Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

25 July 2012

I have just a read book about rubber duckies - and loved it

Can you remember what you were doing on 10th January 1992?  I was in Tasmania celebrating my birthday.  I can't remember if I was still travelling around at that stage being the tourist  or whether I was by then ensconced in a very nice B&B in Hobart, attending an amazing music education conference.  Obviously the birthday celebration wasn't a high point of the day.  But I was definitely in Tasmania.
 
It turns out that on that very day a sea container fell off the back of a ship during high seas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Evidently not an unusual event.  Apparently between 2000 and 10 000 containers fall off their ships into the ocean every year.  That particular container held 28,800 bath toys - beavers, frogs, turtles and duckies - 7,200 of each. The sea container burst open, the boxes of bath toys tumbled out and the cardboard packaging deteriorated, liberating all of those toys that had been designed to float.  Evidently ocean currents follow reasonably steady and predictable courses and there are certain points on the globe, little bays here and there, that act somewhat like terminus points - or rather gathering points - for tons and tons of rubbish/flotsam picked up along the way. And so a year or two later, these bath toys started showing up, some in odd places, but others en masse at these bays-cum-accidental rubbish tips.

Donovan Hohn, a high school english teacher from Manhattan with just a touch of Indiana Jones in his makeup, first heard about these bath toys bobbing in the seas and floating across the oceans of the world as he read about it in a student's essay.  He was charmed and thus began an adventure, over a series of five chases, that saw him follow the path of the rubber ducks from production in a chinese toy factory through the journey on a container ship to what should have been their proper destination.  He didn't do it all in order, but over the course of a number of years, he covered the route the ducks should have taken from the chinese toy factory to its US port and the route that at least some of the ducks took when they jumped ship to their final destination at one of the so called Garbage Patches, far from any US port.

Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea is his story.  And what a story it is.  Along the way I learned about...

oceans and oceanography,
the difference between environmentalism and conservation,
how some of the things we do in the name of environmentalism are in fact of no help at all, and can sometimes even be counterproductive,
environmentalism being a hugely complex issue,
the shipping industry and all sorts of conditions at sea and all sorts of conditions on all sorts of ships and boats at sea,
lots of ways to be horribly cold, uncomfortable and sick at sea,
toys, childhood and being a parent,

...and about our very sad, destructive addiction to plastic.

The very features that make plastic a perfect material for bathtub toys - so buoyant! so pliant! so smooth! so colourful! so hygienic! - also make it a superlative pollutant of the seas.  No one knows exactly how long a synthetic polymer will persist at sea.  Five hundred years is a reasonable guess.  Globally, we are currently producing 300 million tons of plastic every year, and no known organism can digest a single molecule, through plenty of organisms try.  (Last paragraph of the fourth chase.p. 190  )

By now, if you are even still reading, you are probably wondering how I came upon this book and why I read it.  The thing is, I heard Donovan Hohn interviewed on the radio and he was engaging, articulate and entertaining.  A natural and brilliant story teller.  He would surely be able to write well.  And he was, after all, an english teacher. 

Well, write he can.  You may have absolutely no interest in any of these subjects.   I didn't.  Which is to my shame.  But Donovan Hohn has managed to turn that crazy mixture of subject matter, along with the whimsical idea of a rubber duck lost at sea, into an absolute page turner.  He writes beautifully and has an extraordinary command of the english language.  Moreover he is a teacher through and through.  He will throw out a bit of jargon, a scientific concept, something the average person knows nothing about and you think, "Mmmm...don't know what he's talking about there."  And he knows you don't know.  So just around the next corner (be it a paragraph, page or section) you find yourself in the middle of the explanation. 

This book is worth reading for three reasons. 
Firstly, for the beauty of the writing and the joy of the story.
Secondly, to educate.  At so many levels.  About interesting stuff.  But also about important stuff.
And thirdly, to find out if he made it back in time from one of his chases to be present at the birth of his first child (he knew, when he set off, that it would be tight) and if, in the course of his chases, he  found for himself one of 28, 800 bath toys, having so carefully traced their route. 

A great book. 

12 July 2012

Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond


On page 153 of his book Suffering Well, Paul Grimmond says this:

About ten years ago I was involved in a pastor's training conference.  In one session, as we talked about discipling young believers, we tried to come up with a list of key biblical truths we would want to teach every new Christian.  People gave the usual responses (and that's not a bad thing!): we wanted to teach new Christians the importance of Jesus' death in our place; we wanted them to know about the Holy Spirit's work; we wanted them to understand sin; we wanted to teach them about the church.  But then a woman who had been a missionary in Argentina for many years added her voice to the conversation.   I will never forget her contribution: "We need to teach them to suffer."

So true.  First world people are increasingly appalled and outraged by suffering.  When something goes terribly wrong we almost can't believe it.  "This shouldn't happen in this day and age."  And then we look for someone to blame and after that we look for someone else to make sure it never happens again.  What a burden we place on individuals and groups within society, insisting that they render our existence free of suffering.

But the thing is, it will happen again.  Wars will continue to be waged.  There will be more natural disasters.  People will die, sometimes in tragic circumstances.  Things will break.  The power will go off.  We will be caught in more traffic jams and have to wait in more queues.  Until Jesus comes again, suffering will continue. 

So what are we to do?  One thing we can do is grab ourselves a copy of Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond and learn how to suffer well.  In his book Paul Grimmond walks the reader through...

*  how it is that we came to believe that it's our right NOT to suffer - and then blows that myth (because it is a myth) right out of the water.

* lots of examples - corporate and individual - of suffering in the Old and New Testaments, giving a thorough survey of what the Bible has to say on this subject of suffering.

*  the main ways in which we suffer...
- because we live in a fallen world.
- because we follow Christ and so can expect to be persecuted.
- because God disciplines us.
- because we sorrow at seeing the world through God's eyes as we watch people wallow in their sin, long for the salvation of others and see Christians live sinfully and rebelliously.

*  ways to learn how to suffer well by...
- praising God with integrity, because He is good.
- doing good, by God's grace.
- not thinking that suffering well means being stoic.
- waiting patiently for His justice and His time.

*  ways to prepare for suffering by...
- reading all of the Bible and moreover, reading it in the way God intended.
- living out what we learn in the Bible.

All of this unfolds across a strong foundation of God's sovereignty.  God is completely in control.  Our suffering and the situations that give rise to our suffering do not take God by surprise and His purposes are always good and right.  If for no other reason, read this book to be thoroughly convinced that suffering is under God's good and loving control.

The bad news is that there is no "suffering well" quick fix.  This is a life's work.  But the good new is that it IS possible to suffer well - to suffer in ways that encourage others to see God at work and that bring glory and honour to God.

Suffering Well has been published as a part of a series called "Guidebooks for Life."  It isn't a book to be read in the midst of suffering - although for one well thought out on this subject, its words would certainly been affirming and encouraging.  This is a book to be read in the good and ordinary times.  At a time when there is opportunity to think over the ideas, read the Bible passages and pray in the guidance provided in order to prepare for the time when suffering comes upon us.  And times of suffering will come.  How good to be prepared for these times so that even in our trials we can seek to bring to God all glory and honour.  We need to learn how to suffer.  How to suffer well.

This is a great book.

You can get yourself a copy of Suffering Well from Matthias Media.  Available in paperback or as an eBook.

10 July 2012

Suffering Well and hope

While the world tells us that human beings are just another part of the food chain, God tells us that humanity is the centrepiece of his plan.  By God's grace, we are precious to him.  And throughout human history, God has worked towards the glorious future he has planned for us in spite of the sin that characterises us.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they were expelled from the garden but not destroyed.  When the world was wicked in the days of Noah, God chose to rescue humanity through Noah and his family.  In the face of the tower of Babel, God promised Abraham that through his descendants, every nation would be blessed.  And in spite of the repeated, unrepentant rebellion of Israel that caused them to be cast out of the Promised Land, God continued to promise a future to Israel and, through Israel, a future for the whole world.

From Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond, page144.

07 July 2012

Aging and Sanctification

I found this very short talk (it's about four minutes so it really is short) from John Piper about aging and sanctification interesting and helpful. 

At one point he explained that getting older doesn't equal sanctification.  Certain desires - he listed lust and greed for money but you could add all sorts of other things like grabbing for power, covetousness and so on - will likely lessen as a result of aging, sometimes for physiological reasons and sometimes because these things simply become redundant after a certain point in your life.  But just because these desires lessen or even disappear, that doesn't make you holier.  It is a deep seated, growing relationship with Jesus that makes you holy.  So it is important not to be fooled into thinking that you are growing in holiness if the aging process is bringing some of these urges under control.  They would be the hallmarks of growing in holiness but they don't represent holiness in and of themselves.  It seems so obvious as I write it down - but it's good to have teased out the distinction, none the less.

The benefit of aging, he said, is that "your resevoir of past grace is growing."  Lovely.  Your relationship with Jesus is all the more sure and strong because you can look back on an ever increasing collection of moments when you have seen God clearly at work in your life.  That is very steadying.

The unexpected surprise, he said, was that at age 30 he thought that in thirty years time he would be thirty years more kind and thirty years more patient.  But certain sins have remained and that this isn't necessarily the case.   Good to be mindful of this.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. 
1 Thessalonians 5:23,24

06 July 2012

Suffering Well and Job


The point of the book of Job is not to explain the reason for every episode of suffering in the lives of innocent people.  It is to remind us that God has reasons beyond our reasons, and to call us to humbly rely on him.  Job suffered deeply.  But God taught him that he didn’t need all of his questions answered; he just needed to know the living God.  

From Suffering Well by Paul Grimmond, page38.

04 July 2012

Teaching kids about God - timed challenges



Teaching kids about God photo by Cathy.  Thanks Cathy!!

Another thing I do to keep Scripture classes at school (30 minute lessons) and Sunday school classes (40 to 60 minutes) humming along is to use timed challenges throughout each lesson.  I have a chart where I record everyone's best times and it is highly competitive.

Here's THE WHAT...and then I will explain the HOW and the WHY.

The Shape Sorter


Pull out this old toy from the toddler toy box.  Time how long it takes to put the shapes in - surprisingly hard when you are under pressure.  But for those with a cool head and the right strategy, it is possible to do it in 14 seconds!

Apple Stacking


Bring a bag of apples - you won't need any more than eight apples from my experience - and see how many you can stack in a set amount of time.  I did this last term and gave the kids 27 seconds (because there are 27 books in the New Testament...and they all know that fact now) so that it wouldn't drag out for too long.  Record - five.

Cup Stacking


You need ten plastic cups.  The idea is to time how long it takes to stack them up - four at the bottom, then three, then two, then one - then put your hands on your head and then unstack them back into a pile of cups and yell "FINISHED!"  It's pretty quick so the yelling at the end helps for time keeping.  And kids think it is fun to yell in class.  If you google CUP STACKING you will see some pretty amazing examples of this challenge.  Mine is a very simplified version but they love it. 

The Buzzer


A friend found this one for me.  You have to ease the hand piece around the wire without letting the circle of the hand piece touch the wire.  Some of these gadgets buzz or beep if the circle makes contact with the wire.  This particular one laughs at you hysterically.   Time how long it takes to get from end to the other - and you are disqualified if it laughs at you.  Most don't get a time.  The laughing seems to diffuse the frustration and disappointment.

Block Jigsaw



This doesn't work in a classroom because it is too small to be seen from the back.  All classroom competitions need to be visible by all or else they fail monumentally.  Take it from me.  I know.  But this is great to use with a smaller group.  They get to find and assemble the animal (with or without a guide picture, depending on how tricky you want to make it) and you time how long it takes.  I have two sets of these so sometimes I bring out both sets and run this challenge as a race rather than individually timing them - with evenly matched children and only with robust kids who can cope with the fact that one will win and one will lose.

THE HOW

1.  I run one of these challenges in Scripture classes every week across a whole term - with a new challenge each term.  Every child who wants to participate is timed.  This takes a few weeks and their time is recorded on a chart.  When everyone has had a go I choose some to have  a second go to beat the class or their own personal record.  Sometimes I choose children at random to have a go, sometimes a child who needs a boost and sometimes I choose someone as a reward for good class participation.  At least one child will have a go of the current challenge at every lesson, week in and week out. 

2.  In Sunday School I run a challenge for a month at a time.  Every week the kids can have a go to beat their own score or break the group's record.  I run a monthly challenge two or three times a year - injecting one when things are getting a bit flat and need some pepping up.

3.  Rather than running a challenge over a long period of time, these can be used as a one off - the one who gets the best time gets a prize.  Or run along the lines of "a minute to win it" - if they do the challenge in a minute...or whatever time you set...they win the prize.  Or run it as a "minute to win it" across the whole term if you have a good supply of prizes - that probably works better with younger children.

4.  Respect the child who doesn't want to have a go.  For a quiet few, they won't want to be exposed at the front of the group like this.  And that is OK.

THE WHY

These challenges have absolutely nothing to do with teaching kids about God.  But here are ten quick reasons why I use them.

1.  They are quick - they don't rob too much time from a lesson.
2.  They inject some fun into the lesson. 
3.  Because they are fun it helps in building good relationships.
4.  And it sets a good dynamic in the room
5.  So the kids look forward to your lesson with them.
6.  And that means you are well underway to winning the battle with discipline.
7.  Which means more time to teach.
8.  And more opportunity to be kind, to show love and to demonstrate warmth.
9.  If done ever single week then it becomes a constant.  It's a bit like when you hear the dulcet tones of the West Wing theme music (or insert your own favourite TV series) at the beginning of each episode and it excites and prepares your mind for what is coming next.  Think Pavlov's dog.
10.  That then helps the kids to transition quickly into your lesson - which means less wasted time.  It is five or ten minutes time well spent - which means twenty or more good teaching minutes in a thirty minute class.

Please know that not every lesson works perfectly for me.  Far from it.  My last lesson today would testify to that.  But I have had a much better strike rate, particularly with school Scripture, since I started doing this.

02 July 2012

Reading the Bible in chronological order - discovery # 1


I don't know that I have ever really thought too hard about where the book of Job fits into the scheme of biblical things. I usually just get to Job, take a breath and dive in. It's there in the midst of the wisdom literature with a timeless message and it just IS. But when was Job knocking about the place?

Well, I was not three days into the chronological read through of the Bible, eleven chapters of Genesis under my belt, and there I was being redirected to Job, just before Abraham enters stage left at chapter twelve. Interesting.

Turns out there are at least a couple of theories as to the dating of Job. The theory that places him around the time of Abraham rests particularly on the fact that in chapter one, amidst Job's calamities, his camels were carried off by a raiding party from the Chaldeans (Job 1:17). Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldeans. And the area of Chaldea later became known as Babylonia - important around the time of the exile. So the suggestion is that Job was around the time when Chaldea was Chaldea, not Babylon.

Another theory has Job around the time of the exile. He is mentioned in Ezekiel 14:12-14.

The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals, even if these three men - Noah, Daniel and Job - were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness," declares the Sovereign Lord.

Curious that Job is mentioned last in that list – and so the question is, does the order have any significance? And it has been said that whoever wrote Job shows a great knowledge of distant lands and is therefore unlikely to have been around any time before Solomon.

The bottom line is that we don't really know. There are a few clues - and they are just too few. But the folk who constructed the reading plan I am using had to put him somewhere, so on this occasion they opted for the association with Abraham rather than Ezekiel. And I'm glad they did because it made me sit up, pay attention and read Job with fresh eyes.