When Life Gives You Lemons…

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, right? This  year has brought some significant challenges in our home and homeschool. When my husband first lost his job, we had savings and were not too worried. We kept doing what we always did, going on excursions and eating out from time to time. We were sure that he’d find work before the savings ran out. 15 months later, we are having to make tough choices and say “no” quite a lot. Our granddaughter’s disappointment makes it sting.

But the measure of our lives is not about how much money we can spend on pleasures, but what we do with what we are given. Times of testing can be very motivating!

Not having any credit cards means earning and spending cash on necessities, and letting our luxuries be laughter with friends, evening walks and bringing value out of things that had gathered dust. As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” We’ve begun an organic garden.  I’ve picked up my writing again, even published a children’s book, “Daniel and the Drain,” on Amazon, that I’d put off completing.  We are selling what we don’t need and learning in the process, that we don’t need so much.

Researching homeschool materials for next year, I discovered Easy Peasy. It’s a free curriculum that works for grades K – 12 *and* the content is God honoring! That, along with other great freebies in my cache, makes me confident that Jade can have a productive 6th grade year on a shoestring budget.

Of course, I will continue to publish more books – there are three waiting in the wings for publication and two more I’m working on. Through this whole experience, I’m learning a lot about producing a quality product and marketing it. Being creative is easy for me. Marketing has seemed like too much work. Technology, like math, are not my strongest points. I can become quite frustrated and almost panicky when I don’t know how to do something that is required.  But I am SO thankful for having my husband at the desk next to mine. While he is job searching, he is also ready to assist me with any stressful tech problem I come up with!

This summer, we won’t be traveling. No beach visits or hotels. Simple birthday parties. But I am hopeful that it will be a rich experience. We can rejoice in the midst of hard times and teach lessons that money can’t buy. God is good, all the time. He provides all we need for life and that – abundantly!

Maybe we’ll even open a small, neighborhood lemonade stand.

Subject Integration

Subject integration is something that home educators strive for more and more these days.  Topics are not so easily categorized in real life and have a natural overlap. This is why textbooks become dull. They force divisions of topics or disciplines that rob the student of the bigger picture.

Unit studies try to overcome this problem by creating links to other individual disciplines and show what they have in common, but this is also often forced and the child ends up with more worksheets and uninspiring “twaddle.” So, how do we show the integration of subject matter in a natural way that keeps our young learners curious and engaged?

One key way to keep children interested is to NOT give them the answers. In fact, wonder out loud why things were or are a certain way and create an opportunity for detective work to discover the reason! Become detectives and keep a notebook and sketchbook of your findings. Look for possible links of causality or other influences that may have brought about the status quo. What if something happened differently along the way? How may the outcome have changed?  There is no telling which direction your adventure may take you, but you may become a scientist, a researcher, a writer, a historian, a philosopher, an artist, a logician and in some cases, a mathematician (depending on what you’re finding out) in the process.  Go ahead and use the web to find answers, but also investigate by doing, where you can. Let them try things, and draw their own conclusions.

One topic our home school dealt with this year was the issue of creating a passageway from South America to Mexico for cougars – where they could be free to roam without being harmed or hunted. Concern for the animals well being also brought up other questions. What of the cattle they attacked along this corridor? These cattle were owned by ranchers who suffered loss because of it. At times, cougars also attacked people and harmed or killed them. Whose need should take priority, and what could be done to preserve an ecosystem without harming the population nearby? This issue touched on geography, animal science, philosophy, property rights and economy.

Another similar topic was the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and their effect on it. The rivers stabilized in their course because erosion was less of a problem, meadows and woodlands became healthier because the deer population was kept in check and much wildlife, including beavers and rabbits returned to the park. In one case the introduction of wild animals to an area created a problem, and in the latter it solved several!  Again we covered animal science but also learned about ecology and the web of life with its interdependencies. We looked at paintings of landscapes and created artwork with our animal of choice. We also talked about whether it was “bad” or “good” for animals to attack and eat each other, and saw by this example that God’s design worked perfectly when nature as He planned it was kept in balance.

We also learned about how man’s attempt at “fixing problems” could backfire by bringing in a predator bug to destroy another. This was especially true when the predator was introduced from a foreign land. This was also true of plants. Learning about plants and their natural enemies led to a study of gardening and what would attract or repel certain visitors. In our study we looked at kinds of leaves to identify plants, how roots functioned and what nutrition they needed, and what conditions were optimal for creating food.

We learned about the migration habits of birds and butterflies and also the animals of the oceans. As we learned about the ocean currents we also learned about how sailors used these to navigate more quickly between America and Europe. We measured and baked food that the explorers would have eaten during the 17th century and visited an outdoor cultural museum. We watched a movie about early explorers and learned some songs that told about their exploits.

We studied weather and listened to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” while creating a storyboard of a changing  maple tree.

While reading The Trumpet of the Swan, we learned about trumpets and jazz, drew birds (including swans) and learned about flight. We created kites and flew them on a sunny and breezy day, as well.

No, it isn’t easy to buy curriculum for such a method. If you have some good resources – use them as launching points instead of assigned books to be completed because of some arbitrary rule. In fact, you don’t need to purchase much. Instead, you need access to the world around  you, the library, and the Internet. Perhaps even people close to the topic that you can interview!

As they become more advanced they evaluate information based on their research and determine a conclusion. Taking a position they may develop an argument, write up the thesis beginning with the hypothesis, show the process of experimentation or reasoning, give evidence and their conclusion. In doing so, they have followed the scientific method and written a persuasive or expositional paper. All that remains is to publish it (in a family newsletter or website) or a YouTube video, or present it in person to an audience!  Publishing the finished work brings its own reward. Try to do this in a variety of ways.

It doesn’t really matter what topic you choose to begin. It can be what interests your child. As they grow in the process (and you do too), they can be given topics to research. Once they have the tools and are used to it, these assignments will not be so daunting.

I’ve only touched on a few things we covered this year, but you can see by God’s design, all of life is integrated in some way. Seek and learn along with your children. Through your example, inspire them to become life-long learners. Along the way you’ll awaken your own curiosity again. Your imagination and conversations around the dinner table will be richer for it.

A Recommended Article

Life has been busy lately, getting my ducks in a row. I’m sure many of you can relate! I’ve been focusing on my own homeschooling and thinking through priorities as well as wrestling down theological questions.

But I want to share an article that has given me some new goals! I hope you are blessed as I have been, reading it.

http://simplehomeschool.net/experimentyear/

As we press on to the goal of our high calling, I wish you joy in the journey!

– Jane Clark

The Five Second Rule?

The Five Second Rule?

I’ve been listening lately to a best-selling author and speaker who claims that you can change your life in 5 seconds, by acting on impulse within that time. It certainly might get you off the couch. It’s better to do something than do nothing, right? Sounds like a great self-improvement idea!

But there is a flaw in the reasoning of the 5 Second Rule.

As believers, we are rarely instructed by God to be hasty in action or decisions. The Creator of our souls understands us best and gives reasons why we should not do what comes to mind – without giving it more than 5 seconds of thought.

Prov. 14:7-8 says, “Stay away from a foolish man;
you will gain no knowledge from his speech.
The sensible man’s wisdom is to consider his way,
but the stupidity of fools deceives them.”

vs. 12 There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.

Vs 15-17 The inexperienced one believes anything,
but the sensible one watches his steps.
16 A wise man is cautious and turns from evil,
but a fool is easily angered and is careless.

vs. 29 A patient person shows great understanding,
but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.

Also,

Prov. 19:2
Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.

But is there a time we should be quick to respond to an impulse or motivation?  Yes.

Be quick to listen. James 1:19 – My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Be quick to obey the Lord. Psalm 119:60 I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands.

Be quick to love and forgive. Ephesians 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Be quick and diligent to do what we already know is right. James 4:17  Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

What about when you are not sure what God wants you to do?

Wait on Him for wisdom and ask for it.
James 1:6 – If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

The Disney admonition to “Follow Your Heart” is not wise. Our hearts can deceive us. Emotions can mislead us. We are to be led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8), and He never disagrees with His own Word. So, we can pray for wisdom, study the Scriptures, and wait on the LORD when we are unsure of direction. When we know the right thing to do, we should act. But even in acting, we need to be thoughtful about how we do it, not impulsive. It is far too easy for our “flesh,” our fallen natural tendencies, to cause us to do something right in the wrong way. If we are led by the Spirit, instead of our own sinful nature, we will do the right thing, and we will have the strength and the will to do it.

Because it is God who works in us to will and to do His good pleasure! (Phil. 2:13)

We do not trust in our own hearts, our own impulses or timing to direct us if we want to live Godly lives and produce good work that pleases our Father.
Prov. 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.

He who promised is Faithful, and He will do it!  (1 Thess. 5:24)

Lessons for Life Through Games

“LIFE” may be the name of a game, but real life is certainly more than a game. The game itself has a limited number of options and is somewhat predictable. It’s not a favorite of mine for that reason.

However, there are games that do teach life lessons which have a wide application. Lessons are learned surreptitiously, easily and naturally. Children welcome valuable skills and strategies to win at a game, with no resistance to instruction.

Let’s keep this secret between us as parents and grandparents.

Competitive sports and games that move quickly, with multiple players cooperating for a goal, have a special advantage. Not only is each player having to exercise their own skill and knowledge, but they have to have a “big-picture” of what everyone else around them is doing. They learn to make good decisions “on the fly” in order to achieve the goal. If they take too much time bemoaning a mistake, another good opportunity may pass them by. You learn more by failing, than by succeeding. Words are not needed for this lesson to sink in.

Taking care of yourself so you can take care of your team mate is another life skill. Cheering for another who excels and comforting someone who is struggling are character strengths that can be developed through sports and team play. If you have found a wise coach, these character qualities will be exemplified to the team on a regular basis.

It is a wonderful thing to win against another team. It is an even better thing to overcome your own perceived limitations! Even middle-schoolers can set goals for self improvement and conquer themselves, before conquering another team. We must not protect children from this struggle. That is what builds character.

Encouragement helps in competition, but children often learn best when there isn’t too much criticism by adults. If they are left to figure out the best strategies for teamwork on their own and find solutions, they will stick. This skill will benefit them not only in sports, but in friendships, cooperation in community, academics and future employment.

As in competitive team games, Chess, Risk, Baduk, and other board or card games where strategies are involved, help children to anticipate their competitor’s moves. However, there is more time to analyze possible scenarios than in a sport or team game. Children also learn to read people, increasing their skills of perception. They learn the benefit of thoughtful play and become less impulsive. As they develop a greater understanding of the game, they can record their moves and evaluate what to do differently if that situation arises again.

Games that teach creativity and involve humor also have an important role. Games such as Pictionary, Guesstures, or the free version of Charades develop presentation skills, besides fostering closer trust relationships.

There are plenty of games that are clearly educational. Those can be fun too. However, those making the biggest claim to educational profit tend to be the least appealing to kids. Those resistant to school learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

How to Help Your Kids Love Learning Again

Are your kids tired of “school?” Does learning seem like a chore to them? It’s probably not their fault. We’ve been trained to rely on textbooks as authorities of what our children must know, and persevere through them faithfully.

Oh, the tyranny of the textbook! Each subject is presented as separate and distinct, stripped of its vitality and laden with seemingly irrelevant facts. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or, to them? How can we teach the love of learning when it isn’t exciting to us?

Textbooks are useful as a resource. But if you want to teach without quenching curiosity, I think it’s best to keep it as one of several resources.  How about bringing subject matter into a real-life application? Instead of merely stuffing your memory with isolated facts,  you can refocus and create a living lesson!

It is true that advancement in understanding needs a foundation of basic information. Children enjoy memorizing lists and basic fact families from a very early age. This can be done through songs, games and challenges. The grammar stage is when they are hungry to know and identify items in categories. But if these facts do not become connected to a deeper meaning, by the time they hit 9 or 10 years old, their interest will evaporate. There is no reason to wait until they are on the verge of losing interest, either. Knowledge should be applied to bring understanding. They need to move from “the what” to “the how” and “the why.”

Several curricula make use of the library, experiments, and field trips. Even an occasional interview with an expert (or a video clip of one) may be included to add interest. These are a great help! But we still lose something when we strive to separate subjects from each other. Real life isn’t like that. It doesn’t seem natural. Meaning and significance are lost.

How can the four core subjects of math, reading, history/geography, and science come together in one lesson? What about Bible, spelling, handwriting, and literature? If you are following a distinct sequence for each subject, it wouldn’t be easy. But not all subjects need to be taught in a particular order. So, question the table of contents!

This week in history, we have been studying the Pilgrims meeting with Squanto. Here are a few associated topics that could be melded together fairly easily: in science –  germs and infectious disease, hygiene and food preparation, weather, horticulture, and physics (buildings and ships).

Science crosses into math when discussing navigation tools and means from the age of discovery, compared to today. Geography also plays a part both in routes taken and cultural differences. Bible lessons flow from the desire of the pilgrims to worship freely, their treatment of the natives they encountered, and their determination and work ethic in persevering.

Besides matters of faith, the Mayflower Compact touches on sociology, economics, and law. Vocabulary can be taken from this document and sections can be copied. Discussions of the moral rightness or wrongness of settling there against the king’s wishes can be discussed and even debated, with evidence brought for each position.

Math, Science and Reading can also be implemented as your children use original recipes and prepare Johnny Cakes (corn bread) or meat pies from early colonial days. If you double or triple the recipe you not only practice liquid and dry measurement but also add and multiply fractions. The nutritional value of the food available to the Pilgrims is another interesting topic.

Unit Studies make an effort to bring all the disciplines together and many of them do a good job. But again, a curriculum that someone else wrote can be limiting.

I encourage you to be spontaneous from time to time and talk with your children as you help them develop life skills. Let the questions that rise from real work inspire some research and reflection.

One other benefit of this type of learning is that your children see wonder in the world around them. Knowledge does not seem so difficult to attain. Ideas in isolation are soon forgotten. When the creative mind and the senses become engaged, they gain understanding of subject matter and transition into wisdom as knowledge is applied to their lives. There are plenty of mysteries to be discovered. Be free of the tyranny of the textbook. Let learning be a joyful adventure for you and your children!


This One Thing I Do

As I think about the Apostle Paul’s qualifications and calling (mentioned in Philippians 3), I’m encouraged and humbled. He had so much of the world’s accreditation. A pharisee of pharisees would be the equivalent of “professor of professors.” He went to the best school – studying under Gamaliel, came from a notable family line (of Benjamin – which King Saul came from), and had been given authority over even the lives of others, politically. In the world’s eyes, he was a success.

How often I am distracted by the expectations of this world and become intimidated by other people who seem to be successful.  I feel very small. While there have been some notable people in my family line, I am not one of them. Ralph Waldo Emerson is an ancestor. I’ve done some writing… but cannot compare myself to him. I’ve done teaching, but don’t have a masters or a doctorate, though my father and grandfather had those achievements. I have some ability, and have created some original things. But in these also, am not recognized by those beyond my small circle of influence. By the world’s standards, there is little to recommend me. I can look at that – and be stopped in my tracks from pressing on.

The Apostle Paul was an achiever of achievers. But he considered all the world’s accolades as “dung,” that he might have something better.

 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”  Phil. 3: 7-9

He fixed his eyes on that prize..

  “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”  Phil. 3:12-14

The author of Hebrews encourages me too. The audience we run for are those who have gone on ahead, in the Hall of Faith not the Hall of Fame.

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  Hebrews 12:1-3

Both forgetting past victories and failures, with eyes on Jesus and what He has done, not on self, my confidence is  in Him and His ability. He has also promised to finish the work He began in me. Phil. 1:6 says, For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. I can have hope for success in the eyes of the One who really matters, and not be distracted by the praise or the put-downs of this world.

It isn’t always easy. The voices of the world are pretty loud. This is why it is important to be careful what voices we heed and believe what God says is true about us, instead of what the world thinks. Then – our praise will come from God. Then – our success will be lasting. We can have hope in His ability working through us.

 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”   1 Corinthians 1:25-31

May He who gave us life renew our sense of purpose!

1 Thess 5:24 “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it!”

 

Reasoning vs Quarreling

Proverbs 18:13
“He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.”

 Ephesians 4:15
… “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

 Proverbs 18:17
“The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

  What kinds of arguments are quarreling? “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient… in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” 1 Timothy 2: 23-25

 When my children were young, their arguments would end up with: “Yes, it is!” – “No, it isn’t” – “Yes, it is” – “No, it isn’t”. Adults don’t do this, do they? Actually, when we argue a position without bringing evidence and new information to the table, we are doing exactly the same thing. This would be called an “ignorant dispute”. Truth brings light, and that should be our endeavor. We are not trying to “win” as much as educate and learn. As we listen to our opponent, we may find that they have good information that we were lacking. It is important to be humble enough to gratefully accept new evidence that has been well proven, and adjust our thinking to the truth. You do not “lose” a debate when you learn and grow! Even the one who concedes the debate has won something. A new perspective!

 “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:2

 If you are discussing an issue that is addressed in Scripture, it is crucial to know what God says about it. Be sure you are taking evidence in context and not manipulating verses by withholding parts of the text (if they would change the perspective of the argument). While it usually isn’t necessary to post entire Bible chapters, read through the surrounding verses to understand context before using them in an argument so they are not misused. Reference your sources as you quote them. As your opponent uses Scripture to address their arguments, check the context of their references to verify their points. Do this with other evidence as well. Be sure to ask for the source and context, if it isn’t obvious.

 “…holding fast to the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.” Titus 1:9

 When debating a topic with those of like faith, we should not need to use a sharp rebuke. There are times for it though. John the Baptist sharply rebuked King Herod for his incest and adultery. Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees. I can only think of one rebuke of a believer to another faithful believer: Paul rebuked Peter in front of the whole crowd, because he was being a hypocrite and leading so many into error. Galatians 2:11-14.

Also: But toward the Cretans (lazy gluttons and liars) “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.” Titus 1:13

 The purpose of rebuke is to “save the hearers” and for the wandering believer – repentance and restoration; not alienation. If the issue is serious, be firm, but kind. If you feel your opponent is being too harsh, you may be misreading them. Unfortunately, with the written word, you cannot see the person’s face or hear their tone.

 “In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed.” Titus 2:7-8

 As you go out “into the world” you will have many opponents. This is the time of preparation. Gather a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. Become skilled in researching and expressing your faith as it applies to the issues of the day and you will become an effective worker in God’s field! I recommend reading Proverbs to have a solid foundation of wisdom, but all of Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuke, exhortation, correction and instruction in righteousness.

 I encourage you to pray over your posts and replies on social media as well. Ask God for wisdom. He promises to give it!  James 1:5.

 When your opponent makes an assertion, it is their job to defend their position. You do not have to convince them with your own arguments to agree with your point of view, though you may do so. It is often quite effective to challenge their viewpoint with the following tactical questions, shared by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason; “What do you mean by that?” and “How did you come to that conclusion?” If they must define their terms and give their evidence, they may actually see the flaws in their own thinking before you ever have to present your own arguments or defend your view! The one making the claim has the burden of proof. For more information on this topic, I recommend “Tactics for Defending the Faith” by Greg Koukl.

 When in an official debate and asked a direct question by your opponent, you can still use these two tactical questions but it is fine (for the sake of the audience present) to proceed with presenting your own evidence. If you have made a claim of any sort, it is your obligation to:

1. Answer the opponent’s questions without deviation or distraction from the point. Make sure you understand what they are asking. “He who answers before listening, it is his folly and his shame.” Prov. 18:13.

 2. Present your views simply and clearly. Define your terms and give evidence to back up any assertions you make. Two or three are sufficient. “By the testimony of two or three witnesses let every fact be established.” 2 Cor. 13:1.

 3. Avoid logical fallacies! (For a study on those, see http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/616394/posts)

 In brief: don’t attack the person, attack the argument. Also, deal with the argument given, not merely responding with points you want to make. Answer your opponent’s point with a proper counter-point.

 4. Be respectful in tone, considering your opponent’s views, not purposefully offending or taking offense. Even if the subject matter is dear to your heart, keep your arguments objective. Anger puts up walls. For purposes of street-debate, acknowledge wherever they have made a valid point or argument. The purpose is for both parties to come to truth, not merely to convince each other of their bias.

 5. Avoid use of or acronyms for profanity. Lewdness, irreverence (about God) or degrading conversation is not fitting for a believer.

 Rules for debating on social media include the points made above, but additionally:

 – When referring to your opponents post, quote them specifically, using quotes, and separate their quote from yours with a line space.

 – Use line space between each of your points. Bullets or numbering are helpful.

 – Do not use all caps. It is the same as shouting.

 – When dealing with personal matters, take it to a private e-mail or private message. Don’t air anyone’s dirty laundry or angst on social media.

 – If you are arguing with a fool who only rages and laughs and there is no peace you have two choices. You can leave them alone in their ignorance – as they don’t have any interest in gaining wisdom (Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words.” Prov. 23:9), or you can continue to make your points winsomely, for the sake of the audience who may have been otherwise misled by false teaching. In Scripture, they are called the “simple.” This includes children who stand by, listening. It’s up to you. Decide if there is value in continuing. Both speaking to a fool and not speaking are defensible, Bibilically. (Prov. 1:4-7 and 26:4-5)

 In summary, keep in mind that the person you are debating with may have very strong feelings about their subject. Do not belittle them but respectfully, present your evidence to the contrary for their consideration. Sometimes asking a question instead of voicing an opinion will go farther to convince someone of your view. The evidence may be strong, but do not use name calling (ad hominem) when referring to your opponent. Speak the truth in love. Be objective. This is important. Don’t let yourself nurse hurt feelings. “Love is not easily offended”  1 Corinthians 13. Assume the best intentions on the part of your opponent. Remember to listen before answering. If you don’t know exactly what they mean, you can ask for clarification.

 So, let us encourage one another and build each other up, spurring one another on to love and good deeds. And most of all, in humility, seek the truth, together.

Running the Race and Finishing Well

The Apostle Paul compares the life of a believer to “running the race.” It is a marathon that takes character qualities of endurance that sprinting doesn’t. Each mile provides the opportunity for developing the character for the next one. Each person’s run looks different. There will be a variety of terrain and different runners alongside who either encourage or discourage us. We run as wisely as we know how, but our race could be cut short because of unexpected tragedy or illness. So it is important to run well, while we can and be ready to cross our own finish line when the LORD brings us in.

How do we run well?

“Run the race set before you…” We cannot choose to run another’s for them. God has given us each a calling that is unique. As we fulfill His purpose for us – not someone else’s, not our own, but His – we begin well. Choosing which course to run begins with knowing Christ. By exchanging our own plans for ourselves for His and receiving His power to go on. As we run, we fix our eyes on Jesus who stands at the finish line, while His Spirit runs alongside and fills us with hope and strength.

Because we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, when difficulties come, we are more than conquerors. If we choose to look at our own feet and become discouraged at our own ability, or compare ourselves to other runners, we will stumble. Perhaps we will fall. He is there to help us back up and get us on track – if we will let Him.

Running the race well does not mean never stumbling, but it does mean always getting back up. It does mean keeping our eyes fixed on the goal of our salvation and not becoming distracted with other goals of the world. Many start the race well, but not everyone will finish well.

Our God has provided everything we need for life and godliness. So let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith and run the race with endurance. Let us encourage each other as long as it is called today to run well. At last, we shall meet each other at the finish line and be welcomed home with the words, “Well done.”

Understanding God – Is it Possible?

Did you grow up in church hearing the same Bible stories every year? I did. In fact, kids get little else, from preschool through 6th grade. Afterward they are thrown into Youth Group where they tackle tough issues, with very little intellectual ammo. They are admonished to “just believe.”

Now, without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6), but without an understanding of His Word, what is our faith in? Are we doing our youth a disservice by not equipping them with more than Bible Stories? Is the study of God only for theologians? (Theology means the study of God.) Is it only for those who have studied Greek and Hebrew and have been to seminary?

Some may assert that it’s impossible to really know God.

“He is so far beyond and above us!”

We shouldn’t try to understand, just believe.” And they call that, faith. But is that what the Scripture teaches? Let’s take a closer look.

The Word admonishes us to seek to know Him and grow in wisdom and knowledge of the LORD. The prophet Jeremiah expresses this well.

Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness on the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

But if “His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts,” how can we say we understand Him? What about that verse?

The context is Isaiah 55 and the LORD is reaching out to and calling those who are disobedient and unbelieving, to repent and come to Him.

Isaiah 55
6 “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the
Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the
Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So, the wicked man’s thoughts are far beneath God’s. But does that mean ours are at the same level as God’s? We should not assume such a thing! God is holy and we are human. His creation.

We who have the Spirit of the Living God indwelling, have a supernatural ability to know and understand the LORD. That this is not our own ability, but His, working in us.

1 Corinthians 2
1 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

The LORD calls us to know Him, and enables us to know Him. And it is our prayer to know Him, better, every day.

Ephesians 4
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to tthe unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to itheir hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greed and the practice of every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

So, is the study of God only for those who have studied Greek and Hebrew and have been to seminary? While we are to grow in both grace and knowledge and not remain infants – God has called the children, the uneducated, and the underprivileged to sit at His table and learn from Him. If it were not so, we would have something to boast about. But in fact, this kind of grace comes to those who humble themselves and receive what God provides, not exalting in our own ability or wisdom. The world’s wisdom is insufficient.

1 Corinthians 1:20
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

And 1 Cor. 2
25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. 26
Brothers, consider the time of your calling: Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were powerful; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

He has revealed Himself even to little children.
Luke 10:21 (and Matt. 11:25)
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them to babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in your sight.

Those who fear the LORD and serve Him, have the privilege of knowing Him.

Psalm 25:14
The secret counsel of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He reveals His covenant to them.

2 Peter 3
17 Therefore, beloved, since you already know these things, be on your guard not to be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure standing. 18 But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen.