Monday, August 06, 2007

God With Us

In the theological circles I run in, we often refer to several key doctrines as the doctrines of grace. They are called that because these doctrines underscore the importance of grace in man’s salvation. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In his death and resurrection, Christ shows us grace. In quickening saving faith in us, God shows us grace. In preserving and holding us to himself, God shows us grace. At every moment, the grace of God is being lavished on us.

Grace is more than a theological topic, and I hope this is not a new revelation that it is so. Given where my interests lie and in what my course of study has been, it is normal for me to engage in a topic like grace on a very academic, theological level. So, in the interest of giving the reader something not usually seen in my musings, I endeavor to wax on the topic of grace from a very real and practical level. My disclaimer, however, is that I am not, by any means, suggesting or implying that theological discourse is impractical and pointless. I merely mean to consider something in light of experience on the field rather than from the armchair.

Truth and grace are two common themes we address at Worldview Academy, both to the students and among the staff and faculty. Given the nature of what we do as an apologetics and worldview training camp, our students hear quite a lot of truth. As camp staff, I find myself in many situations where I am required to convey truth to students: to those who are breaking the “five minute” rule, to the talkers in class, and even to those students who seem to forget what “lights out” means. Truth, however, must be balanced out with grace, and each of those times where I am required to enact the truth of the matter, I also stand in a position to give grace. But what happens when you run out of charity for others?

During the summer, when I had become rather overwhelmed, I recorded this in my journal:

“My flesh is at the point where it is struggling to show grace. After removing myself before I did something rash, I reflected on how many times I’ve wanted to give up or break down. Each time I felt like that, I was able to keep on going. The reality is that God will not let me break down or fail. This is both an encouraging and scary thing; knowing that God’s will is done, in spite of what I want.”

My body was spent. My emotions were spent. I wanted to just give up and walk away from it all, but from somewhere came the realization that God would not let me, and I severely hated that feeling. Yet, I was also comforted by this knowledge. Looking back, God has brought me through so much that I have no reason not to think that he will not sustain me yet once more.

A passage of Scripture that I loved taking my small group through each week was 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5. In this passage, Paul writes that it is not because each of us is smart or strong or powerful that we are Christians. Rather, Paul writes that God chose to use the weak, foolish and despised things to bring himself glory. He illustrates this point by reminding the Corinthians that when he brought the Gospel to them, he did not do so with fancy oratory, rhetoric or arguments. Instead, Paul “decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Despite all of my experience and years with WVA, I was regularly out-done by newer, less-experienced staff. Each week, it seemed, my small group would point out a new insight into material that I have heard and debriefed with students for the last three summers, leaving me feeling dumb. I certainly was weakest link on the frisbee field, as far as the male staff was concerned (and probably the female as well). Sure, I knew a few useful things that I was able to use from time to time, but what I thought I had and knew was really nothing.

The irony that I now realize is that all summer, I had exactly the same things as I did coming in to my first summer: the realization that I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and the desire to be used by God to work in the lives of other people. My experience with students, my knowledge of lectures, my understanding of camp, none of that was worth anything, because “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise,” “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Nearly every day now, I take comfort in a verse from Psalm 73. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. My hope is not to turn to my self, or to what I can or cannot do. My hope is not in me, but in God. God is the one who brings the dead to life, who seeks out the single lost sheep, who speaks the world into existence, who dies to redeem his own.

Grace was evident in my life through the testimony of God through my life. Grace was evident when I had energy to smile. Grace was present when students needed to brush their teeth one minute before lights out. Grace was present when I was getting on the nerves of the staff. Grace is God with us.

“Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”