31 May 2013

Curriculum Wars

Being an educator was once an honorable profession. In recent decades it has become more and more a battlefield. Here is a very recent article regarding Common Core - a standardized view of homogenous training.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mandated Curriculum: "Everything I Love About Teaching Is Extinct"

By Rick Pearcey • May 28, 2013, 10:04 AM

28 May 2013

Memorializing the Past, A Practice in Remembering God’s Goodness

in commemoration of Memorial Day in the United States, a rerun of an article published in 2003.

When Israel crossed the Jordan River led by the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, not one Jewish foot got wet (Joshua 3:17). Safely reaching the other side, Joshua, following the LORD’s command, had a monument set up. Twelve stones, one for each tribe, were set up as a memorial to God’s protection of His people Israel (Joshua 4:1-7). Memorials are important. Remembering the goodness of God or courage of patriots reminds us that we didn’t get where we are by ourselves that we have God to thank and others to remember gratefully.

In the United States, we recently observed Memorial Day. Besides being a gateway to summer activities, Memorial Day is a day marked by parades and speeches. Flags and flowers are placed on the graves of many servicemen. It was first observed on May 30, 1868, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the Civil War Dead. Now, it remembers all of those who died in the wars our nation has fought. It’s good to remember such things.

Many nations have similar holidays, when the national heroes are remembered. If the Soviet Empire was good at anything, it was the erection of statues and monuments. Heroic statues dominated parks and corners in the most far-flung corners of the Soviet Union and its various puppet states.

This is not necessarily the case all over the world. In fact, the Tradewinds, a West Indian musical group, laments the lack of heroic remembrances of the past in a song titled, “Where Are Your Heroes, Caribbean?” Heroes are good things.

When my wife and I travel to Budapest, Hungary, one of the sights I like to visit is the Szoborpark, “The Statue Park,” a small resting place for monuments of the Soviet era. The statues, torn down and removed from their former places of prominence, serve now as stark reminders of a dark past in a nation struggling to overcome the results of domination, not only of the Soviets, but of numerous occupations by foreign conquerors. A large statue of Vladimir Illyich Lenin towers over the entrance to the park, just as Lenin loomed large over the lives of so many in the extensive empire of the Soviet Union.

One might argue that statues of Soviet heroes constitute religious art, or even iconography. That by keeping these relics, the nation is merely keeping alive the memory of their Soviet masters. I, for one, think that the Hungarians have done a brave and wonderful thing by keeping these statues as a reminder of a dark and vicious time in their history.

God's Word tells us that we need to remember the past. In fact the word “remember” is used more than 230 times in Scripture. Granted, most of those references refer to remembering the Covenant and the goodness of God. But some are historical references, which bid us to remember the dark days. For instance:

Deuteronomy 24:22 teaches, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 25:17 advises, “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 32:7 says, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.”
The Apostle Paul instructs us, in Ephesians 2:12, to remember that we “were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.”

History has meaning, and we abandon it at our own peril. A society is well-served which is reminded of its own atrocities as well as those perpetrated upon it. A nation should properly commemorate its accomplishments as well as its flights into plain old national airheadedness. Christians, especially, should have no problem embracing the idea that history is the glorious tracing of the goodness of God — in our lives and in the grand scheme of things.

Yes, we should tear down the "high things," those idols to which we often give our obeisance. They often take less concrete a form than statues, however. Sometimes we are our own idols, or we pay homage to such things as education, good looks, and lineage (including church lineage!). Such idols need to be taken off the altar of our hearts and replaced with service to the One, True God. There are things that we should remember, however. Our collective heritage should be remembered. Our wars, our societal strife, our outrage, and our servitude should not be erased from our memories. Just as God’s Word looks back at the history of Israel — its good days and the bad ones — we should note the days of old. They are what helped to mold us. They are lessons in godliness and godlessness.

It's entirely appropriate that the citizens of Hungary maintain the statue park. It is good for them to remember the evil things of the past along with their wonderful cultural and historical heritage. It is also appropriate that the statue park should be located in a far corner of the city which is wind-swept and difficult to reach. Remembering is good, but it doesn't have to be in your face.


24 May 2013

Re-Erecting the Wall

In 1989, I wrote a piece (published in World magazine and no longer in my electronic files) regarding the fall of the Iron Curtain and the need for Christians to make their influence known before it was re-erected. It would seem that cinder block by cinder block, that wall is going back up – at least in Russia.

The recent Russian law blocking Americans from adopting Russian orphans certainly seemed unfriendly enough, but there is much more involved. The Kremlin is now embarked upon a campaign to block funding and recognition of all NGOs (non-governmental organizations. For a quick primer on the work and evelopment of NGOs look here. Unfortunately the entire article requires a fee, but there is a good bit of info in the extract.) which are not “Kremlin-friendly.” Among the requirements being placed on NGOs is that they label themselves as “foreign agents” – or be shut down. This is a reversion to Soviet era language.

According to an article in the Moscow Times, “A huge special operation involving the Kremlin, State Duma, Prosecutor General's Office, Justice Ministry and other government agencies is underway to eliminate all independent NGOs.” Although NGOs (think of the as “non-profits) can get political, they do the bulk of the heavy lifting in underdeveloped societies and formerly communist nations.

This looks like a beginning of the return of communist-inspired repression in Russia. Especially Christian-run NGOs will undoubtedly be targets of this thrust. Christians should be praying (and working, where feasible) for Russia.

21 May 2013

Coming to America

Coming to America is the title of a comedy film released in 1988. Eddie Murphy stars as an African prince who goes to Brooklyn, NY and falls in love with an American woman, although his parents have already arranged a marriage for him in Africa.

I’m neither an African nor a Crown Prince, nor have I ever played either in a movie. I am, however, coming to America. In fact, by the time you read this I will have already arrived.

This trip required a lot of preparation. We live in Prague, Czech Republic, so there was air travel to arrange. We also spent the first two weeks of May in the Netherlands at two conferences. So, it was a matter of going home (to Prague); doing laundry; paying bills; unpacking from first trip; packing for next trip. There was only one week between trips. Thankfully, my wife is a master planner and strategist. She parceled out the various required tasks. It was almost manageable. We thank God for the strength to get it all done!

So, now, what’s going on in America? Well, first, there are the visits to children and grandchildren. Then there are the details regarding our various stored items (furniture, etc. from our house in Maine. Please continue to pray that this house would be sold. It’s a continuing financial burden.) We have various medical and dental appointments.

I will be preaching in several states (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maryland) and we will meet with people at a few events. We need to raise more financial support to enable us to continue living and working here in Prague. We do invite you to take part in that, if you are led to do so. Just go to our “donate” page at our website. We appreciate the support we receive in both prayer and finances.

We return home on June 26 and will receive a number of guests from various countries for the following few weeks. After that we are planning a BIG trip to Bangkok, Thailand for several weeks, working with Life Raft International. We would appreciate your prayer for that trip. It will be ministry well outside our experience (not the travel part, that's pretty normal for us!). 

That’s it folks. We are COMING TO AMERICA.

17 May 2013

Dutch Treat

While we were in the Netherlands, Sandra and I had the opportunity to worship at the International Christian Fellowship, Utrecht. This is a new, mostly English-speaking congregation reaching out to "refugees, international students or expats, who don't know any Christians here to share their belief and also their problems." The congregation meets in the building of a Dutch "mother church," the Mattheus Kerk.

The service was conducted in English, with translation into Dutch. The preacher, a Dutch pastor, actually preached in English, and was translated into his own language. We sang hymns in English, Dutch, French, and Farsi.

The sermon this Sunday was on Psalm 100, particularly verse three. Honing in on the word "know," or "acknowledge," the preacher noted that this is the same word used in Genesis 4:1, "Now Adam knew Eve his wife...." Knowing God is a matter of being in a loving relationship with Him. The preacher was careful also to point out that we can only engage in the kind of relationship with God because he first loved us.

The sermon was short, simple and wonderful in that it communicated God's Truth and His Love. We are thankful to attend a church back home in Prague at which this happens every week. As they say back there: díky bohu!

13 May 2013

Answering Atheism

Sandra and I are attending the annual conference of the European Educators' Christian Association (EurECA), near s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands. This is a gathering of Christian teachers and administrators from allover Europe. This year there are people from 17 different nations here speaking all sorts of languages, although the sessions are all held in English. 

The theme this time is "Answering Atheism." The keynote speaker, John Lennox, is described in the flyer ths way:                        
He is probably the world's best-known Christian apologist. He is frequently the one who is called when such influential atheists as Richard Dawkins issue new assaults on Christianity ("The God Delusion").

As a mathematician, Lennox is both rational and a deeply loving Christian, with a gift of answering his atheist opponents in a humble but convincing way. We are very pleased to have him as our speaker – and we hope you will join us for this unique opportunity!
We travelled here from Haarlem, where Sandra had a small workshop for moms on Wednesday night. The previous weekend we had conducted a conference on the theme of Discipleship, in Rosmalen, near s'Hertogenbosch.

We are in a former monastery and the setting is great. The conversations thus far have been stimulating and John Lennox's lectures interesting. We're thankful for this group and for the opportunity, as home education advocates, to become part of the conference and the organization.

10 May 2013

The Costs of Leadership

In our last installment on Christian Leadership (April 9) we looked at Calling. Today we move on to Cost. What exactly is the cost of leadership?

In Luke 14:28, this question is asked, "For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?"
Answering that question will not get us out of our leadership role in the church, but we do need to be aware of the costs of leadership. We ought to recognize that they are there, and be prepared for them. I guess it's sort of like budgeting. We need to be prepared to pay the price for whatever active role we take in people’s lives.

In Acts 13:1-3 we read of the commissioning of Barnabas and Saul. That’s the easy part. The work begins at verse 4, when they set out on their first missionary journey together. For the next two years Barnabas and Saul traveled (as we read in the next two chapters of the Book of Acts) from Antioch to Seleucia to Salmis & Paphos (on Cyprus); then to Perga, Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, then back to Lystra, Iconium, Psidian Antioch, Perga and on to Attalia and eventually returning to Antioch in Syria.

They traveled over 1,000 miles, averaging, ­on good days, ­16 miles. This
was over rough terrain; crossing the Mediterranean Sea several times in small, leaky
boats. They had no furlough; no email; no phone.

Along the way they faced:

* Opposition from a sorcerer (13:8)
* Abuse and persecution (14:45, 50)
* Threats to their physical well-being (14:5)
* Stoning (14:19, 20)

And this was only the first two years ­ of the first missionary journey! You will
not likely face many of these problems as leaders in the church, but you
may face some. You may face some other, equally threatening, problems. If you stand up for God’s Word, you will be tested. You will be disrespected. You will have people say things about you which simply are not true. These things I can guarantee.

Taking seriously the call on our lives to be leaders; to develop the gifts God has given us is a sacrifice. 1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” Being a leader is about love. Now look at this, back in 1 Peter 4:12-16.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
Not exactly what you'd see on most job postings, is it? "Come join our team, we guarantee that you'll be reviled, and experience suffering and loss." But, that is the reality. The world (including many in the church) does not cherish God or His Word. If you are going to stand up for it, be ready for the backlash. 

BUT, praise God that we are deemed worthy, because of the work of Christ, to share with Him the sacrifice!

07 May 2013

Remembrance Day - in the Netherlands

We are in the Netherlands for a couple of conferences. The day before we arrived this nation got a new king, Willem-Alexander. The entire nation was joyful - and decked out in orange! Then two national holidays followed, Remembrance Day and Liberation Day. On May 4, we were able to attend a commemoration of Remembrance Day in Neiuw Zuyland. Here is a description of the events.
Remembrance Day — 4 May: The official, nationally televised commemoration begins in the evening with a service at a church in central Amsterdam, after which veterans and victims’ relatives lay wreaths at the National War Memorial on nearby Dam square. Church bells ring for a quarter of an hour till 8 pm, when there is a nationwide two-minute silence. Dignitaries and other victims’ groups then lay more wreaths and a child reads out a self-written poem, selected by a local jury. A ceremonial procession past the National War Memorial marks the end of proceedings.
In the early years, Remembrance Day reflected a more sombre public mood. All over Holland there were silent processions in memory of fallen local Resistance members and fellow citizens shot by the Germans. Their slogan was “no celebration without commemoration”, so Remembrance Day always fell before Liberation Day. Their well-attended processions contrasted with the rather stuffy, official commemoration in the Hague. It took the Dutch government until the eighties to come up with a unified, national format for the proceedings which in some way emulated the atmosphere of those early local, silent processions.
Although the war continued in the Far East and the Netherlands was not fully liberated until August 1945, it was soon decided that Liberation Day should be held on 5 May, the date of the German army’s capitulation. It used to be the poor relative of Remembrance Day, only being celebrated once every five years from the sixties to the late seventies. Nowadays it is a popular, festive occasion whose stated aim is not just to celebrate Holland’s liberation from the German occupation between 1940-45 but also to cherish freedom and democracy worldwide.
It was, indeed, a moving event. Walking back to our friends’ house, Sandra asked me what I thought. My response: “It was somber, as it should be. They had it so much worse here in WW II than America did. We lost people, it’s true, but this land was occupied by the Nazis and many people were annihilated because of race or ethnicity or old age or handicaps.”
I was pleased to see young and old alike take part in the brief and dignified ceremonies. It was more than simply a day for barbecues.

03 May 2013

On the Road

On the Road
In 1957 Jack Kerouac had his first novel published. Titled On the Roadfor some reason it immediately became popular. I was among the first generation of American high school students who had this book assigned. It was incomprehensible. It was torture. I’m sure Kerouac was tortured while writing it.
The title, however, is what’s appropriate for this blog entry. Sandra and I, you see, are on the road again (Willie Nelson made that title famous). On the first of May we flew from our home in Prague to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. It’s spring and that is the time for the tulips to bloom (although we are actually just a little late). We aren’t really here for tourist purposes (we have two conferences to attend), but we are hoping to get to Keukenhof Gardens, the spectacular fields of blooming tulips - actually the world’s largest tulip garden.  We also have many friends here. We won’t be able to visit with all of them, but hope to see many. 
Here are the two conferences, one of which begins tonight.
BHC ’13 (Blessed Home Conferences) Sandra and I are the speakers at this two day event, sponsored by Lifework Forum.
EurECA Conference 2013 This is a network of Christian educators fro all around Europe Europe.We are attendees, not speakers.
So, there you have it; an almost-live blog from the Netherlands. There will be more as I share what’s going on here.