Tim Stabell

I was recently reading an article* about charter schools in the USA as alternatives to what are too often failing schools in the public school system. The article did not offer a blanket endorsement of charter schools, but it did say that one particular type of charter school seemed to be helping students succeed who were at high risk of failing and/or dropping out of public school. The article described these schools "high expectations, high support" schools. Students are expected to work hard and are measured against high standards. There are few extra-curricular activities, and school hours are longer. At the same time, these schools seek to provide as much support to their students as they can. Teachers as well have to meet high expectations and are given lots of support in their efforts to improve their teaching ability. In this kind of environment, students who would likely struggle seem to thrive.

It struck me that there is a parallel here to what discipleship can and should be all about. Jesus has high expectations for us: "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). As we continue in our series on Discipleship from the book of Ephesians, we will be challenged to grow and to keep on growing in every area of our lives. The expectation is that we will succeed in becoming more and more like the Lord Jesus in our love for God and for others.

But along with these high expectations, God provides high support. First, he "did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). In Jesus' death and resurrection our past failures are covered, and we are raised with him to new life. Second, God has "poured out his love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 5:5). Third, he has joined us together with other believers so that we can love and encourage one another along the way. We are not alone, but have been joined together as a family, with God as our loving Father.

So as you face temptation, discouragement, the weakness of your own faith, hostility from others around you or whatever, and as you know that in your own strength and ability you are certain to fail, remember: Discipleship is about high expectations and high support. God calls on you to be an overcomer, to be victorious, to do well in the exams of life. But he also provides the best kind of support for you:

"Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isa 41:10).

Grace and peace,

Tim Stabell, Pastor

*Schools that Work, by David Leonhardt, in the New York Times, Sunday Review, November 4, 2016