Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

A day in the life

Sonlight continues its blog party this month with the question

Share a day in the life of your family. What does your family’s homeschool schedule look like?

A lot of home schooling families value the opportunity to sleep in, but we don’t take advantage of that opportunity. Breakfast is usually on the table at 7:30, and we start school promptly at 8:00. Tiffany takes care of Joel’s schooling, and he is usually finished by 11:00 or so. He then has an hour of educational screen time.

Elijah starts by reading a chapter of the Bible on his own, and then I read a chapter with him. He listens to a Scripture memory song and practices memorizing it. For history, he sometimes does projects on his own, reading from the encyclopedia and making notes. Right now, we are reading a missionary biography together. We then read information about a city in the 10/40 window and pray for the people there.

After history, Elijah reads a chapter or two from a book for reading practice. I usually pre-read the book and ask him several questions from the day’s reading. He does math on his own on the computer, and then we do science together. He usually has an activity sheet to fill out related to the day’s reading, and we sometimes do experiments or further Internet research.

We finish the morning with language arts–spelling, grammar, vocabulary development and creative expression. I’m fairly involved in most of this, although Elijah works independently on vocabulary development. With creative expression, it varies. Sometimes I have to stay engaged, but he’s doing better at working through this on his own. He usually is able to finish all of his work by around noon.

In the evening, I read to one of the boys while the other one bathes. Then we have family devotions, and send the boy who has already had reading to bed, while I read to the other one. And that’s a day in our lives. We sometimes have to be flexible with the schedule, but 90% of the time, we’re fixed in that routine.

Homeschooling Advice

For Sonlight’s March Blog Party, the question is, “Share the best homeschooling advice you have been given. What would you advise new homeschoolers?” 

I haven’t been given a lot of homeschooling advice, and most of what I’ve read, I’ve discarded. However,I guess one thing I’ve learned and taken to heart is how little information tests give you about what your student has learned. If you’re interacting with your student deeply every day, you don’t need tests or grades, because you already know where their strengths and weaknesses are. I’m sure that, as they get older, I’m going to need to come up with methods for documenting to others how well my children, are doing. But, at this point, my kids don’t even know what grades are, nor do they really need to. They know where they are doing well and where they are struggling. They don’t need a letter grade to reinforce that to them.

My piece of advice to new homeschoolers, though, would be on a completely different topic. (And I’m sure many would disagree with this advice.) Find a curriculum or approach that works with your kids, and stick with it! I’ve seen too many homeschooling families who are constantly on the hunt for something better. You’re never going to find the perfect curriculum. Find one that works for you, and persevere. Go to homeschooling conventions if you must, but limit the time you spend in the vendor section. It will quickly lead you to a place of discontent. And the constant changes leave your kids with a great deal of uncertainty about what’s coming next. They spend more time getting used to the new approach than they do actually learning. If this was restricted to curriculum choice, this might not be so damaging, but I’ve seen this “constantly searching for the perfect” approach bleed over into other areas of life. So I find homeschooling families who won’t commit to a local church because they’re always looking for a better one. It’s dangerous. That’s my two cents’ worth.

How we decided to start home schooling

Sonlight Blog Party
Before I had kids, before I got married even, I thought I wanted to educate my kids at home. It seemed more like the Biblical model, and I was concerned about the kind of influences public school education would have on my children. I have probably moderated my views on some of those issues as I’ve grown older, but I still held to home education as an ideal.

When we moved to the mission field, home education became the most obvious choice for us. Here in Mongolia, there are no “Christian” schools to speak of, except for one dedicated to educating Korean missionary kids. We tried putting our older son into Mongolian public kindergarten for a semester (home schooling on the side), but it didn’t work out very well. We see here an even heavier reliance on the state to raise the children than we have in the United States.

At any rate, both my wife and I had attended Christian schools that primarily used A Beka Book curriculum, so I almost defaulted to that as a home schooling curriculum, as well. However, another missionary couple that we served with in the Philippines introduced us to Sonlight, emphasizing that it was developed with missionaries in mind. They pointed out how nice it is that everything necessary comes in one box, so that you don’t find yourself scrambling throughout the year, looking for needed materials.

We decided to give it a try with our then preschool-aged son, and we’ve never looked back.

Sonlight Mom-to-Mom Curriculum Giveaway

Mom-to-Mom Curriculum Giveaway
– See more at:

Sonlight Blog Party

Sonlight Blog Party

Sonlight Curriculum is having a blog party and encouraging homeschoolers to blog on a homeschooling topic once a month. My wife Tiffany and I have been homeschooling our boys since they began school. Elijah, our ten-year-old, is in fifth grade. He attended one semester of Mongolian public kindergarten half-time, but all the rest of his schooling has been at home. He does take a gym class at the local co-op and has also done art and other elective classes there. Joel, our six-year-old, is in first grade. He has only homeschooled. He is not quite old enough to take classes at the co-op, although he does participate in some extracurricular activities there.

Just another day in Mongolia

Blog? What’s that? Do people still use these? Is there a certain number of characters I have to keep this under? 

Oh, hello, there. I didn’t know anyone was still reading this. After the demise of Google Reader and the painful transition to Feedly, I assume there can’t be more than one or two of you out there. But, if you’re there, thank you! 

I just thought I’d share some of the fun that was today. A couple days ago, we had a notice pasted to the door of our apartment. Tiffany was home, so they could have just knocked and handed her the notice, but they chose rather to superglue it to the door. So, a large chunk of it is still out there. But the chunk that she tore off the door said something about the warranty being up on our water meters. The whole thing baffled me a little, so yesterday I asked our friend Gantuya about exactly what it was they wanted us to do. She borrowed my phone, made a phone call, and then explained things to me. (She explained it in Mongolian, because somehow I can understand her better in person than some stranger over the phone.) She said, “Tomorrow at 9:00, they will come to your house and take your water meters off. Then you take them to a laboratory and get them tested. Then you call them and they will put them back on.” Simple enough. 

This morning at 9:00, nobody came… of course. But, at 11:00 or so, somebody did come. He asked, “Did you get your water?” I glanced at Tiff uncertainly, and she shrugged. We had 15 liters on reserve. She asked, “Do I need to fill the bathtub?” I shrugged. I didn’t figure it would take me too long to take them to a lab to get tested. Surely 15 liters would last an hour or two. Before we had come to any kind of resolution, the plumber was at work, rendering the discussion moot anyway. He had the meters off in a jiffy and said, “Call when you’re ready to have them reattached.” I figured I’d better hurry if I was going to have them back by lunchtime. So I bundled up and headed out into the negative whatever temperature, looking for a laboratory. There were five listed on the notice, and you could choose whichever one was closest. One was in a familiar neighborhood, but another was much nearer home so I tried that one first. It’s in a district called 100 Ail, which is the hardware area of town. I wandered up and down the main street of the district, asking people if they had any idea where this company was located. The first guy didn’t know, but suggested I ask someone else. I couldn’t even find the person he wanted me to ask. Then I asked 3 or 4 ornery-looking guys, and they pointed me off to some building that I’m sure wasn’t even close. After wandering back alleys for a while, I decided to call the company, although my Mongolian phone skills are atrocious. After a few minutes on the phone, though, I learned that that lab wasn’t doing any testing today or tomorrow.

So, back to square one. I headed to the lab whose general vicinity I knew. My wife called and said maybe I should call that lab first. I told her I would rather beat my head against the wall looking for it before I started beating my head against the wall talking to them on the phone. Fortune smiled on me, though, and I found the laboratory, very close to where we had gone to language school. I looked at the schedule on the door. 12:00 to 1:00 lunch time. I checked my watch–12:15! Of course! I tried the door, anyway. Surprise, it was open, and the folks seemed willing to wait on me. I handed over my water meters and answered all their questions. Then they said, “Okay, tomorrow after 3:00, you can call and see if they’re ready.” Yikes! Tomorrow?!??! 

So, we’re learning to live on a little bit of water. For Mongolians, the daily water consumption is only about 5-10 liters per person per day (, so maybe we’ll live a bit more like them. Actually, I think I already used more than 5 liters just to get some dish washing going. I think what we’re probably going to learn is how to get some pre-meter water out of the pipes without flooding our bathroom. I’m glad we only have to do this every four years.

Listening at the Feet of Jesus

People often ask me about some of the differences between Mongolia and America. There are a lot of differences, of course, but one of them is in the area of hospitality. I haven’t traveled much in the countryside, but I understand that you can just stop at any ger you see. When you do, the family will welcome you in and give you tea and even let you stay with them. That sounds very kind and generous. We don’t really have anything like that in America. If a stranger came to the door of my house in America, I might not even let him come in. I guess people probably wouldn’t open their door to just anyone here in the city either.

In America, at least in the area where I live, people don’t usually come to your house without being invited. We didn’t have guests a lot when I was living with my parents, but when we did, we spent a lot of time preparing. My parents would spend a long time getting the house perfectly clean; they might even stay up late at night cleaning the carpets. My mom would make sure she had lots of food prepared, a lot more than the guests could possibly eat. But, if some family had just showed up at our house without an invitation or without letting us know that they were coming, we might have felt embarrassed. We have that problem here sometimes. We’re not always ready for guests, and sometimes someone shows up at our apartment, and we don’t have any food to give them. We are nervous and embarrassed and might have to run down to the store to buy some boov or candy. If they want to stay for a meal, that might be a bigger problem, because we might just be eating leftovers, and there might not be very much food. If they wanted to stay the night, we would be trying to figure out where everyone could stay.

We’re going to read a story today from the Gospels about a family who had some unexpected guests and how they dealt with that. Let’s read from Luke 10:38-42:

Тэд зам зуураа, нэгэн тосгоноор ороход Марта гэгч нэгэн эмэгтэй Түүнийг гэртээ хүлээн авав. Тэр эмэгтэй Мариа гэдэг охин дүүтэй бөгөөд дүү нь Эзэний хөлд суугаад үгийг нь сонсож байлаа. Марта үйлчлэх ажилдаа түүртсэн тул Есүс уруу ирж,

—Эзэн, дүү минь үйлчлэх ажилд намайг ганцаар орхисныг Та анзаарахгүй байна уу? Надад тусал гэж түүнд хэлээч гэв. Харин Эзэн

—Марта, Марта, чи мөн ч их зүйлд санаа тавьж зовох юм даа.  Үнэндээ ганцхан юм л хэрэгтэй билээ. Мариа өөрөөс нь зайлуулагдашгүй сайныгаа л сонгон авчээ гэв.

This story takes place at a time during Jesus’ ministry when he was traveling around from city to city, teaching people about God’s kingdom. As Jesus was traveling with his disciples from one city to another, he stops at Martha’s home. We know from other gospels that Martha and Mary were friends of Jesus, but this could have been the first time he met them. Jewish hospitality was more Mongolian than American. Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples to her home, just as any family would be expected to do. But it was a little like the situation I mentioned earlier, where she wasn’t really prepared. She probably wasn’t expecting visitors, so she’s hurrying around to get things ready. Instead of sitting down and talking to her guests, she was busy trying to see how she could get the things she needed to make them comfortable.

But let’s stop and think for a minute. When people come to our homes, why do they come? Do they come because they are hungry or thirsty and they think they can get a free meal from you? Well, sometimes that might happen, but, most of the time, someone comes to your home because they want to see you; they want to talk to you and listen to you. But we don’t feel like we can sit and talk to them, until we have given them something to eat and drink. That’s how Martha felt. She was actually doing what a hostess would naturally do.

Martha’s sister Mary was in the house, also. We don’t know if Martha and Mary lived together, or if Mary was a guest, too, but Martha obviously expected Mary to help her get things ready for Jesus and his disciples. But Mary does something very unnatural; she goes into the room where the men are. That’s not too strange in our culture; men and women freely mix here. But in Israel, especially in Jesus’ time, men and women were mostly kept separate. Jesus’ teaching would have mostly been directed at men. But Mary goes into that room and sits down at Jesus’ feet and listens to him talk. Maybe he was teaching his disciples about the kingdom, maybe he was just telling stories or talking about the day’s news; but, whatever it was, Mary chose to just sit and listen.

When Martha sees Mary, she can’t believe what’s happening. There is so much to do. Imagine if thirteen people showed up at your door and wanted to spend the night. You would probably want everybody in the family to help make preparations, right? The Mongolian Bible says that Martha had too much to do (ажилдаа түүртсэн); but, in the original language, it says that she was distracted or panicked. She couldn’t focus on anything else, because she was so focused on getting things ready. I can understand how Martha felt. I remember when we first moved to Mongolia, and we were doing lots of repairs to our apartment. We had many heavy sacks of cement delivered, and I had to carry all of them up the stairs to our third-floor apartment. There were lots of people around who could have helped me, but they all just sat there and watched. I was getting so angry at them, thinking, “Why won’t somebody pick up a sack and carry it up for me?” (That’s an exception to the rule. There are lots of times Tiffany or others are working hard and could use my help, and I don’t get up and help them. It’s not because I’m sitting at the feet of Jesus; it’s usually just because I’m lazy.)

So Martha saw her sister just sitting there, and she got angry. And because she was angry, she reacted in the wrong way. Maybe it would have been better if she had called Mary aside and said, “Please help me get dinner on the table.” But, instead, she walks into the room, and shames her sister and her guests by saying, “Jesus, tell Mary to help me.” She even suggests that Jesus doesn’t care about how hard she has to work. She takes her problem, and makes it seem like it is Jesus’ problem to take care of.

Jesus looks up at Martha and sees how hard she has been working. But he doesn’t seem to give her any sympathy. He points out that Martha is so worried about so many things, but that there aren’t very many important things on her list of things to do. In fact, there was just one important thing. There was just one thing that was necessary. The necessary thing was the thing that Mary had chosen to do—spend time listening to Jesus. Jesus said he wasn’t going to stop Mary from doing that.

I think that the main thought that God wants us to take from this story is this: Even though there may be a lot of things that we feel like we need to accomplish each day, nothing is more important than the time we spend listening to God.

If you’ve read that story before or heard someone preach about it, that’s probably the lesson that you learned. But let me ask you a question: Was Martha wrong? Life is busy. Our plans sometimes get wrecked by things that crop up unexpectedly. Is it wrong for us to do the work that comes our way each day? Is it wrong for us to offer our guests tea instead of sitting and listening to them? Is it wrong for us to go to our work place instead of spending all day reading the Bible and praying?

It’s easy for us to look at this story and see Martha and Mary as enemies, representing two very different ways of approaching life. We think, “Martha is the kind of person who tries to serve people, and Mary is the kind of person who listens to Jesus. And Jesus says that Mary is the better kind of person.” But the story reminds us that they are sisters. They are not opposites; they are two sides of the same coin.

Listening to Jesus isn’t the opposite of serving others. Look back at the verses just before this story. What story does Jesus tell in Luke 10:25-37? He has just told the parable of the Good Samaritan. What is the point of that parable? It is all about how important it is to love our neighbors and to serve them. So, Jesus doesn’t think that serving people is a bad decision. In fact, he doesn’t tell Martha that she’s done the wrong thing; he just says that Mary has chosen the more needed thing. Jesus isn’t upset with Martha because she is serving; he is correcting her attitude of worry and complaining. Two weeks ago, Ganbold reminded us that we can’t receive God’s promises if we’re complaining. And I think it’s also true that we can’t even listen to God when we’re complaining. So Jesus corrects Martha because of her attitude, not just because of her actions. Of course, Jesus and his disciples would need to eat; and, of course, someone would need to fix the food. Martha’s job is important, too.  

Think about what would happen if we were all Mary all the time, living a life of meditation, carefully listening to Jesus, but we never did any kind of service. There have been people like that all down through church history—monks and nuns who hid themselves away from society to be close to Jesus. They spent hours in prayer and Bible study, but they never went out and served the world. Maybe that’s what some Buddhist lamas are like also.

I was sitting on a microbus one day, and the man across from me started talking to me. We talked about music and a lot of different things. But then he asked me about what kind of work I did. I told him that I helped teach in a Christian church. He said, “That’s great! The Christian churches do a lot to help people. My religion doesn’t do anything for anybody. The lamas just pray and chant and study the Buddhist scriptures, but they don’t help anyone.” I don’t know if that is true, but that was his opinion. So, serving people is important. What if we just studied and listened to God all the time but never did anything? Would that change the world for Jesus? James 1:22 says, “Гэхдээ өөрсдийгөө хуурдаг зүгээр нэг сонсогчид биш, үгийг хэрэгжүүлэгчид бологтун.”

But, on the other hand, what will our lives be like if we live a life of constant service but never listen to Jesus? We will waste so much of our energy. We may be serving God and serving others, but we won’t be serving effectively and we might not be serving in the way or in the place where God wants us to serve. It is possible for us to get so involved in our work—even good work—that we forget why we even started doing it. What if we just worked all the time and never got direction from God? Would that change the world for Jesus?

So serving and listening are both important. Martha’s attitude—her worry and complaining—was what was wrong.  I could talk for a while here about the sin of worry, but we’ll save that for another time.

What I want to talk about, though, is the praise that Jesus gives to Mary. He says that she has chosen the better thing. Even though Jesus has just talked about the importance of service in the parable of the Good Samaritan, he seems to be saying that action and service are not as important as listening to Jesus. Maybe I shouldn’t say that listening to Jesus is more important than serving. Maybe it’s better if I say that we are not ready to serve until we have listened to what Jesus wants to say to us first.

We have several examples in the Bible of the importance of waiting to hear from God before we start moving forward in anything, even in ministry. Remember the instruction that Jesus gave to his disciples before he returned to heaven. He told them that they were going to share the good news all over the world. But they weren’t supposed to begin right away. What were they supposed to do instead? In Luke 24:49, Jesus says, “Харагтун, Би Эцэгийнхээ амласныг та нарт илгээнэ. Харин та нар дээрээс ирэх хүчийг өмстлөө энэ хотдоо үлд.” Before they could be ready to serve, even in something as important as sharing the gospel, they needed to wait, pray and listen, and receive power from the Holy Spirit.

But we need to learn to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, not just because we want to get our instructions from him. That wasn’t why Mary was sitting there. She wasn’t trying to find out what kind of ministry Jesus wanted her to do. She just wanted to be with him. She sat at his feet and listened to Jesus, because she loved him. That is one of the ways we can best show love to someone—to really listen to them.

Some of us are not very good at listening. We live in a noisy world, and there are a lot of things to distract our attention. This happens to me all the time. I’m working at my computer or reading or watching a movie, and Joel comes up next to me and starts talking. I am aware that he is there, but I’m not really listening to what he says. After he has talked for a couple of minutes and had no response from me, he begins to feel like I don’t care about him very much. The way I can best show Joel how much I love him is to turn off the computer or the TV or shut my book and give him all my attention. When I really listen to him, he feels valued and respected, and he knows that I love him. That’s how Mary showed her love to Jesus; she really listened to him. She put aside all of her house work, she put aside all of the other distractions, and she sat down and listened with all of her attention. And that’s what God wants from us, too. He wants us to listen to him just because we love him, not because we’re going to get something from him.

Obviously, today we can’t physically sit at Jesus’ feet and hear him audibly speak to us. But God does still speak, and we can still listen.

He speaks to us through nature. Psalm 19:1 says, “Тэнгэр нь Ертөнцийн Эзэний сүр жавхлахг зарлаж, Огторгуй нь Түүний гарын бүтээлийг тунхаглаж байна.” Romans 1 tells us that through nature, God tells us about his eternal power and divine nature. When we go to the countryside or even look at the mountains and the sky here in the city, do we stop to think about what God is trying to say to us through his creation?

God speaks to us most clearly through his Word, the Bible. When we read God’s Word thoughtfully and prayerfully, we’re like Mary, showing God our love for him by paying attention to what he is revealing to us. We ought to all give daily time to reading the Bible, not just for what we can get out of it, but as an expression of love to God. And, as we do that, God will be faithful to teach us what we need to know about who he is, about who we are, about what he has done for us, and about what he wants us to do for him.

And sometimes, God speaks to us more quietly and more personally. He often does that as we talk to him in prayer and then give him time to speak back to us. When I was in university, I spent a lot of time praying for God to show me his will, what occupation he wanted me to choose. But I was so busy with school and work and social life that I wasn’t really stopping to listen to him. One night at church, a lady was testifying and she reminded us that it’s important not just to pray, but to give God the opportunity to answer. I realized that I had not been doing that. The very next morning, I made time in my schedule to listen to God. I prayed, but then I just sat silently and listened. It was that morning that God called me to be a missionary.

But we will never hear God unless we make a place for some silence in our lives. Our world is too busy, too noisy, for us to hear God, unless we make an effort to do so. Even Jesus had to make space in his daily life for listening to his Father. The Bible tells us that sometimes he got up early in the morning, before anyone else was awake. Sometimes he sent his disciples away in the evening, and he went up on a mountainside to pray. The important thing to notice is that he made quiet times to listen to his Father, and we probably need to do the same thing in our lives. If we never make an effort to listen to him, we probably won’t hear him speak to us.

That’s not an easy thing. We’re busy, almost all of us. We have school or work or family or ministry responsibilities, but it’s when we’re at our busiest that we most need to listen to God. Martin Luther once said, “”I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.” 

I’ll confess that I’m not a very good listener. I’m not always good at listening to people; and I’m not always good at listening to God. But I want to be a better listener. I want to take time like Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to him, not just so that I can know what to do next, but to let him know that what he says is important to me. I hope that you will take the time this week to sit at his feet and listen also. Even though there may be a lot of things that we feel like we need to accomplish each day, nothing is more important than the time we spend listening to God.

Luke 24:36-53

The disciples are deep in excitement over the news that the resurrected Jesus has been appearing to people, yet when He actually shows up among them, they are “startled and frightened.” Jesus has to assure them of His resurrection body by allowing them to touch Him and by eating food. Jesus finds their lack of understanding troubling. He feels as though the disciples ought to already understand from the Scriptures what has happened. Still he patiently explains what has taken place and what the future role of the disciples will be.

It’s easy to have preconceived notions about who Jesus is. Even those closest to Him can form misconceptions about His nature, power, plan, etc. The most common tendency is probably to put Jesus in a box, instead of letting Him be the incomparable, incomprehensible God that He is. Luke’s message is that Jesus shatters our categories of what is possible, what is appropriate, what is God’s ultimate purpose here.

I too am guilty of limiting Christ. Having grown up in the church, I sometimes feel like I have a pretty good grasp on who Jesus is, how He works and my role in the plan. Pretty soon, I don’t need Jesus anymore. It’s at those moments that I need to be “started and amazed” by how much bigger my God and His plan are than what I have figure. Open my eyes, God, to see the real Jesus.

Luke 24:13-35

The two men on the road to Emmaus have completely given up hope. Their explanation to Jesus of recent events is all past tense: “[Jesus] was a prophet … they crucified him … we had hoped that he was the one.” They report the disappearance of the body and the appearance of angels, but there is not even a trace of hope in their voice. It’s over, and it’s time to walk the seven miles home. Jesus doesn’t coddle them in their despair. He calls them on it. He calls them out for being foolish and slow. Is this the meek and mild Jesus?! But He doesn’t leave them in their ignorance; He begins to shine the light of truth for them.

Scripture is loaded with truth. Often our eyes are blinded to its truths or its message by preconceived notions about what it has to say. It is easy to jump past the interpretive process and begin to think about the application and implications a particular interpretation might have. If the application seems too far-fetched or too difficult, we disregard that as a possible interpretation. Jesus calls that foolish. The Scriptures need to be allowed to have their say.

I need to allow the Holy Spirit to say what He wants to say to me through the Bible. Sometimes, I need to set aside the interpretive lens I am using and read the Bible for what it says, regardless of how that interpretation might mess with my reality. I will try to read the Word with a greater openness to letting it say what it wants to say, instead of forcing it into a mold that fits my prejudices and preconceived notions.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.