The Old Schoolhouse

Making the grade

When I was still in school, I liked tests. I liked them because I got to show off how much I knew. I used to look forward to the standardized state tests too because it was an opportunity to prove how much I had learned in a year. I was a weird kid.

But when I finished school, I thought that meant the tests were over. I thought that tests were something I would only have to deal with in school, but that’s not true at all. Tests are something we will deal with for our entire life. We just won’t always get a grade.

The Old Schoolhouse

The Old Schoolhouse - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is James 1:12.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

In school, you have to take tests to prove to your teachers that you have learned (or you haven’t learned) the lesson they were teaching. In life, tests may come just because the world is broken. And in life’s tests, there is no grading on the curve, and in many cases there is no A+ grade and sometimes not even an F grade. Sometimes there’s no grade at all. Sometimes the tests will last for years, and it’s all you can do just to get through one.

So what do you do when you encounter a test that lasts for an extended period of time? When you get sick or when someone you love gets sick or when you lose your job or when you lose your house? How is that a test? Is it multiple choice?

I’ve always thought that the tests God gives us are true/false tests. Either that or yes/no questions. We either say yes to Him or no. Yes to the world or no. And that always seems easier to me when I run into a difficult situation I have to endure.

We can either say yes to God and answer the questions that come our way based on what we know from the Bible. Or we can ignore what God says and try to answer the questions life throws at us using our own wisdom or our own experiences to light the way.

There’s nothing wrong with using your own experience to help guide you, but trusting in your own experience will only get you as far as your own experience has reached. So what happens when you encounter a test about something you haven’t experienced? Then you’re just making up answers. I’ve been there and done that (it was called General Biology my sophomore year of college at Wichita State, and I had to make up every answer I put down on those tests because I didn’t understand anything).

But when you use what God says in Scripture to answer the questions that life throws your way, you’ll pass the test. It may not always feel like you passed the test. But you will. Because the Bible deals with situations and circumstances and answers to questions that we have already experienced and have not experienced yet. And it applies to everyone. And it’s relevant to everyone.

I remember taking tests that seemed to last forever. And sometimes life tests are that way too. And sometimes we have to choose to keep going even though we don’t know the answer for sure. Sometimes we have to answer the way Scripture tells us without knowing if it’s going to work or not, and we have to just hold on and pray that it does. (And it will; just saying.) But having patience is the hardest part for me. The waiting is the most difficult aspect of taking a test for me because I want to know if I passed or not. I want to know the results right away. And that’s not realistic, not in a classroom and not in life either.

But if we can endure tests with patience, then the Bible says we’re happy. Because if you can stick with God throughout testing and trials, if you can stay loyal to God, according to the Message paraphrase the same verse says, “the reward is life and more life.”

Everyone will go through times of testing and temptation. Everyone. Because the world is broken, but if we endure and answer life’s challenges the way God has told us in the Bible, it will be worth it because God will bless us. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take blessing over a grade any day.

Spring in Kansas (a.k.a. Bipolar weather in a state where the only constant is the wind)

Autumn is my favorite season, if I had to pick one. And I enjoy cold weather (although I’ve lost my fondness for it by this point). But there is something remarkable about spring. There’s something magical about watching the world coming back to life after it’s been sleeping for so long.

Spring is a beautiful reminder of how God works, I think. After a long season of struggling and discouragement, He renews everything and everything gets another chance to live again. It’s hard to remember though because winter can seem so very long. But spring always comes one way or another (although in Kansas, it seems to hang on longer every year . . . . blizzards in April?).

I guess to someone who has never lived in a bipolar place like Kansas, our winters might surprise them. We aren’t known for getting intense amounts of snow like New England. We aren’t known for consistent artic temperatures like Alaska. If we’re known for anything, it’s for our weather’s confusion. It’s not unusual in a Kansas winter to have the temperature vary 60 degrees in a day. This past winter, we had a 95-degree difference in less than a week. One day the high temperature was around -20 (without figuring in the wind) and less than a week later, it was like 75.

To someone who has never experienced Kansas weather, I think this state might confuse and frustrate them. Because when you’re ready for snow and ice, Kansas gives you fog and rain. And when you’re ready for rain, Kansas gives you a drought. And when you’re expecting a drought, you get tornadoes and hail the size of soft balls. In the winter, especially, the weather never does what it’s “supposed” to do. The only constant in Kansas weather is the wind (unless a tornado is on the way; then when it gets quiet, you need to run for your basement).

So I can imagine how frustrating it might be to someone who has experienced winter in other more consistent places. For example, if you live in New England, you know you’re going to get snow. And you know it’s going to be cold. Oppositely, if you live in California, you know the weather is going to stay in the 70s and be dry and beautiful.

Here? We freeze our butts off for a week and then we see the sun and can run around without a jacket on. It’s like the weather loves to show us a glimpse of warmth and then revels in dashing our hopes with a blizzard that leaves us buried in snow, topped with ice and finished off with freezing fog. And if you didn’t know that that’s just the way Kansas weather is, I could see that it might discourage you.

Life is kind of like that, though. Don’t you think? James 1:12 says this:

 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

 Those of us who’ve lived in Kansas for a long time know that if you don’t like the weather, all you have to do is wait it out. Because our winters might be frigid and artic and frustrating, but our summers are hot and humid and fierce. If you’re not a winter person, just wait for summer because it will come.

I’ve found my relationship with God to be very much like Kansas weather. He never changes, of course. He always stays the same, and it’s me who does the changing. But there are times when stuff comes into my life that I don’t like. And it’s not necessarily because of anything I’ve done (although sometimes it is, and I’m just dealing with personal consequences). But most of the time, life just happens. Kind of like the weather. And at that point, I have two choices in how to respond to it — I can pout and be difficult and blue and unhappy; or I can just press on, doing the best I can, knowing that the weather will improve if I just give it time.

Trials and testing in our lives as Christians give us an amazing opportunity to put God to the test. If we are able to keep trusting Him even when nothing seems like it’s going right, we will be blessed. Now . . . notice that this particular verse doesn’t exactly imply that we’ll be blessed while we’re struggling. It actually seems to focus more on the fact that we’ll receive a reward when the trials/testing are over (this specific reward, the Crown of Life, is something we’ll be given when we get to heaven). But in any case, patiently enduring trouble that comes our way gives us the chance to know God for who He really is.

It’s kind of like stargazing. The best time to stargaze is in the winter. The night is clear and the stars are brighter. The only trouble is you go numb if you spend too much time outside looking up at the stars. But it’s worth it because you can see the stars and planets better than any other time. And if you wait until you’re comfortable outside, you won’t get as good a view.

If you wait until you’re comfortable in your life, you won’t get to know God very well because you don’t “need” Him as much as you do when you’re struggling.

I enjoy winter. I like snow (when I don’t have to drive on it), but by the end of the season I’m ready for it to go away. I’m ready for spring. I’m ready to watch the world come back to life, and there is something so wonderful about seeing flowers burst out all over trees, seeing grass climb out of the ground, seeing wheat growing in the field across from my home. It’s wonderful because it reminds me that God has kept His promise to return life to the Earth, and it encourages me because it reminds me that God will keep His promise to me.

Trials and testing don’t last forever. Just like Kansas weather, if you don’t like it, just be patient and try to make the best of it. Because it’s guaranteed to change.