On Darkness

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).

Control. Sigh.

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.

Why?

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.

Why?

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?

“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.

Dictating to God

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.”

Who’s Laughing Now?

It’s almost laughable…how life is just one sucker punch after another.

Just when you think you’ve recovered from one crushing situation, just when you’ve gotten back up on your feet and are in a semi-upright position, another seemingly catastrophic circumstance hits you in the gut, and down you go again.

I don’t know why this surprises me. The cynic in me knows this is how life goes. The Bible even says this is how life goes, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33). But I’m still always unprepared when another bad situation comes my way. I always act shocked.

It’s almost comical, both that the number of ridiculous events seems to grow daily and that I am always taken aback by such a reality each and every time.

I’ve made it a habit for the last 20 years to respond to hard situations with anger and sadness. Those are the default emotions, after all, so I didn’t have to try very hard to develop a pattern of responding to hardship this way. But you know what reacting like that has done for me? It has made my heart hard. It has made me captive to bitterness. It has robbed me of joy.

And so I’m wondering if a new approach would help…

I want to laugh.

The next time I get bad news, I want to laugh, not unlike Tom Hanks in the Money Pit when he starts to lose his marbles.

Go ahead and watch the clip. I’ll wait.

 

I don’t want to laugh in order to suppress any anger or sadness but, rather, as a way of saying, “I see what you’re doing there, Satan (or broken world, or sinful self – whichever the culprit might be). You haven’t caught me off guard this time. I’m not surprised by your ridiculousness. I can laugh that you continue to send your haymakers because the truth is God is not moved by your efforts to wreak havoc. He is unchanged. He is still sitting on His throne. He is still working all things together for the good of those who love Him. He is still in control of every single detail in this world. And because these are facts, I have no need to get angry or sad.”

I can laugh out of pride – boasting in the Lord that He’s going to take care of whatever mishap comes my way – and I can laugh out of joy – rejoicing that the Lord is going to take care of whatever mishap comes my way!

He’s got this. Laugh with me?

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Leave Your Jar

I love it when I read a super familiar story in the Bible and a phrase jumps out at me that I’ve never noticed before. It’s especially neat to me when I had no intention whatsoever to read that particular story, but God “made me” because He wanted to say something specifically to me through a wayward detail I’d never paid attention to in previous readings. He’s a neat Guy that way…

A few days ago that’s exactly what happened.

Some “random” person on Facebook posted one “random” verse from the story about the woman at the well, and my eyes couldn’t help but read it as I scrolled through my “news” feed. (Apparently, I’m “quote happy” today…)

The plain little verse that caught my eye was John 4:28, “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people…”

I’m not sure if the Facebook poster posted the next verse as well because my eyeballs stopped dead in their tracks over the first detail: she left her water jar.

What?

The whole reason she had made the trek to the well in the first place was to get a jar full of water for her and her family. They needed this water not only to complete household tasks, but, more importantly, to drink! They needed water for their physical nourishment, and it was this woman’s responsibility to bring it to them. Their very lives depended upon her bringing home a filled jar…

Why in the world would she, then, leave her jar there by the well and go home empty-handed?

A modern-day comparison would be if I had absolutely no food in my house and I took a reusable bag to the grocery store (I know, that alone would never happen), drop the bag in the middle of the store, and drive back home with absolutely nothing to eat or drink for my family (all right, so that last part isn’t as far-fetched…). My family would go hungry that night, and they’d probably be pretty upset with me for my irresponsibility.

What prompted the woman at the well to leave her all-important water jar behind when she returned home?

Was she simply so distracted by the fact that she had just met a man who knew unknowable things about her (John 4:17-18) and claimed to be the Messiah (John 4:25-26) that she merely forgot to take her jar with her?

Or was she so excited to discover the Messiah she’d been waiting on (John 4:25) that she just didn’t care about physical things like water anymore – she just wanted to get home to share her discovery with others?

If I met Jesus in the grocery store, it’d be understandable that I might be a little distracted and/or over-the-top excited and perhaps forget to pick up the pre-cooked chicken and frozen green beans for my family’s dinner that night…

Or was God, ever a fan of symbolism, making a bigger theological point by including this seemingly unimportant detail in the story – namely, that because the woman had found living water – that is, she recognized Jesus to be the Messiah, the Ultimate Quencher of her spiritual thirst – she consciously decided to leave her water jar behind because she realized she no longer needed it (John 4:13-14)?

I think there’s a good chance all 3 reasons are valid.

Of course, after meeting Jesus, the woman was still human – so she still needed literal water to survive, whether she had “accepted Christ” or not.

But there’s also the chance that upon meeting the Messiah on aisle three of Krogers (if you know me at all, you laughed at that pluralization) I would consciously think, “I’ve just met the only One who can fully know me, and He does, and He is so loving I can hardly stand it! I don’t need any other thing in this world, not even that tub of the best ice cream in all of creation (Blue Bell’s Rocky Road, for those of you who are out of the loop). I am fully satisfied having been in His presence.” Perhaps the woman at the well had a similar thought…

I’m not typically challenged to leave grocery stores empty-handed… food is so plentiful in most of America I take it much more for granted than the woman took her jar of water. She knew her desperate need for that jar of water. It was her physical life line. It was everything to her, in one sense, because her life depended on it’s contents.

But when she met Jesus and began to understand who He really was, she left her jar.

What’s your jar? What do you value? Does your enthrallment with Jesus make you forget all about your jar? Does your fulfillment in Jesus make you realize you don’t need your jar as much as you thought you did? Or are you more attached to your jar than you are to your Jesus?

Jesus is so incredibly more sufficient than the finest jars we possess. As we come to understand this about Him, we’ll no longer find our security in our jars. Instead, we will be fully satisfied in Jesus. 

Us Versus Them

In any kind of conflict, we humans instinctively feel defensive. Whether it’s a tiff with a spouse, a disagreement with a friend, or an argument with a boss, we immediately adopt an “us versus them” mentality. It’s just how we’re wired.

Which would be fine if that were how God is wired too. But it’s not.

In that passage we all hate, Jesus said we’re to forgive other believers who hurt us 70 times 7 times, by which He was implying as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). Why? Because Jesus has forgiven us a million times over – there is nothing He hasn’t forgiven us for – and He wants us to offer the same grace to others (Colossians 3:13).

And He doesn’t want us to just forgive them and part ways. He wants us to forgive them and continue in relationship with them (so far as it depends on us – Romans 12:18). (The obvious exception – when abuse is involved.) I know this because that’s what He does with us. And the longer we spend on this earth, the more like Him we should become (Romans 8:29).

He also tells us Christians to love one another as He has loved us… which begs the question – how has He loved us (John 13:34)? Unconditionally. He literally died for us, and He calls us to figuratively give up our lives for one another. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pens a whopper of a passage. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Completely humble?

Every effort?

But what if I’m tired of trying? What if the other party doesn’t care? Worse, what if the other party continues to hurt me or show no regard for my feelings?

How long do I have to bear with them? Surely there is a statute of limitations… As much as my humanity would love to say there is, I don’t see one in scripture… Jesus’ “bearing with me” and all my crap doesn’t have a time limit. And neither should our bearing with one another.

But wouldn’t it be more “peaceful” for two people in seemingly irresolvable conflict to part ways? Let’s call that what it really is – to divide. Shouldn’t two believers who can’t work things out split up in order to “keep the peace”? After all, “keeping the peace” is biblical… (Romans 12:18)

As much I as I wish it did, that just doesn’t seem congruent with “keeping the unity”… Logically, how can that which is divided also be unified, simultaneously? By definition, it can’t.

Might I propose that between two believers, there ought not be such a thing as “irreconcilable differences”? By the power of the Spirit, at least one of the parties ought to be able to extend grace, humility, love, and mercy… as many times as it takes… and since we can only be responsible for our own actions in any given conflict, our choosing to be the party that makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is all that’s in our control. We can choose to obey scripture, despite our feelings, and despite the other person’s choices.

But if the other person doesn’t seem to care at all about “keeping the unity”, that can make for a pretty crummy situation.

So what then? Are we to just remain in a bunch of miserable relationships – us versus the ridiculous them?

I don’t think so.

After his tall order of how we ought to behave, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all,” Ephesians 4:4-6.

You see, there is no “us” or “them”. At least there shouldn’t be. Not in the body of believers. We are one.

The people we disagree with – we’re one with them.

The people who hurt our feelings – we’re one with them too.

The believers who outright hurt us time and time again – one.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. The Church depends on it. The Gospel depends on it. We have to forsake the “us versus them” mentality that we reflexively assume when someone crosses us.

We believers are one, whether we feel like it or not. We should be rooting for one another to succeed, spurring each other on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lord, by Your power, may everything we do and say contribute to the unity of Your Body, the Church. We are one. May we act like it.