Rooted

As most of the writers are away on retreat this weekend, I’ll share one of the devotionals that was written that those attending the retreat have been meditating on.

Psalm 1

The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

1Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

When we have trouble “cutting through the noise” of this world, it’s easy to become complacent. All of a sudden everything becomes a routine and we find ourselves simply going through the motions of life.

Psalm 1 describes and contrasts two people: one who is rooted in God’s word, and another who searches for wisdom in the world. Where do you find yourself today?

In verse 3 we see that those who delight themselves in the law of Lord are:

planted” – firmly rooted.

Roots don’t just sit above the ground. They are firmly intertwined with the soil. Separating them is no easy chore.

“…by streams of water,” – continually fed and nourished by a pure source.

This is more than a one-time watering.

“…yields its fruit…” – actively producing that which is good.

As a result of being planted by a continually pure source, there is evidence of growth that blesses others.

“…does not wither.” – able to endure tough times.

Not under its own doing, but as a result of where it is planted.

A tree can also be planted beside impure sources. However this tree is like “chaff that the wind drives away” (verse 4). What are the things in life that you allow to influence you? Where have you chosen to root yourself? Quite often we don’t realize what the true influences in our lives until we pause to reflect on them.

Take the opportunity today to choose to plant yourself by “streams of water”. Rest in the promise that, “blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked”.

Struggling with Grace

In the past few years, God’s been teaching me more about grace. Having grown up as a Christian, I took it for granted that I was saved apart from works, to the point that I didn’t really know what it means to live by grace. And so, entering the last few years of high school, I was still struggling with grace, works, and sin, and frankly, my conscience was still bound to a very legalistic mindset.

Recently, I’ve been reading up on Paul’s theology, specifically as set forth in Galatians. The book of Galatians expresses Paul’s surprise and disappointment that the Galatian Christians would so quickly return to a lifestyle bound by the Law after accepting salvation by grace. Hearing that they are considering supplementing the Gospel with circumcision, Paul asks why they would want to “turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world” (Galatians 4:9, ESV). The Law, marked by the seal of circumcision, is powerless to save. For Paul, works cannot justify man before God, and to return to works as a rule of life is to take a step back in redemptive history.

This return to works is still prevalent in the church today. It certainly was my struggle in high school. Sure, I believed that I was saved by God’s grace, apart from any merit of my own. Christ died for me while I was still a sinner. This, I had accepted years ago when I was still a child; yet, for some reason, going through high school, I continued telling myself that I had to do something to prove my self. My faith had to be supplemented by works, by obedience to the Law, by a strict, moral lifestyle. Morality, the Law, good works—these are doubtless all good, but my motive in pursuing them was completely backwards. I was attempting to use these things to commend myself before God, to prove to myself and to Him that my faith was genuine. I was not “being good” out of a heart of love for God, but I was “being good” out of a heart of compulsion. I was, in fact, making the same mistake as the Galatians by turning to works rather than to God’s grace.

Ironically, it was through works that God once again broke me into returning to his grace. He allowed me to struggle with sin, time and time again. Despite my best efforts, I could not overcome even my smallest problems. I am not now referring to sin as a whole, but only to a very specific set of sins in my life, which I thought I should be able to conquer. But God allowed me to struggle, and He allowed me to fail utterly to commend myself before Him. Somewhere along the line, though, it clicked. I began to realize that grace is not a one-time event, but it is an ongoing gift that we rely on not only for our justification, but also for our sanctification. God finally got it in my head that just as works are powerless to justify, so they are also powerless to sanctify.

Grace means that I am already forgiven. It means that I don’t have to do anything to be saved. To continue commending myself before God through works is to take a step back and deny the efficacy of what Christ did on the cross for me. Being familiar with Christian lingo, I was using “sanctification” as an excuse to return to works as a way to secure a peace of mind. Subconsciously, I kept telling myself that I was justified by grace through faith, but I was sanctifying myself through works. But as Paul shows in Galatians, this type of thinking is totally backwards. There is no return to works for one who is saved by grace.

Here, I must insert the customary disclaimer and say that grace doesn’t mean I’m now free to sin. But even in writing this disclaimer, I’m once again tempted to think that I have to obey in order to be saved. Thankfully, the beauty of grace is that it releases us from compulsion so that we are free to live not according to the Law, but according to the Spirit. As Christians, saved by the blood of Christ, we are no longer compelled to fulfill the requirements of the Law, but we are called to bear the fruits of the Spirit. This is where I’ll end tonight, because (conveniently) this also happens to be where I’m at in my walk with Christ. For now, my prayer for myself, for all of us, is that we’d continue in God’s saving grace, relying in Him not only for our justification, but also for our sanctification.

Living a Life of Integrity

This is my first time posting here, even though I’ve officially been a “contributor” for months and months now. The main reason is just that I’m just really busy these days with my teaching program. But just this weekend, I took the time to write an extremely long entry on my own blog, that I thought would be encouraging for others, so I’m just re-posting it here for you all. Enjoy! :)

From Friday, May 14:

God is so good. At the end of such a crazy day, when I was tired and confused and only dragged my body to Bible study out of habit than anything else, He hits me with one of those knife-in-heart-cutting-out-the-sin-exactly-where-it-is sermons, you know, the ones where you are sitting in your seat, cringing at how ridiculously precisely God’s word applies to your life.
A few weeks ago, I received a new student in one of my classes. I noticed that in his notebook, he was doodling the name of a notoriously violent gang. Since then, I’ve been thinking and praying about how to address this.
Today, I went into my classroom to pick up some teaching material, and I saw him there, even though that wasn’t his class during that period. Instead of insisting that he go back to his class, I decided to just let it slide, figuring that this was a good opportunity to talk to him. Our conversation confirmed a lot of my suspicions, but there wasn’t very much I could do or say to help him at that point. All I could do was ask him to think about what he wants for his future, and which actions now would help him get there… blah blah blah. Still, I felt like he was being pretty transparent with me and well, trusted me, probably to the best that a kid in his situation could trust a random teacher.
After we talked, I went to the Dean to ask if the school had any information about why he transferred or anything else on his official record. When the Dean saw my student’s attendance record, though, he was like, “Ok, we need to talk to him right now and do an intervention.” He proceeded to check his schedule and he said, “He should be in Biology now so let’s go get him.” As you can imagine, I was just standing there in a state of semi-panic. I felt dishonest letting the Dean try to track him down when I knew exactly where he was, but I also felt like I would be betraying my student’s trust by telling the Dean that I knew exactly where he was because we just talked. Also, selfishly, I didn’t want to get myself in trouble by admitting that I had just essentially condoned a student in breaking school rules.
Sigh, that was just the beginning of the mess. I told the Dean that I would go get the student myself, thinking that this way, I could bring him down without getting him in more trouble than necessary. But when I went back to get the student, he refused to come with me!!! He was like, “No, miss, I don’t want to go. Let them come and get me.” I was flabbergasted. He kept saying things like, “They’re going to kick me out,” “I’m not going to go, I don’t care,” and “just tell them that I’m not here.” The worst part for me was hearing the anger and accusation in his voice when he said, “Miss, you went and talked to the Dean about me??”

Since he would not come with me, I had to go down to the Dean’s office again. The Dean wasn’t there, but when his secretary heard that the student was in another class, she was like, “What?? We have to radio security to go get him!!” My mind was screaming, “WHAT? Are you crazy? This is the least of our worries now!” But it was too late. She was already marching down the hall to get security. Inside I was like, “NOOOOOO it’s over. This kid will never ever talk to me or any teacher ever again.”
I was completely flustered and kicking myself for getting in this mess. I walked up and down the hallways, checking the room and then the Dean’s office, just waiting to see the situation blow up in my face. But (praise God!) the security for whatever reason did not go get him. Even though the worst was over, I was still bummed about losing my student’s trust so quickly after gaining it.
All day, I kept playing over the events of the morning in my mind, thinking about how I could have worded things differently here or not done something there to avert the drama. But tonight, while listening to the sermon, it hit me. The problem wasn’t with the circumstances, but with me. As much as I might want to appeal to my “good intentions”, I can pinpoint this whole mess back to one small breakdown in my integrity. This might sound silly, but really, what I should have done was enforced school policy and asked the student to go back to his class. I know, not very revolutionary, right? But think about it. That was really the cause of my dilemma when I stood before the Dean. I knew where the student was, and it wasn’t where he should have been. That’s when I realized that no matter what I did, I would have to break faith with someone, either the administration or the student. I tried my best to walk the line, but in the end, I was not completely honest with either. My student had every right to be mad with me. By talking to him then, I implicitly conveyed that I was okay with the fact that he was out of class. Then when I came back and said, “oh, the Dean wants to talk to you about ditching class”, how could it not seem like I set him up to get in trouble?
I am so ashamed just thinking about how I could say to my student, “No, I won’t lie to the administration for you”, when my actions had already conveyed such hypocrisy and inconsistency of character. There I was, condemning law-breaking, while breaking rules myself. I am even more disgusted thinking about how I had told the student I was a Christian, only moments later to completely disgrace the name of Christ.
Later that afternoon, I read Psalm 51, and I was struck by verse 13, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.” I thought, “Yes, Lord! That is exactly what I desire, for those who have rejected You, who are rebellious towards You, to repent and return!” But what precedes this verse? What are the conditions for this to happen? Is it not David’s plea to “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”? Is that not the only way one wretched transgressor can bring hope to another?
The sermon tonight drove this conviction home. The speaker’s 3 points of application, drawn from Daniel 6 (the story of Daniel and the lion’s den) were these:
In the midst of trying circumstances…
1) living a life of integrity gives confidence.
2) living a life of integrity gives comfort.
3) living a life of integrity gives clarity.
All day, I was unsure, troubled, and confused about all the circumstances around me. But the cause was really a lack of integrity within me. Having realized that now, and repented and enjoyed His grace, I feel so much more grounded and at peace. I am still praying for my student. I have no idea what will happen next week. I don’t know if he will trust me again, but that’s okay. My main goal is no longer for him to trust me, but for myself to simply be trustworthy.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.