I had an iPhone 4 for some time until recently, when I upgraded to an iPhone 7. I really didn't want to get a different phone, except it was slowly down and eventually it wouldn't run at all. I also wanted to get an app so I could communicate with my family in Russia better. I usually don't have my phone out during class, but many times I would get that look from a student that said "You have THAT phone?" which somehow made me not as cool or hip as someone else with a newer model.
Has anyone wondered when people became valued by what they have rather than who they are? We're constantly bombarded with advertisements that tell us we will have more value if we have this type of shoes or if our teeth are a certain color or look a certain way. We've all been guilty of it - you see someone in the latest fashion and give them more attention than someone who is dressed in something more old fashioned, and potentially start to think the one in the latest fashion is somehow more valuable to society than the other. Maybe it's always been around - those with more money feel they are more entitled to certain privileges over those who don't. The church in Corinth certainly favored those with means over those who didn't.
Is it always about what things a person has, though? Do we sometimes find less value in certain people because of the color of their skin or their country of origin? Isn't that what racism is about - that one race deserves certain rights while others aren't worthy of those rights? Why is it we too often fail to look beyond skin color or language and not stop to see that all people have worth? The same can be said of people with different levels of mental retardation. Can we sometimes be guilty of thinking they have less value than others? Sometimes I'm afraid that we are becoming a society that also puts less value on the elderly, too.
Can we sometimes, too, start to think that God has the same prejudices? Can we start to think that God favors those with more things and wealth or that He values people of a certain age or ethnicity? We need to stop and realize that Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." First of all, Jesus died for every single person in the world. He saw that all had value because we were all created in God's image. Second, though, it doesn't say that Christ died for us because we were worthy or because we had wealth or of a certain skin color. Our sin kept us away from His presence. There was nothing lovable in us, and yet, that was when He sent Jesus to die for our sins.
I don't know about you, but the next time that person crosses my path that I feel is inferior to me because of what they don't have or how they dress or talk or what they look like, I'm going to stop and remember that I putting up barriers that God never intended to be put up. I'm going to be thankful that God never put up those physical standards, and gave standards that could be attained by everyone. God showed us what true value is - let's do the same!
Good Friday - the day we remember that Christ died on the cross. Sometimes its a day that we can let pass us by without thinking about it. I didn't want that to happen to our family this year. We cleared the table, put down some black material and scattered one big candle and 7 smaller candles around the table. We then set up a cross at the other end, which incidentally was made from some scraps of barn wood from my grandparent's barn that's over 100 years old.
We sat down at the table and we read the 7 sentences that Jesus spoke while on the cross. We would read one, discuss it, then blow out one of the smaller candles. The kids took turns blowing out the candles. We had some interesting conversations - while they knew the story more or less, interesting things came up.
Luke 23:33-34 "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
We asked "Why would Jesus say that?" We talked about how Jesus prayed for His enemies, rather than cursing them or attacking them.
Luke 23: 39-43 "I assure you: Today you will be with me in Paradise."
What assurance that is - the thief knew he had done wrong, and Jesus gave him assurance that he would die and go to heaven. The man knew his wrong and admitted it. One said "He was a thief." We said the Bible doesn't tell us what he did. That was news to him.
John 19:25-27 "Woman, here is your son. Here is your mother."
We brought home the point that Jesus still took care of his mom. One asked "Where was his dad?" We said we don't know, but most likely Joseph had died by that time. As the eldest son, Jesus was to take care of his mother. At his death, he made sure that his mother would be taken care of.
Mark 15:33-34 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
If you read the verses, you will see that they were recorded in Jesus' language. "You mean when he spoke it sounded like gibberish?" "Yes, and our language would sound like gibberish to them." It gave us a chance to talk about how people died when trying to translate the Bible into other languages. We discussed how Jesus felt separated from God and how that hurt.
John 19:28 "I'm thirsty"
We were able to emphasize his humanity, and how it was hard to die on the cross.
One asked: "How can it be hot if it's dark?" The other said: "Maybe it was a solar eclipse!" Me: "A solar eclipse lasts only a few minutes." "How do we know?" Me: "You saw one in August."
John 19:29-30 "It is finished!"
He paid the price for our sins. His job was completed. One said "Oh, that's what we will observe on Sunday." We replied "No, we celebrate that He rose from the dead."
Luke 23:46 "Father, into your hands I entrust My spirit."
We talked about how even though Jesus felt separated from the Father, He still said 'God, I will trust You with everything."
When we finished, all the candles were blown out except for the big one, and we discussed the Passover and its meaning and how Jesus was the Son of God. We then took time to pray together and just thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus. Simple, yet so meaningful looking at it together.
Sorrow - how life would be so much better if we didn't have to deal with it! No one enjoys those moments of pain. Sometimes one feels all alone in those times of grieving. It looks different for each and everyone of us, but for me, it was the loss of my mother on January 19, 2018. A moment we knew would come one day, but like everyone, always wishing that day would come later.
Her health hadn't been the best, but it wasn't the worst, and she had been showing signs of getting better. She ended up in the hospital as the doctors couldn't stabilize her blood pressure. The next day we got the phone call that we needed to come to the hospital to say our good-byes. That morning, before we got the call, I woke up and looked out the window and saw the sun rise and I thought of the song "10,000 Reasons" which says:
"The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning,
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes."
Little did I know that my mom would pass that evening. I guess I had expected a long drawn out process, where she might gradually lose consciousness. My mom was alert to the end, able to talk and recognize people, etc. While there was lots of family gathered together, I was able to hold her hand til she passed into the Lord's presence. She held my hand when I came into this world - I got to hold hers when she left.
"And on the day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forever more."
While not about me, I applied those words to my mom. She's no longer in pain or suffering. Eternity has just begun for her. On this side, I still can sing God's praises. While I miss my mom, I'm thankful that we got to talk to her before she passed. I'm thankful she was able to be in her home except for the last 36 hours of her life. I'm thankful she could make decisions on her own. She was able to give advice and encouragement.
I realize that not all situations are like this. Sometimes it is more difficult to be thankful in times of sorrow. Sometimes sorrow reveals bare emotions, and emotions can sometimes lead us to places we never intended to go in the first place. Yet, taking time to sit and thank God for what He has done, what He is doing, and what He will do helps keep the focus on God, and not dwell on what we lost or what we don't have any more.
"Bless the Lord, of my soul, oh my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before, oh my soul,
I'll worship Your holy name!"
As I sit and play that song on the piano, or sing a long with it on the radio, I thank God for giving me a mother who developed in me a love of music, who encouraged me to draw and paid for drawing and painting lessons, who always took us to church so we could learn about God and His expectations. I also thank God that she was able to see my book published. Praise the Lord, oh my soul.
Our family has been enjoying watching "The Big Family Cooking Showdown" together. It's fun to see different combination of foods that are made, and also makes us just wish we could smell and taste what is being made. We like to cook, which is good, as it is our last name, but we haven't done much cooking together as a family. The kids, now, have more of a desire to cook.
The other day, my wife was making "pelmini", which is a type of Russian ravioli. Our daughter, who is 5, just jumped up and started helping my wife put the meat in the proper place - and she did a great job of it. One of our sons, Skyler, who is 9, wanted to prepare some food. His 3rd grade teacher sent home some sites we could go to and see Christmas traditions from around the world. It shared customs and traditions, as well as a few recipes. He said he wanted to try one of the recipes. We had the ingredients for Madagascar chicken, and so we cooked it together.
The recipe was quite simple - basically garlic, ginger and salt on the chicken, and then fried. We didn't have fresh ginger, but used ginger already ground up. Skyler learned how to use a garlic press, and prepared the spices for the meal, as well as set the table, etc. We already had rice made, so we just warmed up leftover rice. I did most of the frying, though Skyler took note of what to do; the smell was great! We all enjoyed the chicken, and we plan to make it again sometime soon, but use fresh ginger the next time! Our other son, Cedric, is ready to find a recipe to cook something. We actually cooked orange chicken from China. It was delicious!
I decided, though, that we should take it another step further. We can learn some customs and traditions of that country of Madagascar, but what is the state of Christianity? I have some books - "Operation World", which is for adults, and "Window on the World", which is full of pictures and designed for children, though not every country is represented there. We looked up Madagascar, and discovered that about 50% of the country is considered Christian, but many combine folk religion with Christianity. We found out some information and took some time to pray for Madagascar.
Now we are trying to develop several things at one time - culinary skills, the love of trying something new, doing something together, learning about another country, and learning how to pray for that country. Who would have imagined that would have all started by one show called "The Big Family Cooking Showdown"? Sometimes we forget that we can use one activity to have multiple purposes, all that will have a long impact. So, I encourage you, to find some recipes, and take time to teach the next generation how to cook something, but also take time to pray for those countries, or even those parts of the States where the food is coming from.
December has arrived, and it's time for us to count down to Christmas! While there are many countdowns for sale - ranging from stickers on dates all the way to fancy ones where there is a little gift given each day - we prefer to make our own calendar.
I suppose the inspiration came from when I was a kid - we always had a face of Santa and we would put a cotton ball on Santa's beard. Today Santa is everywhere, and I wanted our kids to be able to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. So, I made a calendar featuring the shepherds. At the beginning, we put on stars in the sky, and then later we put on cotton balls, which then become sheep for the shepherds. On Christmas Eve, an angel is added at the top, as a reminder that the angel came to the shepherds and told them that Jesus was born.
If you look at the photo, it looks confusing. That's because I added all three kids to the picture. I could have made 3 individual calendars, but I liked the idea of one big picture. I like seeing all the stars and sheep. I could have made one calendar with one set of numbers, but my kids would have to take turns putting on a star or a sheep. They enjoy putting on a star or a cotton ball for a sheep - it's easier to make sure that everyone has a chance! Later I will put on a picture when we have sheep on it, and then one on Christmas Eve when everything is complete.
We actually have this on our refrigerator. It's easily seen and helps us on our countdown. We don't have many decorations in our kitchen, and so this becomes our decoration there and helps to remind us multiple times throughout the day the reason for the season. I also like that it's hand made - it brings simplicity to a holiday that has become so commercialized.
This year, too, we made a nativity scene to put outside our house. I cut out Mary and Joseph and painted them, then painted some wood for the barn. I made the star and added lights, and made the lights become the roof of the barn. I wanted to catch the simplicity of and humbleness of that first Christmas night. We have other lights in the trees and bushes, but I wanted to try and capture the quietness of that first Christmas. We have to try constantly fight the battle of secularism and commercialism, and these are a few things that we have done to help bring a focus to the holiday. From our house to yours - have a blessed Christmas!
It's November, and this is when we make our "Thanksgiving Tree". Our kids actually call it the "Thanks Tree". It's not my idea - it came from our former Family Minister, Cheryl Flaim. She used a tree branch and attached leaves to it that had things to be thankful for written on them. We didn't have room in our house for a branch that would most likely be knocked over and broken in our household, but we did have a space on the refrigerator! It's in a central location, and very visible because, after all, how many times do you visit the kitchen? Especially the refrigerator?
So what is the "ThanksTree?" First I draw a tree on a piece of paper and hang it up, then cut out leaves. Every day, each member in the family gets a leaf and writes something that he or she is thankful for. Then that leaf is glued to the tree. It causes us each day to stop and think of something that we are thankful for. By the time Thanksgiving comes, the tree is a beautiful array of different colored leaves, and it gives us a chance to really see how truly blessed we are.
Too often we are dissatisfied with what we have or what we don't have. Society tends to focus on the negative, and we can get caught up in that sea of negativity. It's a chance for us to stop and see the things we are thankful for, as well as an opportunity to help instill in the next generation an attitude of thankfulness. Did you notice the words on the tree? It says "Thank you Jesus". It says the same thing on the other side, only in Russian. Russian is our family's second language. It's important to not to have an attitude of thankfulness, but to direct that thanks to God.
It's important to be sure to thank God. Sometimes we hear people say "I am thankful." It doesn't mean that person is actually thanking God for anything. A Christian might say that and have the meaning that it is towards God, but for many people, it has nothing to do with God. One of my favorite songs is "You Won't Relent" by Jesus Culture. Part of the song says "I don't wanna talk about you, like you're not in the room. I wanna look right at you, wanna sing right to you." When we are "thankful" but don't direct our thanks directly to Him, then it becomes impersonal. God desires that we tell Him directly "thank you", and to be specific about what we are thanking Him for.
A "Thanks Tree" isn't necessary, but it's a good visual reminder about what God has done and what God is doing at this time. Then, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, we stop and remember all the things we have been thankful for during the whole month, and take time to thank Him directly. It's easy to get caught up in the rush of life and not take that time to see the blessings - even the simple blessings. Today one of my kids wrote that he is thankful for cucumbers. It doesn't seem deep, and yet I think God desires to hear our heart felt thanks for even the simple things - like cucumbers!
October is National Bullying Prevention month. Bullying has been around as long as humans have inhabited the world, yet it has been on the increase over the past decade. Some would say it's because it's been given more publicity - I say it's because we've lost our Christian world view of the world and has been replaced with a humanistic and evolutionary view of mankind, which has only allowed bullying to blossom.
Humanism, at it's core, places value in man. That's good - but where does our value come from? That is something humanism cannot answer. I was at a Bullying Prevention rally at school, and there was great focus on the emotional appeal. "You are special." It's true that we are special, but why are we special? Humanism says that man, at his core, is basically good and wants to do good and will do good. If this is so, then why is this evil of putting others down permeate our society? Humanism also says we need to find our answers in science. The study of science is of value - I myself am a science teacher - but not answers can be found in science. When we look at science, we come to evolution. What does evolution tell us about ourselves?
First of all, evolution tells us that we are accidents that just happened. This actually contradicts humanism, as how do I have any value if I am the cumulating result of random accidents that just happened to make humans? If I'm an accident of some random acts of chemicals that came together, then what makes me any more special than an amoeba or a Venus Fly Trap? Nothing. Evolution is about "survival of the fittest" - there's no place for anyone being special. He who is strong survives, while the rest die out. He who has the most stuff is worthy to survive, while if you don't, you die out. It shouldn't surprise us that bullying has become more of a problem as we are saturated with an evolutionary mind set that says some people have a right to live and thrive while others do not.
Christianity has the answer to why we are special. Why are we special? Because we were created in the image of God. Genesis 1:27 says "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." (NIV) Since God created us, it means that we are not an accident, which means we have a purpose in life. We may not always understand that purpose, but we can search and discover that purpose if we seek God. Why is it important that we are created in His image? It means that we have emotions, desire relationships, are creative, have a spiritual part and not just a physical being. God made both male and female to be special and have a purpose. This is a reality that we need to consistently share with our children, grandchildren, etc. It's a reality that many adults need to come to terms with, too.
Christianity also is very real about the condition of man's heart. The Bible says man was created good, but sin entered the world and corrupted the world. Genesis 6:5 says "The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time." When I look at the news, I see what God's Word says about man's heart matches up with more than I see what humanism matches up.
At school, I come across a lot of kids who go to church, and they will readily tell me that God made them. Here's the problem - they say the words, but they act as if they evolved. What do I mean by that? That means the kids act as if they are an accident, that they have no purpose in life. They go by survival of the fittest, which means if they don't have the newest technology or the better brand or aren't the smartest or the most talented, etc, then they have no worth, and therefore no purpose. If I have no purpose in life, then I try and escape by turning to drugs or alcohol, or live sexual immoral lives as we are nothing but "higher level of animal". I think kids get confused because at an early age we always say that everyone is "special" and that everyone is wonderful and great, but then as kids grow up they see the other reality of evil that we pretend doesn't exist. They don't know what to think anymore.
We as Christians have an answer to this problem, and that is that God created us, and so we have a purpose. There will always be someone who doesn't like us and will try to put us down. We also realize that people will try to put us down - that's the evil condition of man's heart. We need to be teaching people that their worth and purpose is not found in things, or in money, or position, or in what others think and say - it is found only in God, Who not only said what He created is 'good', but that we were worthy enough for Him to send His one and only Son to die on a cross for our sins. There wasn't anything that we did to deserve that.
Time in and time out, we need to tell our kids that God created them and gave them a purpose. It needs to permeate their lives, so when a bully does come along, our children can stand firm on the rock that God did create them and they do have purpose. The words and actions of the bully will sting, but it will not become a dagger of death to our kids because they will find hope and love in their Creator. Because of the evil condition of the heart, it should drive us to draw even more closer to Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to save us from our sins, restore our corrupted heart and change the desires of our heart so they are not selfish, but become more like those of Christ. We then start to pray for those who bully others, so that they can find their true purpose in Christ - not find purpose in tearing someone else down. We pray and teach our children how to pray that God will work in the lives of the bully so they will sense their need for a Savior and that they will find Him and let Him change their life. Let this National Bullying Prevention Month become a time we share the hope that we have in Christ!
To go to the eclipse, or not to go? I live in Kirksville, MO which is north of the area of totality. Kirksville would experience 98% totality, but it's not quite the 100%. If I were to drive south for about 45 minutes, I would be in the area of totality. So close, yet I'm a science teacher at the middle school, and it's our third day of school, so it makes sense to be at school and experience this event with my students.
Then comes the end of July. My boys, discovering that there was going to be an eclipse, found out that there would be 100% where babushka (that's what they call their grandmother) lives in Chillicothe. The decision became a little more difficult. Chillicothe is in the zone of totality, and there would be a place to hang out. Yet I'm a science teacher. It's going to be the 3rd day of school. I just can't leave, can I? That's a tough decision.
Yes, there will be another eclipse in 7 years, but it's in an area where I don't know anyone. Chance are I probably won't drive to it. Kirksville will be farther away from totality. In some ways, being this close is almost a once in a life time event. Sure, my kids would experience 98% in Kirksville, but 100% is so close. Which is more important for them to remember - that their dad felt called to duty and stayed on the job, or that he was willing to take off and spend time together in an experience that they will never forget? What do we want our kids to remember? We are laying down a spiritual heritage, and while devotion to work is very important, sometimes there are moments that family takes priority.
So, I took the day off. My daughter was sick, so she and my wife stayed home, but my boys and I drove to babushka's house. We arrived about 9:30am, and it was partly cloudy. Beautiful. Then the clouds came in. It started to rain at 11am. We knew there was a chance of rain, but had been hoping it would hold off. We watched the radar and saw rain and more rain. The meteorologist said the clearing would reach Chillicothe around 1:30 - that would be 20 minutes after totality. Liberty, MO was in sunshine. St. Joseph was partly cloudy. The boys asked "Can't we go there?" It was already noon - we couldn't make it in time. We're going to stay and wait.
Our boys were sad. I had prepared them earlier that this could happen, and I didn't want to hear complaining. At the time, one had said that it would be ok, as we were going to see babushka. Of course, the tone started to change, but he realized we weren't in control of the weather. I knew it was raining in Kirksville, and there was going to be no way they would see anything - but it seemed anticlimactic that we drove for 1 1/2 hours to see rain. We were prepared that we would experience the darkness, and maybe, just maybe, we might see the end of the eclipse.
While we were eating pizza we could see that the clouds were getting thinner. One of our boys went out about 1pm and could see a sliver sun shining through the clouds. We ran outside and noticed that there was clearing near by, and that the sky had a bluish-purple tint to it. The sky cleared up, and we were able to see totality! It became fairly dark, and the boys went wild with excitement! It was like the Fourth of July, but instead of store bought fireworks, we saw something that is totally unique. The Chillicothe Middle School was about 3 blocks away, and we could hear a loud shout of cheers at that moment. It only added to the atmosphere of joy and excitement. When totality was over, we put our special glasses back on. We could see Venus in the sky, and enjoyed watching the end of the eclipse for the next 45 minutes. Then the clouds rolled back in and blocked our view.
It was so miraculous that we were able to see totality and 45 minutes afterwards. We were braced to see nothing, and while we didn't see the whole eclipse, we saw a good and important part. It was precious to hear the shouts of awe and wonder of my boys, and I think it made the event even more special for babushka and Aunt Cyndy. It was priceless, and am glad that I took the chance to go with my family to see it, and wish that my wife and daughter could have been with us.
It makes me more in awe of our God, too. Psalm 74:16 says "The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon". Think of it - the moon is at just the right distance from the sun to make it appear to be the same size as the sun. Earth is unique in that our moon is fairly large in comparison to the size of the Earth - all other planets that we know of don't have as big of moons. If the moon were smaller, we wouldn't be able to have total eclipses. If earth were closer or farther away from the sun, the moon most likely wouldn't appear the same size. Many scientists say that our moon also slows down the rotation of the earth - if it weren't for the moon, one day would most likely be 6-8 hours, rather the 24 we know today. Cosmic coincidence? or Divine design?
Of course, I believe God put them in just the right places, and those are little things we need to be pointing out to the next generation. Sometimes we take the sun and moon for granted. In fact, isn't it kind of interesting that the eclipse occurred on Monday, which actually stands for "Moon Day"? We need to take all opportunities to point out God's hand in creation. Let's not take things for granted - look around and see His hand - and not just notice it, but point it out. Do we talk about luck? or on God's timing? Do we share coincidences? or do we see God's hand? What we say says something to those around us, as well as the next generation - do we truly see God in our world or not?
Are you a DIYer? It doesn't come easy to me. I was never taught how to use the tools. Or maybe there was an attempt and I didn't show much interest. If my parents needed something changed in the house, they usually called someone else to come over and do it. I've had to learn how to use a variety of tools, and with the help of friends and a lot of YouTube, I've been able to complete several projects - such as replacing the toilet, replacing light fixtures, replacing a faucet, laying down a wood floor, etc.
Anyways, not too long ago I decided to build a simple shelf to put in our cupboard to maximize the space. When I say simple. I mean simple! It's just a board laid between two other pieces of wood. I decided to use it as an opportunity to show my boys how to use some simple tools. So, I showed them how to use a drill and screwdriver, and they then had a chance to actually use the tools themselves - with my guidance, of course! They had a blast, and we are making some plans on what else we could build together.
That didn't happen all by itself. It was intentional. I had to make a plan and share that plan and explain what we were going to do. I had to give some assistance. Would it have been quicker to have done it by myself? Yes - but I would have lost a teaching moment.
It makes me think about passing down our faith - it has to be intentional, or my faith might not be handed down to my kids. Our kids will pick up some things by watching us, but they learn more by actually doing it. That can be hard because it's easy to teach a child how to use a drill, but it's harder to teach them how to pray. It's easy to teach a child how to use a screwdriver, but it's more difficult to teach them how to apply what they read in the Bible to their life.
Now some people would say that is the job of the church. The church is there to reinforce what kids should be hearing in the home. Sometimes we just make it more difficult than it should be. For example, Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:6 "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." As we interact with our children, we should naturally bring up issues of faith. There can be conversations in the car, at the dinner table, while doing yard work, etc. We have to have conversations with our children - if we aren't engaging them, they will find someone to engage with, and the message we want to communicate may not be communicated.
"Nort's Stories" is classified as a children's book, but I would actually classify it as a family book. It is a tool to help start conversations and talk about things that are important. It can be a springboard to enter into discussions about topics such as tone of voice; parents can use it to share their experiences and where they've had success, or where they have made mistakes. Grandparents, aunts and uncles can do the same thing. Use the book as a spring board, talk about your life and how God has moved - or how you wish you had trusted God but didn't. We learn from the good examples as well as the bad examples - but it's difficult to learn from no examples. The key is to be intentional.
If you are looking for the David Cook that publishes Sunday School material, or the David Cook that was the American Idol, well, this isn't the right place! This is the David Cook who wrote the book "Nort's Stories". Want to be updated when a new blog comes out? Go to the "contact" tab and ask to be updated when a new blog comes out.