Saturday, April 15, 2017

Liturgical Audit Part 3

A favorite hiking spot near my house

Giving up something for Lent came in a unique form for our Bible class this year. We started each class during Lent with two minutes of silence. We gave up precious class time to be still and lean into the quiet. This silence is a bridle of sorts, keeping me from charging ahead in the day's lesson. All year, but especially at the end of the year, I feel a sense of urgency with the 8th graders to experience and explore and equip. As a teacher, giving up time at the beginning of class is a discipline of being reminded that God knew these students before they were born, and He will hold them unto eternity. For me, communally taking these two minutes of precious class time reminds me that God is God.

At first, the students were giggly. Some chose disrespect, and spent the time making eye contact with friends. Once the awkward newness wore off, we settled in. And on this last week, I noticed that the silence came easily and completely. After our last day of silence for Lent, we did a short liturgical audit. As students reflected on WHAT they did during the silence, some typical answers came to the surface. "I prayed." "I relaxed." "I sat with my thoughts." One student shared that he "listened for God's voice." And I love that one student "prayed for strength against temptation."

These 13 and 14 year olds discovered some beautiful truths about what the practice of silence can do to us. Silence connects us with God in the midst of a busy life. Silence brings balance. Silence before God brings peace. Silence calms. Silence gives space for gratitude to God. One student shared that silence is necessary for him to make wise choices. He shared that when he was quiet, his stress level went down, and he could think more clearly. I resonate with one student's perspective that "silence allows a Christian to open their heart to hear God's voice." All of that, with only two minutes a class period.

As a Christian teacher, I am partnering with God in doing His work. I believe that within those few minutes of silence this Lenten season my students discovered something about God and relationship with Him that the other 7,200 minutes of my plans and objectives might never teach.

Be still and know that I am God. 
Psalm 46:10 NIV

Cease striving and know that I am God. 
I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.
Psalm 46:10 NASB

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

God Speaks Life Through A Tulip Tree

Last week I noticed this tulip tree (Magnolia liliiflora) outside my classroom. Something in me stirred. And each time I step out my door and see it again, this tree ministers to me. In San Jose, the tulip tree blooms in mid-winter, when the dreary, rainy days cluster together and the nights get colder. In the middle of seemingly lifeless days, this tree opens her hands in beauty and splendor. Just as the first robin under the Iowa bird feeder speaks the hope of spring, this tree stands brilliantly for all to enjoy even as winter continues. 

Sometimes the life of faith is like that. In the middle of a trial, or a test of faith, or a conflict, God speaks life to those with eyes of faith to see Him. God’s life-giving Spirit captivates our hearts, reminding us of God’s beautiful presence and work in our lives. SJCS continues to focus on our theme, SPEAK LIFE. And while often speaking life happens with well-intended, carefully crafted words, let us not forget that the Holy Spirit speaks life, too. The Spirit speaks to us without words in the stillness of a heart, with a thought not our own, giving unexpected hope or beauty in the midst of a storm. God's ways are mysterious--and what a wonderfully mysterious gift they are! We cannot control the Spirit. We cannot force the Spirit. We cannot demand the Spirit. We can only receive the Spirit. 

I think deep down, when I see this tree and my heart swells with all good things, I am reminded to live with my heart open to the mysterious and beautiful life-giving work of God. For indeed, it is God's work. God has been using this tree in my faith walk this week to speak hope, speak life, speak courage in the storm, and speak perseverance in those places where the sun is hard to see.

"As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the LORD's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed." Isaiah 55:10-13