Christian Life Internship – Stage #25

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Interns The summer’s sabbatical has refreshed and delighted me. The school year is underway.  My quiet time is shorter now.

Typically I struggle with resenting the reduced margin in my days as I step back into commuting and teaching Monday through Friday after the summer.  I cherish that restful season.  I take advantage of the each morning’s leisure to ‘noodle’ around in my Bible, to linger in prayer, to investigate Hebrew and Greek word meanings via the Blue Letter Bible app on my phone or laptop.

And already toward the end of July as I anticipated the reality of HAVING to budget my time again, it occurred to me that I was looking at my upcoming transition all wrong.

God gives me the 9+ weeks of summer time out of school for intense study.  Then he sends me from my home-based classroom back to my workplace for another residency in servanthood.  The internship goes from mid-August through the first week of June.  But there are classroom periods scheduled each Saturday morning and for an occasional week or so throughout my annual residency. These are called ‘national holidays’ and ‘spring break’.

Through Holy Spirit empowered faith, I am trying to approach each residency day with this greeting to my heavenly schoolmaster:

  • Okay, dear teacher, what do you have planned for me this day?  What practical exercises have you, in your wisdom chosen and laid out? What summer study lessons do you intend for me actually to apply this fall among my students, colleagues and family?

I think I can trust him to be a perfect tutor.  After all, the Greek word that sometimes gets translated as ‘discipline’ -paideuó, means to educate or train. Discipline is just part of the formation process.

Acts 7:22  Moses was educated/trained/instructed in all the learning of the Egyptians

Acts 22:3  (Paul says of himself that he was)….educated under Gamaliel

PS:  If you’re curious to know why I wrote “Stage # 25” in my blog post title….It’s because this is my 25th year teaching French!

 

 

 

Exercising the right muscles….

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Weights

I don’t like working out.  Whether it’s with the weights above or just my daily trek.

In fact, I dread that strenuous cove walk here in the mountains of western North Carolina. Yes, it’s beautiful and the trees and birds point to God’s glory.  But the average incline is 13% and my route takes me up and down the gravel roads.  It never gets easier.

I thought about the difficulty of my daily routine, rereading that Hebrews truth (12:11)…

  • No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Boy, does THAT describe my early mornings – Unpleasant but worth it!

From that reflection, it’s easy to connect to God’s training plan for our character. He uses suffering and difficulties of all stripes to build up our faith and hope muscles.  Just look at what these many God-sent trials accomplish for us:

1 Peter 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

The 4 verbs listed are powerful encouragements to persist through the God-ordained ‘workouts’.  If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know I love looking up the Greek or Hebrew words to help me understand God’s teachings. So here’s a glimpse of some of God’s many purposes in designing our suffering along with what He promises to do through or by means of the difficult times:

  • Restore – this verb sometimes gets translated as ‘to perfect’.  It means to kit out, equip completely.  Obviously I lack qualities God deems necessary and can only be given me through hanging onto Him when tested.
  • Confirm – you can see the ‘firm’ part of the verb.  Troubles endured in Christ are the means to set us fast, to fix or place us more ‘immovably’ than we’ve been.
  • Strengthen – means just what we think – to make us vigorous in our minds and hearts.  Think resolute and determined!
  • Establish – to ground, shore up the foundation.  Imagine a house being constructed in a hurricane or earthquake-prone area.  The structure of the building would be reinforced and enhanced to withstand intense natural thrashings.  We, too, need this kind of bracing that will not give out.  Strengthening trials ready us for greater ones, kind of like skirmishing with the Varsity team grows the JV team’s abilities.

Do any of us like trials?  NO!!!!

But just as you and I recognize the value gained from physical workouts, let us not fight the spiritual and emotional training that our good God ordains for us.  Besides, we have a workout partner meant to encourage us at all times.  This Comforter will bear us up when the struggles are too much.  The truth is, our faith grows best amidst storms.  Think of giant trees, windswept and battered, strengthened through the storms.  Think of pearls, formed by the irritating grains of sand within an oyster.

So, I say to you just as I have to remind myself: God means my circumstances for good. Fighting against Him just makes us tired!

How to hold firmly to our faith

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Now brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1 Cor 15: 1-2

How do we hold firmly to the Word?  Before we get there, let’s look at what happens when we don’t hold on. If we don’t actively retain a grip on truths in the Bible, it’s as though we never heard any of them.  They don’t do us any good!  How can that be?  Doesn’t everything we hear/read/learn affect us?

Realistically, we retain very little of what we hear. Think about your years at university, or sermons you have listened to.  What do you recall?  Hardly anything.  So if we want to retain some information, some truth, we have to do something with it.  This is what Paul means by holding on firmly.

I teach French and know that my students will truly only acquire a phrase if 3 things happen 1) they understand what I am saying  2) they are interested and 3) they hear it at least 75 times.

What is true about learning a foreign language is true for any content.  So how do we truly digest and ‘own’ what we hear? – By repeating it to ourselves over and over again in a meaningful way to us.  Teaching others and using the content in different but related contexts are also helpful.  In short, plain ‘ole’ messing around with the material is what is required.  I think of kneading bread.  How do you get bread to rise?  You put your hands in the goopy flour, salt, yeast and water mixture and work the 4 ingredients well – for about 10 minutes.  We have to do the same thing with meaningful input – work with the material.

Here is an example.  My license plate says ‘SOLA FID’. (In Virginia, we can use up to 7 letters/digits for a personalized plate.)  Those seven letters refer to one of the doctrines of reformed theology – sola fide.  Someone once asked me what my license plate meant and I stumbled all over myself.  I knew inside, sort of, but couldn’t articulate it.  You can bet that I have practiced my explanation many times now, so that I am ready:

Sola Fide means that we are justified by God and made right with him only through our faith in what Jesus has done on the cross. What did Jesus do?  He took on himself God’s entire wrath that was due us AND gave us all the benefits and credit of his perfectly-lived life.  His sinless life and righteous deeds count for us.  These two transactions come to us by a faith that we don’t produce – the faith is even a gift from God.  So God gets all the credit and glory and we get all the benefits!

So when Paul says that we are saved by the Gospel and that we have to hold on firmly to what we heard and received for it to be effective, I take that to mean that I have to remind myself daily, hourly of the truths of the Bible, the gospel promises.  Else I forget and they have no effect on me.  Peter warns his readers that if we don’t make every effort to develop qualities based on the promises God gives us, we will be like a man who looks in the mirror and then forgets what he looks like.

2  Peter 1: beginning with verse 2 – “Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.  5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.  10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  12So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

This then is what Paul means by holding firm to the Word, to the truth.  We don’t work at this in order to be justified, but we certainly work at it to continue to possess our inheritance, yet…..God’s grace is such that he won’t let us go.  Nonetheless, if I don’t remind myself continually, then my joy drains away and the world becomes more real.  And that is depressing.  So let us be active in rehearsing our faith.

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