What is the purpose of the Church?

“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 Christianto 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.

Why not?

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…

What is?

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.

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Give Jesus

On the hard days – the days I want to walk away from all this faith stuff – I put one foot in front of the other and walk anyway…

I drive past the shotgun houses – every other one boarded up – and a man drinking a 40 at 9 AM on a Tuesday. I pray aloud, “May salvation come today in the name of the Lord.” I repeat the mantra over and over, asking it to be so, as I make my way to the biggest abortion clinic in the city – my city – the city with a violent crime rate four times the national average.

Death is there, behind those cinder block walls. The killing of babies and the attempted murder of mothers’ consciences… the former happens, day in and day out, but the latter is never completely successful…

I raise my hand toward the building full of women who need His love in the worst way. I pray they would get it…

I park my car across the street and breathe a desperate prayer. “Lord, inspire those women in that death factory to choose life – physical life for their unborn babies, and spiritual life for themselves.”

I get out of my car and walk into a different building – one that houses an organization that applauds life. I get in the elevator, push the number 5, and mumble to the Lord, “Be here today.”

I feel like I have nothing to give most Tuesdays. But that’s not true. I have precisely what my clients need most – Jesus. My heart may be in a thousand pieces, and my life may be in a thousand more, but I have Jesus, and He makes all the difference.

The elevator dings, doors slide open, and I make my way to the pregnancy medical clinic where I volunteer each week. The warm decor and even warmer people leave the false impression that this is just another doctor’s office. No. This is a battlefield.

God and Satan are in full out war over the souls of every potential mother that walks through our doors.

Truth be told, it’s not just our clients that find themselves in the middle of a tug of war that promises to rip their arms clean off. The staff is under attack as well.

They told me it’d be like this when I went through orientation a year ago. The stakes are too high for Satan to let a pro-life organization save lives unchallenged. Maybe that’s why every Monday my life seems to fall apart? Because Satan knows what I intend to do on Tuesday?

Give Jesus

I clip on my magnetic name tag, “Kelly, Client Advocate”. I walk to the room in which fearful, hopeless women will soon come, one by one, telling me their stories of how they wound up with an unplanned pregnancy.

I ask Him once more, “Lord, be here. Show me what to say, when to say it, and how to say it so each woman who comes through this door leaves with the hope that You love them and will be their ever present help in times of trouble.”

And week after week, when I give all I can give – when I give Jesus – the Lord blesses. 

Clients respond to Him, yes. Their openness to hearing the Gospel can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

But His blessing doesn’t end there… He blesses me too.

That He would use the likes of me to spread His message of love and redemption? It’s too good.

That He would allow me to be present in moments when clients choose to receive His work on the cross? It’s too good.

That He would give me a front row seat to witness the Kingdom overcoming the darkness – in clients’ lives, in my life? It’s too good!

Find a place to give Jesus. Wherever you are, give Jesus, yes, but also be intentional about going to where He’s unknown and give Jesus there, too. I’m telling you, He will bless you in the process.

All I’ve Ever Wanted

I drank the verses slowly, letting them swirl around in my heart like the velvet coffee in my mouth.

I was warmed by both.

“Remain in me,” Jesus said, “and I will remain in you,” (John 15:4).

It took only moments for me to realize that’s all I’ve ever wanted… from anyone.

A promise to be there.

To Remain.

To Abide.

Not to depart.

To hold me… keep me… continually.

This chronic need for security, it can be met in Him…

…and only Him.

“If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus continued. “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers…” (John 15:5-6).

All I've Ever Wanted
image via franky242/freedigitalphotos.net

I have known the withering.

And I have born fruit when I’ve lingered long in the Lord’s love.

But the fruit is not what I’m after, if I’m honest.

The fruit is temporary. Each piece transforms from a seed into its ripened form… then it’s let go… the ministry, the student, the child – all are but momentary evidences of the Lord’s working through us. But they aren’t meant to stay. They’re meant to go and produce more fruit.

No, I am not after fruit.

I’m after the Vine.

I aim to remain in Him so that He will remain in me. I want Him to stay. No matter what it takes or what it costs me, I. Need. Him. Without Him, I can do nothing.

There’s only One person who can be needed this much and not fail us.

There’s only One person who can deliver on the promise to remain with us always.

There’s only One person who can be the object of this degree of neediness in a healthy way.

There’s only One person who can hold us… and keep us… continually.

And that One person? He wants us to do the same for Him.

Jesus wants us to remain in Him… not because He needs us… just because He loves us.

He wants us, whom He loves, to love Him… to abide in Him… not to depart from Him… but to hold Him… to keep Him… continually…

And that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

On Account of You

I’ve read about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead a time or two. But when I read John’s account again last week, something new grabbed my attention.

On Account of Us
image via digidreamgrafix/freedigitalphotos.net

Which is something I adore about scripture. But that’s a different post.

After Jesus, exhibiting God-like qualities, raised Lazarus from the dead, John reports that a lot of Jews started believing in Jesus. This ticked off the Jewish leaders, in part because they didn’t believe Jesus was God, and in part because they didn’t want to catch flack from the Roman government over the Jesus brouhaha.

So guess who the Jewish leaders wanted to kill?

Did you guess Jesus?

I did.

And I was wrong.

Or partly wrong.

They did want to kill Jesus, but they also wanted to kill somebody else. John 12:9-10 reads, “Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well…”

What?

Why in the world would Lazarus be on their hit list? He hadn’t asked to be raised from the dead… And, honestly, what good will killing him do? It wouldn’t erase his resurrection  from history… There would still be people who had witnessed his resurrection telling others about it…

Verse 11 tells us the logic the Jewish leaders were using to justify their desire to murder Lazarus, “…for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him,” (John 12:11).

Jews weren’t believing Jesus was the Messiah because of Jesus’ teachings or the disciples’ following Him or the rumors they’d heard about Jesus’ miracles in distant lands. They were putting their faith in Jesus because Lazarus – a man they knew from their town – was living proof of Jesus’ power.

Not only was he most likely verbalizing his belief in Jesus’ deity, Lazarus’ very life – his breathing and walking – was a testimony to Jesus’ godness.

Lazarus’ existence was so compelling, the Jewish leaders felt they needed to eliminate him.

As I read verse 11, you can guess what questions came to mind. On account of me, are many people believing in Jesus? Are any?

I talk a lot about Jesus. I say the Gospel often. But does my existence – my life – what I do – encourage others to believe?

Your initial objection might be, “Yeah, but we haven’t been raised from the dead like Lazarus, so our physical existence isn’t quite as compelling as his was…”

Have we not?

Believers in Christ have been born again in a spiritual sense – resurrected from spiritual deadness and given new life through Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a much more significant way than Lazarus, we’ve been raised spiritually. We have a story to tell. A story that will compel others to come to Jesus and believe in Him.

Are we telling it?

We have the ability to live new lives by the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, Romans 8:11-12). Our existences – our breathing and our walking – should look supernatural to those who don’t know Christ.

Does it?

Who is believing in Jesus on account of you?

At the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

The Problem with Comfort Objects

God wants more for us than we want for ourselves.

Which is awesome and terrifying all at the same time.

Our hearts are so broken and bent toward sin that if someone were to ask us what we want in life, our list would be pretty self-centered. My list contains things like happiness, fulfillment, healthy family and friends. I want to grow old with my first husband, and I want my kids to thrive.

These things might seem benign on the surface, but I know the real motives underneath – I want to avoid pain and maximize pleasure.

And so do you.

But God wants more for us than a good time. He wants us to live lives that matter. Comfy, cozy lives don’t accomplish much. Self-preservation seems right, and it is natural, but it misses the heart of God (Proverbs 16:25).

We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). But our pursuit of pain-free living often prevents us from knowing God (and, thus, making Him known).

How?

Because we find things that feel good and provide comfort, and we latch on to them for dear life, refusing to let them go.

(Note: this is called idolatry. I know, I know, too harsh. But true.)

We are born doing this. As newborns, we literally latch on to our mother’s, for nourishment, yes, but any mother can tell you, her baby hangs around well past meal time, suckling solely for the comfort. As we grow, this pattern of behavior continues, it just manifests differently.

When all our energy is focused on our comfort objects, we don’t have much time (or room in our hearts) to draw nearer to God. Problem.

But draw nearer we must. It’s the only way we can be fulfilled for any length of time, and it’s the only way we can fulfill our life purposes – to know Him and make Him known.

So God, lovingly, gently, and Fatherly-y (like a Father?), beckons us to find our comfort in Him.

Naturally, that doesn’t typically go over well with us. Our entire lives have been spent seeking and holding on to comfort objects that weren’t Him. To put them into their proper places – lower places than the Lord – is foreign and scary and hard and scary.

But He wants better for us than we want for ourselves. So He continues to encourage the process of loosening our grips on our chosen comforts that we might find our hands free to grab onto Him, the Ultimate Comfort.

I have a feeling the sooner we I cooperate, the better it will be for all involved.

How about you?

What, Exactly, is His Grace Sufficient For?

One of the go-to verses for Christians in pain is 2 Corinthians 12:9. In it God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Of course, the context is important. So bare with me while I rehash that for us.

Corinth was a city of wealth, commerce, and depravity. Sexual immorality was rampant, with prostitution being part of idol worship. Apparently, the Corinthians had a hard time separating themselves from these cultural practices. Paul tried, somewhat in vain it seems, to encourage Corinthian believers to higher standards – godly standards. Second Corinthians was actually his third letter (at least) to the group, after several lengthy personal visits to try to steer the church in the ways of the Lord. To put it mildly, Paul was frustrated and desperately wanted these believers to desire to be the Church – those called out of the world and into the Kingdom.

In chapters 10 and 11, Paul felt the need to answer a question the Corinthians seemed to be asking themselves – why should we listen to Paul?  Paul acknowledged their grumbling, reporting his awareness that “…some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing,'” (2 Corinthians 10:10). The Corinthians were feeling a bit rebellious, and they weren’t afraid to say it… when Paul wasn’t around.

Paul did his best to respond calmly the rest of chapter 10 and the first half of chapter 11, but he eventually decided sarcasm and mockery were the way to go. (Have I mentioned I love him?) He was infuriated the Corinthians were choosing to elevate false apostles’ teaching above the true Gospel he had introduced to them (2 Corinthians 11:5-6).

While defending himself, though, he didn’t want to give the impression the Corinthians should listen to him because there was something special about him. It was important they realized it was not Paul he wanted them to submit to but Christ in Paul. Paul told the story about his infamous thorn to illustrate his humanity and frailty and to emphasize only the existence of an all-powerful God could explain how a man with such a restrictive condition could be so successful.

Within this context, Paul recounted how he asked God to take away his thorn three times (2 Corinthians 12:8). And God had responded this way, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

The first part of the sentence intrigues me. “My grace is sufficient for you.” What does that even mean? We Christians are quick to quote it to someone in need, but have we really nailed down what’s going on here? I haven’t.

What, exactly, is God’s grace sufficient for?

I took the verse apart in the Greek last night to try to answer that question, and you’re never going to believe what I found out. What God really means is, “My grace is enough for you.”

If you’re paying attention, you’re realizing I discovered absolutely nothing new. So I took it apart in the English and came up with this.

Grace can mean favor, approval, or blessing, typically unmerited. Enough means occurring in such a quantity as to fully meet a need. So God’s favor and blessing will fully meet our need. The question is begged, our need for what? Some needs? All needs? Specific needs?

Before we can transfer the idea to ourselves, we need to get back in Paul’s shoes to understand the original intent of the Lord.

Paul had some needs.

In the most immediate context, he had a thorn of some sort causing him some agony. God likely would have been intending to communicate His favor was enough to get Paul through that agony. God’s blessing was enough for Paul to live  for a lengthy amount of time in spite of whatever physical, spiritual, or emotional pain he was experiencing.

Zoom out a smidge, and the wider context is that Paul was defending his credibility as an apostle to the Corinthians. In the midst of their doubting his authority to speak on God’s behalf, God tells Paul, “My approval is enough.” The power behind Paul’s ministry resided in God’s approval and favor, not the Corinthians. Nothing else was needed. Even without the Corinthians’ okay, God’s approval was enough for Him to accomplish whatever He willed through Paul.

I’d also like to think the Father-heart of God wanted to remind Paul that He loved Paul. He wanted Paul to feel confident of that love and to find his identity in that love, no matter what others were saying about him. God approved of Paul, even if others didn’t, and knowing that should have fully met Paul’s need to feel secure and valued. 

Step back even farther, and we realize Paul had a nearly impossible task – to take the Gospel to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles also (Acts 13:46). The Jews thought of Paul as a traitor preaching sacrilege and would’ve rather killed him than listen to him try to convince them Jesus was the Messiah they’d been waiting on (Acts 9, 13). The Gentiles didn’t know what to do with Paul. Some were scared of him (Acts 9), some tried to worship him (Acts 14:11), some stoned him (Acts 14:19), some believed his message (Acts 14:20), and some, like the Corinthians, believed Paul initially but got angry when he held them accountable. So when God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you,” the widest application implies God’s favor was all Paul needed to successfully fulfill his life’s calling to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15, Eph 3:8).

Back to the original question. For today’s believer, what is God’s grace sufficient for?

God’s grace is sufficient…

1) To survive pain. God’s blessing is enough for us to make it through any kind of physical, spiritual, or emotional pain, no matter how long that pain exists. God’s grace – His favor – is enough, all by itself, to sustain us until He determines that pain should end.

2) To empower us for ministry. God’s Kingdom purposes are accomplished by His endorsement alone, not human approval, ability, or ambition. We all have a ministry, and His grace – His blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to make our ministries flourish.

3) To establish our security. We all wonder, to varying degrees, if we are loved, valued, appreciated, accepted, approved of, desired, etc. Too often we look to others to affirm our worth. God’s grace – His approval – is enough, all by itself, to solidify our true worth.

4) To fulfill our life callings. We’re all here for 2 reasons: to know God and to make Him known (Exodus 9:15-16). How we make Him known, and to whom, may vary, but, ultimately, we’re all called to the same thing. And the calling is not for the feint of heart. But, God’s grace – His favor and blessing and approval – is enough, all by itself, to empower us to do what we’re supposed to be doing.

So I guess to put it succinctly (1100+ words later), God’s grace is sufficient for everything.

There is Only One Thing Worth Being Concerned About

Any given day, I’m concerned about a lot of things.

Most of those things are trivial, as those of you who follow me on Twitter can attest to. (I’m just trying to expose you to quality music, entertain you with funny things my kids say, and wow you with heart-shaped pizza – if these things aren’t worthy of your time and attention, I mean, honestly, I don’t know what is…)

A handful of the things I’m concerned about are weightier in importance, like health and happiness of my family, for instance.

This all seems very normal and understandable.

Until I read a conversation between Jesus and Martha.

I typically read the NIV (1984) Bible. But this year I am reading through the NLT, so some of the phrasing is suspect different.

In Luke 10 we read that after she welcomed Jesus into her home, Martha went to work making sure Jesus’ visit was enjoyable. She flitted around the kitchen making a “big dinner”, concerning herself with treating her guest well. Martha knew Jesus was God, which is evident when she addressed Him as Lord (Luke 10:40). I’m sure she felt just a little bit stressed cooking for GOD. She wanted everything to be top-notch.

Meanwhile, Martha’s sister, Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He taught,” (Luke 10:39).

I can imagine, as the minutes turned into hours, Martha grew irate over her sister’s lack of help preparing the meal. I can picture Martha stewing internally as she stirred food, chopped vegetables, and stressed over the perfection of it all alone, while Mary kicked back with Jesus.

Martha’s emotions finally escalated to a point she felt she had to voice them or she’d burst. “‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me,'” (Luke 10:40).

Martha complained to (and possibly against) God. Then she asked Jesus to choose sides. She also told Him to use His authority as a man, as a rabbi, and as God to correct her sister.

Clearly, Martha should have kept her mouth shut.

Nevertheless, she asked Jesus a question, and He answered it, just not how she would have liked Him to.

“My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her,” (Luke 10:41-42).

Apparently, Jesus would have been satisfied with some cold leftovers. Good to know if I ever find myself having to cook for Him in Heaven.

What struck me even more, though, is the middle sentence, “There is only one thing worth being concerned about.” Really? Just one? Cause I can think of at least 10 right now.

The statement begs the question, “Well, what is it?! What’s the one thing? Tell me so I can concern myself with it.” Jesus doesn’t define it out rightly, but He gives us clues about “it”.

  1. Mary has discovered it.
  2. It will not be taken away from her.

If we go back up in the text, we can figure out what Jesus is talking about.

The only thing Mary did in this story was sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to what He taught (Luke 10:39). What is she concerning herself with? The things Jesus was teaching. And when she learned those teachings, they could never be taken away from her. They’d be in her memory forever.

To be clear, I don’t think Jesus considers it “bad” that we concern ourselves with things like our families’ safety and Instagram pizza. Those things have their places, and we certainly can’t all be monks and nuns who spend their whole days studying Scripture. But the lesser things should receive lesser attention than the greater things, and Jesus is the greatest thing.

Further, in addition to focused Bible reading and prayer, I think Jesus is inviting us to concern ourselves with Him and what He’s saying throughout the day by keeping our spiritual ears open to what the Holy Spirit may be saying to us at any given moment.

If Martha had been listening to Jesus teach while she prepared the meal, I don’t think she would have been focused on the food or the labor. Her heart wouldn’t have gotten angry at her lazy sister. Instead, she probably would’ve been energized and encouraged by what Jesus was saying and cooked all the more joyfully.

And we can do that too. No matter what task we are completing or what concern we have at the moment, He ought to be our heart’s focus in the midst of those things, transforming them into opportunities for closeness with Him.