No Expertise Required

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher wrote a high school level algebra problem on the chalkboard and challenged us to solve it. There were three stipulations:

1. It was to be done strictly as homework.

2. We would have to be ready to explain our solution to our classmates.

3. Because it was such an advanced level problem, our parents were allowed to help us.

Never before had I seen such a complicated, convoluted conglomeration of letters and numbers. Feeling doubtful about my mathematical expertise, I still felt compelled to try.

For one thing, I was very competitive when it came to all things school-related. For another, there was a candy prize for anyone who solved it. To the delight of my dentist’s banking account, candy was one of the driving motivators of my ten-year-old life.

That night as I sat at the dining room table struggling to make sense of the numbers and letters before me I came to a decision. I could either go to school the next day admitting defeat or I could ask my college educated parents for help. I chose the latter.

For the next half an hour my parents worked to find a solution while I sat by and watched. From time to time my mother would pop up her head and ask, “Are you sure your teacher said we could help you?” I would nod.

That nod was my sole contribution the process. Because the problem was so far over my head it was more likely that I would spin around and turn into Wonder Woman than it was for me to come up with anything relevant.

The next day I walked into the classroom, my well-worked problem secure under my arm, wondering how in the world I would explain that problem to the class. Math time arrived and our teacher asked which of us had accomplished the task. Only one other person had done the problem.

She asked the two of us come to the front to write out our equations. I might as well have been writing in Sanskrit for all I knew about what my piece of chalk was scratching across the chalkboard.

To my great relief, my classmate asked if he could be the one to explain the solution. As he enthusiastically pointed to parentheses and equal signs, I stood by, blank look on my face, still completely in the dark as to what any of it meant. Afterwards, the class applauded and we were each given a candy cane. I sat down feeling completely unworthily. Later, I tossed the candy cane into the garbage.

I couldn’t receive something I felt did not deserve.

So what’s the point?

Here it is. Jesus offers us something we don’t deserve and every one of us has the choice to happily receive it or throw it away.

We can gratefully accept that fact that by his death and resurrection we are saved. Our sins have been nailed to the cross and we can live as forgiven people under grace.

Or we can go through life, drowning under the weight of our own sin and unworthiness, refusing to accept the gift that He gives.

Let’s face it. We all sin and none of us are worthy. There is absolutely nothing we can contribute to the situation to solve that problem.

But, Good News!  He loves us just the same! Romans 5:8 tells me that God provided for me even while I was still in my sin.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

My sins separate me from God and I can do nothing on my own to remedy that. But God still made a way for me to reconnect.

His name is Jesus Christ. When I yield to Him, His grace pours over me.

I don’t have to stand by, palms sweating, afraid that my unworthiness will be exposed. Instead, Jesus stands in that gap for me. He takes my sins upon Him and reconciles me to the Father.

He did all the work on the cross.

As for me – no expertise required.

Thank-you, LORD.

Come to the party

For weeks my class had been working toward an ice cream sundae party. It was the reward for memorizing the addition facts to twenty. Every new fact family committed to memory garnered an ice cream scoop or topping. Everyone had earned at least a single scoop with some sort of topping. Everyone except one. And as much as I tried to help this particular student, it was clear that the effort was very one-sided. He just didn’t take it seriously. So while the rest of the class indulged in the delicious benefits of a job well done, he quietly made his way to the library to read a book.

It’s times like that I really hate being “bad cop”. Praise and encouragement are the teaching tools I reach for most often. But sometimes they’re just not enough to motivate every child, every time and it seriously bums me out. I know, I know – life isn’t all happy faces and rainbow stickers. You can learn a lot from failure and the pain it causes. That being said, no matter how justifiable, I still hate having to don the bad cop cap and badge to carry out a punishment.

In the real world there are always going to be rewards and punishments for our choices. And when we make the choice to put love into motion it changes the world for the better. And if we put forth unloving word and actions, well, the same principle applies. But when it comes to God’s kingdom the stakes are even higher. It’s not just about doing good or bad things, but believing in the One who is the only true source of goodness. Because God is love. 

And one day we will all stand before the throne of love and give an account of our lives. I’m not suggesting that we will get into heaven by our works. That is solely a work of amazing grace, poured out on the cross by Jesus Christ. But we will be rewarded according to our works. And I can only imagine that it will  be like the most fantastic and wonderful party we’ve ever attended. And here’s the thing. I don’t want anybody I love and care about not to be in attendance. We are all invited, but not everybody gets to come. It’s a sobering thought.

But where there is life, there is hope. As Christmas approaches I am keenly aware that even the season’s secular atmosphere seems to soften hearts and minds. And softened hearts and minds lend opportunities to tell the story. The story of a God whose love is so extravagant, that despite our unwillingness to come to Him, He sent His Son to come to us. Jesus came to proclaim His love and claim us for His own. He invites us to be a part of the family of God, to join the party and live with Him forever.

The invitation is there.

We just have to say yes.