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 our Easter service the pastor said something to the effect of, “Darkness cannot eliminate darkness; only light can eliminate darkness.”
Of course, the darkness is our sinfulness and/or pain we experience because we are fallen people in a fallen world, and the light is Jesus, but I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of the fact that we – in our own strength – often try to eliminate darkness with more darkness.
When we feel depressed or angry or otherwise discontent (that is, when we feel darkness), how often is our knee-jerk response to try to combat those feelings with more darkness?
My go-to’s include, but are not limited to, over-eating, under-eating (I’m a complicated person), distracting myself via hours of reruns or Word Brain (you guys, I’m addicted), manipulating, withdrawing, clinging, sleeping, worrying, over-analyzing, indulging and the list goes on and on.
I sin to make myself feel better because I buy the lie that sin will make me feel better.
And so do you.
Unchecked, we all use dark measures to try to rid ourselves of dark emotions.
And the way our pastor put it made me realize how illogical that is. Darkness cannot eliminate darkness. Sin cannot eliminate emotional pain. (In fact, sin only and always amplifies emotional pain, but that’s where the darkness metaphor breaks down, so let’s save that for another day).
Only light can eliminate darkness.
Jesus is the light, according to the scriptures (John 9:5). He is truth. He is love. And whoever lives in the light – whoever combats their own darkness with the truth of Jesus Christ – has life (John 8:12; Psalm 36:9).
There is only one way out of our pain and our sin – our darkness. And that way is Jesus – the Light. As we press into Him in our moments (our days, our months, our years…) of darkness, He will bring light (truth, hope, love, comfort).
I’m angry. Fuming. More than mildly annoyed.
The short version of why is we had some work done on our house, and the workers suck. I am sitting here waiting for them to come back FOR THE THIRD TIME to correct work they should have gotten right the first time… simple things, like making sure we can’t see daylight around the new door they installed, and lining up the dead bolt correctly so we can, I don’t know, LOCK THE DOOR. And they are an hour and a half late (so far).
I am telling you this not because complaining is my spiritual gift (although, I really think it might be…), but because I am realizing that while, yes, I should be hacked off about this situation, I am way beyond the appropriate level of angry.
Because those workers are blocking my goal of doing what I want to do with my morning off. And, also, because I am the least flexible person in the world (not literally, although, that’s probably true, too.)
I hate changes of plans. I hate people interfering with how I have already decided my day should go.
Possibly because I don’t feel in control when someone else changes my plans without my expressed, written consent.
If I have the time over the next couple of months (which is laughable), I anticipate writing a lot about control. God is bringing me into a period where He intends to harp on the fact that my name is Kelly, and I’m a Control-aholic.
He brought this to my attention years ago when I had my first baby and stressed everyone in my zip code out by demanding they care for her EXACTLY HOW I WOULD when they graciously offered to keep her FOR FREE ANY TIME I WANTED THEM TO. (I won the daughter-in-law of the year award for at least three consecutive years.)
After my first daughter survived 2.25 years under my tyrannical rule, I had my second daughter and lightened up. I was still a stickler for things like don’t feed the 6 month old donuts and chocolate milk (a necessary rule with certain caretakers…), but, by and large, I learned to trust that God would take care of my girls when I couldn’t.
The dust settled for awhile, but I can see now the control-tide has been steadily rising in other areas of my life over the past year or so. God has been unsuccessfully trying to teach me to trust Him with relationships instead of strong-arming circumstances and people. I really don’t see myself comprehending this lesson anytime soon, which is frightening because we both know God won’t leave that alone.
But most recently God has begun to show me my propensity to want to control things in ministry. My husband and I have started an adult Sunday School class together in which two curse words are involved: shared leadership. We have a team of leaders running this show, of whom I am just one. Which means the control – I don’t have it.
Throw in the lingering/chronic need to control my kids and my schedule and my uncooperative hair, and, well, I am just about ripe for some delightful “pruning”, as Jesus would say. Stay tuned for reflections on how much I kick and scream through that process in the upcoming months…
“What is the purpose of the Church?”
The question gave me pause. I didn’t have a memorized answer I could just spout off when I read those words a couple of months ago. I guess that’s because I hadn’t really taken the time to consider the purpose of the Church… I knew the purpose of a Christian – to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16, John 17:3, Matthew 28:19-20). That answer I had worked out long ago…
The Church is just a bunch of Christians, so I reasoned the answer should be the same: a Christian’s purpose and the Church’s purpose is to know God and to make Him known.
Eight weeks later I’ve realized that, while my answer is technically correct, it’s slightly too vague. It’s too vague for our churches to implement, and it’s certainly too vague for our post-modern world to realize it must be understood within biblical terms of who God is.
A more specific answer is the purpose of the Church is to make disciples. Unfortunately, people have wildly varying ideas on what a disciple is.
Too many Christians, even Christian leaders, confuse disciples with church-goers or self-identified Christians or people who have prayed to receive Christ as their Savior or people who have been baptized or people who know a lot of Bible stories or people who serve their communities while wearing Christian t-shirts.
To be sure, all of those things are things disciples should do (although, we could stand to leave our “Serve Team” shirts at home…), but none of those things make someone a disciple in and of itself.
Jesus said to the original disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Do you see the part we usually skip? We may go, we may share the Gospel, we may baptize converts, but then, at least in the culture I’m in, we stop… we don’t follow through and teach new converts to “obey everything [Jesus has] commanded”.
Oh, sure, we may preach tremendous sermons and offer fantastic Bible studies – really meaty stuff that teaches people the Word – but that’s not the litmus test for whether or not we’ve taught anyone to obey everything Christ has commanded…
When our people are telling others about Christ, training them in the ways of the Bible, showing them how and challenging them to live obediently to the scriptures, we’ve made more than converts – we’ve made disciples.
And the cornerstone way in which a true disciple obeys Christ is by going and making more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will mature and make more disciples who will… you get the point.
With a weak voice I have to ask, Church, are we doing that? Am I doing that?
The stats show, as a whole, we aren’t. And when I look around my community – Bible Belt, USA – I see a lot of believers doing a lot of good things, but not many doing the main thing – making more disciple-makers.
It’s time to stop being content with entertainment “Christianity” where our churches’ main focus is making sure people have a satisfying “experience” on Sunday mornings. It’s time to stop preaching the Gospel, helping people convert, and then letting them fall through the cracks of the mega church machine, never to be heard from again. Believers, it’s time to stop being content learning more Bible but not doing anything with that knowledge.
We are fooling ourselves if we think we’re living the Great Commission but we’re not 1) currently investing time and love into a relationship with an unbeliever in which we both model the Christian life for him and, when the Spirit leads, verbally share the Gospel with him, 2) walking a younger believer through his next steps in growing in his relationship with Christ, and 3) helping more mature believers take that final step of obedience by equipping and encouraging them to reach out to the lost, share the Gospel, teach and model the scriptures to younger believers, and help equip them to duplicate the process in someone else.
In short, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we are disciples but we aren’t making any disciples.
In the words of Michael Jackson, it’s time to make that change.
If you’re interested, I recommend reading DiscipleShift for a more detailed explanation of what I’ve summarized. If you’re super interested, I recommend reading Disciple Making Is… next. If you’re still interested and/or refuse to read books, shoot me an email below and I’ll send you a short paper or two on the subject. And, lastly, if you’re local to me and want to be a part of making a change in how we do discipleship in our area, let’s chat.
The other day I read the account of poor Thomas (dude doubted ONE TIME, and he’s never lived it down… maybe we ought to have a little grace and stop calling him Doubting Thomas? Or start calling ALL Christians Doubting <insert name here>? I digress.), and something new popped out at me.
If you’ll recall, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when the resurrected Christ appeared to them. But when Thomas returned to the group, they filled him in.
“So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,'” (John 20:25).
Those last four words reverberated in my head.
I. will. not. believe.
I was convicted for Thomas.
“Lord… may we never be so brazen as to dictate to You what we will and will not accept as adequate proof of who You are,” I prayed.
Jesus had some how entered a locked room and shown the other disciples His hands and side, and their response was great joy (John 20:19-20). They didn’t tell Jesus, “Nope. Not good enough. You’re gonna have to do better than that. In fact, You’re gonna have to do exactly what we say, or we aren’t going to believe it’s really You.”
But that’s how Thomas reacted…
The disciples told him they had seen the Lord, but he didn’t believe them.
(Although the text doesn’t say it, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume the disciples told Thomas more than, “We have seen the Lord!” I think they probably also told him exactly what happened because it was all so miraculous – Jesus magically entered the locked room and showed them his wounds, spoke to them, breathed the Spirit on them, and gave them marching orders (John 20:19-23)).
True, it’s not an apples to apples comparison. The disciples saw and heard Jesus and believed. Thomas only heard about Jesus… but he was hearing ten of his closest friends all tell him Jesus was resurrected, something Thomas knew Jesus had told them was going to happen (Mark 8:31), and Thomas still chose not to believe.
Thomas had enough evidence. But it wasn’t the type of evidence he wanted. He refused to believe the truth about Jesus – namely, that He had risen from the dead – because it wasn’t on his terms.
How often do we do that?
How often do we tell God how to speak to us or what to do for us and then doubt His goodness, power or love when He doesn’t conform to our demands?
Conversely, how often do we miss God speaking to us or doing things for us because He does so in a way that is outside of our box?
Lord, help us change our hearts from “I will not believe unless…” to “I will believe always.”
This is partly because it’s the study the director of women’s ministry at my church chose. But, let’s be honest, it’s mostly because I don’t love well.
Anyway, the bulk of the study focuses on the latter half of 1 John 4, where John illuminates what God’s love is, what our love is, and how the two are connected.
What caught my attention this week during Bible study was verse 16. For context’s sake, here is 15 and 16:
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.
Know and rely?
A lot of days I know God loves me. But do I rely on His love? What does that even mean anyway?
Well, I think John is speaking to our relying on God’s love for salvation through Jesus. Verse 9 reads, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Christians are putting all their eternal hopes in one basket, and that basket is labeled, “Complete Forgiveness through Faith in Christ”. We’re relying on the love God has for us, believing that love spurred Him on to send Christ to die for us. If God didn’t love us enough to send His Son, we’ve all been duped. Worse, we’re all still in our sins, and when we die we’ll have to explain ourselves to the Lord.
But I think we can also rely on this same love – the love that went to extreme lengths to redeem us – in our daily lives.
When we’re worried about paying bills that are bigger than our paychecks, for example, we can rely on the love God has for us by recalling that time He loved us enough to send His Son to redeem us. We can trust that that same love will work out our financial needs.
When we’re feeling lonely or frustrated or angry, we can rely on the love God has for us by believing that the love that sacrificed Jesus for us is still loving us today. We can believe God is with us in our hard times and wants to comfort us with His love.
When we have no idea what we’re doing with our lives – what job to take, what ministry to serve in, whether or not to have another kid, where we should live, etc. – we can rely on the love God has for us by thinking about the compassion for us that prompted the Lord to send Jesus out of Heaven, to Earth, through extreme beatings, to a slow, violent death on a cross in order to win us back. We can have faith that that same all-encompassing love will guide us in our life decisions and won’t let us fail anymore than we need to in order to better know Him.
It’s easy to know intellectually that God loves us. It’s all over the pages of our Bibles, it’s in the lyrics of the worship songs we sing each week, and we can recall times in our lives when God really made it abundantly clear that He cares for us.
It’s much harder to consistently feel like God loves us and, in turn, to rely on the love He has for us. I think learning to actively depend on God’s love is more of a learned skill than a natural inclination of the Christian’s heart.
I wonder what would happen – how my mindset might improve – if the next time a challenge arises I ask, “How can I rely on God’s love for me in this situation?”
I know, answering that question takes effort. (I’m grumbling myself at the thought of doing this exercise.) It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and even attempting to when you’re the one stuck in the brush may take more emotional energy than you have to spare. But I think it’s a question worth answering.