Preparation Is not the Goal!

Blind Faith (No. 24, 2017)
Weekly Devotional for June 15, 2017
Preparation Is not the Goal!

Recently families and friends have celebrated with graduates who
have completed courses of study and received cherished diplomas. The
students’ achievements are laudable, and some will go on to pursue advanced
degrees. Most likely none will catch up with Michael Nicholson, a 76
year-old serial graduate from Michigan. He holds 30 college degrees,
including 1 bachelor’s, 2 associate’s, 23 master’s, 1 doctoral, and 3
specialist degrees. He has been a full-time student 55 of his 76 years on
earth! Most of his degrees are in fields of education, such as religious
education, educational leadership, library science, school psychology, and
health education. Dr. Nicholson also holds degrees in home economics and law
enforcement. In 2014 he earned his last degree, a master’s degree in
criminal justice from the University of Michigan. Nicholson has attended
classes for all of his studies, declining to take any online courses. His
degrees are not honorary. He earned his degrees from 12 different schools in
Michigan, Texas, Indiana, and Canada.

Nicholson held various menial jobs through the years to pay for
his education. While working as a parking attendant on campus at Western
Michigan University, he wrote a professor 3 parking tickets on a single day.
The professor – a friend since the incident – says of Nicholson, “He likes
going to school and doesn’t want responsibility. This is what Mike lives
for.”

While I admire Dr. Nicholson’s tenacity for attending class,
doing research, and writing papers, and while I encourage people to desire
knowledge, I can’t keep from shaking my head at his collection of
practically useless diplomas. Nicholson apparently has never put his
knowledge into service either to support himself and his family or to make a
positive contribution to society. He just keeps on going to school,
preparing his lessons, without doing anything substantive with the store of
information he has encountered. None of his studies seem to have been tested
in the “real world.”

Some people who claim to want more and more knowledge about God
may be caught in a trap similar to Nicholson’s. Veterans of countless Bible
studies may have a stockpile of interesting information about Bible stories
and what the Bible says about God. If certificates and degrees had been
awarded for completion of Bible studies, Sunday School, or Bible conferences
they attended, many believers could wallpaper their dens at home with the
diplomas they could have earn. But what has resulted from all that study?
Have the students been transformed by what they have learned of God’s grace?
Have they demonstrated God’s grace in their work in the world so that God
might transform the world by working through them? (And by “them” I mean
“you” and “me!”)

The preacher addressing 1st century Hebrew Christians already
noticed this pattern of endless study and little application of the
teachings of Jesus. He likened their constant return to study of the basics
to trying to live on an immature milk-only diet: “it is not easy to explain
to you since you seem so slow.. At a time when you should be teaching
others, you need teachers yourselves to repeat to you the ABC of God’s
Revelation to men. You have become people who need a milk diet and cannot
face solid food! For anyone who continues to live on ‘milk’ is obviously
immature-he simply has not grown up. ‘Solid food’ is only for the adult,
that is, for the man who has developed by experience his power to
discriminate between what is good and bad for him. Can we not leave
spiritual babyhood behind-and go on to maturity? {6:1} Let us leave behind
the elementary teaching about Christ and go forward to adult understanding.
Let us not lay over and over again the foundation truths..” (Hebrews
5:11-6:1 J.B.Phillips) The preacher goes on to name several fields of basic
theological study in which his hearers seem to be content to languish. He
wants them to get on with active lives of faith rather than to keep on
repeating introductory lessons.

A supremely wise teacher chided readers of Hebrew scripture for
studies that are empty of practical application for lives of faith. Perhaps
Solomon knew the vanity of endless study without proving wisdom’s superior
guidance in daily life: “A wise teacher’s words spur students to action and
emphasize important truths. The collected sayings of the wise are like
guidance from a shepherd. {12} But, my child, be warned: There is no end of
opinions ready to be expressed. Studying them can go on forever and become
very exhausting!” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 NLT) Life-long learning is
commendable – as long as it doesn’t consume more of life than it nourishes!

A verse in Christian scripture is famous for using the word
“study,” although the KJV translators used it in a sense now thoroughly
anachronistic. The passage does emphasize, however, the importance of
applying whatever we strive to learn, especially as we seek to understand
God’s ways. The KJV says, “Study .” or contemporary translations all say
something like: “Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true
worker who isn’t ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly. {16} Avoid
pointless discussions. People who will become more ungodly. (2 Timothy 2:15-16 GWT) Becoming a
well-trained worker serving God and others on the basis of what a believer
has conscientiously learned about God’s grace is the authentic goal. Jesus’
parable of a house built on rock verses a house built on sand drives home
the point that these teachings are not just words spoken for ongoing casual
amusement. He indicates that the stringent ethic taught in the Sermon on the
Mount achieves its value only if it is put into practice. Jesus concluded
his sermon by teaching, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and
acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. {25} The
rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but
it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. {26} And everyone who
hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish
man who built his house on sand. {27} The rain fell, and the floods came,
and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell–and great was
its fall!” (Matthew 7:24-27 NRSV)

Dr. Nicholson, here’s to you for degree #30! How is your life
better for earning it? How is the world better for your having earned it?
Thank God for the joy of learning and the privilege of formal academic
studies. That careful study and preparation is valuable, but it is not the
true goal. The goal and the greater good are practical application of God’s
wise and wonderful gifts of knowledge. Go for the goal!

– J. Edward Culpepper

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