Monday, March 30, 2015

The place of grace in education

“18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,

‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’

20 and again,

‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
    that they are futile.’”  1 Corinthians 3:18-20 (NRSV)

I have spent a great portion of my career in higher education, especially adult education.  I believe that education can help us to get better jobs, improve our lives, and become more giving.  Educated people have more resources to contribute to our society in positive ways. 

However, when I read the scripture passage above, it reminds me education does not make us wise with God. We must allow God to use education to equip us to do His will, but education apart from God can make us arrogant and self-serving. 

I often see students striving to get an education to help bolster their self-esteem.  Education alone will not do this, because education is a beginning or a catalyst, not an ending or a goal.  If the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God, then education must be used as the path we walk to seek God’s wisdom. 

Education that leads to arrogance is foolishness to God, but education that leads to a true understanding of ourselves—our value to God and our value to our fellow man—glorifies God.

A true understanding of ourselves as we relate to God bolsters our self-esteem because God’s grace has given us a worthwhile place in His glorious kingdom.         

Monday, March 23, 2015

Amazing Grace by Celtic Thunder

I wanted to share a YouTube video of a beautiful arrangement of Amazing Grace by Celtic Thunder.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Building according to grace

"According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done." 1 Corinthians 3:10-13 (NRSV)

In verse 10, the apostle Paul says “According to the grace of God given to me,….” The word “according,” is defined in Strong’s Concordance with many different meanings, and three interesting meanings are “down from” , “authority”, and “against.” God’s grace comes “down from” God to Paul, and the fact that it comes from God gives grace authority over Paul. It is grace that has given Paul the skill and knowledge to lay a foundation.

Paul goes on to say that no one can lay a foundation other than the foundation that has already been laid—Jesus Christ. The authority of grace allows us to lay the foundation of Christ skillfully, like a master builder because God has designed the entire building, and trained us to build it to His exacting specifications—Christ.

Paul recognizes that not everyone will lay the foundation, but each contribution to the building of the kingdom is worthwhile. What we build upon this foundation is important, and will be tested “against” grace on the “Day” when Christ, the grace of God, will judge us.      

Friday, March 13, 2015

God's Testimony

"When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NRSV)

The translation note in the New Revised Standard Version tells us that some ancient manuscripts translate the word mystery in verse 1 as testimony. God’s testimony to us really is a mystery because there are no plausible reasons why God, who is so powerful, eternal, and expansive beyond human understanding, would create humans, allow them to become flawed, and then love and redeem them by putting their sin upon His own shoulders.

Early Christians, especially those influenced by the Greek culture, were encumbered with a desire for wisdom and knowledge. Does this sound familiar to us? Gnostics believed that Christianity was based upon a mystery that required a special spiritual knowledge in order to understand it, and only certain people were blessed with this knowledge. In the scripture passage above, Paul is telling the Greek Corinthians that God’s testimony is a mystery, but one that we can understand by the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not need wisdom or special knowledge to understand it—in fact, our human knowledge is rather useless when it comes to God’s work of grace in our lives

I am frequently tempted to put knowledge on a pedestal. Since I work in higher education, I believe that knowledge will help to improve our lives. Human knowledge is not bad because God gave it to us, in order that we might consciously proclaim His grace. Animals do not have the knowledge that we have and so they can only proclaim God’s grace through their role in this vast and complex ecosystem that God created. We humans have a knowledge of God that can actually allow us to fellowship with Him, and share His testimony. Grace truly is a mystery and a testimony of God.         

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Grace and wealth 1 Corinthians 1:26-28

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, …” 1 Corinthians 1:26-28 (ESV).

I have a lot of material advantages. I have clean water, clean clothes, shoes, a clean home that is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I drive to work and to the grocery store, and I have the means to put gas in my car and keep up the maintenance on my car. I always eat breakfast lunch and dinner, and I have a variety of meats, fruits, and vegetables to eat, as well as milk, eggs and cheese. I have money to keep up my appearance. I get my hair cut regularly. I have access to health insurance, so I get regular health and dental check-ups. I tithe ten percent of my income to my church. However, I do not have enough money to buy a new car or new home any time I want to, nor do I have the means to own every new technological convenience. A big concern I have is that I want to have enough money saved when I retire.

According to 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, I am wise according to worldly standards. I do not like being in that classification, but when I ask myself, “What am I willing to give up in order to be chosen by God?”, I am hard pressed for an answer. Paul says that God chose things that are not to bring to nothing things that are. I need to be willing to give up everything to God because it all belongs to Him to begin with.  It is because of God's grace that I am able to live in our society.   

I must constantly be aware that all of the material wealth that I have is not mine. It all belongs to God, and He can make nothing out of everything, and everything out of nothing. Material wealth is a great burden that I must constantly pluck out of my own heart and give to God. I must continually keep my eyes fixed on God, and not my earthly manna.

This is always a work in progress for me. Each time I look in the mirror to put on make-up, I am operating from the view of worldly wisdom. Each time I get in my car and drive to church, I am doing something the world considers good. When I give everything to God, and become nothing, then His grace showers me with love and worth and I become something. We all need to consider our wealth and nothingness regularly, and allow our worth to come from God’s grace. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Christ, the power and wisdom of God

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. I Corinthians 1:21-25 (NRSV)

When I was a child, my father read to my sister and me a collection of stories and poems that included some of Aesop’s fables. One of my favorites was a fable about the Sun and the North Wind who entered into a competition to see who was the most powerful. They each used their own “power” tomake a traveler take off his cloak. The North Wind, who thought the Sun was weak and foolish, blew as hard as it could, but the traveler only clutched his cloak tighter. Then, the Sun shone brightly, and it was so hot that the traveler removed his cloak of his own accord.

Verse 21 tells us that God knows that we could not begin to comprehend Him through wisdom. All of the science and understanding we have of the world around us is only a drop in the vast ocean of God’s knowledge and wisdom. We can only shrink and recoil in the presence of such immense greatness, power and wisdom.

But God, in His vast, unfathomable knowledge, provided a way for us to glimpse His greatness and power. He sent Christ, who was crucified for us. Paul said that Christ was a scandal (this is the literal meaning of stumbling block) to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles who try to seek God through knowledge, but to those whose hearts are open to the truth, this act of humility and grace is the ultimate power and wisdom of God. Just as in Aesop’s fable, God could easily prove Himself to us by demonstrating His greatness and glory, but His power is so great that we could not withstand it (Exodus 33:22). God chose to demonstrate His power to us through the reflected light of grace so we can openly and freely embrace it.