Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Here I Raise My Ebenezer..."

The two previous  posts, "The Waiting Room of Mercy" and "The Rhythm" are the context of these thoughts. 

Christmas Break 2018 officially begins at the end of tonight's concert, but a different cause for celebration has been in the air all week. While the bazaar with all its secret shopping and gift wrapping was happening in the main foyer, a quieter kind of enterprise was happening in the preschool room where the Senior Worldview Class had temporarily set up shop.

Just days ago these students and hundreds of others were praying fervently that their friend would not die as he lay motionless on our gymnasium floor with no heartbeat or breath (Vfib cardiac arrest). A defibrillator corrected the heart failure and a ventilator forced air in his lungs as the ambulance rushed him to Mercy.

It was a grave situation. Read Wednesday's reports on Luke here:

Grand Haven Tribune: A second chance at life and Thursday's Update

So what is the best use of instructional time on the heels of such an ordeal? Even though miraculously good news had come sooner than expected, their teacher, Mrs. Julie Kapanka, knew that a hands-on diversion would be better than jumping right back into last week's lesson plans.

"We're going to make something that will remind you of what God did this Christmas. Years from now, you'll see this and know it's not just an ornament. You'll remember the miracle of Luke 2 and Luke, too."

Mrs. K did not use the word "Ebenezer," but when she heard her explain the project to me I immediately thought of that word.

The name Ebenezer seems inseperable from Dicken's A Christmas Carol, and because of the character Ebenezer Scrooge, it often has a negative connotation. The word Ebenezer, however, is a solid stand-alone noun. It refers to a physical reminder memorializing when God divinely intervened in response to "cries" of those who call Him Lord.

The first use of Ebenezer is I Samuel 7:12, and in that case the reminder was a tall boulder. I like the way The Message puts it:
"He named it 'Ebenezer' (Rock of Help), saying, “This marks the place where God helped us.”

Keep in mind that in I Samuel 4, Israel had suffered horrible defeats and the loss of 34,000 men at that same place, and they bemoaned the fact that God abandoned them. Then in this third battle, with their backs against the wall, they begged Samuel to cry out non-stop, and God directly intervened. Does this mean that when bad things happen, God is gone and when good things happen He shows up? Or could it mean that He is not bound by human rationale. He writes the lesson plans and determines whether teachable moments come through victory or defeat; mercy or justice; healing or heartbreak.

We know God is sovereign and knows how to turn the tables on the haughty (see I Samuel 5-6) in order to honor those most dependent on Him. In the case of that first Ebenezer, he chose to dramatically respond to Samuel's obedience and effectual outcry.

In our episode last week, when the commotion and phone calls began last Thursday around 4:00, I have never known of so many people praying so fervently within minutes. The first responders were super fast, but literally hundreds if not thousands of people in inter-linking prayer chains across the country were immediately crying out, including the seniors in these pictures.

It is in that sense, that the ornaments the seniors made in Worldview class are little "Ebenezers" that will help them remember what happened this week for years to come. Don't get me wrong--I know we shouldn't dwell on the past beyond the extent to which it makes us more effective in the present. Tragic events are not easily forgotten, but ironically, when such events take a miraculous turn like the victory in I Samuel 7, they can fade as things return to normal. For that reason, all those who carry on with life need Ebenezers or reminders like tiny-stoned wedding rings, commemorative plaques, broken bread, rainbows of promise, and yes, even  ornaments depicting the nativity of Luke 2.

There is another place where we hear the word Ebenezer besides Dickens and  the Books of Samuel. It's in the great old hymn "Come Thou Fount". Those words were penned by a 22-year-old  Robert Robinson  in the year 1757. You remember the line in the second stanza, "Here I raise my Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home."

I began writing this post at 4:30AM. I was alone in my living room. Reading on-line news articles about Luke's incident and thinking about the short attention span we humans have. Why did Samuel raise a stone to remind them how the Lord helped them win the battle? Because he knew they were humans and tend to forgetas the old gospel song says.

It was for these reasons that I woke at 4:30AM to find the word Ebenezer word in a 260-year-old hymn written by a young man not much older than Luke, but when I read the lyrics a few other lines brought tears to my eyes in light of this week's events.

1. Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

2. Here I raise my Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come; [Hither means, "To this place"]
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,

safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above

[Press arrow to hear "Come Thou Fount" by Chris Rice]

I am pleased to introduce you to a new blog that Luke's mom and CCS Librarian, Sam Anhalt, just began yesterday. 
Sam's blog is called, "Crazy Might Work" at this link.
I know it will become a comforting place to stay in touch with this situation so we can better pray for this dear family as they work through  the ache of joy that comes from such experiences.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Waiting Room of Mercy

The waiting room of Mercy
is a place with no address
where loved ones mix with strangers
and faint smiles mix with stress…
where whispers catch attention
and laughter goes unheard
as stares fix on a distant door
awaiting some new word.
The chairs in Mercy's waiting room
hold hope and hints of strife.
The time is measured not by clocks
but subtle rhythms of life…
like blinks held shut and breaths held in
and sighs in sync let go...
or pacing feet past eyes that meet
while scanning to and fro
in search of strength from "they that wait"
for hours turned to days…
till, if God wills, all trembling lips
give way to pent-up praise.
 ©Tom Kapanka 12-16-2018

These pictures were taken in place called Mercy Hospital, street address: 1500 E Sherman Blvd., but the above lines are also about a more abstract place that can be called "The Waiting Room of Mercy," a waiting room that calls us all at different times in life and in any place where we learn from "they that wait upon the Lord" in prayer and supplication.

The opening lines of the post were prompted by some hours I spent at Mercy Hospital this past Thursday night, awaiting the news regarding a senior at CCS who, in the peak of health and fitness, suffered a cardiac arrest in our school gym during a routine basketball practice. His teammates were the first to gather 'round him. They are seated in some of the pictures above. Thanks to his coach, the AED in our gymnasium, and the immediate arrival of our local first responders, this story has a very miraculous outcome, but that was unknown at the time of these photos.

The last photo is the moment that the boy's father first saw his dear friend, his son's coach, whose calm and trained response saved his son's life. I will post a video link to the good news that came over the weekend. In the meantime, here are two initial news articles from Friday and Saturday.
 Click on title below: 

 AED and quick thinking by coach credited with saving West Michigan teen’s life

Grand Haven Tribune

Coach saves player who collapses at practice

Do you want to hear something that has brought comfort over these past few days? The student in this story is a leader on our school praise team. With him, the student body has sung a song called "I will follow" by Jon Guerra (a friend of CCS) countless times. The praise team sang that song Thursday morning in chapel, not knowing what the afternoon held.

A year and a half ago, The Lakes Church made the CCS building their home. Pastor Todd Ballard is lead teaching pastor of the church. His office is upstairs near the gymnasium, and he often practices with our basketball team. This was the case Thursday. He had left the gymnasium when he heard all the commotion coming from the gym and hallways. Here are his opening remarks from this morning's message. 

Just three days after that announcement in church, WZZM 13 ran this story on the 6:00 News.

Calvary Christian School coach uses AED to save basketball player's life

"Even in the Storms I'll Follow You..."

In the post above, someone left a comment that brought this thought to mind... (post-time-stamped to sequentially follow)

The student who is the unnamed subject of that post is a key leader in our praise and worship rotation for chapels. There was a  time when he was reluctant to sing in public. In fact, we had to coax him to join two years ago. That's hard to imagine now. I mention this only to say that Luke and his fellow praise and worship leaders have led our students in singing "I Will Follow" countless times at Fall Retreat and chapels, and the special K-12 praise and worship times we do at the end of each quarter.

This song was sung by the praise team the morning of the incident. The first clip provides the lyrics; the second clip is more reflective of our student body singing along.

(Incidentally, Jon Guerra is married to Valarie Strattan, CCS Class of 2003. Together they are "Praytell," and they were in town performing at the Beardsley Theater the day this happened. Here is one of the songs from their Christmas concert that night.) 

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Rhythm

The December 16 post above came to me Sunday morning before church For some people, writing is a cathartic process. Sometimes things I write are  never seen again. Sometimes they make even more sense years later. Other times, old drafts have subconscious influence on new thoughts. This happened over and over again this weekend. "The Rhythm" was first posted in 2007 and explained here in 2009.  "The Waiting Room of Mercy," echoed lines of  a post by that name in 2005. At any rate, the following, though mostly written a decade ago, is a fitting companion piece for this week's events. [The post date was changed to appear below the two posts above it.]

The Rhythm

Life is danced to rhythms
we soon forget are there.
The blink of eyes, the beat of hearts,
the breath and sigh of air
are lost to cycles of the sun
and pass with little care.
They slip our mind as measures
in time until we're unaware
we wake t’thm, walk t’thm,
work t’thm, talk t’thm,
laugh t’thm, cry t’thm,
live t’thm... die t’thm.
It becomes a most ungraceful dance
when we ignore the Hand that grants
the Grace and gently taps... the rhythm.
© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

The moment you were born, the rhythm of breathing in and out began.
Try this with me. Hold your breath for 30 seconds as you read this paragraph. Ready? Start.You are suspending a rhythm of life. If you do this for too long, your brain will begin screaming, “Hey, silly, let your body do what God made it to do. Let it breathe until it’s time not to.” Still holding?....  Now exhale and breathe in again. Ahhh... isn't it amazing?
Earth’s air outside our bodies has just the right amount of oxygen; our lungs have just the right design to take that oxygen from the air and pass it along to our blood; the heart sends the oxygenated blood coursing through our veins to millions of cells and muscles, including those that power the billows of our lungs that breathe in and out the air. Just as our brain whispered for breath as we read that last paragraph, our body itself cries out for air, "Keep breathing, lungs! Keep beating, heart! Your rhythms of life sustain me!"

This is just a hint of what the Psalmist meant when he said, we are “fearfully   and wonderfully made”? It is frightening. It is wonderful.

We cannot bank breaths. It's strictly an "in and out" account. The word "inspire" literally means "to breathe into." When doing something creative, we sometimes say this "inspired" me, meaning "this gave life to the idea."  When our last breath of life is let go, and the opposite of inspire happens: we expire (we literally ex-spire, breathe out). But more than that happens. The “spire” part of both words is the root of the word spirit. The spirit leaves the body soon after that last breath. This may seem too obvious for words, but events of recent days make it feel profound if not surreal. Those events prompted me to share some of these thoughts with our 6-12 students last Friday morning.

Our beating heart and breathing in and out measure time more surely than a clock, for they measure our time.

Is that what is meant by “fearfully…made”—that sometimes we are afraid the rhythm will stop? Maybe. It does happen. Scripture tells us life is a vapor, and its brevity is not something we like to dwell on. For that reason, I prefer to think "fearfully made" means complexity beyond comprehension. I touched on this in a poem called WONDER IS. The truth is we wonder about far more than we know when it comes to the miracle of life.
One of the comments left in the Mlive article in the December 16 post came from a reader who could not understand why God and not science was getting credit for what many were calling a miracle. I understand that modern man is prone to give science the credit for such events. After all, science figured out the mechanics of how organs like the heart and lungs function, and man did invent the AED machine that provides the electrical impulse needed for resuscitation, but prayer cries out to the One who first put that impulse in the first heart. Prayer reaches beyond how things work and gives credit to the Creator who knows why they work (i.e. the reason for life) to begin with.

In that sense, the "fear" of being wonderfully made is the same fear as in "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." [Proverbs 9:10]

Those who reject God or relegate him to some far-off "force" seem to fear the fearful miracle... They fear of the implications of being "wonderfully made." It's not the wonder that frightens them... it's the word made. That word implies a Creator. What if the breath of life is inseparable from the breath of God? If so, believers and agnostics alike face two choices: to believe that breath and the God who made it have purpose. Or to pretend... that LIFE JUST HAPPENED.

If everything we see just happened--a galactic box of BBs spilled--then we owe nothing to anyone. We're accountable to no one. We can live and let live. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die." The problem with pretending the intricate design and delicate rhythms of life just happened is that we lose any hope of relationship with God, time and eternity. We begin to think life is all about us and our fleeting existence. As Peggy Lee's hit song in 1969 put it...
"...When that final moment comes
and I'm breathing my last breath,
I'll be saying to myself:
Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends,
then let's keep dancing.
Let's break out the booze
and have a ball... If that's all...there is"
[Press arrow to play]

That song depicts the last lines of the poem at the top of this post. It is a "... most ungraceful dance [that] ignores the Hand that grants the Grace and gently taps... the rhythm." As for me and my house [and our school], "[We] will praise Thee for [we are] fearfully and wonderfully made" That same psalmist added in the very last verse of the same Psalm:
"Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!" as heard in this song:

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sometimes Our Roots Hold up Our Arms

I've written about roots before in reference to my father. More recently, I've written about "Roots around Rock" in reference to the importance holding to Biblical ideals in a less-than ideal world. 

Sometimes, however, roots serve a different function. Sometimes or roots literally help us bear one another's burdens. The image  of a banyan tree comes to mind. I have walked among  banyan trees in Thailand and Hawaii and they are quite unlike anything we see in Michigan.

This is my 38th consecutive year in full-time K-12 Christian education. The older I get, the more life feels like that, like a banyan tree... it gets harder to tell where our roots end and our branches begin. 

Beyond the curriculum and classroom objectives is the equally important goal of building a community of "family trees." Christian schools typically draw from many different neighborhoods, churches, and towns, so the "community" I refer to is based less on geography than common ground. Our students may not walk the same sidewalks to get to school (as my friends and I did in my childhood), but they do walk the same path and that path is illuminated by the same lamp.  Going back to the original metaphor, our family trees are rooted in the same soil. 

As our school families grow together, let us draw strength from those who serve by our side. May there be joy in knowing we are not alone, and when we do feel alone, or when we feel overwhelmed or short-handed, may we find strength in knowing our roots can  hold up our arms.

Exodus 17:11-12  11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses' hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Why this blog is called "To Begin With..."

This week has brought an unusual amount of traffic to this site and some have asked why I chose this name for my Administrator's Blog.

Here is the inaugural post  from July 29, 2011...

There is a great courtroom scene in the film classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, in which Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) opens his closing argument by saying, “To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place....”

Those three words, “to begin with,” carry weight. They declare a foundational premise. They imply that we must first understand the beginning or what follows will not make sense. Worse yet, if we ignore the premise we will embrace an alternate "sense" which will lead to nonsense, and nonsense has victims. (I Corinthians 1:18-20)

In the case of the above courtroom scene, Tom Robinson falls victim to the nonsense that comes from ignoring the words “to begin with.”

The Bible opens with three similar words: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”

Genesis 1:1 is primarily a chronological statement--as if to say, “Step One: God built a stage before adding scenery, lighting, characters and plot.”

Beyond chronology, however, the opening verse of Genesis implies a premise, a foundational truth supporting all other truth. It not only declares the when of creation, it also declares the who, as if to say: “To begin with, [or “understand this first,” "most importantly,” “make no mistake,”…] it was the Creator God who set all things in motion. He built the stage, placed the scenery, set the lights, cast the characters, and wrote the plot. He alone is the producer and director of everything that happens on the stage. Remember this premise, and the plot will make sense; ignore it, and fall victim to endless variations of nonsense before all is said and done.”

This blog is called “To Begin With” because the essays, anecdotes, poems, etc. posted here each month or so will reflect the foundational worldview of Christian education. I hope these gathering thoughts will illustrate that the partnership between homes, churches, and the Christian school is the ideal way for instruction to begin and that a foundational K-12 education sets the stage for God-honoring lives of service. In other words...

To begin with, Christian education provides a foundation to begin with...

Check here every month or so for a new post, and feel free to join in the dialogue if any in the comment section.

Tom Kapanka
CCS Administrator