The Truth Principal

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


1 Comment

Grace, Grace, and More Grace

This past October 31 marked the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenberg which ignited the fire of the Reformation. I have loved learning about Reformation history ever since I took a class on Martin Luther in college. What’s so special about Reformation history? There is so much GRACE there! In the years leading up to the Reformation, the church had become an institution of ungrace. Martin Luther suffered under this ungrace, trying to find forgiveness and reconciliation with God through works and deprivation – until he read in God’s word that salvation comes by grace alone – sola gratia. It is a gift to be received rather than a prize to be earned. This so changed him that he wrote prolifically to share this good news with others.

Soon after Reformation Day, we celebrate Thanksgiving. I spoke to my students about both of these holidays in my November chapel. We looked at the word gratia and recognized its similarity to other “grace words” such as grateful, gratitude, gratuity, gracias, and so on. We discovered a link between grace and thankfulness. In fact, we “say grace” before a meal to thank God for the food He has provided. The appropriate response to grace received is a grateful heart. Why? Because by its very definition, we don’t deserve it. Whenever we receive good things that are unmerited, it tends to well up in us an overflowing emotion of gratitude.

The string of grace-filled holidays has led to the most grace-filled celebration of all — the coming of Christ. The most shocking event in world history was when God Himself took on the form of His creatures, in the person of His Son, to walk among us, to be Immanuel, God with us. But He came not only to be present and walk in our shoes, as it were, but also to do for us what we could not do for ourselves – to save us from our sin and restore for us a right relationship with God. He did this gratis – for free. It costs us nothing, but cost Him everything.

As I reflect on the year that is coming to a close and look forward to the year about to dawn, I am so grateful for all of the gifts of grace in my life – especially for the forgiveness I have received for my sins and the opportunity to live my life for Christ, Who gave His life for me. I so often fall short, but God gives grace upon grace.

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

Acts 20:24

 


Leave a comment

That’s Not Fair!

That’s not fair! Have you ever said that? If you are around children much, you hear it pretty regularly! My students tell me that it’s not fair when someone else is winning, or when someone cuts in front of you, or when someone gets something you don’t, or when someone gets a bigger piece of chocolate cake than you, or when you are not allowed to do something that you want to do, or when you get blamed for something someone else has done.

Following up from last month, when we learned about being an image-bearer and learning to conform to the image of Christ, who is “full of grace and truth”, we began looking at some of Jesus’ parables to get an idea of what grace looks like.

We can all relate to feeling something is not fair. Jesus knew we would when he told this story in Matthew 20:1-15 (NLT):

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

“At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing.  So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

“At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

“That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first.  When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage.  When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

“He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

I don’t know about you, but I quickly identify with the workers who were there all day. While it is true that they were paid a fair wage and received what they agreed to, it’s the inequity of the situation that makes it feel unfair. So we tried to look at it from another perspective. I asked my students to imagine that their dad didn’t have a job. (Some of the students gasped!) Not only was dad unemployed, but he went to a location where people would go hoping to find work. He was worried because he has a wife and children at home and there is no food in the refrigerator! (More gasps!) He needs to find work so he can feed his family. He has been looking all day, but finds nothing. Finally, near the end of the day, the vineyard owner finds him and puts him to work. At least he will have about an hour of pay. Maybe it will be enough to buy a little something to eat. Imagine his surprise when he is paid for the full day! Wouldn’t he have been leaping for joy? Maybe he rushed home to tell the family the wonderful generosity of the vineyard owner! “Look! Look what I got! he paid me a full day’s wage!” What a relief to be able to put food on the table! How do you feel about the fairness of the generous vineyard owner now? God is like that. He is that generous with us.

We also looked at the parable of the Unforgiving Servant from Matthew 18:23-35

We tried to imagine together what it would be like to owe someone millions of dollars. The debt was overwhelming and impossible to repay! The king was going to sell him and his family and all of their possessions to repay the debt. But when the servant pleaded with the king for mercy, the king had compassion. He didn’t follow through with the legal remedy for such a debt, nor did he set up a payment plan! Instead, he completely forgave the debt! Just like that! The debt was wiped out! Gone! Don’t you find it particularly disappointing to learn that immediately after being forgiven such a tremendous debt, the same servant sought out a fellow servant who owed him thousands and demanded immediate payment? When the servant asked for mercy, just as he had done, instead of being merciful, he threw him into prison.

We are like the unforgiving servant. We have been forgiven so much! We have been forgiven for everything we have ever done that offended God. God generously forgives us when we ask, even though we don’t deserve it. Yet quite often, we are stingy with forgiveness. When someone has offended us, we want them to jump through a few hoops and feel our pain before we relent and forgive them – if we do forgive them. Jesus makes it very clear how much this displeases God.  God requires us to forgive like He has forgiven us. In fact, when we pray the Lord’s prayer, we are committed to it, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…”

So today we learned that grace is not fair. Grace is better than fair! It is generous! As we grow in our likeness of Jesus, people around us should find us quick to forgive and generous in grace.

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. In the bottom-line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word deserve does not even apply.”

p. 62 What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey


Leave a comment

Our Family Resemblance

Who do you look like in your family? I look remarkably like my mom. Maybe you can tell from this picture, taken a few years ago. Sometimes looking in the mirror startles me! There are times when my facial expression and the words I use look and sound just like her! This month in chapel we talked about what it means to be an image bearer. I clearly bear the image of my mother. God tells us in His Word that when He created us, He created us in His image! No one can say that “you have God’s nose,” or “you laugh just like your Heavenly Father,” so I discussed with my students ways that God’s image is clearly seen in us.

Some of the ways we bear God’s image include:

  • We have a capacity to love which, by the way, is infinite! When I had my second child, I didn’t have to take some of the love from my first child to have love for my second. I can love as many people as I am willing to love, as much as I am willing to love them! God says we should love everyone, even our enemies, so He has provided us with the capacity to do that!
  • We are relational beings. We thrive in relationship with each other and with God. God walked in the Garden with Adam and enjoyed fellowship with him. When our relationships are broken, it hurts, because we are made for relationship.
  • Related to that, we are communicative beings. We can express our needs, wants, ideas, and feelings. We can have rational discussion and even argue our points in a reasonable way. We are able to make ourselves understood, and to understand each other. If we don’t understand, we can ask questions to clarify until we do understand!
  • We are creative beings. God created this beautiful world out of nothing! We can’t do that, but we can create some amazing things! When I was a little girl, if I wanted to talk on the phone, I had to sit by the phone which was connected to the wall with a cord. In fact, we had a rotary dial only. I was an adult by the time “cordless” phones became the norm, and a mother of two before I had my first clunky cell phone. Now I have a phone that does everything my computer can do and more! I am continually amazed at the creativity of each generation!

These are just a few ways that we are “image-bearers”.  Unfortunately, our image-bearing is flawed, isn’t it?  Although we have capacity to love, we often choose to withhold love, or we love ourselves much more than we love others and are selfish. Although we are relational, we often hurt and sabotage our relationships rather than nurture and grow them. While we are capable of communicating and understanding, we often choose not to understand and often communicate in unkind ways. While we are creative, we often use our creativity to find ways to do harm or justify sin. God’s image in us is marred by the effects of the fall.

That’s what makes the rest of the story so amazing! God didn’t leave us in this pitiful state. He did the most incredible thing, and sent His Son, who perfectly bore His image, to take on ours!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. Colossians 1:15

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!  Philippians 2:6-8

Jesus became like us! He knows what it feels like to be us. He even knows what it is like to be a child. He probably suffered a skinned knee a time or two. He knows what it is like to be scolded by his parents. Remember the time he was in the temple and his parents couldn’t find him? They were scared and worried. They didn’t know where he was! In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” He can sympathize with us. He “gets” us. Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? put it this way, “On earth, living among us, he learned what it was like. He put himself on our side.”

We know that the remedy for the fall is the redemption we receive through faith in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that when someone becomes a Christian, they become “a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” Did you catch that? We have come full circle – first being made in His image, then flawed by the fall, Jesus came, taking on our image, saving us from the effects of the fall, now we are being made into the image of the Son.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decide in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. Ephesians 1:4-7

God had this plan all along! You know, we have a lot of students that are adopted. When I first talked about looking like my mother, I suspect a few of them were feeling left out. Maybe they don’t think they look like their parents. Well, I have thought about that. I know of many older married couples that look like each other. All of those years living together, they take on each other’s mannerisms and begin to look similar. I have also noticed that a lot of adopted children look like their adoptive families. I am not talking about skin color or hair color, although that can be true as well. There is just something about being in close relationship with each other that we begin to resemble one another. God adopted us into His family and He is making us into the image of His Son! We started out so unlike Him, but we are becoming more like Him every day. But what does He look like?

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. …Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.  John 1:14, 16-18

Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. The more time we spend with Him, the more we will become like Him, taking on His characteristics. We will begin to “look like” his brother or sister. If that is happening, then people ought to see in us the “family resemblance”. They should see grace and truth in us! Wouldn’t it be great if someone who had just met you said, “You look just like Jesus! Any chance you are related to Him?”

How can you be the image of Christ to those who don’t know Him? With my students, we will be exploring this further next month. We are going to learn about what “grace and truth” looked like in the life of Jesus.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.

2 Corinthians 3:18

 


2 Comments

The Measure of All Things

I love this mug! It makes me laugh at myself and reminds me that I am NOT “the measure of all things”. I remember learning in college (a long time ago!) that there was a philosopher, a contemporary of Plato (Protagorus – but who remembers that name?) who said, “Man is the measure of all things”. At the time I heard of it, I dismissed it. Then, as now, it was understood to mean that man is the highest creature, and it implied that there is no objective, absolute truth, but that man is the one who determines what is true. I dismissed it then because I know God and that He, not man, is the “measure of all things”. He sets the standard and He defines what is absolutely true.

But I have often thought of the phrase since then, because I have noticed that many people live as if they are the measure of all things. For example, “I would never think that, feel that, do that, … therefore you shouldn’t either.” Or, “I always, …therefore you should…” Some people live their whole lives this way, but we all have a little of this in us. In fact, it goes back to the Garden of Eden doesn’t it? When we live this way, we tend to judge others by ourselves.

I especially notice this when someone jumps on a “bandwagon”. I have been on a LOT of bandwagons in my life. I have often felt guilty when I didn’t jump on one with my friends. Here are the kinds of “bandwagons” I see in our culture now. For example, do you think Paleo is the healthiest way to eat and secretly judge those that don’t “get it”? Or maybe you think everyone should boycott Disney or Starbucks because the values of the company or its owners are very different from yours. Maybe you can’t fathom how anyone who doesn’t share your particular political perspective could possibly be a Christian.  Don’t get me wrong. It is fine to choose to eat the Paleo diet or boycott companies whose values differ from yours or to have firmly held political convictions. These can all be the result of honest attempts to live out our faith and to live our lives in such a way that we don’t offend our conscience, what we understand to be right and wrong. The problem is, we get so enthused about what we are learning or doing, we judge those who are not doing it too.

The reality is, we are just trying to make sense of things we believe to be true, and live our lives accordingly. And we are all in different places – in our circumstances, in our maturity, and in our walk with Christ. Some things I used to believe tenaciously, I don’t feel strongly about anymore. I realized they were chasing after wind. Other things, I cling to even more deeply because I have tried and tested them and found them to be trustworthy and true. We learn and we grow.

We all need grace on the journey. When we differ with others, grace tries to understand the other person’s perspective. Grace allows time to grow and mature. Grace is willing to assume the best and forgive the worst. Grace listens and cares. Grace does not pass judgment. By grace, we can choose not to take offense when someone disagrees with us, and we can choose not to offend when we think we are right and they just don’t “get it”.

This isn’t a 21st century problem. The New Testament Christians had similar struggles as they were learning to live out their faith:

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Romans 14:2-4 (NIV)

What grace have you received today? What grace have you extended to others?

 


Leave a comment

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


Leave a comment

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!

 


1 Comment

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


2 Comments

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


Leave a comment

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

 


Leave a comment

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