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Devotionals


Topic: “ONE THING REMAINS” BY JESUS CULTURE (SONG ANALYSIS)

Scripture that defines it:
• “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4: 8, NIV).
• “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 38-39, NIV).
• “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, NIV).

Lyrics to “One Thing Remains” by Jesus Culture: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/jesusculture/onethingremains.html

Song for “One Thing Remains”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoYgi0sdOqc

Devotion: I went to Saturday night service last night. Had to ensure that my family could get to service before the snow, right? Anyways, this particular service was different than others. The worship songs were left for the tail end of service, and people were welcomed to come up to the front during the singing to have our elders pray for them. Talk about powerful! Ever had the perfect song hit you at the perfect time? I tell you, when Jesus Culture’s “One Thing Remains” started, from the opening strings of the guitar solo to the end, I wept tears of joy knowing God had helped me overcome every struggle in my life. Through broken relationships, through depression, through any wall surrounding me, God had overcome them all.

When looking at the lyrics of this song, they speak truth like none other to me. I now look at my life and soak in every moment, reflecting on God’s influence for me. It never mattered whether I was in the clouds or slower than a slug in the ground; God’s love was omnipotent, never leaving me and never giving up on me. And yes, there were times I turned my back on it. There were times I denied it, feeling sorry for myself. Yet even in those darkest moments, even when Satan whispered sweet nothings into my ear, God never left my side. I was broken down to nothing. If you’ve heard my testimony, you know exactly what I mean. God was that one constant force through all my trials and changes, just as the lyrics allude to. Do you know what reigned supreme over everything? Do you know what overcame all the walls that closed me in?

Love. A love that nothing can even hold a flame to. God’s love for you and me burns brighter than the most powerful supernova, stronger than any hurricane that rips into a coastline, more supreme than anything imaginable. If the world were to end right now, what would be left? God’s love. Just like the lyrics scream out, God’s love is “stronger than the power of the grave.” Christ proved that. He raised Lazarus from death. And then of course there is the story you may recall about how Christ Himself cheated death, rising three days later. Overwhelming and satisfying? Without a doubt. Let’s park on that thought for a moment.

God knew we needed help. His most perfect creation, no matter what the circumstance, had become a bunch of sinners. From the beginning with Adam and Eve, nobody was flawless. We were a lost cause. We needed something to take our pain away. So God did the impossible, sending his only son to die for us. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5: 21, NLT). And because of this sacrifice, this love, the slate is clean. Do you feel it? Can you even begin to fathom the importance? I’m not sure if the human mind can fully wrap its arms around this love. It’s just that amazing.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well do you trust in God that His love reigns supreme in your life?

God crumbled the walls of Jericho for the Israelites. What “walls” has He crumbled for you?

There are always people who get sucked into low points in life, people who need to feel God’s comforting embrace. Who of your close network of friends and family needs to be reminded of this promise? Write the name of that person below and consider sharing “One Thing Remains” with them, not to mention a testimony of how God’s love stood strong for you.

Challenge: Listen to the song link above again, and write your own reaction to what the lyrics mean to you. Journal about the way God has remained a constant force in your life. Explain the majesty of His unique love to you. Share the journal with someone close to you who needs to hear it.

Other scriptures worth reading: Romans 5: 8; John 3: 16; 1 John 4: 7-16; Galatians 5: 22-23
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Topic: WITNESSING TO STUDENTS

Scripture to assist it:
• “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19: 20, NIV).
• “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives” (Proverbs 11: 30, NIV).
• “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16, ESV).

Devotion: Separation of church and state prevents public school teachers from spreading their religion to students. That is just plain fact. It is law, and as teachers we need to respect that law. To disrespect it would be to defy authority, and we know that Christ calls us to respect those in authority above us. Paul clearly states in Romans 13: 2 (ESV), “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

God likewise, however, calls us to spread His Word. Take any of the scriptures beneath our topic above here, and you will see the larger picture. So how in the world do we do this? How can we spread God’s love to our students when the law specifically states that we can’t? Isn’t that a catch 22? There are indeed ways we can do this without crossing any boundaries, and the more we step right up to the line without crossing it, toeing it with passion fueling our hearts, the more our Lord and Savior will smile down at us from above. We simply have to get creative here!

Before you do anything else, you must model Christian principles through your actions. Do you exude the qualities that Christ calls us to strive for? Are you patient during moments when your temper steams? Do you model forgiveness when students need it? Are you humble? Are you negative or are you constantly looking for the positive? What about gossip? Do you laugh with teachers about certain kiddoes who fall short or do you build them up with encouraging remarks? Modeling Christianity is essential in ministering to anyone, and these kids must be able to see the Holy Spirit shine through us if we want them to follow.

Sheesh! Those thoughts above right there are convicting enough! How in the world can we live up to that? Pray about it—IN your classroom. You have that freedom. Every morning when you walk into work, pray for your students and pray that God will shine through every action you display. Oh, your time is too precious? These don’t need to be elaborate ten minute prayers. They can be 30 seconds or less. Can you fit that into your schedule? A few weeks ago, I passed out those “Don’t Forget to Pray” reminders that I encouraged you to put on your desk. I still have extras if you missed it. Stop by and get them; they are an excellent reminder that living out the Christian lifestyle we are so passionate about is indispensable and priceless.

Another creative way I get through to kids is to teach character. Mentoring Mondays come once a week. The emphasis here is to drill our kids over Boys Town behaviors. Start small and take a behavior you think your students are struggling with. Take greeting others for example. Talk about how smiling, thinking positively, having a firm handshake, and becoming genuinely interested in other people is a great way to meet friends and get far in life. Guess what? Christ would be telling them the exact same thing! Just don’t cross any boundaries by citing scripture. Once you master the once a week character-builder, shoot for midweek check-ins too. Master that? Why not every day? The results will show in your students’ behavior. Wouldn’t you prefer a classroom full of kids that model principles of Christianity as opposed to going off on the same old tangents that lead them away from God? If you do it effectively, they will listen. Think about it!

My testimony to this is powerful. I came into teaching this year apprehensive. Stories of these disobedient 6th graders from last year flooded my mind, and I knew I needed something different to drive them. What I came up with was a philosophy I learned about at Summer Conference: the Ohana classroom. Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family, and it preaches high expectations, not to mention love and respect for your classmates and authority figures. It seemed very Christian to me, so I took the ball and ran with it. I started small, creating an “Ohana thought for the day” a few times a week. We focused those thoughts on issues they face daily: getting along with others, making good grades, choosing the appropriate friends, etc. The discussions we had were fantastic! It was only 2-3 minutes of my teaching time, and the behaviors were slowly but surely being shown in my class! These monsters that I heard horror stories about were being molded by God’s hands right before my eyes, and they didn’t even know it!

I now take every day to teach character. Yes, teaching curriculum is important, but teaching these principles makes teaching curriculum so much easier! My students are more compassionate. They pick up better after themselves. They call out each other when they act inappropriately, as the phrase hey that’s not ohana has become legendary. I smile knowing they truly are an extended version of my family at home. After all, don’t we always refer to our students as our kids? Beyond that, we are all members of God’s family. That is the family I want to point them towards. That is my family, and if I can look in the mirror at the end of the day knowing I exhausted my entire being in modeling God’s characteristics, I know the Big Guy upstairs is smiling down on me. That will make Him that much more likely to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” on my day of reckoning. I pray you will do the same.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How efficient are you at sharing God’s perfect love with students?

What creative ways can we witness to students without crossing any boundaries? Do you have any tricks that you use? How can you get kids to act more Christ-like without directly referring to Christ?

If a student reaches out to you in the light of Christ, should you speak back to them in a more biblical way?

Challenge: Create a list of ways you want to “preach” to students. Start small and work on just one area. Make that your focus for the week. As weeks go on, challenge yourself to take on more ideas, implementing them based on your success in ministering to students.

Other scriptures worth reading: Mark 16: 15; Colossians 4: 6; Matthew 28: 18-20; 1 Peter 3: 15.
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TOPIC: FIREPROOF MOVIE QUESTIONS

Scripture to assist it:
• “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word …” (Ephesians 5: 22-23, ESV).
• “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2: 18, NIV).
• “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4: 8, NIV).

Devotion: Caleb and Catherine have some issues at the beginning of the movie. Lots of finger pointing going on! That tends to be the main cause of conflict in today’s marriage—we think too much of ourselves, failing to see what our spouse needs. Every time I watch the movie Fireproof, which for my wife and I is normally about twice a year since we purchased the film, I cringe at Caleb’s insensitivity. The sad thing is how many times have those little tiffs they argue over been a part of my life? Their situation is not unique to the millions of couples out there that decide it is time to call it quits because they simply can’t agree.

Ever keep score in your marriage like this couple does? That may be biggest pitfall I fell into and still do at times. When you do something nice for your spouse, you expect a payback. What does God say about that payback? In Luke 6: 35 it states, “… do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great …” Did you catch that? Do good for your spouse, and then expect NOTHING in return. The most valuable return here is what God sees from you as you humble yourself.

What about Catherine getting that attention from the other doctor that pursues her … she falls right into the pit of flirting back with the man who gives her the attention she needs. What would God say about this? “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13: 4). How do we define adultery? Some would say Catherine has not consummated this affair by giving herself sexually to this man. Think again! In Matthew 5: 28 Paul plainly states that even a man looking at a woman in lust is considered adultery. For men, our eyes get us in trouble, and for women it tends to be more from getting what they need emotionally. Both Caleb and Catherine can relate—can you?

The most powerful scene for me, however, was the scene where Michael gets out the salt and pepper shakers to explain to Caleb that ripping the shakers apart will destroy either one, the other, or both. Need a quick refresher? Watch it here and compare it to your marriage woes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prIWM_zSVJw. Sadly enough, so many people out there are taking Caleb’s side, not fully living out the for better or for worse vow. Our devotion to our spouse should be just that! I’m talking about that unconditional love talked about in 1 Corinthians 13: 7 when it states, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” If you truly believe that love can endure, why do we quit when marriage suddenly becomes not all that it is cracked up to be?

We can all relate to the idiosyncrasies of Fireproof. Where do you connect? Are you saving your money for a material possession like Caleb’s boat? Do you think you have the right to visit inappropriate web sites to get your sexual fix? Do you fail to show respect to your spouse at home? Do you gossip about your spouse with your friends, poking fun at them or whining about them? Do you let the stress of your job spill over to your relationships at home? My hope is that we realize our spouses will never be perfect. We all sin. We all fall short. No matter what your spouse does to you, you owe them that unconditional love that God commands from us. Be understanding. Be sensitive to what your spouse needs. If you don’t know what they need, ask them. And then pray about it.

One final thought. I heard once in a sermon that a study once showed couples who pray together daily have a 99 percent success rate of staying together. How often do you pray with your husband or wife? Every now and then? Only when you need it? I try to begin and end my day with what I call a prayer sandwich. Before I leave for work as my wife is lying in bed, I gently wake her and pray together for whatever that day might be bringing. Then, when it is all said and done, I pray with her in the evening, reflecting back on the day. It is that sandwich that holds my day together, but never underestimate the importance of the good stuff in the middle. That is where we must live out what God needs us to do while we are under fire. Think about it.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How strong is your marriage?

Of all the issues that Caleb and Catherine face, which one speaks the most truth to you? Why?

Where do you connect with Caleb and Catherine’s marriage? How do their reactions directly coincide with your own?

Challenge: Pull your spouse aside and talk about your marriage. Take notes over what you need from one another. Make a commitment to pray together daily. Buy a marriage book if needed. Tell your spouse what they are doing right, and encourage them. Finally, commit to pursuing your spouse with reckless abandon in whatever area they need, and put this in writing. You’ll be more likely to commit to it if you can visually see it.

Other scriptures worth reading: Matthew 5: 28; 1 Corinthians 7; Genesis 2: 24; Ephesians 5: 25-33

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TOPIC: QUIET TIME

Scripture to assist it:
• “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4: 8, ESV).
• “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6: 6, ESV).
• “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalms 119: 11, ESV).

Devotion: I never knew what quiet time was until I left for college. My dad, eager to share his godly wisdom with me as I was becoming a man, slipped me a devotional called the Secret Place, and asked me to read it regularly. When I got to school, I was blindsided by a crazy lifestyle that I was not ready for.

One night as I lay in bed wide awake, I fished out my devotional from my bag and read it. Its message was clear: God is always with you. I savored that moment. I couldn’t sleep at all that night as I basked in the warmth of God’s embrace. The odd thing was that the next day I woke up with so much energy and purpose. It was as if I had rested for over eight hours! And so began my quiet time with God.

My quiet time has risen and fallen many times since I began. There were days I felt higher than the clouds, and then there were days I was forgetting what I had done midway through the day. What I have learned is that every person’s quiet time shouldn’t be the same. Every person grows with God in unique ways that may be different from others. Setting that time aside, however, is something we all must do in order to grow with God.

So how do we do that? How can we set up a battle plan for our quiet time? First and foremost, pick a good time of day for you, and set it aside. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Maybe you’re at your best in the mid afternoon. Whenever that time may be, give it to God. He deserves our best, and we should not be devoting ourselves half-heartedly when we are weary with sleep.

Once you carve out that time, find a place for it. Do you have a comfy chair next to a reading lamp? Some prefer to go outside. Others might like more noise around and find themselves in a coffee shop. Are you traveling? The first thing you should do is seek out that place! Just because you’re vacationing in a hotel doesn’t give you the right to skip out on time with God. It is on the road when you need to hide God’s word in your heart the most!

Finally, quiet time takes commitment. I used to rush through a devotional and prayer in 15 minutes in order to get to the gym before work started. My quiet time was more of a thing to check off my list in the morning. Now, I commit more time to it. Sometimes it takes me a half hour. Other times I find myself lost in devotion for an hour and a half if I have the time. I have learned that different days require different time allotments, and my time with God is precious.

What have I learned from my time with God? Well, I have learned that it takes practice and lots of it. Start small and take baby steps. Do whatever God is telling you to do that day. Have it be a time when you seek his advice. You can’t just hope it happens. It has to be a priority for you, because if you don’t carve out time, life happens! Most importantly, think of it this way. God gives us 24 wonderful hours in a day; doesn’t He deserve at least 10 minutes of your time at the bare minimum?

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How effective has your quiet time been for you?

What gets in the way of your quiet time? Do emergencies pop up? Do you just not make the time for it? Do you simply not make it a priority in your life? How do you feel about this?

What ideas work for your quiet time? How do you grow closer to God?

Write a goal for yourself. Ask your accountability partner to keep you accountable to it. Where will you spend your time with God? How often will you do it and for how long? What would you like to incorporate into your quiet time?

Challenge: Set up a challenge with your accountability partner. E-mail, text, call, or meet face to face EVERY DAY for a month. Ask your partner what they did for their quiet time, and likewise share what you did. See who can communicate first! This may be a challenge, but it will also benefit you in two ways. Number one, if you can explain your quiet time to others, it shows you have mastered it. Secondly, you will get some beneficial ideas from your accountability partner on how to improve your quiet time.

Other scriptures worth reading: Psalms 1: 1-6, Psalms 46: 10, Revelation 3: 20.

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TOPIC: BEING THANKFUL

Scripture to assist it:
• “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18).
• “Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever” (Psalms 136: 2-3).
• “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4: 12-13).

Devotion: We were sitting in our Saturday morning Bible study group, rattling off our prayer requests. My pen flew over my journal below me, taking copious notes over what needs my brothers from church had on their hearts. It seemed like it was a rough week. One guy was still on edge with his brother. Another’s mom was still struggling with staying afloat financially. Another was swamped at work. Someone else was getting over a nasty cold. Another yet was going through a horrible divorce. We all vented, letting the frustrations of life pour from our mouths like a never-ending heave of vomit. By the end, I think we were all spent—until our last guy’s turn came up. We’ll call him Pete.

Pete had been experiencing trouble at work, and we all knew that from his previous requests. His co-worker had been arrested for domestic abuse, he failed to get a promotion, his new boss had changed his job title without even communicating that to him, and he was the one picking up the slack as others weren’t giving their hearts to their jobs. It would have been easy for him to vent like we all had done, except Pete chose different. He began his response like this: “I know God has given me these struggles at work to strengthen me, so I praise Him for helping me to endure.”

Crickets. We all ducked our heads in embarrassment. Why couldn’t we have the same philosophy about our own troubles? Pete had hit the nail on the head. Thanking God for troubles? Sure, why not! The Bible calls us to continually praise God no matter what the circumstance. In the song “Praise You in This Storm” by Casting Crowns, the lyrics freely state, But as the thunder rolls I barely hear You whisper through the rain “I’m with you.” And as Your mercy falls, I raise my hands and praise the God who gives and takes away. What a novel thought! Thanking and praising God in all circumstances.

Thanking God is sometimes a matter of perspective. Perfect example … I fell into a pit of despair during the two years of my life that I suffered from lower back problems. I threw myself a pity party every day, complaining about the searing pain shooting through my lower back that led me to give up working out and playing sports. The godly perspective would have been to praise God that I at least could walk. At least I had all four limbs. At least I wasn’t fighting terminal cancer. That same year I hated my job. Hey, at least I HAD a job! That same year I was struggling being a father to an infant and a just-turned-one-year-old. At least my wife and I could conceive! How many times over the past five years had I run across a couple that wanted to get pregnant only to have miscarriage after miscarriage? There is always somebody that has it worse than you.

And what about the things we take for granted? Heat during the frigid winter months. Indoor plumbing. Microwaves that can zap our food to its desired warmth in seconds. Air conditioning during the heat of the summer. A washing machine and dryer, keeping us from having to plunge our hands into soap buckets, not to mention use laundry lines. Oh, that Christmas picture for your card never turned out right because your little ones weren’t cooperating—stop it! At least your family is together! At least you don’t have a mom or dad overseas, dying for the freedom to freely worship God! Did you know people are persecuted and die overseas for declaring Jesus is their Lord and Savior? Or we can even go more basic here … do you ever thank God for the shelter above your head? For the car you drive to work every day? For a bed to sleep in? Go take a tour of some third world country on a mission trip, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You never realize how good you have it until those luxuries are taken away from you.

If you’re like me, it’s quite humbling to realize all the things we should be thankful for. We likewise should realize that our struggles bring us closer to God. Shouldn’t we thank God for that too as Pete did? Being thankful, much like being positive, is a choice. Every day we wake up, we have the choice whether or not we are going to be thankful for God’s blessings or throw ourselves a pity party, worrying about our troubles. I’m not sure about you, but I’d rather be on the positive side of the fence. Your charge is simple: rejoice in the Lord’s blessings. They are everywhere, and God deserves our recognition of this. As Psalms 145: 7 (NIV) states about true Christians, “They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well would you say you praise God in all circumstances?

When was a time in your life when you struggled with thanking God? Were there any unforeseen blessings that resulted from it that you could thank God for now? What could you have thanked God for at the time of the troubles?

What are some things you take for granted that you should be thanking God for? Think about the luxuries you have that others may not be as fortunate to experience.

Challenge: Write a thank you letter to God. In your thank you letter, list whatever is on your heart that you should thank Him for. Keep that letter as a reminder to praise God no matter what, and pull it out when you need it most.

Other scriptures worth reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 4; 2 Timothy 1: 3; Philippians 4: 6-7; Psalms 28: 7

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TOPIC: LOVE ONE ANOTHER

Scripture to assist it:
• “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13: 34, ESV).
• “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4: 7-10).
• “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you …” (Matthew 5: 44).

Devotion: Have you ever had one of those students whose absence makes you want to pop some champagne? Someone whom you would soon rather take a life-changing pay cut and pawn off on another teacher than actually spend another minute with yourself? Someone whom you’d never in the history of the world name your kid after? One of those kids happens to reside presently in one of my mid-afternoon classes. For the sake of his remaining anonymous, we will call him Paco (I use the name Paco as an inspiration from another student who creatively sold a Paco Piñata in my class this past week. Where the name Paco came from is attributed solely to the beauty of her creative mind. Fun stuff!).

So let’s analyze Paco’s character and personality because I wonder if you have ever had a kid that rivals this masterpiece—or complete lack thereof. When Paco actually turns work in, I am curious. Heck, I’m more than curious. I marvel at this bombshell of a shocker! Paco never gets handouts on my counter as he walks into the room; he bypasses them on purpose because of his oppositional defiance. Tis no matter that my bell work on the board instructs him to be doing this. He simply does what Paco wants to do, which is most of the time reading when he isn’t supposed to.

That is his gift. The guy is a talented reader, and I praise him for it as often as I can. Being a language arts teacher, this is good for my category, right? The thing is I could be doing a lesson more exciting than revealing the truth behind who really shot JFK, and that kid would still have his nose in a book in his meat hooks! The irony here is that my class has what we call “Book It” every Thursday for 15 minutes where the kids get to read whatever they want, and during that time Paco is more known to be staring at the wall on purpose. Oppositional defiant, right? Maybe I should try putting directions for him NOT to read on my bell work.

But Paco’s greatest moments of glory come when he decides to have what I call a blurt-out day. Every other sentence he will insert an “Aye Caramba!” or a “caca” statement (For those of you who are illiterate to the Spanish language, caca is the Hispanic word for poop. Yes, I know. Real mature). And yes, for the sake of picturing him better in your head, Paco is indeed Hispanic himself. He occasionally will go off on a string of Hispanic insults thrown at me, some of what I occasionally comprehend due to the fact that I worked at a Mexican restaurant for a few years right out of college. It always baffles Paco when I come back with, “Hey, man, let’s just leave my mother out of this whole deal! This is between you and me.”

I got to thinking about this kid and what God calls me to do about him. When I realized God was telling me I needed to love on the kid, love him no matter what the circumstance, I wondered if God had the wrong number. My initial reaction was more like Are you serious? He doesn’t deserve my love and respect! But if you go straight to the Bible, it plainly states that we are to love everyone, even our enemies! Sometimes I consider this kiddo just that. But I made up my mind this past week I was going to show Paco love no matter what and see what happened.

It all started Tuesday afternoon when his youth mentor arrived to have lunch with Paco. I was at a stalemate with him, so I encouraged him to work at lunch with this beloved volunteer, a youth pastor at a local church. After a half hour with this man, Paco arrived with his graphic organizer completely filled out. He was ready for his persuasive essay, and to top it all off, it happened to be Paco’s 13th birthday. I praised him, completely and utterly shocked as I skimmed his hieroglyphic-esque handwriting. I even took it a step further, asking our Hispanic secretary in the front office to call his mom at home, telling her the good news. The mom was absolutely floored. It was possibly her first positive phone call ever about her kid.

I didn’t stop there as progress was being made. I visited Paco in ISS the following day—God knows what he did to end up there again—and challenged him to write his essay, handing him a candy bar given to me earlier in the day by one of my students. My expectation was that I wasn’t going to get jack squat back from him, but I thought I’d at least give it a try. The following morning I did my normal sweep by the teacher’s lounge to pluck out the day’s mail from my box, and gosh darn it if Paco didn’t write the entire essay! Yes, it was only six or seven sentences, but it was done! And it was done correctly! He knew his persuasion approaches! (I know it is frowned upon, not to mention redundant, to write five sentences in a row ending with an exclamation mark, but you have to realize the pure euphoria of this moment!)

It was time for me to slam this one home. I give an award every week to a kid who goes above and beyond in my classroom, either showing acts of kindness or putting forth a phenomenal effort. Paco this week had done both. (I failed to mention earlier on his birthday I gave him a sack of popcorn—a leftover Christmas gift to me that I had never had the chance to indulge in—to which he readily shared with other students.) A whole lot of the kids scoffed at Paco’s name on the bottom of my bell work for Friday, awarding him with the Ohana King of the Week. But I gave the same speech to each class telling him that Paco had earned it. Per my tradition of calling parents to let them know their child was chosen for this award, Paco’s befuddled mom got two positive parent phone calls in one week.

I smiled at our Hispanic secretary as I passed her during my plan hour, and she winked at me, telling me Paco’s mom was probably near tears. She likewise confessed that Paco didn’t get a single present for his birthday nor did he even get to go out to eat. This upset me because his mom had promised the secretary a dinner out at that much. Twenty minutes remained in my plan hour. Sure I had essays to grade, but I zipped down to QT instead and snagged a Triple Stack Sandwich for Paco, complete with some BBQ chips and a 32-ounce Coke. Best five bucks I’ve ever spent. You’d have thought I bought him the world when I informed him to not go to the lunch room to get his lunch at noon, that I had already taken care of lunch for him.

He raced up to my desk and plucked the Coke into his pudgy hands as if it were the Holy Grail. I gave him the sandwich and chips to which he eagerly thanked me for and sat down to indulge in a little bit of heaven. Okay, that may be a stretch there because no sooner had I sat down to eat next to Paco that he removed the fresh tomato and lettuce, not to mention the honey wheat bread and roast beef. Paco still eagerly ate his turkey, ham, and cheese, all that was left over, and didn’t have a care in the world. He even formed the leftovers into a mini sandwich for a classmate. I felt bad for the guy and snaked a few treats from the teacher’s lounge for him. Faculty treat day couldn’t have come on a better day.

“Alright, Paco, you get to choose what we all do here. What’s it going to be? AFV? Or would you just like to talk to your friends?”

Every Friday I invite my students to dine with me for lunch. Normally over half the class takes me up on it. They like getting away from the nosiness of the cafeteria for a day. Paco ALWAYS comes. He lets his guard down too, and his favorite thing is to watch America’s Funniest Home videos. Nothing better than snacking on a sandwich and watching some poor goon think he can do a flip off a diving board, watching him belly flop into the pool like an oversized pancake. Of course Paco chose to watch AFV, much to the delight of the rest of the class. Nice clean show. Much better than some of the trash they watch. It was hands down one of the most memorable lunch with my class I had ever experienced. And to think it was inspired by one word …

Love.

Guys, this may seem like mission impossible when it comes to loving the lowest scum on the earth. Someone tell me how I am supposed to love a Taliban extremist poised behind a rock, ready to shoot either of my younger brothers, both of whom proudly served in the Army for eight and ten years respectively. How are we to love spouses that cheat on one another, drug dealers, even prostitutes? It is truly beyond me at times, but I try. I try because I am called to by a being much higher than me. And sometimes when we reach out in love to those that persecute us, we do something a little better than the normal person out there. Check out Romans 12: 20 when it states, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” I guess that’s what they call kill them with kindness, huh?

I want to end this extended devotion with a verse that is read at many weddings, and although viewed as cliché because of that, it still holds a supreme power to me. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). Amen!

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well do you display true love on the job, especially toward students that get under your skin?

Who is your number one student that you struggle to be positive about? Write down as many positive things about that student as you can below. Try to think outside the box!

Do you have any colleagues or superior that drives you nuts? What about them? Pick the number one thorn in your side and do the exact same: write what positive traits they possess.

Challenge: Take the above two people and pray for them this week. Make a conscious effort to show love to those people. Journal about any changes you see in your relationships in the weeks to come. Pray likewise for God to open your heart to a different point of view.

Other scriptures worth reading: Hebrews 13: 17; John 13: 34-35; 1 Peter 4: 8; 1 John 3: 17; Romans 13: 8

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TOPIC: SPIRITUAL GIFTS

Scripture to reveal it:
• “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12: 6-8, ESV).
• “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4: 10-11).
• “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

Devotion: The 2008 Kansas Jayhawk men’s basketball team was a well-oiled machine. Kansas coach Bill Self had every player on that team, down to the last guy off the bench, utilizing their talents for the good of the team. Each player had a role, a responsibility. The guards provided key outside shooting and a swarming defense, leading the nation in creating turnovers. The swing men slashed their way to the basket, using their athleticism to overwhelm the opposition. The guys down low punished opponents with bruising force—snagging rebounds, rejecting shots, and slamming home thunderous dunks. It was poetry in motion, and the Jayhawks rode a tidal wave of consistency all the way to the National Championship.

Just like that team performed at the highest level, we can likewise perform at a high level in our classrooms if we know our strengths. Where do your spiritual gifts reside? We’re all good at something! Maybe you’re a natural motivator. You could be a technology wiz. You might have a compassionate heart, an amazing ability to write, or even a sense of humor. Just like a player knowing his role on the team, know your role in the classroom. Teach to your strengths. Me? I love doing impressions. From the Crocodile Hunter to Harry Styles to Elmo to Forrest Gump, my kids get a kick out of hearing my different voices, and I use that humor often to teach curriculum.

But let’s go deeper here. Let’s think about how spiritual gifts can be used to benefit our students. Where are your students’ strengths? Are they verbal? Do they prefer individual work or group work? Do they have artistic talent? Musical gifts? What about your characters that love performing—are they being given an opportunity to act out scenes in front of the class? One activity that I did for years in my language arts classroom was a character poster. The kids had to draw a picture of the character they chose, sketch three symbols that represented that character, and then write a detailed paragraph. What I found was a lot of the kids were totally apprehensive to even attempt the activity. They weren’t all artists!

What did I do to modify the activity? I thought of different strengths that could be displayed to convey the same knowledge of characters. I created an activity for my writers. They were asked to write a character interview with the descriptive authentic voice of the character coming through. Then I thought of my musical students. These kids took me up on the offer to write a poem or song about their character. One of my fondest memories was seeing a sweet, quiet gal in my class last year get up in front of her friends and sing the song she had created about Ponyboy Curtis from the Outsiders. The difference? Kids were being allowed to perform using their strengths! The energy in my classroom was electric. And as for the biggest reward, less students were failing. More kids were coming out of their shells, displaying their talents for all to see.

Read the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 12. Here Paul describes plainly, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12: 4-6). We all have different talents and abilities, but in the end we all have the same goal to work for the body of Christ. Why not let your talents shine through your lessons in the classroom? Why not let your students’ talents be displayed to fully engage them? If you were a basketball coach, you wouldn’t let a point guard post up against a 6’10’’ center. Just the same, teachers shouldn’t force an artist to write a character interview if they can perform the same take utilizing their talents. As the old saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a horse.

The more we use our gifts, the more we are strengthened. Your classroom will be a more productive environment if you differentiate to different levels, abilities, and interests. Students will begin to flourish, using the gifts that God gave them. There is more than one way to assist students in mastering concepts. Isn’t it time we let our kids use what they want to reach the mountaintop? Sure, they will all pick different routes, but do you know what? They all end up in the same place.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well do you allow students to utilize their own spiritual gifts in the classroom?

What is the biggest gift God has given you? Explain how you have utilized this gift to reveal God’s glory in the classroom. How can you apply it more to your lessons?

How can we as teachers encourage students to seek out and discover their own spiritual gifts?

Challenge: Pick a lesson you normally complete in one way and try to find a few other ways students could show the same knowledge using a new inventive method. Compare the results of your past assessment to the new assessment after it is all said and done. See if the new results are any better and analyze if you would tweak anything next time.

Other scriptures worth reading: 2 Timothy 1 6-7; Romans 12: 4-5; Romans 1: 11; Ephesians 14: 11-16

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TOPIC: GOSSIP

Scripture to kill it:
• “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalms 141: 3, NASB).
• “He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding keeps silent.
He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter” (Proverbs 11: 12-13, NASB)
• “At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention” (1 Timothy 5: 13).

Devotion: My first job out of college was fairly normal for a kid in my shoes. I waited tables while I networked, attempting to find something—anything!—in my major. When you wait tables, you get to know your colleagues pretty well. After all, we ran our business with teamwork, and if I was “in the weeds” I wanted my fellow colleagues to bail me out.

When you work in an environment like this, you get to know the people you like and the people you don’t. The ones that have your back are obviously on your side. But there are always those people that are only out for themselves. Brad was one of those people. He was a career server. He wasn’t going anywhere in life and admitted to me that he had everything and flushed it all down the toilet with drugs. What was he left with? A divorce, a kid, and a job waiting tables for the rest of his life. Pretty sad actually.

I respected Brad. He was much older than my 24 years. Some of my co-workers called him grandpa, but I never stooped that low. Brad always had my back, but he did throw his weight around. He threw it around so much that he became quite bossy. So bossy that people loathed working with him. If he were a character on the Dukes of Hazard, he would be Boss Hog. Yeah, you get the point.

I found myself complaining to one of the cooks one day about Brad. I don’t even remember what he did to me that day, but I was just letting loose on the poor guy. Words of hate flew from my mouth like vomit. The stench left behind was quite grotesque actually—especially when Brad tapped me on the shoulder. He had been listening the whole time! I immediately did what any normal just-out-of-college kid would do. I ducked away, probably uttering out a Doh! like Homer Simpson, and avoided Brad for the rest of the evening at all costs.

I wonder how Brad felt after I defaced him with my words. How long had he been listening? Never once did I apologize for my actions. That would have been too awkward. All those feelings of disrespect that loomed inside me were replaced with an overwhelming feeling of guilt, and all because I didn’t watch my tongue. Hawk Nelson’s song is so true when he says, “Words can bring you up. Words can bring you down.” It is time we examine our own words—especially in a culture where gossiping about other staff members or students is quite common.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. Giving yourself a one would mean you bring people down, and giving yourself a ten would mean you uplift others.

Now answer this: Where do you fall short in terms of gossip? Do you start it? Do you contribute to it? Or are you one of those people who let it happen around you without saying anything? Think of it this way. We as teachers feel the need to preach to our students that they should report incidents of bullying if they are a bystander, right? Why shouldn’t this same concept be applied to gossip?

So here is the million dollar question: If God is calling us to squelch gossip in ourselves AND around us, how in the world do we do it? Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? What do you do if you catch yourself slipping up? Do you own it? Disregard it? What about others around you? Do you call them out? If so, HOW???

I am a firm believer in goals. Every Sunday or Monday I write down “God Talk” in my journal, otherwise known as a honey-do list that I believe Christ is asking me to do that week. What is Christ asking YOU to do here? Write down a specific goal that your accountability partner could hold you to. Make it specific and challenging, yet achievable.

How will you keep yourself accountable to this goal? Will it be something you write down then forget about? Or will you challenge yourself to strive for it weekly?

Challenge: Memorize any of the following scripture or a scripture of your own that you like to have in your hearts any time gossip creeps into your life: Proverbs 18:8, Proverbs 13:3, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Proverbs 26:22.

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TOPIC: PATIENCE

Scripture to assist it:
• “But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure” (Romans 8: 25).
• “I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalms 40: 1).
• “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40: 31).

Devotion: Over thirty frustrated students sat in my room. This was worse than a detention—it was a prison sentence. The rest of their classmates were enjoying a movie on the other side of the wall in the library, and they were ready for a rebellion. These were the kids that had earned subpar grades, and they were in the midst of a makeup work marathon. It all started with my declaration that makeup tests were being passed out, and complete silence was needed for concentration. It was as futile as an elephant trying to mate with a fire ant. Silence simply wasn’t going to happen. More makeup work was being passed out now, and shouts of protest filled the room.

“I don’t have my science book.”

“I already turned that in!”

“It’s at home on my desk. I swear, I already did it!”

“My teacher must have lost it; I’m not doing that again!”

The excuses piled up quicker than snow in a whiteout blizzard. My patience was razor thin, and it was wearing by the minute. Anger boiled inside me like hot lava smoldering in a volcano. The two paras in the room were battling two students over missing work, and I could feel the control of the situation being shifted from our hands into the students’. Redirect after redirect, nothing happened. The volume escalated from annoying, to rude, to out of control. Steam puffed out of my ears. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. What ensued was an explosion that rivaled the power of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—combined.

Silence. You could have heard a pin drop. Normally after an outburst like that you see a few sniggers and giggles from the more ornery students, but this time they all looked devastated. It is one thing to shout in anger, but it is another to lash out in a way that destroys any trust you have built. They feared me at that moment, and I loathed myself. That was not what I was all about. Humiliation flooded my entire being. The words were already expelled from my mouth, and there was no taking them back. And it wasn’t profane in any way; it was simply at a volume I never knew I had inside me. Nonetheless, I found that volume, and it was echoing through every kid’s head, tearing them down to nothing.

Mark Twain once said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” That could not be closer to the truth in my situation above. I played the fool. That outburst made me look more ridiculous than anything, and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Even a humble apology would not have healed the helpless looks I saw from some of my students afterwards. I lived the final two hours of that afternoon overwhelmed with remorse.

What does the Bible say about anger? In James 1: 19-20 Paul writes, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Did you catch that? Slow to speak and slow to become angry. How many times has my anger gotten the best of me in the classroom? How many times will I play the role of the fool, letting anger make me look stupid? What can be poured over those flames of rage to quiet them into nothing but a harmless puff of smoke?

The answer? Patience. George Savile once said, “A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else.” Don’t let your anger get the best of you. Let patience rule your classroom. Model the same patience you expect from your students on a daily basis, the same patience that God asks us to acquire. Are your prayers going unanswered? Be patient. Having one of those bad hair days? Be patient. Would you rather throw yourself into oncoming traffic than tackle the ruthlessness of your little brats in Cougar Time? Be patient. Is your toddler throwing another temper tantrum because their favorite Buzz Lightyear toy got taken away? Be patient. God will pull you through! He is always at your side, and He never abandons.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well do you epitomize patience in your classroom?

What are the specific triggers that push you over the top? Write a quick list of them then next to each one tell why each one infuriates you.

How will you calm yourself to these issues in 2014? Recreate the list above then next to each issue write down an idea on how you can squelch anger with an idea relating to patience.

Challenge: Write a goal for you to shoot for that revolves around the number one issue you wrote about above. Keep yourself accountable to it by revisiting it weekly, and journal about how you are improving, remaining stagnant, or regressing.

Other scriptures worth reading: Galatians 5: 22-23; Luke 21: 19; James 1: 3; Galatians 6: 9; Psalms 37: 7-9

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TOPIC: STAYING POSITIVE

Scripture to assist it:
• “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, ESV).
• “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4: 8, ESV).
• “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17: 22, ESV).

Devotion: My father was always the eternal optimist. Still is to this very day too! That man can spin any negative into a positive, almost to a fault. He gave me that little bug in my ear that would say something like Don’t worry about the Chiefs losing to the Colts like that. It will only make them hungrier to get the job done next year. There were times I believed him, and there were times I felt like saying back to him, “Dad, can I just feel crummy for a little bit? Why do you always have to feel good about things?”

In one of my favorite movies of all times, Patch Adams, the main character is ridiculed for being too happy by his superiors. Patch tries to make lemonade out of every lemon that comes his way, and he loves putting a smile on others’ faces. He even goes to the extent of conducting an experiment to see how many people he can greet and in return make them smile. His grumpy old professor ends up kicking him out of school. Patch fights this until he actually wins the battle in court, where the judge mocks the professor for writing in Patch’s files that he was expelled for “excessive happiness.”

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne, a highly intelligent banker, gets thrown into jail for allegedly murdering his wife and her lover. It was a crime he never committed, yet he still found it in his heart to feed the hope that was inside him. He spoke about it to his friends at the prison dinner table. During their conversation, Andy talks about spending time in “the hole,” his prison’s version of solitary confinement. He was shoved in a small cell in the heat of the summer, no bathroom, no sink, humidity that would suck the life out of you, and darkness that would make an owl flinch. During his time there, Andy meditated on the hope of getting out, letting the music of Mozart soothe his aching heart. But the music wasn’t with him; it was inside his head. As he explained to his buddies, it was something the guards couldn’t touch, something that was his to keep. He created that hope, and it kept him going until he finally managed to escape and pursue his dreams.

We can look at movies all we want for examples; however, one of the biggest examples of staying positive comes straight from the Bible. Joseph was favored by his father, and his brothers were flooded with jealousy. They tried killing him, and then they ended up trading him into slavery. Talk about a downer—you go from being your dad’s favorite to being a slave! It gets better though. Joseph never gives up hope. He works his way up to a position of authority, keeping God’s promise in his heart, but right when things are going great, he gets thrown in jail after his master’s wife lies about Joseph. It is here that Joseph could give up, but he doesn’t! In Genesis 39: 21 the Old Testament states, “But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in sight of the chief jailor.” God pulled Joseph through! Joseph ends up prophesying God’s word through dreams to everyone until he becomes one of the most powerful men in the land.

What do these men have in common? They have all made a conscious choice. They have chosen to reflect on God’s blessings as opposed to the negative. They never give up hope in God’s promises. They could be throwing themselves a pity party every day, feeling sorry for themselves and focusing on the negative. But they don’t! Being a glass half full person doesn’t just happen. It is a commitment. It is a driven decision to pluck out the positive from any situation. As Martha Washington states, “I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” What disposition will you make of your circumstances? Think about it.

Is this easy? Heck, no! Does it take practice? You bet. We all know people like this, and to be quite frank, there have been times when I grumble inside after hearing them. After all, sometimes I just want their commiseration, not their perspective. But wouldn’t life seem better to us if we made the effort to be like them? God calls us to remain positive no matter what. In Philippians 4: 4 Paul throws down the gauntlet saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Are we going to have rotten days? Sure. God knows that, and Paul certainly does too. Paul should know after being thrown in prison numerous times for his radical witnessing. But read on in Philippians chapter four through verse thirteen. It is here that Paul tells us “to be content whatever the circumstances.” Take on that perspective, and God will smile at you.

Rank yourself on a scale of one to ten. How well do you stay positive when the cards are down?

Where are the top areas of your life ridden with negative thoughts, areas where you could be more optimistic?

What good things could come out of the above trials? Think outside the box!

Challenge: Boil your list down above to a single item where you need to be more positive. For example, maybe you need to be more positive about your finances. List all the good things about that area that are happening or that could happen, and pray about those things, thanking God for the good things he blesses us with. Make a conscious effort to keep that area of need in your prayers all week, and listen to what God tells you to do.

Other scriptures worth reading: Philippians 4: 13; Philippians 4: 6; Romans 12: 2; Jeremiah 29: 11

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