The Truth Principal

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23


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Grace

This year, the theme with my students and staff will be “Grace”. This summer, after re-reading What’s So Amazing About Grace, by Philip Yancey, I realized how little we really understand about grace. We have it neatly packaged as “unmerited favor” and tied up with a clever acronym ribbon of “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. We know that we are “saved by grace”. But really, what IS grace? What is so amazing about it?

While we acknowledge grace is “unmerited”, we still feel somehow it is owed to us, or someone “should” have given us or our children grace, and the grace we have received, we sometimes secretly feel we have deserved. While we want grace for ourselves or our loved ones, when grace is requested of us, we are more inclined to mete out justice than grace. So I am excited to begin this journey of exploring grace with my students and with you!

This week in chapel, because it is the first chapel of the school year, we will first discuss the authority in the students’ lives – the authority of God, their parents, and me and the teachers at our school. Children have a lot of “authorities” in their lives, and it’s important for them to understand how they work together and which authority matters most when there is a conflict.

Then we will begin to delve into grace. Do you realize how much grace is all around us? Last year for my birthday, I received an expensive rose bush that I ordered online. It cost four to five times more than one I could have purchased at Kroger, but it was so worth it! The roses are beautiful! As a bud, they are outlined with red, then they open up mostly yellow, transitioning (actually changing color!) to a beautiful yellow or cream with a pinkish red edge – and they are so fragrant! My roses are, to me, a beautiful example of God’s “common” grace. He could have made only one kind of rose, one color, but He made so many colors and varieties that delight our eyes and noses! In fact, He could have made the world in black and white and we would be none the wiser. But instead, He created a world full of vibrant color and beauty that we all enjoy, whether we belong to Him or not. Jesus put it this way, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44)

So, with my students, we will start where everyone starts, with God’s common grace, learning to recognized the graces around us that He provides, and that others extend to us.

“Grace is everywhere, like lenses that go unnoticed because you are looking through them. Eventually God gave me eyes to notice the grace around me.” p. 42 What’s So Amazing About Grace

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

John 1:16 NLT


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Running, Homework, and the Gospel

Maybe these aren’t three things you would put together as having something in common, but this all came up this week and the parallels this Resurrection Sunday compel me to write!

Earlier this week, I was interviewing new families that have applied to enroll at our school for next year. We always discuss several particular policies and the truth behind them. One such policy is our “No Homework” policy. There are several reasons for this policy: 1) it usurps the parent’s authority in the child’s life to make decisions about how they will spend their time after they leave school for the day, 2) research shows that elementary children’s brains are academically done by 3:00 (they get brain fatigue and can’t push past it with any more academics) and 3) homework displaces things that are academically beneficial such as activity, family meal times, reading for pleasure, and sleep. It came up in our conversation how we seem to always think, as human beings, that if some is good, more is better, which is what often leads to the assumption that doing a little more math and worksheets will propel our students even faster. But quite the opposite is true. It causes brain fatigue and burn out. It saps children of their enjoyment of learning and does not provide enough down time to process what they have already learned that day. More is not better. Enough is as good as a feast!

That reminded me of running. (Doesn’t everything now days?) Whenever we start an exercise program, like running, it is typical to completely overdo. Although the training says to incrementally increase time and to run only 3-4 days a week with rest days in between, we tend to discount the experts and run too far the first day and/or run every day, thinking that will get us to our goals faster. Again, the opposite is true. More is not better. You are more likely to develop an injury because you are not giving your body time to heal and strengthen between runs. And because you are missing rest days, your body is fatigued and cannot perform as well.

All of that got me to thinking about the work Jesus did on the cross. Really! Jesus paid the penalty for our sin, once and for all, and the proof that it was paid was in the resurrection! There is NOTHING more that you or I need to do to make things right with God if we have accepted His gift of forgiveness through His Son. When you give yourself a regimen of good deeds to do to make up for your sin, aren’t you really saying that Jesus’s blood wasn’t enough? When you are unforgiving toward yourself and toward those who have offended you, aren’t you assuming that Jesus’s forgiveness isn’t enough? There is nothing you can add to what Christ did to make it better. More is not better. It was already perfect!

The good works we do now, as forgiven children, are not out of a sense of “owing a debt” because that debt has been paid! We do it out of our deep love and gratitude for what has been done for us! In homework terms, it’s the difference between “reading for pleasure” and reading to complete a reading log. One comes from intrinsic motivation, the enjoyment of the heart; the other is from a sense of duty, it is required.

Many years ago, our youngest daughter learned how to make coffee. One Saturday morning, she came quietly into our bedroom bringing my husband and I mugs of coffee in bed! What a lovely, sweet gesture! We enjoyed it so much, and she enjoyed the giving, because it was done out of a heart of love. This happened a few more times. One day, I heard my husband ask her to make him some coffee. Then another time he offered to pay her to make coffee. What happened? The coffee stopped. It was no longer a gift of love but an expectation, a debt, and the joy of doing it was gone.

Do you feel guilty about the sin in your life? Accept the free gift of forgiveness that comes through our resurrected Christ! Your debt has been paid! It’s finished! Accept the forgiveness and live a life of devotion to the One who has saved and redeemed you! Let your obedience to Him flow from a heart of love and gratitude, rather than a sense of duty and paying for past sins. There is nothing you can add to what Christ has done for you. Hebrews 10:18 says, “And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices.” More is not better, because Christ was enough!

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  Romans 5:1-2

Christ is risen!

 


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Running for the Prize

Yesterday was the day. I have been training to run a 10K since mid-December, from a non-runner, to a runner. Last week, I ran another 5K. Although I ran it completely, it was still a challenge and I started to doubt myself, knowing that the 10K was fast approaching. All week long I pondered whether I could really run a 10K. I considered giving myself “permission” to walk as needed on the second lap. But then, this passage from 1 Corinthians 9 kept invading my mind:

24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

In a 10K, there are a lot of people who get “the prize”. Of course, there are the overall winners in male and female categories, but there are also 1st through 3rd place winners in age categories. However, in this race, they were also giving participation medals to 10K runners. Now, if you know me at all, you know I am not a fan of participation medals.

I got up early, as I usually do on the day of a race, ate a simple breakfast then began to prepare what to wear. It mercifully wasn’t as cold as the last two 5Ks, but there was a threat of rain. I drove to the race site early so I could easily park and scope things out. When I got there, I saw a sweet friend, parent from my school and a former teacher, who greeted me and encouraged me that I could do it. She said she just focuses on “keep running, even if it is really slow”. That is what I tend to also focus on and it encouraged me. We laughed a little at the possibility that I may be the last runner, but she encouraged me to not worry about that, just keep running. My doubts from earlier in the week were being replaced with “you can do it if you don’t give up”.

A few minutes before the race started, it started pouring. I had time to grab my rain jacket and I lined up at the start line. And we were off! My first few paces of a race are so eager and strong, then suddenly I realize I won’t be able to keep up that pace, and I settle into a rhythm. As I ran, with rain running down my face, I kept hearing “run in such a way that you get the prize”. I always hope to place in my age category, because being older has it’s benefits. There aren’t many women who run at my age! So while I hoped to place, I knew the challenge of this, my first 10K, was simply running and completing the whole thing. It was farther than I had ever run before, even in my training. So that participation medal became, for me, the completion medal, the “you did it even though it was hard” medal.

I eagerly looked for my time on the first 5K lap and saw it was my best time yet. As I started the second lap, I was suddenly alone. A lot of people run the 5K, but much fewer run the 10K, and those who do, are typically the seasoned runners. I am still a rookie. I heard no one behind me and no one passed me. There were a few scattered ahead of me in the distance. I started to wonder if maybe I really was going to be the last one!  As I rounded a turn, I finally saw there were a few behind me. I am not last. I kept running with my friend’s words reminding me to keep running even if it is slow (which came in handy on a very steep hill), and hearing “run in such a way that you get the prize” over and over. The whole second lap I ran alone, with no one passing me and passing no one. I had no idea how lonely the 10K could be – not in a bad way, just different.

I did run the whole race, without walking, ending with a time just under 1 hour and 17 minutes. Unfortunately, the timing company had some issues so, for many of us, their equipment didn’t capture our bib across the finish line and they didn’t have a record of our time! I think I would have placed 2nd or 3rd in my age category if it had. But that’s okay. I will keep running “for the prize” and I have my participation medal that signifies to me that I did it! I persevered and found that I could do something I didn’t think I could do! The giddy joy that comes from perseverance and completion, encourages us to do the next thing, to sign up for the next race!

I know for many of you, my running story is of no consequence; you are not interested in running. That’s okay. I share it because I am finding that running is, for me, a metaphor of so much of the perseverance we need in this life. The apostle Paul seems to agree with me, as he uses it often. As I am learning to persevere in my running, by improving how I am thinking and what I am focusing on, and continuing my training, it applies in so many other areas.

God often calls us to do things for which we feel so inadequate! The calling to live a Christ-centered life in this God-averse society is a challenge that can make us weary. We feel weak; we just want to slow down and walk. We may even feel like quitting. We often feel alone, like we are the only ones and we may be finishing last. But He calls us to “run with purpose in every step” and to go for the prize. And although we feel alone, He promises we are never alone!

Whatever you are going through, trust that God is with you through it, strengthening you at every step. Don’t allow your fears or your feelings to psych you out of the prize that is waiting for you at the finish!

31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31


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Let Us Run With Endurance

I have continued to teach my students about persevering through trials this year. We have focused on James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

The job of kids is to grow up, to become mature and complete. As I mentioned in my previous post, we parents have often sabotaged our kids by removing the struggles and pains of life, thereby handicapping them so they don’t know how to deal with pain, disappointment, or rise to the occasion, face problems head on and solve them.

As always, when I am teaching my students truths from God’s word, I am always learning more myself. Have you ever wanted to try something, by you find yourself squashing your own desire with “you can’t do that” or “you are not good at that”? Ever since college I wanted to be a runner. I ran some in college, but always got violently sick and finally I quit. I determined that “I can’t run.” Fast forward to a few years ago when The Biggest Loser came on TV and I saw very obese people eventually work to the point of being able to run a marathon. It seemed impossible, and yet, with hard work and perseverance (and a relentless personal trainer), they did it! That started to chip away at my own belief about myself. I started to wonder if maybe I could run.

Then my youngest daughter started running and she signed up for a half marathon to run with her mother-in-law. She ran it and loved it and has done more since. I sure would like to run one with her sometime. Hmmm.

In December, I participated in a local 5K by walking. I have walked a lot of 5Ks, but this time, it lit a fire in me and I decided it was time to put aside my assumption that “I can’t run. I am not a runner.” and redefine myself. Part of the reason was that I wanted to do a 10K and the first one I considered signing up for wouldn’t have given me enough time to walk it. I would have to run to finish in time. So I found an app that would train me from a non-runner to a 10K in 13 weeks. Great! That’s just enough time to be ready for the 10K I wanted, so I signed up for the 10K right away to hold myself accountable. On December 6, I put on my headphones and started the app and committed to doing whatever the app told me to do. The app was created for beginners like me, so I told myself that no matter how I felt, I was going to trust the app. My first day I walked for 5 minutes to warm up, ran 1 minute, walked 1.5 minutes, ran 1 minute, walked 1.5 (6 times) then cooled down walking for 5 minutes. In 25 minutes I had run only 6 total minutes. That’s not a lot, is it? But every other day, as recommended by the app, I go back out and do the next training. A couple of weeks ago, I RAN my first 5K without walking at all in between, and placed 6 out of 33 in my age category. I am on my way to the 10K.

On Friday, my training took 80 minutes, 60 of which was running. I’ve come a long way. I was tired and it was long. The first part of the run, I just thought “I’m too tired, this is too hard, this is too long, I can’t do it…” Then my commitment reminded me to trust the app and Hebrews 12 came to mind:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.

My husband came to cheer me on at my first 5K run. Knowing he was there and that I also had students running, helped me persevere so that they could see that I didn’t quit or wimp out. As believers, we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses! As a school principal, I am surrounded by staff, students, and school families. Are they witnessing me persevere through trials and come out triumphant and faithful?

When I run, I wear clothing that makes it as easy to move as possible. I want shoes that fit and support my feet. I don’t want my garments to weight me down or to chafe. I don’t carry anything that could slow me down or trip me up. Yet in life, we often put obstacles in our own way. We fill our homes with things that tempt us and distract us from more important endeavors. We find time for Facebook but can’t seem to find any available time to spend with the Lord. What trips you up? What can be removed so that you are not slowed in your progress?

One thing I have learned as I have tried to improve as a runner, is that it helps your energy and focus if your posture is right. If I pull my head up and look straight ahead instead of down, my breathing is easier and my pace is stronger and faster. As I look far ahead, I seem to get there more swiftly, and I enjoy more of the scenery along the way as well. We endure our trials, whatever they are, when we fix our eyes on Jesus; He is the beginning and the end of our faith! Keeping our eyes on Him is like seeing the finish line in the distance. It keeps our focus on what is real and true instead of how we feel, and it strengthens us to persevere.

What I have learned about endurance or perseverance in my journey to become a runner is that endurance is more mental than physical. I notice that after the first few minutes of running, my breathing and heart rate level out. So it’s not because I’m breathless that I want to quit. It’s because it still takes effort and I’m tired, my legs ache, and it’s long and I can’t always see the end from the beginning, but I have always trusted the app. I trusted that it knew what I should be able to do even if I felt like giving up, so if it said I could run 35 minutes straight then I focused on what it believed I could do and just did it. And you know what? I did it, so the app was right! When God says we can make it through trials, no matter how hard, and we feel like we just can’t, we can trust Him. He is with us. He strengthens us. He knows better than us. He made us! Even when it seems insurmountable or impossible, trust Him!

I am a runner! I didn’t know it, but I am! Don’t miss out on what God has planned for you because it is too hard or painful.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.

Romans 5:3-5a


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Preparing Students for Life: Things I wish I could tell my younger self

This year, our focus in elementary will be the school’s mission statement: Preparing students for life; natural, spiritual, and eternal. While our students, families, and staff may hear or read our mission statement throughout the year, we don’t always focus on what it really means in the day to day reality of a Christian education. Nor do we frequently and intentionally talk to the students about it so that they can connect what they are learning and doing in school, with “real” life. So this year in chapel and in our classrooms, we will be taking intentional opportunities to connect our learning with how it benefits students both now and in the future. This also provides a general theme that allows me to speak to students about a variety of topics.

One such topic is responsibility. I think it is the desire of every parent and teacher that our children learn to be responsible and take responsibility for their actions. I would like students to realize that learning is their responsibility and I would like to see parents be more comfortable allowing the natural consequence of poor grades when their child has not given their best effort, rather than rescuing them by studying with them and for them. Or to allow their children to navigate the difficulties of peer relationships, learning to get along with difficult people, developing tougher skin when things don’t go their way, and learning to give compassion and forgiveness, without undue parental involvement. Often, with good intentions, we sabotage our efforts to help our children learn responsibility because we aren’t consistent leaving the responsibilities that are appropriately theirs in their lap.

As I was driving down the road a few weeks ago, the song, “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe came on the radio. It made me think of all my years in education and what I have learned and how I have grown, and what I wish I had known when I was first teaching and raising my own children. I can’t go back and talk to the younger me, but I can talk to you and share with you some of my thoughts on the things I have learned.  Maybe what I share here will benefit you in your parenting or teaching, in a way that will reach a child’s heart and character, and help them grow into mature, responsible, and independent young adults that will bring honor and joy to their parents and to Jesus.

My generation was the generation that mastered the art of helicopter parenting. We over protected, swooped in to rescue, and made sure to build positive “self-esteem” in our children by repeatedly praising them, telling them how great and how special they were, awarding them for participating, and generally coddling them. The result has been a generation of young narcissistic adults, many of whom are still living with their parents into their thirties, and/or have an entitlement mentality, poor work ethic, and have a tendency to be risk averse. While we love our children, it is our job to raise them to be independent of us, responsible adults who contribute positively to society to the glory of God. We parents are completely baffled by how some of our children are living their lives. “How did this happen?” we ask. “We didn’t raise them to be like this!” …or did we?

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Have you ever applied this verse to your children? What does James say brings maturity? Facing trials of many kinds. This is not typically our hope and dream for our children, is it? But think about your own life. Hasn’t it been the trials through which you persevered that brought about the growth and maturity in you? While none of us enjoys hardship or trials, and we certainly don’t wish them for our children, God uses difficulties in our life for our good, to produce mature, responsible, and compassionate adults. Some of the wisest, kindest, most patient and compassionate people I know, are people who have suffered greatly, persevering through trials of many kinds.

Similarly, Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” So perseverance through trials also develops character, and character, hope!

I wish I had allowed my children to face and persevere through trials more often, rather than rescuing them. Of course, no parent enjoys seeing their child suffer, and this is why we sometimes tried to shield our children from trials and/or interfered with natural consequences of our children’s actions or behavior. And especially if it wasn’t their fault, we swooped in to rescue them.

I have discovered in recent years two excellent, sensible, and truth-based resources for raising children: John Rosemond, author of Parenting by the Book, as well as many other books on parenting, and Love and Logic.  Here is how a recent article from Love and Logic describes the effects of rescuing children (from their Insider’s Club newsletter from July 27):

  • It is appropriate for parents to rescue children when life and limb is in danger. Also, occasionally, when their youngsters aren’t demanding it, appreciate the help, and don’t make a habit of needing to be rescued. I like this. This is something I sometimes got right. If I sensed my children thought I owed it to them to rescue them, I would not. I tended to help on occasion when I could see they realized it wasn’t my responsibility to do so, and it was appreciated. Then they received it as a gift of grace rather than payment for a debt.
  • When you hover and rescue, you send a message to your child that they are weak and are not capable of solving the problem.  When I was a little girl, I remember saying, “I can do it myself!” And often, my mom would let me struggle through tying my shoe or other activities, allowing me to develop independence and confidence in my ability. With my own children, I too often, sadly, did it myself rather than waiting patiently for them, because it was faster.
  • Kids love and respect adults who are willing to set and enforce healthy limits. Having a good long-term relationship with them depends occasionally on allowing them to be very upset with us.  I still remember being angry with my mom for telling me “no” for something and going to my room and crying into my pillow, “I hate mommy!”. I still feel ashamed thinking about it. But my mom ignored me and never let on that it affected her. She stood firmly by her “no”. I never did that again. Many of my generation could not bear our child being upset with us, and too often, would relent, which sadly accomplishes the opposite of what we think. Our children lose respect for us when we can be manipulated by them.
  • Sincere empathy makes the difference. Sincere empathy allows us to hold our kids accountable for their poor decisions, and helps them own and solve the problems that they create without losing their love and respect. It allows us to discipline without feeling guilty.

I am a problem solver by nature. When my children had a problem, I wanted to solve it. Too often, I supplied the solution. How I wish I had this advice then! Sincere empathy such as “Wow, that’s tough” or “you are facing a really difficult situation” coupled with “what do you think you might do to solve it?” does two things. 1.) The empathy demonstrates our genuine care about the struggle and love for them through it,  and 2.) it puts the responsibility of the solution where it belongs, on them, while demonstrating our confidence in their ability to solve it. This develops the ability to come up with creative solutions to problem solve and, I think, creates safety and confidence talking through possible solutions with their parents, rather than peers.

So, I wish I had “helped” less. I wish I had not done for them, what they could do for themselves. I wish I had more often put the responsibility of solving problems back on my children and students without solving it for them.

I wish I had praised less, and encouraged more.

Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else. Galatians 6:4 (The Living Bible)

I have this framed in my office. There is a lot to be said for the intrinsic reward of knowing you persevered and did well. What helps build perseverance and “stick-to-itiveness” in our children?  In another past newsletter from Love and Logic (from Feb. 17), Dr. Charles Fay describes the difference between praise and encouragement. Phrases like, “That is so great!” “Wow! You are really special!” “I like it so much when you…” “You are so bright” and “Super!” come from my generation’s self-esteem culture. Here are the effects of these words of praise (And I know this may be difficult to swallow! We all have done this for years!) according to Dr. Fay:

  • Praise addicts kids to praise. Many fear losing it if they try something difficult that they might not be able to do in a praiseworthy fashion. This contributed to creating our risk-averse children.
  • Many kids see praise as manipulative. As adults, most of us are wise enough to fear those who lather us with vague accolades.  As kids grow, they also recognize that the praise doesn’t match reality. So you might hear, “Of course you think that. You’re my mom.”
  • Praise creates cognitive dissonance. Kids who feel badly about themselves feel anxious because praise doesn’t fit their sense of self. To relieve the tension, they act out to confirm their view of self.
  • Praise distracts from what really builds self-esteem. Feeling good about ourselves does not come from being told that we are great. It comes from doing great things.

“Feeling good about ourselves does not come from being told that we are great. It comes from doing great things.” Isn’t that the truth? I find this is true with my teachers and staff as well. I often tell them they are “wonderful”, “awesome”, or “the best”. (Yes, I am still learning to break the old habit of “empty” praise.)  But what really has meaning for them is when I specifically notice something they have done and take the time to mention it or write them a personal note. Our children need this as well. So instead of empty praise, Dr. Fay recommends noticing and describing. Instead of “you’re awesome” he says to experiment with encouraging by saying, “I noticed that you ….” He also recommends resisting adding “and that’s great.” Simply notice and describe, especially noticing and describing effort and perseverance. “I noticed that you kept trying even though it was challenging.” He says, “There are few things more encouraging and motivating than seeing that we can overcome difficult tasks with a strong measure of grit. That’s how we really help kids feel good.”

When I was a little girl, my family camped a lot in Oklahoma. One day, we were “mountain climbing” in the Arbuckle Mountains. I was not enjoying it. I found it a bit frightening and was afraid of the critters we came across along the way. About the time we reached the top, a storm suddenly came up and we had to quickly get down the mountain. I became laser-focused on getting down quickly and safely. I remember my dad telling me that I was “a trooper” because of my changed attitude and focus, my perseverance. He noticed. That moment defined me for years to come. I am a trooper, someone who perseveres through trials.

This year, it is my goal to encourage my students and staff, and to empower them to persevere, problem solve, and discover and/or enjoy the personal satisfaction of a job well done.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 


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To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

Earlier this week, the Lord brought to mind this verse from 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV).

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

I have been thinking about this verse all week. Have you ever really thought about what it is saying? Obviously, it is saying that obedience is important, but as I thought about it this week, I thought about this verse differently than I have in the past.

The context of this verse is during King Saul’s reign. God had sent the Israelites into battle against the Amalakites and He instructed them to destroy everything – every person, every animal – without exception. Though the Israelites defeated the Amalakites, Saul kept the king alive and the Israelites kept the best of all of the livestock. When Samuel confronted Saul, Saul said that they had kept the best of the animals to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Saul even said to Samuel that he had “kept the Lord’s instructions”. But he really didn’t did he? Obeying most is not obeying all. The disobedience was so great from God’s perspective that it was because of this that God rejected Saul as king.

I’ve always thought of this passage in terms of not obeying completely, but now I’ve been thinking about the contrast of what a situation would look like if there had been obedience from the beginning, as opposed to how it changes when there has been disobedience and then sacrifice. For example, I remember once when we were kids that my brothers were throwing something in the living room and it hit and broke a vase. If they had obeyed and not thrown the object, the vase would not have been broken. Although they were very sorry, and my dad did his best to glue the vase back together, the vase was forever changed. Many acts of disobedience are far more consequential than a broken vase. Disobedience can result in damage to relationships, physical damage, emotional damage, and even death.

What was the purpose of sacrifice except to pay for someone’s disobedience?  While someone might be repentant and sorry for their sin, the damage is already done.  Repentance doesn’t erase the pain or injury that has been caused and would have been avoided by obedience. While the sacrifice or penalty for disobedience meets the requirements of justice, it does not have the same result as if the person had obeyed and done the right thing in the first place. Sacrifices without repentance are a “stench” to the Lord. Sacrifices offered with genuine repentance are a “fragrant offering”, but how much better to not have disobeyed at all!

When I was a little girl, I was very shy. When I realized I had done something wrong, either because I was in trouble for disobeying, or because I had been unkind, I would feel bad, but I was too timid to say I was sorry. So I would try to show that person I was sorry by how I behaved, and I would promise myself that I was never going to do THAT again – whatever it was that caused the trouble. Committing myself to not behaving that way again is in keeping with repentance, and that’s a good thing, but demonstrating by my actions that I was sorry, while it’s at least something, is not the same as confessing what you have done, acknowledging the pain you caused, or asking forgiveness. It was sort of my self-imposed penance or my “sacrifice” to make things right.

I’ve often heard people say that “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.  Isn’t this the same as saying sacrifice is better than (or perhaps as good as) obedience?  You usually hear this in the context of someone wanting to do something they know or suspect they won’t get permission to do. They surmise that if they go ahead and do it and then apologize, somehow the apology makes it OK.  But it is not OK.  Even if they perceive no real harm was done, it damages the relationship.

This week, as I am wrapping up our theme of obedience, I want to help my students see that obedience is always better, to obey is better than sacrifice. I want to help them see the “before and after pictures” of decisions to obey in contrast to the “before and after pictures” of disobedience followed by sacrifice, apologies, repentance, restitution. Doing the right thing is always the better choice. Disobedience brings pain.

Yet none of us obeys perfectly do we? By God’s grace, Christ came to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, bringing both forgiveness and reconciliation.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18


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God’s Living and Active Word

As I write this, I am sitting in the Wichita airport, waiting for my flight back home. I have been visiting my family to attend the funeral of my aunt, my mom’s only sister. It was a wonderful time with family, remembering a life well lived to the glory of God. I’m at the age when I have many loved ones already in heaven. It makes you consider your own mortality and realize how fleeting this life is. I think of this life as a “qualifying race”. It is when we make our choice whether we will live for Christ or reject Him, and when we prove our love and devotion. We sometimes live as if this is THE life, but it’s not. THE life is in eternity. Not that this life is not important; it is. But it pales in light of eternity.

While I have been here this week, I have also been reading through the gospel of John with a friend. We read a chapter a day and meditate on it and share our thoughts daily through email. While I have been here, we have read John 3-6. In John 3 Jesus talks to Nicodemus and the importance of eternal life and how it is obtained (by believing in Him). Yesterday, in John 5:28-29 I read, “Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” (NLT) Yesterday, as we buried my aunt, I was also at the grave of my sweet mother, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What a precious verse, knowing all of these precious family members will be reunited with me some day!

If you read the Bible faithfully, no doubt you have had this experience. It seems, wherever you are reading in God’s Word, it was meant for you that day. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living or alive and active. When I find God’s Word reaching out and speaking to my particular situation, I think of this verse. His Word is not some dead old manuscript. It is alive and active! It is always and continually relevant because it is truth that comes from an eternal, unchanging God. Those who live by it, know this is true.

There was another part of John 5:29 that I pondered yesterday. “Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” This should alarm us! We have loved ones who we know have rejected Christ. Today, in John 6:44 it says, For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.” We should both be sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ and praying that the Father would draw them to Him. When you gave your life to Jesus, didn’t you have a sense of being drawn to Him? I fear we lack concern and urgency with the lost.

I want to challenge myself and you, to continue to read God’s Word daily, listening to His voice, and unabashedly and lovingly sharing truth with the lost souls around us.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.  Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69