The Truth Principal

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


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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

 

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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


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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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Sowing and Reaping

This morning I was thinking about boundaries, consequences, and cheap grace. I was thinking about the importance of the right person suffering the consequences of actions and decisions. Natural consequences are a valuable teacher. As parents and educators, when we allow consequences to be felt, we allow our children to grow and learn from their mistakes. When we do not, the consequences are still felt, but instead of being felt by the perpetrator of the action, the consequences are felt by others.

As parents, we do not like to see our children suffer. Unfortunately, this often leads to us interfering with the law of sowing and reaping that God put in place to help us and our children learn to be responsible, loving citizens of His kingdom. Here are some typical examples of natural consequences for what has been sown. Keep in mind that we are talking about natural consequences that result from the child’s behavior, not situations that may appear similar but are not a consequence of the choice the child made.

  • a student rushed through the assignment and didn’t check it over, received a poor grade because of careless mistakes
  • child repeatedly says unkind things to other students, no one wants to play with him
  • a student didn’t study for a test, received a poor grade
  • a student didn’t get up when the alarm went off, missed the bus/ride and was late for school
  • child treats others with disrespect, he/she is not respected
  • child leaves their bike in the driveway, it get’s damaged by weather or by a car backing over it

You get the idea. I think, in theory, we all understand this principle. However, when it comes to my child, everything changes. Did my child rush through and get a poor grade? I think the teacher should let him do it over (we expect the loss of consequence). Does my child say unkind things to others? Well, he didn’t mean it, or it’s because they said unkind things to him first (we try to excuse the misbehavior and make others play with them, removing the natural consequence). Did my child get a poor grade on a test because he didn’t study? He should get to take it over. Did my child oversleep? I will wait for him, beg and cajole him until I can get him out the door, and drive him to school even though it makes me late for work (he has no consequence and you now suffer the consequence by being late for work). My child’s not disrespectful. You just don’t understand him. What about the bike? This one happened to me and my siblings. Of course the child may regret their carelessness not putting their bike away and we might feel sorry for them. Do we reward it by replacing it with a new one, or allow them to suffer the loss and to learn the value of a bike by making them save up their own (earned) money to replace it?

Especially when we are assessing a situation based solely on the child’s report of what happened, we are likely to draw erroneous conclusions. We immediately transform to “mama bear” before all of the facts are in because my child doesn’t lie! Really? Even the most honest children lie sometimes. But regardless, even when they are being honest in reporting a situation, what they are reporting is their interpretation of the situation and we parents need to remember that. Always take time to find out the full story; don’t jump to conclusions or react too quickly.

As a parent, it is hard to see our children suffer, even when they have brought it on themselves. However, if we remove the natural consequences from our children’s actions, we are failing them. We think we are acting out of love, and there is no doubt that we love them, but we are not training them in righteousness. We are not preparing them to take responsibility for their actions and to make wise choices based on their past experiences. The elementary years are critical and wonderful years to learn life skills. If you have a child that rushes through or didn’t study and receives a poor grade, it is not the teacher’s fault! It is the child’s fault that they did not study, or they did not take their time and work carefully.  I  can assure you, the teacher probably reminded them to several times. The natural consequence is a poor grade.

For some children, a poor grade may not be a motivating consequence to do better in the future if the child perceives you don’t care. What are you doing to ensure the child knows you expect them to do their best? Some natural consequences at home to ensure they understand the importance of their effort in their school work may be that you have the child redo the assignment at home because they did not put their best effort into it at school, but you do not expect or allow the grade to be changed (otherwise they learn they do not have to do their best the first time – they will always get another chance). They will soon learn it is better to do it right the first time.

There can be an opposite problem for some students. Some parents are so concerned about their child always getting an A, that the child is not internalizing that they should do their best. Instead, they think they have to get an A at all costs. Often these students are driven to cheat ; they think the grade is more important to their parent than their character. Do you realize that colleges do not ask for elementary transcripts? Elementary is the perfect time to focus on the child doing their best, learning good study habits, and devloping a strong work ethic, rather than achieving a particular grade. You may believe that an A is reasonable to always expect from your child, but every student has the possibility of “hitting a wall” academically.  If you tend to be a driven parent, for your child’s well-being, learn to let their best be enough. Don’t make it about the grade. Make it about them doing their best “heartily, as unto the Lord” (Colossians  3:23).

If a child is having trouble making friends, it may be that they are bossy or unkind. If it is a natural consequence of their own actions, you can help by teaching your child some biblical principles of relationships such as: being kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32), loving and praying for our enemies (Matthew 5:43), treating others the way we would want to be treated and developing a sense of empathy (Matthew 7:12), and not giving up. Sometimes it takes a while to reap what we sow (Galatians 6:9)!

The relationship help can also be applied when the child doesn’t like their teacher. Parents, have we forgotten that the teachers we didn’t like when we were growing up often turned out to be the best teachers we had because of the life lessons and responsibility we learned in their class? It’s okay for a child to not prefer the teacher they have. They will have a boss some day that they don’t care for and they need to learn to work under authority and personalities that are different from their preferences.

As an elementary principal, I often hear parents lamenting that we should give their child grace. Certainly, there are times that it is appropriate to give grace. Grace, by definition, is not a right and is not earned. Too often, “grace” is expected or given at times and in ways that remove the natural consequences that God intended, so that the child could learn to avoid that choice in the future. Especially in the elementary years, when consistency is a critical component helping a child learn (every time I touch the stove, I will get the same result – I get burned), grace should be carefully and sparingly measured out. When a child is unrepentant or does not demonstrate any real understanding of the significance of their actions, it is not the time for grace. It is the time for appropriate consequences. Giving “grace” in these instances only serves to confuse them. They begin to realize we don’t really mean what we say. No is not really no. Wrong is not really wrong.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, describes this as “cheap” grace. Here is what he says, “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”  When we dole out cheap grace, doesn’t it affect our children’s view of God’s grace as well? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! (Romans 6:1b-2a) If a child always receives grace, then they don’t value or even understand it. They just think they are “off the hook” for whatever they did. When a child appropriately receives grace, you will witness a humble, thankful, and repentant heart. When grace is “cheap” you will witness a careless and ungrateful attitude. The child may take no responsibility for what they did, and frequently, the action will soon be repeated.

As you are feeling your child’s pain, it is okay to be empathetic.  Love and Logic, http://www.loveandlogic.com does a great job teaching parents how to have empathy while allowing their children to suffer natural consequences. This is a great resource if you would like to learn more.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:7-9