The couple was growing old together. Routines were settled long ago. They knew each other like their favorite movie. One night she asked him to get her a piece of toast from the kitchen. He went to the kitchen, and brought her back a plate of bacon. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind and said, “you’re getting so old and forgetful, don’t you remember I asked you for a dish of ice cream?”
The old person jokes are getting more frequent at my expense. My students, I guess because of my ‘distinguished’ graying hair frequently think I’m in my 60’s, or even 70’s or 80’s! A friend today commented my age has caught up with my hair!
After an enjoyable day of reflection, old man jokes, just a youngun comments from my older friends, not to mention my free birthday sundae at Culvers, phone calls from family, and letting my family cater to my every need (Janice says this happens every day), I finally am sitting down to ponder a little bit of what turning 50 means to me.
I don’t take it for granted. Like everyone, I’ve known people who’ve died well before their normal lifespan would allow them to live. One of the realities of where I work is that I have more conversations than I’d like with students whose parent, or sometimes even parents are no longer living. The news is filled with stories of death worldwide from all sorts of causes. Why hasn’t this been a reality for me? I’d like to say it’s God’s love, or grace, or mercy, but his love, grace and mercy have been dispensed in equal amounts to dear brothers and sisters who had heartbreaking losses in their own lives or families. And yet it is very true that I am here today, my fiftieth birthday because of His love, and grace and mercy.
Israel used to have a law that was supposed to be practiced. It was called the jubilee. You’ve probably heard about it, and like me, never given it much thought. We have a different economy and culture than what the Jews practiced 4000 years ago. Yet, as part of scripture, we can’t brush it off as some sort of old law that Christ fulfilled (which He did by the way!). We have to apply this living and active word to our lives today.
So in my knowledge the jubilee is the only mention of 50 years in scripture. On my 50th birthday, I’m looking at it as a jubilee of sorts. The jubilee was a law of justice in Israel. You can read all about it in Leviticus 25. The key part of jubilee law was the return of property to people who had lost their property in settlements of debts. Since land was inherited and passed down, the ownership of this land was important to the Jews. The jubilee was designed to prohibit the accumulation of much wealth and also prevent the fall into intergenerational poverty that plagues our world today.
A second aspect of the jubilee was the freeing of servants, sometimes referred to as slaves. This was in no way an American style slavery system. God would never permit such an atrocity to happen. Instead, sometimes people, when becoming poor, would become servants, or slaves to pay off debts. At the jubilee, the slaves were to be freed.
When Jesus died on the cross, he performed the work that the jubilee accomplished. People in debt to sin, enslaved to sin, were set free by that singular act. Praise God for that!
So on my 50th, my jubilee birthday if you will, how do I make this a year of jubilee? Well, to start with, my debt has been paid. My eternal inheritance is secure (I Peter 1:4). So how can I be the one doing acts of jubilee for others?
I imagine, when/if the jubilee law was followed (and there’s some evidence it never really was practiced in Israel) that those receiving their land back, their property, their freedom must have had quite the celebration with their restoration. It must have been an emotional time as people realized what was rightfully there’s being returned. Slaves coming back freely to their families and friends had great reason to celebrate, much more than I celebrated today!
So in my 50th year, I can help bring about the thrill of debts settled by being a witness of Jesus to others. It’s a thrill to be with someone who is making a decision to accept the jubilee that Jesus represents and enter a new life as a eternally secure person. Note to self, pray for others who need Christ. Pray for spiritual sensitivity to the strangers I also meet along the way
In many ways the recipients of the jubilee were given fresh starts. Maybe some who were in poverty were there because of foolish decisions being made. How can I, as a school teacher, be in position to give others a fresh start? Forgiving others is one way. Encouraging others who have been burdened by some sort of struggle is another way. It’s going to mean being more intentional in the way I live.
Thanks to all of you who read this and have made the first 50 years of my life truly wonderful!
March Madness is basketball. Awesome amazingly fun games. Too many memories to bore you with here but two Kansas championships are the highlights!
March gladness. We are to be glad as Psalm 100 has instructed us. “Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.”
March sadness. I lost two grandparents in March. But there is gladness in knowing that with each day I am getting closer to a time that we will be reunited. This is the hope of resurrection spoken of in I Corinthians 15.
March madness. School teachers scramble to prepare students for high stakes testing next month. Here, teachers are evaluated partially on how well those students perform on the test. Madness is when a new student arrives in my classroom from Vietnam. He does not speak English, but he must take the test and when he inevitably fails the state will say I failed in teaching him.
March gladness. Although it’s late this year in Louisiana, it means Azaleas. Never thought I’d look forward to the blooming of flowers but it is a sight to see! Come on down friends and family and check it out!
March sadness. A former student of mine is in the news for the third time since I had him a year ago. Involved in two shootings, one fatal, and then the other day he got shot. Sadness for his life, for the lives he’s affected, and for the life lost in the shooting this past week. A 17 year old is on the run from that shooting, the brother of another student I’ve taught. Who will stand in the gap as Ezekiel 22:30 put it: “I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
March gladness. Psalm 30:11-12 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me; O LORD, be my helper.” You have turned for me my mourning (sadness) into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something for the first time that has been right in front of you for many years? I lived in a pink bedroom for a year once and didn’t notice it until my wife mentioned she was surprised I’d tolerated a pink bedroom for that year, granted it wasn’t hot pink, but I was still oblivious.
This has been happening to me a lot lately it seems. In Louisiana we have these wonderful little creatures called Anoles, they’re a small lizard. I’ve enjoyed watching them, getting them out of the house, once with his squirming little tail still left in my hand. As I’ve watched them I’ve seen them do things that I’ve never stopped and said ‘Wow’! Anoles are like chameleon’s. They change color! They can instantly change to blend into the background of where they are. I’m not sure if they’d gotten into our pink bedroom that they would have had that ability. Another amazing ability of the anole is what you can see in the picture. The anole is ‘standing’ on the ceiling of our front porch. I guess hanging is the more appropriate term. Not sure what he’s hanging on. The vinyl is very smooth. If I’d reach up it’d scurry away upside down and change red as it hits the red brick on the house. What we take for granted is truly amazing. God, I believe, had designed these amazing little common creatures to confound us, and I’m sure many have as they ponder how they ‘adapted’ these abilities.
Something else I’ve not thought of lately is the lyrics of words that are on the radio. I recall just out of high school I was driving with some of my high school buddies. A song came on with a chorus of “feel like making love”. Needless to say it wasn’t Christian radio, and really to that point in my transition to adulthood I sure hadn’t thought of what these words are really saying. Well, it’s still happening to me with songs on the radio, now with Christian radio, or songs about Christianity on the radio. A few years back it was a song with a line “I am a flower quickly fading”. Well I hear something about me being a flower and I’m tuning out. Give me songs with words like “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “A mighty fortress…” and my attention is fully engaged, but not some flowery song. Well at youth group this song pops up on the powerpoint. I listened in awe of these words. The song is called Who Am I? Here’s what the song says:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart.
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
What had been background noise on the radio as I scurried around in the car was enlightened by the Holy Spirit in my mind as I watched a roomful of junior highers sing these tremendous words. How could I have missed this for years because I hear something about flowers and tune out?
Well I didn’t learn my lesson. It happened again Saturday night. We attended the last session of a wonderful conference called the CCDA. The Christian Community Development Association is an organization that works with underserved and oppressed peoples around the world. The CCDA has some family connections and is at least partially responsible for us moving to Baton Rouge. One of the highlights of the conference are the times of joyous worship. We sang another one of these radio songs Saturday night. Just on in the background of my trips around town or in the house, I never stopped to hear the words. But listen to these!
“Your Great Name”
All condemned; feel no shame, at the sound of your great name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
Hungry souls; receive grace; at the sound of your great name
The fatherless; they find their rest; at the sound of your great name
Sick are healed; and the dead are raised; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
My savior, Defender, You are My KingYou can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCg3HU1jhVAWhen will I learn? I wonder how many times I’ve heard this song before singing it Saturday night? Probably more than 10. A song that extols the amazing love and saving grace and might of Jesus Christ is just background noise? I pray this won’t happen again, although it probably will.
One last realization I’ve recently had. I am beginning my 20th year of teaching students in many challenging settings. 20 years, the number struck me. God has sustained me for 20 years. 20 years ago I would have said I could not do this for 20 years. I’ll just do my time for a year or two so that I can brag that I taught some tough kids for a couple years, then move on to one of the Glenbards or Wheaton schools and settle in for a nice comfortable career. Except that’s not what happened. Now I have acknowledged God’s role in all of this before this 20 year benchmark, but it struck me the other day. 20 years, not by my strength, but by His. I know I can’t go on for another year doing this, but I do know that He will empower me to go on for many more years! I’m young! And I’m learning to see what He wants me to see!
A lot of guys like me dream about doing a baseball park vacation. I want to see multiple baseball stadiums. I don’t want to see multiple football stadiums or basketball arenas. Sure they’re nice, but the uniform rule book for those sports leads to most stadiums in those sports looking relatively the same. Not baseball. Dimensions vary widely, The seating arrangements are different. The fields look different. Oakland has acres of foul territory, Wrigley and Fenway have very little. The Polo Grounds in New York had a 258 foot right field wall and a 475 foot center field wall and a 290 foot left field wall.
I’m going to rank the stadiums, my viewpoint, debate me if you’d like. Your favorite should have been 25th instead of 28th? Tell me why! So here goes.
#1 Wrigley Field. Those who know me know this is also my least favorite baseball team. But it’s a gorgeous place, great views of the city from certain viewpoints, the ivy, bleachers, daytime baseball more often than not. The bleachers, the hand operated scoreboard, the organ. Hard to say anything bad about the place. Pictures are my cousins and high school friends. Permission to use pictures not granted, I’ll ask them someday.
# 2 on my list is Pittsburgh’s beautiful PNC park. Family ties make me a little partial to Pittsburgh but they did a great job building this stadium. Classic design with a view of Pittsburgh right across the river. The view is the thing there no doubt. Like McCovey cove beyond San Francisco’s park, the Allegheny River flows directly behind the right field wall. Just like the streets outside Wrigley fans hang out there either on foot or in the water hoping for a souvenir. The baseball’s finally catching up to the park and it hopefully will become a familiar site on tv during the playoffs and world series. Thanks to cousin John for this view!
#3 is a tough call. I’ll go with tradition and make Fenway the next on my list. The green monster with the hand operated scoreboard, the generous home run wall down the right field line, the left field foul wall caroming balls crazily into left field, the smallest upperdeck in baseball, and the sunsplashed right field bleachers all make for a memorable park that is high on my list.
#4 ATT park in San Francisco. Beeeyouteeful. San Francisco doesn’t deserve such a great stadium because they have so much nice going on there, weather, bridges, mountains, fog, etc, but they sure have one. The above mentioned McCovey Cove introduced kayakers into the web of major league fandom.
#5 Comiskey Park. I won’t call it US Cellular. I actually don’t like the place but of all my sports allegiances, the Sox are the team I absolutely couldn’t live without! The park is ok, doesn’t hold a candle to the old park. The food is very good, but I can’t afford it. I do like the exploding scoreboard, the kids area in left field which actually offers a great view of the park. The center field dining area with tables above the hitters backdrop is a nice touch too, but alas, the cheap seats are upstairs and they guard the lower deck from the riff raff better than Fort Knox. I’ll keep going when I can and cheering on the 2005 World Series champions!
This is where the list gets tougher.
#6 Busch Stadium in St. Louis Another stadium built to look old that somehow makes you think the traditions have been there all along. I’ve walked around the stadium and it’s neat that you can see into the stadium from the sidewalk. I’d imagine the view gets blocked during games. The arch mown into the grass is a cool touch, and it seems they’re always playing October baseball so you get to see it a lot.
#7 Comerica in Detroit. Like Pittsburgh it brought the view of downtown into the stadium. (Why couldn’t the Sox have done that?) Don’t know much about the park, but it is nice to look at.
#8 Dodger stadium An old stadium. I like the zigzag roof above the outfield seats and the see through fence behind homeplate which makes fans look like they’re sitting right on the edge of the field. Big and spacious, it’s a park I’d like to see someday. Picture of my friend Sean and his family.
#9 Yankee stadium Really did a great job of repicating the old stadium. Of course it’s debatable whether they needed to rebuild it. My first baseball game, way back in 1972 was in old, old Yankee Stadium. I won’t post pictures of all these parks but this shows the classic touches put into the park.
#10 Kauffman Nice ‘older’ park that has a mallpark feel to it that actually works well. It’s a pretty place to watch a game, the fountains in center are what it’s best known for.
#11 Coors in Denver. The nod to the Rocky Mountains in the outfield is a nice touch, and goodness do those baseballs fly far in that thin mountain air.
#12 Angels stadium Outfield is interesting with the rocky landscape beyond left field where Paulie homered twice in the 05 playoffs.
#13 Camden Yards Baltimore. Should be higher on this list because of the unique park it was when it opened. It was the first retro park. The large warehouse that looks like a giant red monster type wall in right is what it’s known for. Would really like to visit this park.
#14 Great American Ball park. Cincinnati’s palace on the Ohio River is intriguing with some nice views. Great name for a park!
#15-27 All the rest. Some are retro parks which look beautiful but just joined the trend towards retro. Some have nice touches like the train on top of the wall in Houston or the trains that roar outside the wall in Seattle. Bernie the Brewer sliding into the beer mug is classic as are the sausage races, but the stadium is pretty nondescript. The hill in Houston’s center field is interesting too as is the tomahawk chopping Chick Filet cow on the roof of Atlanta’s Turner field. I like Cleveland’s toothbrush looking lightpoles and the centerfield backdrop at the Rangers home has always intrigued me. Phoenix has a very cool looking path between the pitchers mound and home and a swimming pool in center field but that doesn’t save it’s otherwise drab interior. The Twins did good by ditching the dreadful Metrodome and I’d rate their digs closer to 15 on this list.
#28 Rogers Center Toronto Large retractable roof stadium which saw a lot of very good baseball in the 80’s and 90’s, but there’s not much to remember that place for. Watch Joe Carters historic homer in ’93 into some hallway and you’ll understand how bad this park is. Home runs should land in bleachers, not some formless void.
#29 Oakland Coliseum A football stadium doesn’t work for baseball. Ugly.
#30 Tropicana Field Tampa The worst for so many reasons. It’s domed and ugly. No one goes there even though the Rays win more than 90 games every year and could win the World Series this year. It has wires on the roof that interfere with balls in play. But worst of all, this horrid stadium is what the White Sox threatened to leave Chicago to inhabit. Oh my, I’d never recover from that happening!
Any major league park would entice me to go and watch a game. They’re special places, even the bad ones have their own charms I suppose. But some of these baseball palaces stand out. Time for a road trip!
The other day one of my students missed a few days of school. I didn’t think much of it as this particular girl misses school frequently. One of our staff told me that she was in jail. She had been caught dealing drugs. I teach 10th graders. Since I’ve taught her, I’ve rarely seen her smile. She has little motivation for school. How does someone that age become someone in jail for dealing drugs? She’s not the first student I’ve seen like her, and certainly won’t be the last.
There’s a fascinating verse in Isaiah 42, and repeated in Matthew 12 that reveals much about the character of God. I learned this verse when I was training as a prison volunteer with Prison Fellowship back in the 1990’s. It’s their theme verse and it reads like this: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” Isaiah 42:3.
I think if we even noticed a bruised reed we certainly wouldn’t think twice about ignoring it or trampling on it. We probably wouldn’t try to nurse it back to strength. But God would because first, He does notice it. Think of this, He notices those who are the equivalent of a bruised reed. Nothing sounds more pitiful and hopeless than that, but to God, they’re not pitiful, hopeless. And second, He restores. A smoldering wick? We’d give up on it, hopeless. It’s out, no more light from it. Get out your cell phone maybe it’ll provide the light you need, but that wick, it’s out. But Jesus, the light of the world, will make it shine again!
You’ve all met or seen people who are bruised reeds or smoldering wicks. God will bring them into your life with an opportunity to do His work here on earth. And when we are instruments of His restoration, His justice, His light will shine, His light will shine more and more brightly on this earth.
Just a few words to encourage you to be on the lookout for those around you who could use some help, some encouragement, some grace, some love and some mercy.
The other day in class my students were not showing their highest appreciation for my efforts to teach them. In fact they seemed to be little aware of the fact that I was trying to teach them. To make matters worse, one of my principals was in the room observing me as part of a state teacher evaluation system. This is the type of thing teachers have nightmares about. (By the way the evaluation turned out well, she thought I handled the difficult children well)
I went home rather discouraged. Janice will tell you this is not the first time. My kids will tell you this is not the first time! They know when I walk through the door. They no longer come running to throw their arms around me and barely seem to notice when the day is good and I come home with a good report on my day. But if it’s the opposite, they know!
Inner city teaching can suck the life out of you. It can also invigorate you, make you smile, make you laugh, make you cry, make you do all of that in one day! It will drive you to your knees. And it will increase your faith.
I’ve discovered that the book of Psalms are wonderful for encouragement. And the reason they are is because many of them were written by men who were in a state of discouragement. In fact, they had it far worse than I did as they speak of their life being in jeopardy. I’ve never felt my life to be in jeopardy although I have experienced death threats as recently as last year. Most of the time my discouragement comes from children being difficult, disrespectful and/or indifferent.
So I pop open my Bible and I see this nice little gem: “This I know, that God is for me.” Psalm 56:9 How about that? Most of us if we’re honest will admit that we feel at times that God is either against us, or indifferent towards us. Our own inadequacies bring these feelings on often. But God is for me is a wonderful statement of 1His Grace, it’s not because of what I’ve done, 2 His mercy, it’s not what I deserve, 3 His protection, Romans 8:31 tells us since He’s for us, no one can be against us, and 4 His love, like a parent loves his child and is for them, God loves his children and is naturally for them.
Wonderful encouragement, but it’s not enough, because even though it’s a good reminder, I already knew God was for me. It’s a little me focused and I need to be focused on others. Like my students who don’t really care that God is for me. Because they’ve got problems of their own. You know of the plight of inner city youth. I was thinking the other day of how many kids I’ve taught with who have been shot and killed, 3, and who have been otherwise touched by violence, either as surviving victims, relatives of victims, or in sadly too many cases as perpetrators.
So I read on through the Psalms. Chapter 82 provided me with the rest of the answer to beat discouragement, mainly by getting the focus off of me. “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” How selfish of me to think that my peace of mind was more important than the needs of these kids who God preordained me to see them day by day in my classroom! What an opportunity I have!
I’ve been reading through Proverbs at the same time. Here’s a few related verses: 19:17 “One who is gracious to the poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” 14:21 “Happy is he who is gracious to the poor.”
The difficulties of that day have faded. More will come. This I know that God is for me.
Since I’ve been filling these NCAA brackets since before there was Yahoo and long basketball shorts, I thought I’d give you a few tips on show to be sure of having the best chance of winning your office NCAA bracket pool. While not statistically reliable, these expert helps are on the money enough that I have never finished dead last in any contest I’ve entered. So here goes.
Does the team have a great band? Southern’s is known as the Human Jukebox, so they’re a great bet. On the music theme, if they have a great fight song, choose them. Notre Dame, Michigan, Harvard (Ten Thousand Men of Harvard), Michigan St., Georgetown are safe to advance to the next round. Too bad Tennessee wasn’t in the tourney because Rocky Top is the best of all.
Since geography is my thing Northwestern St. in Louisiana is a big loser because it makes no sense. Middle Tennessee loses too because it’s pretty vague, the middle of what? Long Island U-Brooklyn is no good too because in most peoples’ minds these are separate places. Saint Louis is not a good pick because they don’t know that they should spell their name St. Louis.
Western Kentucky is no good either because their name rhymes with sucky, which is a reason why Kentucky is playing in the NIT right now.
Teams high on my misery index, in other words they’ve inflicted painful losses on my Jayhawks automatically can’t be chosen. VCU, don’t want to CU. Bucknell, yes, you’re a source of pain, UCLA, CULAter, Davidson because you almost ruined our 08 championship, not picking you. And the biggest pain on my KU sports memory is a tie between Syracuse and Arizona. The two most talented teams of Roys tenure you ruined, so I just want you gone. Plus what kind of nickname is Orange? And Crimson, Harvard? Are you really going to pick a color?
And speaking of misery index, never pick a team whose name sounds like that word, so Missouri, (who’s never made the Final Four anyways) see ya!
Cool nickname schools always go with. The Zips of Akron, the Zags of Gonzaga, well how cool would a Zips and Zags final be? The Gaels of Iona is a supercool name too as is the Aztecs of San Diego St. I know I picked against Saint Louis earlier,but you’ve got to pick them for their Billikens name.
It’s never a bad idea to go with teams named the Bears, so California, Cincinnati Bear Down! While we’re on animals, wimpy mascots can’t inspire players to greatness so Minnesota Gophers and Oregon Ducks, but Cardinals of Louisville do get my pick because the Cubs hate the Cardinals.
Colorado, Colorado St, Boise St, Montana, New Mexico, and Pacific in Oregon all don’t deserve our support because they want to lose so they can finally be free of practice and go skiing before winter ends. Florida Gulf Coast, Miami, you lose and you can go to the beach before it’s too hot, so lose now, we won’t care.
Notre Dame is not known to be a safe pick because their athletes have been known to embarrass themselves both athletically, see Jan. 9, 2013, and in their personal lives.
Religiously affiliated teams get my support especially Liberty, LaSalle, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Villanova, Temple, may the force be with you.
A religiously affiliated school that has a nickname of Blue Devils, well, come on now, who wants to cheer for the Devil?
And a religious school that shouldn’t be supported anymore is Marquette who had a great nickname, Warriors until the forces of political correctness changed it. They won this tournament as Warriors in 1977, but now the Warrior Spirit has cursed the team, so cursed teams, it’s pointless to pick them. And speaking of curses there’s the curse of Chief Illiniwek, the greatest mascot of his day. When the same politically correct forces took away his tradition laden pregame ritual dance, the Illini have never been the same, football too.
All Big Ten teams, the awesomest league in the land (and they better back it up this year!) deserve your picks to an all Big 10 final four.
So we’re left with a few unique nicknames to make the best bet on the tournament. If you fought a Badger, it would tear you up like paper in a shredder. So it’s always safe to pick a Badger.
Mythical birds can never go wrong. There’s only one mythical bird that makes the tourney every year and it’s the Kansas Jayhawk. If you favor the free states winning the Civil War, and who wouldn’t, (that’s why you should never pick Mississippi’s Rebels) then you’ll support those very American values of Truth Justice and the Jayhawk way.