Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cultivating a Life-Long Love of Learning (Part 1) ~ Education is an Atmosphere

Suitcases are coming home from camps and summer holidays stuffed with smelly laundry and souvenirs. While backpacks are getting filled with bright new binders, crisp white paper, and coloured pens. We are trading long summer evenings with cooler nights as the crickets’ chorus of chirping plays softly in the twilight. Children’s sandy toes and sticky fingers, sun-bleached hair and freckled faces will all get washed and scrubbed fresh and clean. Parents and children are all getting ready for the first day of school whether they want to or not. It’s that time of year. Pool gear will be swapped for school gear.

Before we jump into another year of schooling, it is beneficial to scan our environment and examine our lives to ensure we provide a rich and nourishing education for our children.

All around us children are craving knowledge. They have a natural curiosity that is evident in the endless ‘whys’ and ‘hows’. Children are born to learn and need to have their minds nourished as well as their bodies. This is an area that is near and dear to my heart.

I have had the privilege and responsibility to provide and invest in the environment of my children’s education. Every year has presented new challenges, taxing obstacles, and demanding hurdles.

Every year we have learned in an atmosphere where mistakes are common, failure is a tutor, grace is poured out, patience is essential, forgiveness is continuous, and love is unconditional. Every morning, God’s mercies are new—they never come to an end.

And so, we live and learn and love. Everyday learning alongside one another: learning to live an abundant life and needing every ounce of God’s grace that washes over us.

As we head into another year of learning, I’ve been re-reading and reminding myself of the philosophy of education that has shaped our years of learning. The last few years of heart failure, open-heart surgery and a difficult recovery has left me depleted.

I need gentle rhythms and peaceful seasons to permeate our home where our children live and learn. It is time to go back to a quieter life: where we will have space to breathe and room to grow.

Charlotte Mason was born in England in 1842 and died in 1923 and has become known as an innovative educator. Well ahead of her time, many teachers still use her philosophy of education today. She has been a mentor and has greatly influenced learning in our home as well as thousands of other families in the world.

Miss Mason taught that there are three main instruments of education. She strongly believed that: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

The first instrument in education is atmosphere. The atmosphere in education refers to the realm of relationships. Mason suggested, it is in the relationships the child has with God, with his parents, or her teacher, his peers, her learning, or with himself that real learning takes place.

Children learn from real things in the real world. 

In her book, “A Philosophy of Education”, (p. 158) Charlotte Mason wrote:
 “Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child, the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe, --the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making.”
The primary focus of our children’s education is that the child learns about God and His world. This provides an atmosphere that does more than exercise the mind, but it nourishes the heart. This atmosphere is built up as relationships are built up. Charlotte Mason considered the atmosphere in education to be the “thought environment”.

We build up this atmosphere—this thought-environment—by setting a feast before our children, but also by taking a back seat at the right time and getting out of the way of real learning that takes place because the Holy Spirit will guide the minds of the children into His glorious truth. 

We, as parents, teachers, home educators, grand parents, have the power to help our children by investing in an environment that fosters questions, cultivates wonder, exercises the mind and nurtures the heart. If we have the power to help, we also have the power to hinder with an environment that stifles questions, chokes wonder, starves the mind, and damages the heart.

Charlotte Mason further clarified what she meant by atmosphere in her book, “A Philosophy of Education” (p.94) when she wrote:
“When we say that education is an atmosphere we do not mean that a child should be isolated in what may be called a ‘child environment’ specially adapted and prepared, but that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere both as regards persons and things and should let him live freely among his proper conditions. It stultifies a child to bring down his world to the ‘child’s level.’”

What is the atmosphere in your home? What rules your life? For what are you reaching? 

We can invest in the atmosphere of our children’s education by eliminating stress, emphasizing co-operation, encouraging our children instead of nagging, motivating them with loving affirmation, and learning alongside our children. By investing in these ways in our children’s education we find that we are putting less emphasis on merely achieving good grades and making a living and place more importance on developing the character of our child and living a full life.

Children need to learn respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness more than they need standardized testing. Children need to learn attentiveness, obedience, and truthfulness. Children need to become critical and creative thinkers.

Their curiosity must not be squelched by boring lessons and long lectures.

Children need to learn how to live in the world they are in by interacting with other people and things in their own environment with much time to play, be active outside, tumble, run, shout, and be encouraged to use common sense.

Charlotte Mason, directs our attention to what our focus should be, in her book, “School Education” (pp 170-171):
“Our aim in Education is to give a Full Life. — We begin to see what we want. Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests. ‘Thou hast set my feet in a large room’ should be the glad cry of every intelligent soul. Life should be all living, and not merely a tedious passing of time; not all doing or all feeling or all thinking — the strain would be too great — but, all living; that is to say, we should be in touch wherever we go, whatever we hear, whatever we see, with some manner of vital interest . . . The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care?”


As the new books are cracked open and young lives are being shaped, it is time to once again examine if we are setting our children in a large room where life can be explored in a rich way, where the atmosphere is saturated with what is true, pure, lovely and of good report, and in which we are more concerned to ask of our child: how much does he care?

Friday, August 18, 2017

When the Knife of the Heavenly Surgeon Cuts Deep

There is a brown box stuffed on my bookshelf in the basement that holds squares of paper with words of hope inscribed on them. Three years ago this month, one blistering Sunday afternoon, friends and family gathered together to remember the hope we have in Jesus Christ and to cry out to God for the will of the Lord to be accomplished in my heart.

We prayed that we would decrease and that He would increase. We prayed for God’s glory to be revealed in my body in whatever he had purposed for me.

This box was neatly tied up with a pretty white bow and given to me that day. Four days later, the day before my surgeon cut into my heart, I sat on the edge of a hospital bed and loosened the bow. In the box was a collection of verses that had been lovingly hand-written on blue and white cardstock for me. They were balm for my soul.

They were words of truth that I had to unpack. They spoke of the hope that does not disappoint. I clung to hope like the anchor it is when the storm is raging and the night is dark. 

On one card these words, spoken by David after he was rescued from the hand of Saul, and recorded for us in Psalm 18, were scrawled:
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”
In times of distress, upheaval, turmoil, pain and suffering the Psalmist knew where to go. David knew His God was His refuge and His redeemer.

Even as torrents of destruction charged at him and cords of death confronted him, he knew to whom he could run. David called upon the Lord. He cried out to God for help. And without a doubt he knew his cry had reached the ears of the Lord.

David knew he could trust in God because He knew something of the majesty, the holiness, the justice, the mercy, the loving-kindness, the faithfulness, and the immutability of God.

And in seeing who God is, he gained a right perspective on his situation and on his own self.

On another card in my box, someone else had gracefully copied four more verses from the same Psalm:

“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God?”
David, the Psalmist, again reminded himself of what he knew to be true about God and acted upon it. He held on to the faithfulness of God. He fixed his focus on the God who is faithful to do exactly as He has promised.

When times are turbulent and trials rise up, look to God and His attributes.

Three years ago, as I laid myself down on the operating table the cords of death confronted me. As I woke up from open-heart surgery, torrents of distress assaulted me. My heart had been broken. But, God was near.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

“The God of providence has limited the time, manner, intensity, repetition, and effects of all our sicknesses; each throb is decreed, each sleepless hour predestinated, each relapse ordained, each depression of spirit foreknown, and each sanctifying result eternally purposed. Nothing great or small escapes the ordaining hand of him who numbers the hairs of our head . . . The knife of the heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than is absolutely necessary.”
Three years ago, I walked through the valley and narrowly escaped death. I walked through upheaval and God set it right. I walked in weakness and God gave strength. I walked through confusion and God brought comfort. I walked through loneliness and God was near. I walked through depression and God heard my cry. I walked through fear and God was with me.
“The knife of the heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than is absolutely necessary.”


This summer, I rode up the side of a mountain in a gondola and climbed up to its peak. I sat there on the mountain, with an elevation of nearly 8000 feet, and was immensely aware of my smallness and in awe of the majesty of God.

At that point I could say with David,

“He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.”
God had brought me from a low, low point and had raised me up to see more of His glory.

I knew that day that you can't stay on top of the mountain, but the overwhelming grandeur of God's power and majesty leaves you wanting more. More of God, more of His beauty and mercy and grace.

We came down the mountain singing “Amazing Grace” . . . “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

God's grace leads us up the mountain and back down into the valley where we look up and remember where our strength comes from.

It is the joy of the Lord that is our strength. It is the soul that sings with David at the beginning of this Psalm, “I love you, O Lord, my strength” that will also say, “ . . . I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to your name.”

Yes, there will be valleys to walk through. There will be trials to face and floods of wickedness will surround us. But, God’s glory shines bright in our dark days. 

There is life to be lived, lessons to be learned, strength to be gained, grace to be received, and glory to be revealed.

And, we will go on our way rejoicing in Him and His goodness for all of our days because He is our Redeemer, our Strength, our Rock and our Shield.

This truth can’t just be boxed in with pretty white bows. It has to be unpacked. It has to be lived out.

When you realize the truth about God and take refuge in Him, when He is your quiet resting place, when you hold on to the faithfulness of God, when you take what you know about God and apply what you know, then your faith is strengthened and God is glorified.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tragedy When Children Fail to Grow into Maturity

A lovely dove moans outside my window. I hear the whirr of happy children as they race home from the park on bicycles. A trail of voices drift in as neighbors catch up on life.

I look through the window panes speckled with dried-water spots and the brightness of the sun shines down on the white cast iron bench and reflects a blinding glare that stings my eyes. My eyes flit over to the shadow lying on the grass beside the overgrown pine bush.

The sounds I heard a moment ago have faded. The dove is silent and sparrows chirp to each other now. A gentle breeze slips in my open window and I feel it cool on my bare arms. A white puffy cloud sailed across the blue skies, swallowed the sun, chased the shadows away and dimmed the glare. 
The children have now clambered around the kitchen table and childish chatter fills the room as they gulp cold water and wait for grilled cheese.

It’s the dog days of summer, when days are savoured, not spent. When children hunt for toads and stare at insects and when times of boredom make way for creativity and inspiration. When we can linger longer in the afternoon shade or under bright stars blinking in the inky blackness.

We watched a cicada crawl across the grass after it burst out of its old shell last week. Sadness hung in the air as we witnessed the struggle it endured to unfurl its wings and when the wings failed to stretch open we knew there was no way it could live without those wings taking flight.

“Mom?”, my girl queried, “can I take this old skin and put it on the nature table?” And she ran in and cupped it like it was costly treasure, with great care, she set it with other little marvels we have found in this great world God has made: shells, fossils, bark, big-leaf maple leaves and fungi, nests, and feathers.

As children, the world is full of wonder to be discovered. When the time and opportunity is given, children will explore the wonders all around them. They will grow in knowledge and in appreciation of the living things that are in their own backyard.

Children have a natural curiosity about their world. They want to dig, search, discover, climb, reach for the next level, and soar. Children want to grow and learn. They want to know they are loved and love in return. Spread before them a banqueting table and they will come and joyously feast.

Jesus’ disciples asked him:
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
And Jesus called and put a child in the centre of them. He turned their focus to a child. It was humility to which he drew their attention. To be a follower of Christ is to humble self and trust Christ. A child is willing to come and trust.

However, as Don Carson explains in volume two of For the Love of God:
“ . . . childlikeness is not childishness; simplicity is not simple-mindedness; humility is not servility.”
If the child failed to grow, like the cicada that couldn’t unfurl his wings and fly away, it would be a tragedy, a travesty. When we are given faith to believe, that is simply the beginning. Our faith is to grow and be strengthened.

Yes, we are to come to Christ as children, but we are to grow up into maturity in grace, knowledge, faith, love, hope.

Paul warned in his letter he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus:
“ . . . 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ . . . ”
And the writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
And later in his letter, the writer urged:
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity . . . ”
These are the days we must dig deeper, look longingly, search diligently, rightly handling the Word of God.

Come child-like in humility and in wonder and grow up into maturity by growing in knowledge of God who is Creator and Lord of all.

We have a great feast to spread before us. We know we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Read His word. Meditate on His Word. Memorize it, chew it, savour it. Study it. Dig deeper and move on from elementary doctrine.

You will grow in love and in faith as you grow in knowledge of the Lord God. Let His Word be a lamp to guide your feet and light to your path in the midst of a dark world.

As it has been said, “Your heart can’t love what your mind doesn’t know.”

Know God. Come in humility, grow in grace. And your heart will want more of God and all His shining glory.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Resist Beginnings: Stay Steadfast in the Middle of the Story

“Resist beginnings.”

I read those two words in a book last week and I stopped short. It was the little book, “Follow the Lamb” that the poet, Horatius Bonar, wrote sometime in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Back when the world was on a quest for radical change.

I think about these words now, when the world is again striving for radical advancement. A world that is full of proud, arrogant, heartless, and reckless people who are lovers of self, seeking individual freedom.

It is old advice and I’m not sure if that opinion would gain much popularity today. 

We love beginnings. We love to start new things. We want the next thing. We want it to be better, bigger. Beginnings are exciting and excitement is contagious. We think it is brave to begin. We think is it brilliant to begin. We want to build our Tower of Babel to reach the heavens.

We grow weary of the ordinary, day in and day out, modest routines of our lives and we want something brighter, more enticing, more thrilling.

We are willing to invest time, energy and resources into anything that will make life more captivating, more meaningful, more enticing.

But, in reaching for the next new thing, have we traded in something more valuable.

What if we were a people who shrewdly resist beginnings and simply remain faithful?

There is a way to move forward and progress has been good . . . in part. History has been a march of progress. But, it has cost us.

A wise man once said, there is nothing new under the sun, but we keep looking for something new. And then we are surprised when history repeats itself.

No new thing, no matter how great, is going to bring greater happiness. The created can’t bring eternal joy.

Change is necessary. Time and time again we need to make an about face and turn back and head in the right direction. Revolution means “a turn around”. Repentance means to have a change of mind and to turn from sin and return to God.

But, do we get so carried away with our cravings for new beginnings, we neglect to stay steadfast in the middle of the story?

Can’t you see it spread all over our lives? In our diets, our health kicks, our new years resolutions, our churches, our relationships, our politics, our social media. We are stuffing ourselves on beginnings and failing to thrive to the end.

How many things have we begun that now hang limp or are tucked away or have been destroyed by the lust of a new beginning?

Remaining faithful lacks the flare that a beginning delivers, but it is the soil where roots grow deep, grace is poured out, faith is strengthened, and where love will flourish. 

God had a plan before time began, before creation. Before the foundation of the world: God knew, God purposed, God loved us, God chose us.

God, who has no beginning, set all things in place. God, who has no end, sees that all things will happen according to His plan. God, who remains faithful, set His plan in motion and will bring is to pass to the praise of His glory.

God doesn’t need men and women to dream up exciting beginnings. He wants us to remain faithful. To continue, to press on, to persevere.

Straight after Paul told Timothy to “Fight the good fight of the faith”, he urged him to “. . . take hold of the eternal life to which you were called . . .

With our eyes fixed on the eternal, strength and courage come so we can rise above the struggles of this world. Hold tightly to the prize of eternal life: that is how you will remain faithful in this life to which you were called.

We need to remain faithful in the unseen things.

Splashy beginnings draw much excitement at the outset, but these embers burn out. It is the steady stoking of the fire that keeps the blaze burning.

Remaining faithful may never be popular. This world will go on looking or bigger and better beginnings to draw crowds, to reach new heights, to make progress, to go beyond our dreams, to find happiness and health and wisdom, and discover the unknown.

Remaining faithful may never be comfortable. This world looks out for self. It tells us, if it doesn’t feel good, get out, give up, do whatever you need to find your own self. Well, referring back to the little book I read last week, Bonar wrote:
“Denying self is the beginning, the middle, and the end of our course here, as followers of Christ.”
Remaining faithful may never be easy. It is a fight. A fight that needs determination, endurance, and every ounce of perseverance a soul could hope for.

And that is exactly what we have. Hope . . . Eternal hope.

We have been made to know God. We have been made to be in communion with God. Since the fall we have fallen short of His glory. God had a plan before creation to climb down into the world He spoke into existence to redeem us back to Himself.

He has not left us alone. He has remained faithful.

He has loved us and given us hope for a future.

With hope like that, we can say, 
Quiet down, soul.

Resist beginnings.

Remain faithful.
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