Sunday, November 30, 2014

Songs of Christmas—Zechariah

Photo Credit
Old Zechariah

Old, you were old, Zechariah,
you and Elizabeth,
too old to have your prayer answered,
too old to have a child.

But your prayer was heard, Zechariah.
"A baby," the angel said,
"a son."

Dumbfounded, you were dumbfounded, Zechariah.
"How can I know for sure?" you asked.
Wrong question, Zechariah.

Dumb, you were struck dumb, Zechariah.
dumbstruck, nine months silent.

You were humble-struck by the one who struck you dumb.

When you held your son --
"John," you wrote, "his name is John" --
your tongue was loosed.

Awe-struck, you were awe-struck, old Zechariah,
father of the promised child,
in awe of the promise maker,
in awe of the promise keeper.

Filled, you were filled, Zechariah,
filled with God's Spirit,
filled with his praise
filled with his truth.

Old Zachariah, dumb-struck, humble-struck, awe-struck Zechariah,
tongue-lossed, praise-singing Zechariah.

(Ginger Kauffman, 2014)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hymn of the Month -- Sing Your Praise to the Lord

Thanksgiving month. Shouldn't our Hymn of the Month feature a song that draws praise from the depth of our very souls?

This exuberant song by Rich Mullins is based on Psalm 113. It was released in 1981. I guess you could say it is a contemporary arrangement of a very old hymn!

Rich invites us to sing anew, remembering the joy we felt when we first came to know Jesus. And he implores us to sing aloud the song that someone else is dying to hear. It's the song of the Lord who is exalted over all the nations, and his glory is above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? (Psalm 113: 4-5). Is there any god like our God? Indeed there is not! From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets the name of the Lord is to be praised (v. 3).

So go ahead and pull out the stops today. Sing your praise to the Lord!

(Here is a link to the lyrics.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Add Mystery and Fun to Your Teaching

I just read a delightful book,  a mystery story for children, but it is so much more than that. It's The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith. You might know him from his series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, featuring Precious Ramotswe. I loved the stories of Mma Ramotswe and the cast of colorful characters who fill the life of this clever sleuth.

In The Mystery of the Missing Lion we meet Precious Ramotswe as a nine-year-old child. On a trip to the Okavango Delta to visit her aunt, Precious becomes involved in the filming of a movie. When the actor-lion disappears, Precious uses her skills of observation and clear thinking to help find him.

This is one of three books in McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers series. Iain McIntosh's illustration bring the story to life. In this book children receive some good sense lessons -- reminders about manners and examples of paying attention to details -- as well as learn about life in Botswana and the geography and animals of the delta, all while following Precious on her adventure. It would make a wonderful addition to the curriculum of any teacher in grades 3-5, whether in a classroom or a homeschool setting.

An illustration by Iain McIntosh from The Mystery of the Missing Lion

Indeed, the book has a Reader's Guide after the story, offering a pre-reading activity, discussion questions, and other curriculum connections for your students.  (Here's an example. Language Arts: Write a description of your favorite character in the book. What questions would you like to ask this character about his or her life in Botswana?)

The author spent most of his childhood and youth in what is now called Zimbabwe. He returned to Scotland for university, earning a PhD in law and going on to teach law in Great Britain as well as Botswana. He began writing in the 1980s and has authored over 50 books. Many are set in Botswana, others in Scotland, some in Portugal, and possibly even some in other parts of the world. (I can't be sure, since I've focused on the books about Precious Ramotswe.)

If you're looking for a something to spice up your teaching, you can't go wrong with the Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers books. Check out Alexander McCall Smith's website here.

Author Alexander McCall Smith with one of his young friends

Monday, November 10, 2014

Is There a Bear in Your Future?

In her memoir, The God I Love: A Lifetime of Walking With Jesus, Joni Eareckson Tada tells a story that took place four years after the diving accident that resulted in her quadriplegia. She was with her parents and two of her sisters in Canada's northern Rockies, the first cross-country trip they had taken since the accident.

On this particular day her parents had gone into the village for supplies and her sisters were preparing for a hike. Seated in her wheelchair near the picnic table, Joni watched as they put on their hiking boots. Jay placed a book on the table for Joni and dog-earred the pages so that she could turn the pages. ("My shoulder muscles weren't very strong, and I had no movement or feeling in my hands, but with a shrug and a bicep-swing I could nudge things, like pages, with my armsplint," Joni explains.)

She watched Jay and Kathy hike until they were tiny specks, then she turned her attention to her book. "But on the very first turn of the page I shrugged too hard. My book slid off the table and plopped on the ground." And there was no one around to help.

Until the accident, Joni's life had been full of action -- horseback riding, swimming, racing -- and music and gusto. Left alone in the shadow of the mountain without even being able to pick up her own book was so very far from the life she had known. She realized that she was on the verge of another Feel-Sorry-For-Joni-Day. "Please, dear God, come rescue me by this picnic table," she cried.

Since she couldn't go out into God's creation, she asked the Lord to bring his creation close to her. Maybe a butterfly or a caterpillar, the wind or an eagle overhead. But there was no answer,

She told her sisters about it when they returned, exclaiming over the majestic view and the deer they had seen. "Well, maybe he hasn't answered yet," Jay replied.

That evening Joni sat across the campfire from her sister Kathy. Joni saw a movement behind Kathy, maybe a big black dog, coming toward her from the woods. "Kathy, don't move!" she whispered. But Kathy thought she was joking. But when the bear was just inches from her, sniffing her back and grunting, Kathy was convinced. Distracted first by the marshmallows, and then by Joni's wheelchair's foot pedals, the bear made its way around the fire.

Sister Jay, washing dishes inside the camper, must have heard the whispers outside. She threw open the door and yelled, "Bear? Where?" Joni concludes the tale with these words: "At that, the animal whirled around, nearly knocking the picnic table over. Pots and pans went flying and clattered to the ground. Frightened now, the bear lunged past Kathy and disappeared into the night...

"...It was very late when my sisters put me to bed. Only after the crickets stopped chirping outside my screen window and the night was deathly still, did it strike me: Oh, my -- Lord, you did it. You answered my prayer. And what a first-class answer! This was no butterfly or caterpillar. This was gigantic.

"'A bear,' I whispered into the night. I couldn't wait for the morning to tell my famiy about the way God answered my prayer.

"This wasn't just a favorite vacation memory for me, to be hashed and rehashed by countless flips for the special page in the photo album. It was an affirmation of God's faithfulness. He answered. The Lord of creation had answered. And it was such a 'yes' answer -- such a big yes -- that it made me forget all the other times I'd prayed and God had said no. I realized this was peace -- the kind, I'd read, 'which transcends all understanding, [and] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.'

"He gave not only a bear. He gave peace."

I know that many people long to have God reveal himself to them. "Just show me something that will remind me that you are here, that you care about me, that you're even listening..." Yet you get no answer.

Perhaps God isn't going to give you a butterfly or a caterpillar. Perhaps he's going to give you a bear!

If you find yourself today in Joni's situation, hold on. God is faithful. He is here; he does care; he is listening. The Lord said through Jeremiah, "Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jer 33:3). The psalmist declares: "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them" (Psalm 145:18-19).

You may just need to wait a little longer.