Sermon: What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For? Part 1

I wrote a post back in 2013 that has been my most-read post to date. In it I set out to answer the question, “What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?”

Apparently, a lot of you have asked that question, because over 57,000 of you have taken to the Google, entered a form of that question, and wound up reading my post on the subject.

Yesterday, I turned that post into a 2-part sermon and preached it to about 80 women at a conference at Slayden Baptist Church in Slayden, MS.

(Side note: they misspelled my name on the poster for the retreat, and I could not love that fact more. I see it as God’s way of saying, “This ain’t about you.”)

And, let me tell you something, brother [read that in a Hulk Hogan voice], they were a sweet bunch of ladies who encouraged me to no end. We had women in their 20’s to their 70’s, most of whom had been born in that country church, who knew how to love one another across generations and make a stranger like me feel welcome.

At any rate, today you can hear Part 1 of my 2-part sermon on God’s sufficient grace. Part 2 will be on my YouTube channel tomorrow!

Relying on God

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. – 1 John 4:15-16

The chick on the Bible study video, Kelly Minter, honed in on the word “know” this morning… she pointed out the Greek is more specific. “Know” here doesn’t mean intellectual assent, like I know my telephone number. Rather, this particular “know” means to understand as a result of experiencing, like I know my husband as a result of interacting with him daily and deeply for 10+ years.

We are to know the love God has for us because we’ve experienced it.

Bible study lady was making a fascinating point, and she proceeded to examine other times John uses both kinds of “knows”, but I found myself zeroing in on a different word in verse 16: rely.

We know and rely on the love God has for us…

It struck me that rely is a verb. It’s an action. To rely on God is an action we have to deliberately take or it won’t be done.

As I pondered what it is to rely on something, it also struck me that it can’t be done halfway. You either rely on something, or you don’t. But you don’t “sorta” rely on something. To “kind of” rely on something is to not rely on it at all.

Sometimes I get hungry. But I hate cooking. So I go to a restaurant and rely on people there to cook something for me. Except on Christmas Day. I know that 99% of restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, so I don’t rely on them to feed me then. (I rely on my mother-in-law then, but that’s neither here nor there…) What I’ve never done is “sorta” relied on a cook at a restaurant to feed me. I’ve never brought my own sack lunch, just in case my meal was burned or the chef got sick. I’m either all in or all out, wholly depending upon the restaurant or not depending on it at all.

In fact, I can’t think of one situation in which I’ve ever “kind of” relied on something.

So when John tells us to rely on the love God has for us, I’m fairly certain he means to whole-heartedly count on that love. Which we can do, logically, given that we know His love is trustworthy from past personal experience.  

We are being called to trust God’s love 100%. We are being commanded to put all of our hope in the fact that God loves us… no matter the trials that may come… no matter the suffering we will endure… no matter the bleakness of the current state of affairs. We can and should totally rely on God’s love for us.

Two emotions surface for me thinking about this concept:

First, I have a sense of utter desperation. Waking up to the news telling me about the slaughter of Christians all over the world countless times in the past six months is enough to make me feel like I can’t rely on anything for safety and protection from the evil in this world. If people are executed in American churches, the “safest” places on earth to worship, where else are we going to go to protect ourselves? My feeling of desperation says, “Thank God we can rely on the love God has for us because we can’t rely on anything else…” 

Thankfully, though, that first sentiment quickly gives way to another: peace. The love of God is not some consolation prize. We don’t merely rely on His love because that’s all we’ve got to choose from. (We can find plenty of other woeful substitutes with which to self-medicate… or so I’ve been told…) No, we stake our lives on God’s love for us, trusting Him and Him alone to take care of us in all the right ways at all the right times, because His love is rock-solid. It is wholly trustworthy to support us and nurture us all the days of our lives. The fact that I can rely on something as infallible as the love of God for all my needs is a reassurance like no other.

But just because it makes sense and brings me peace, it doesn’t mean relying on God’s love for me is easy. It’s not because relying on God isn’t my default setting. I’m a fallen human, just like you, so I’ve been programmed to rely on me. And that’s what I do unless I make the intentional decision to consciously rely on God. And the moment I stop focusing my thoughts on doing so, I slip right back into “self-sufficiency” without even realizing it.

Since I can’t rely on myself to rely on God’s love for me, it’s apropos to end with this: I’m going to rely on God’s love for me to help me rely on God’s love for me.

(I think those are His favorite kind of requests, by the way… when we stop pretending like we can do any single positive thing without Him wholly equipping us to do so… we are a desperate people… thank God we have a God who loves us and who not only allows us to rely on Him, He invites us to rely on Him.)

New Feature: Podcasts

I’m entering new territory with the How to Study the Bible course I started teaching at my church last week: my classes are being recorded (audio only, whew) and posted on the web for the ENTIRE INTERNET TO HEAR. Praise the Lord I am not being LIVE BROADCASTED like some poor souls (Beth, Priscilla, pastors everywhere, I am in awe).

image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In light of this new development, I’ve added a “Podcasts” page to this website, which you can access via the “Podcasts” tab in the menu above. I will update it weekly with new recordings from my course. I’ll also add files of the worksheets I reference in the recordings so you can download them and follow along if you’re so inclined. Lastly, there is a comment box at the bottom of the page for any questions you have along the way and/or for you to let me know you’d like an email notification when new podcasts are posted.

Thanks for studying along with me. I pray this course will give you a few more tools in your Bible study toolbox and a lot more excitement and passion for studying the Word yourself.

Blessings.

 

It’s Not Too Late

Last week I started teaching the new course I’ve been advertising, How to Study the Bible.

class

My church is recording each class (audio only, whew) and creating podcasts for students who have to miss a week here and there. And boy am I learning a few things.

Like how crucial it is to make sure the device really is recording before I teach half my lesson…

And how, contrary to my belief, I really do have a southern accent…

And how self-conscious I am about THE ENTIRE INTERNET having access to my podcasts…

I digress.

The real point of this post, against all my better judgment, is to share with you the link to the introduction to my course. It’s about 10 minutes. If you’re considering taking the class, give it a listen. After you listen, if you’re still interested in joining me on Wednesday nights, it’s not too late! Send me a quick email (thelevatinos@gmail.com) to let me know you’re coming so I’ll have enough workbooks.

Look forward to studying together!

How to Study the Bible

At the end of the month, my church is rolling out a new program called EQUIP to help our congregants become mature believers who impact the world for Christ. I’m pretty excited about it.

EQUIP

As a part of this program, I’m going to teach a new course called How to Study the Bible.

My aim is to teach women how to observe, interpret, and apply Bible passages themselves.

This is a distinct departure from other video and workbook-driven studies I’ve led in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I lovBeth Moore and Priscilla Shirer studies. Adore, actually. I think the world of these women and their ministries. In fact, I am sad I won’t be able to participate in Priscilla’s latest study this semester. They are brilliant women used mightily by the Lord, and if I become 5% of what they are, I will consider myself to have lived a full life.

(Have I made my point yet?)

That being said, it is of unparalleled importance, in my view, that women know how to study the Bible when there is no Beth or Priscilla around to explain it. And I know Beth and Priscilla agree.

When you’re by yourself with nothing but the Bible and the Lord, do you understand what you read in the Bible? Do you accurately observe the nuances of what’s happening in each passage? Do you consider who is writing, why they’re writing, what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and the chronological order of events that are being reported? Do you know when to interpret verses as cultural or universal, literal or figurative? And, most importantly, does what you read in the Bible have any bearing whatsoever on your day-to-day life? Are you changed?

If you’re a woman in the Memphis area, and you’d like to grow in these areas, I’d love for you to join me. We’re going to learn these principles (and more), and we’ll spend class time practicing applying these ideas to the book of Philippians the first 6 weeks and to the book of Micah the second 6 weeks.

We’ll meet on Wednesday nights from 6:30-8p for 12 weeks beginning August 28th. This is a free course, and childcare is provided. All you need to bring is your Bible. If you want to register online, you can do so here (check the box next to How to Study the Bible). If you don’t register, no worries. Come anyway. And if my class isn’t what you’re looking for, check out the other courses being offered. With 22 to choose from, offered during 4 different time slots, there is something for everyone!

The Problem with Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Last year I jumped on the band wagon and read through the entire Bible in a year. I’m glad I did it. It forced me to read parts of the Bible I rarely venture into, and it gave me a good overall view of all that Scripture contains.

When I finished, I started over. Mostly because an amazing Bible teacher whom I think the world of told me that she has read through the Bible every year for 30 some odd years. She said it very humbly and without a hint of bragging simply to make the point that, although she has never been to seminary, she has a thorough understanding of the Bible because she spends time studying everyday.

I was inspired. I want to know the Bible inside and out, just as she does, so I figured I ought to do what she does and read through the Bible every year for the rest of my life.

Well… the calender tells me I should be over halfway done with this year’s reading, but I am only one third of the way through. I’m finding myself frustrated with my Bible-reading plan lately, unmotivated to keep plugging along…

Am I allowed to say that?

I’m a Bible teacher and a woman with a Bible degree and someone who loves Scripture immensely… but I’m also someone who wants to quit reading through the Bible in a year…

And I have to ask myself why…

Clearly, I think Bible literacy is hugely important, and the more we read and study, the better we will know God. But trying to cram 5 or 6 chapters into one sitting every single day is leaving me empty. There isn’t enough time to ponder, reflect, and digest what’s being communicated. I am more focused on checking off the chapters I’ve read than on listening to what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to me. The reading plan makes me feel rushed and pressured, so my reading becomes rote and dry…

image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net

And, really, what’s the point of that? To accomplish some goal I can feel proud of? While it would make me feel good to be 60 years old and able to say, “I’ve read through the Bible every year for the past 32 years,” that’s not why I read the Bible.

I read the Bible because it is the living Word of God, which means God Himself uses the words on the page to speak to my spirit, personally. That is a thrill that delights me more than anything else this side of Heaven.

And for me, the problem with reading through the Bible in a year is that the sheer volume of information doesn’t allow me the time to stop and listen to the Holy Spirit. It’s when I slow down and ponder a handful of verses at a time that I most often hear from the Lord.

So yesterday I shelved my plan. Plans are not bad, mind you. They can help keep us accountable to staying in the Word… but I may exchange my old plan for a read-through-the-Bible-in-three-years plan to break it down into a more meaningful portion.

The Lord affirmed this decision yesterday. I cracked open Psalm 119 and read the first two verses. That’s all. He spoke so intimately through the second verse, there was no need to read on.  He and I thought through and had relationship as a result of my reading just a couple of verses instead of hundreds.

If your current Bible-reading plan isn’t cutting it for you, I hope you feel the freedom to change it up. He wants you; find an approach that will give Him that.

One Question You Should Never Ask Yourself

image via Lifeway.com

This semester I am teaching James a la Beth Moore, and let me tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. James is a pretty blunt guy who doesn’t seem to put up with any excuses.

Thursday we were discussing the infamous faith and works verses the made Martin Luther want to tear the whole book right out of his Bible.

The verses say this:

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? …You see that [Abraham’s] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead,” (James 2:17-20, 22, 24, 26).

A woman in my group brought up an interesting question. She said she often wonders, “Am I doing enough?”

My initial response, and the response I gave in class on Thursday, was we all kind of know intuitively whether we’re doing what we can or we’re slacking off. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can answer that question. And if we are still unsure, we can ask friends if they think we’re doing enough. Sometimes outside parties can evaluate that kind of thing more objectively than we can ourselves.

As I thought more about it today, though, I wish I could go back in time and answer the question differently.

She didn’t express it this way, but I think what the woman was really asking was, “Am I doing enough for my faith to count?”

And that is a dangerous question.

It’s a trap.

It’s a trap set for believers by the Devil himself, hoping it will cause us to spiral into uncertainty about our salvation and how we got it in the first place.

It’s a question Jesus doesn’t want us to answer because He doesn’t want us to even consider it.

We cannot earn our faith. We cannot do enough to make our belief in God salvific. Only one thing saves us – the whole-hearted belief that Jesus’s holy blood more than makes up for our sinful choices.

If I can be so bold as to speak for James, I’ll say he never intended his letter to make believers wonder if they’ve done enough to earn Heaven. Rather, James challenges us to consider where our affections lie.

If we really love Him, we will love the things Jesus loves. We just won’t be able to help it. We will care about the widows, the orphans, the less-thans, the outcasts, the lost, and the otherwise broken (read: everyone). Our hearts will be drawn to them, and we will compulsively serve them out of our affection.

If we don’t really love Him, though, we won’t care about the things Jesus loves. We’ll care more about ourselves, our loved ones, and that’s about it. We won’t be moved to service unless it’s convenient or sporadic or somehow beneficial to us. Our affections will lie within.

Jesus is not interested in the quantity of our good deeds. He’s interested in the heart behind them. Never ask yourself, “Am I doing enough to make my faith count?” Instead, ask yourself, “Why am I serving?”

Align your heart with His, and your faith will count.