole Christian in her graduate classes may be harder than she thinks (I can relate). She begins to question the validity of her own faith. Through a series of friendships and experiences, she comes to realize that her life is so much richer with God, and she can’t imagine her life without God.

I was immensely jealous of Andrea’s story firstly because Oxford was a place in England I did not get to visit. Secondly, she was able to experience the city and meet so many interesting characters. Thirdly, she is very articulate about her story of questioning her faith and then coming back to God. She tells the story in a way that makes me want to ponder my own story again and be more reflective. There are possibly still lessons I could learn from the events that have happened and will happen within my own life.

Even though this book is clearly marked as an uncorrected copy and won’t actually be published until later this year, I am glad to have read it now. Andrea’s story is both personal to her and relatable to the many church kids out there who wonder what their life would have been like if they hadn’t grown up going to church.

For more information about this book, visit the publisher’s website.

 

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Posted in Life, Remembering

I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan.

A year and a half ago, I was starting a position in the office where I worked as a college student. Part of me was excited for the work I would be doing, but there was also a small part of me that wondered why I was starting a year-long non-teaching commitment in July instead of seeking teaching jobs.

I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan.

Fast forward a little less than one year when I started seeking teaching jobs since I knew the end of my time at CELTS was coming. I applied to several public schools because I thought that’s where God wanted me. I had noble plans of being this strong light in the public school system.

Maybe I could have been that light, but once again I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan.

I was devastated when I learned that the one English position open at that time in Madison County was filled internally. After leaving the career fair (which took enormous courage for me to even enter), I sat in my car and cried. Even though it was only early spring, I felt as if all of my options were drying up.

I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan.

I kept putting my application out to public schools, and in the meantime I started looking around at other types of schools. My student teaching mentor had just come from OBI, and he had told me all about the school and it’s mission. I had briefly looked at it immediately following graduation, but nothing had come at that moment. On a whim, I sent my application to the school even though no jobs were posted at the time.

I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan.

I continued worrying and working on applications, so I was pleasantly surprised when the president of OBI called to say they had an English position that might open up. He offered to host me for a couple of days, so they could get to know me and I could see the school.

Long story short, I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan. In my plan, I would have found a teaching job directly out of college, and it probably would have been in a public school. I had completely written VISTA positions out of my plan a summer before I accepted one in CELTS, but God had a plan in place to get me to the place where I am right now. Even though it has had it’s rough moments, I rest in the confidence that God orchestrated my presence here.

I didn’t fully comprehend God’s plan, but that didn’t make his plan any less real or perfect.

Posted in Blog, Life, Remembering

You want me to pray???

Recently I saw a Facebook post reminiscing about the times in youth group when the youth leader asked for a volunteer to pray and there was dead silence. I can certainly remember those moments, and often I was one of the silent ones. On the off chance that the youth leader called on me or I volunteered, there was a brief moment of panic. If I’m honest, there’s still that moment of panic when I’m asked to pray aloud today. My question is “why?”. Why are we afraid to pray aloud? It’s just talking to God after all. I do that frequently, so what am I afraid of?

After some soul searching, I have come to the conclusion that I think for me it’s a fear of the people listening more than a fear of talking to God. I panic that others will think my prayer isn’t “holy” enough or long enough. Maybe I won’t use the right words, or maybe I won’t have any words at all.

This morning I was reading the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus teaches the crowds how to pray. If pointing out that pagans pray so that others can hear them wasn’t enough explanation, Jesus follows up with an example prayer of his own. Guess what? Jesus’ prayer isn’t long and drawn out. It uses fairly simple words and has a pretty straightforward message.

This example gives me courage that when I feel like talking to God, I should do so freely whether out loud or in my head. After all, when I’m praying aloud, it’s God’s ear that matters, not the ears of others.

Posted in Bible Study

Restart

January 1st often brings about resolutions and promises which the pessimistic side of me says are often broken before the end of January. The optimistic side though always looks forward to a new year because it feels like a new opportunity to restart. Maybe I’ve gotten slack on reading my Bible or maybe I’ve become lazy about getting some form of exercise. Maybe I just need a mental swipe to know that it’s an opportunity to make this year better.

God saw that the Israelites needed this sort of clean swipe. The Israelites weren’t living the life God intended for them to live, and Jeremiah spends his book mourning their behavior and pleading for change. In Jeremiah 25, God allows the Israelites to go into captivity by the Babylonians. I’m sure some of the Israelites were upset with God at this point, but God had a plan. This is exactly the sort of opportunity God was presenting to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, but he didn’t just present the opportunity. God presented the opportunity with a promise.

In Jeremiah 29, Jeremiah sends a letter to the exiles in Babylon who were following God. He relays the words of God that basically tell them to keep heart. In the well-quoted verse eleven, God says, I have “plans to proper you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” Later he adds that the people will seek him and find him when they seek him with all of their heart (vs. 13). In this, God is saying that he is giving the people a chance to restart. He allowed them to go into captivity as an opportunity to seek him with their full heart. Some of the Israelites needed that.

This set of verses gave me hope in a world and country that seems to be going topsy-turvy. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus hasn’t returned yet, but then I remember that he has promised that he will return. The Israelites probably wondered why he didn’t rescue them sooner, but he promised them 70 years in captivity. God hasn’t given us a specific time frame to be on this earth, but he has promised that he will return and that he has plan that is good. In the meantime, we must continue living out the commands he has given us. If you’ve gotten slack in keeping the commands or even in your relationship with God, take this fresh year as an opportunity to restart. God forgives any time of the year.

 

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

Posted in Life

Oneida

I’ve been at Oneida for over a month now, so it would seem logical that I would have made a blog post by now. Alas, it hasn’t happened. Overall, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be here and to serve Jesus.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service (1 Timothy 1:12)

I realize that my first year of teaching anywhere would be difficult, but being here is just a little bit better because I am surrounded by like-minded people and I’m able to freely share my faith. I also really enjoy the break after 3rd period for chapel, which definitely wouldn’t happen at a public school.

This is not to say that my time here has not been met with its own share of difficulties. I’ve had to adjust to a different pace of life, learn to live with less internet and cell coverage, find my niche in an established community, balance the demands of first-year teaching, try to say no to some opportunities, build a support system, learn two curriculum, develop tougher skin, and make time to simply rest. If you know me even a little bit, that last one is very difficult for me because I tend to run myself dry.

Through it all, God has provided. I have found ways to communicate with the outside world, learned to appreciate the good conversations and the loneliness, learned to keep the books for volleyball games, given up on creating everything from scratch, listened to student complaints without second-guessing my decision, and found a good walking path. I’m still learning every day and finding that the best advice about the classroom and adjusting to this life comes at the least expected moments.

It’s been a journey thus far, and I expect the journey will continue throughout this year and for however long God keeps me here in Oneida. If you’re looking for something to pray about, ask God to continually give me patience, tenacity, love, and his eyes as I teach these students about English and God.

Posted in Book Review, Life

Comparing Myself to C.S. Lewis

 

As I read the short commentary on C.S. Lewis’s life by Perry Bramlett, I found myself making vows and plans to be a better Christian. I saw myself as a Christian failure in comparison to C.S. Lewis.

I read that C.S. Lewis rose early to pray and didn’t like to pray at night because he felt he was too sleepy to do it justice. He also like to pray scripture, adding his own “festoons” to make the text more personal to his own heart. For example, he would pray “hallowed be thy name” and add “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” This chapter about C.S. Lewis’s prayer life made me want to be more fastidious about my own prayer life, and I vowed to try his methods of prayer.

Then I read how C.S. Lewis read a bit of his Bible every day, and I looked guiltily at my unopened Bible. I made a vow to get back on track with reading something every day.

The next part of his life that I read was how C.S. Lewis was a great friend. Dagger to my heart. He spent nearly all of his free time with friends, and he scheduled regular times to meet with each of his friends. He even answered every letter that anyone sent him, friend or stranger.

As I concluded the book feeling beaten and worthless, Perry Bramlett, the author, began commenting on his own journey to the land of C.S. Lewis and what he had learned studying Lewis’s life. He said, “In retrospect, I know now that I was a very poor student of C.S. Lewis (and probably of the Scriptures)” That’s exactly how I was feeling after only reading a mere 72 pages about C.S. Lewis’s spiritual life. He followed that statement by immediately saying:

“Lewis’s ‘life at the center’ was a gift from God, a gift of grace. God gave Jack the vehicles of prayer, the Bible, and good friendships to help him become a little more like God’s son, who is the Christ. Lewis came to know that this takes time, constant obedience, and perseverance; for him, it took a whole lifetime. He also knew that ‘being spiritual’ is not a ‘happening’ or an ‘event.’ He knew from long experience that he could never be so presumptuous as to try to ‘plan’ spirituality. (C.S. Lewis: Life at the Center by Perry Bramlett)

I let out all of the air and tension I was holding in. How true and freeing were those words. I will never have C.S. Lewis’s relationship with God nor will my spiritual life look similar because I am not C.S. Lewis. Both of those are personal between me and God. God will reveal to me the inconsistencies of my heart and help me to grow in him. Bramlett also points out that this journey took Lewis an entire life. The parts of the book that I ignored were the parts where Lewis struggled with his faith and almost abandoned it. That last statement is particularly poignant; I can’t plan my spirituality. I have to let God lead my growth.

Posted in Bible Study, Life

Still Heeding The Signs

A re-post from two years ago: Heed the Signs

As I re-read the Old Testament, I often wonder why Israel kept turning their back on God. Then I realize that they were simply choosing to ignore the signs. Then I look at my own life. Why do I continually struggle with the same sins over and over again? Why can’t I get my act together? The answer is the same. I sub-consciously think, “those rules are only a suggestion. I can do it my way just this once”. Just this once repeats itself over an over. The signs and rules are there for a reason.

And yes, I am still tempted to speed in a construction zone.

The drive back from my brother’s graduation was frustrating. In my mind, taking the Interstate means I can go between 70 and 75 mph. Today though, my route involved numerous sections of construction, which forced me to slow down to 55 and sometimes come to a complete halt. But before this becomes a rant session, let me get to my point.

It would have been very easy to ignore the 55 mph signs because I did not see any cops nearby and the other cars were going at whatever speed they wished. Only my conscience and integrity kept me hovering right below 60 mph. And maybe my paranoia of getting pulled over. If I had not heeded the sign, there could be so many negative consequences, such as tickets (double fine, eek!), wrecks, deaths, etc. It is true that the probability of those things happening is slim, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

The sign was there for a reason.

Recently, a note in my Bible told a story about a (fictional) shark sign at a beach. People get frustrated when they go to the beach and see a sign that says they shouldn’t swim because of potential sharks in the water. They might be angry at the sign itself for being there, when in reality the sign is only a warning and protection from something more dangerous. If they swam in the waters anyway, it is true that they might not encounter sharks at all, but they could also very well come across sharks. The sharks could feel threatened and attack, maiming or killing the swimmers who were simply mad at the sign.

The sign was there for a reason.

Similarly, many non-Christ followers and some Christ followers will complain that the law and rules laid out in the Bible are too constricting in our modern world. This is not a new complaint. Paul dealt with the same thing with the Christians in Rome to whom Romans is addressed. Some complained about the law being unimportant since Christ came, but Paul argues that the law is useful to show him his sin. (Romans 7: 7-8).

In the previous two stories the signs showed me and the beach goers the potential evils in the respective situation: wrecks, tickets, or death, and sharks. The law, written in the Old Testament and lived by Christ in the New Testament, shows us the evil of sin. Paul points out that he would have never have known that coveting is wrong if the law did not show him. The law is there because sin came into existence with Adam and Eve. The law is there to protect us from the consequence of sin, which is eternal death and separation from God.

The problem with this is that sin is so powerful that it warped the image of the law in our minds. Humans for a long time have seen it as something that constricts us from doing what is fun and pleasurable. Humans also sometimes see the law as something that dooms us to death and separation from God if we can’t live the law to a T (Romans 7:13). As Paul points out, the problem is not with the law, which is perfect and protects us if we follow it. The problem is that we are sinful beings. Adam and Eve proved that. They had one restrictive law: don’t eat the fruit on that tree. But they did. Sin is powerful and it rules us if we let it.

Thankfully, we have the laws of the Old and New Testament as a form of protection from sin. What is even better than that is that we have Christ/Holy Spirit/God also as our greatest Protection from sin (Romans 7:24-25). With His power, we are able to resist the power of sin. Thank God!

So now our job is to heed the signs to avoid the messes we get ourselves into when we sin. We can rely on God’s power and strength in order to keep the laws.

The signs (laws) are there for a reason.