I remember being the perfect father.
I could traverse the labyrinth of parenting with my skill and keen sense of direction. When I corrected my children to the right, taught them respect and honor, gave them a satisfactory foundation to be a contributing member of our family and society, my job was complete. They would rise up as young adults and thank me for the hard times of correction and discipline because it made them the mighty men and women that they would one day be.
And then my first child was born.
As long as I live I will never forget standing in front of the warming table in the birthing suite at Wilson Hospital. My daughter had just taken her first breaths and was trying out her eyes in the new and bright world. Nothing before that day prepared me for the immense weight of inadequacy that fused itself to me in that moment. It was not her preparation for the “real world” that I felt inadequate towards, nor her training in work ethic. It was something else that I had never considered beforehand. “Eighteen years,” I whispered under my breath, “to teach you about the God that gave you to me.” I stopped and watched her wrap her hand around my finger, “How am I supposed to do that?”
To this day I am not certain as to why it was that thought that permeated my thinking, it hadn’t been in my consideration even minutes before. But from that day on it has been a driving force behind many of my questions of how to raise this young girl.
Thinking I would just figure it out, I found myself overwhelmed again in the same manner as my second daughter took her first breaths. It occurred to me, as I looked at her, that I hadn’t answered the question I asked myself eighteen months ago at the same table.
“How does someone like me teach his daughters about God?”
As they began to grow up, I tried the best I could to push this question to the back of my thoughts and just get to raising them the way I set out to. When they were wrong I would correct them. When they were naughty I would discipline them. When they were messy I would make them clean up their own mess. When they were good I was neutral because that was just meeting expectations. In all of this, it was the way I handled discipline that first got to me.
Why was it that I was fine suspending Christian graces when it came to discipline?
Why was the fruit of the Spirit something that I resisted when it came to correcting my children? I argued it was out of love but I did not understand agape love. It certainly was not joyful or peaceful. Patience?! Far from it. Kindness.. Goodness… Faithfulness….. Gentleness…… Self-control? Blow after blow this passage crushed me to inadequacy once again. Where was my grace towards my daughters?
What were they learning about God?
I used to imagine that the grace of God was a fine thing that was necessary for salvation.
I was right.
As I began to grow and learn more about salvation, God, and the way He moved in the world, I started to realize that the grace of God was far more than necessary for salvation. Indeed it was sufficient for salvation. What a glorious thought! That God's grace alone is the source and cause of our salvation. That I need not look for any other cause, any other source, any other solution.
I was more right than I knew.
You see, I have spent many years imagining that I knew all about God's grace. That I could quantify and define it well. That I could express its realities and effects and that by so doing I would grow more thankful for the grace of God in my life.
I was wrong.
There is a wideness to God's grace that I have never known. As I assumed the vast focus of God's grace was exclusively on the glorious act of salvation, I have spent much time overlooking the grace of God in sanctification. Let me see if I can prod you to interact with it as well.
Have you ever desired God to punish you?
Oh, I don't mean expect Him to punish you but want Him to do so? That rather than know His gracious dealings with His beloved, you might be able to feel the scourge of His disapproval? Maybe it is my errant understanding of the "fear of the Lord." Maybe it is my pride wanting to take part in my own atonement so that maybe Christ would not have to suffer so violent a death if I suffer more intense consequences.
The more I grow as a Christian, the more I realize that there are parts of my heart that despise grace. Parts of me that would sooner suffer a thousand lashes of sorrow than the loving look of all-sufficient grace in the face of my Father. I, at times, want Him to look on my sin and deal harshly with me. Not in chastisement but in hatred. At least then I could feel vindicated, having suffered sufficiently to assuage my guilt.
Do I know? Do I even have the faintest inkling of the depths that Christ already suffered to rob me of my guilt? To steal away that precious guilt that pets my heart while singing soft words of hopelessness.
"Those who desire grace and forgiveness are weak," it hums, "but you are strong with me."
What I have learned is that the song is very deceptive and that without pride it would never stand. Because, I am weak but I think myself strong. The guilt that fights the onslaught of grace's siege has but the appearance of strength and can not endure. Eventually the defenses that guilt and pride have built will crumble at the sheer determination and consistency of the grace of God. And, as another section of the defenses fails as the grace of God floods the ramparts, I begin to see that my guilt, my sin, and my pride are no match for the grace of God that defies all measure.
It reminds me of an old hymn:
There's a wideness in God's mercy, like the wideness of the sea.
There's a kindness in God's justice, which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth's failings have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind.
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful we would gladly trust God's Word,
And our lives reflect thanksgiving for the goodness of our Lord.
May God make me thankful for His grace.
The parable of the ten lepers in Luke 17 gifts us my favorite story regarding a person's response to the Lord's healing them. The way I heard it as a kid was that only one of the lepers was grateful, and so was saved. Well, I heard wrong. Let's check out this parable.
On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
What it meant to be a leper in Ancient Israel is all but lost on us in today's healthy society. If you came down with leprosy, you lost your home, your family, and your friends. You were not allowed to be near others, and as such were cast out of town to live with other lepers. It is this situation that Jesus comes across these ten lepers.
Imagine the healing that takes place; it was not simply a restoration of health, but of life, family, society, and worship. Everything once lost was restored. Here's the question: Do you really think that the nine that did not return to say thanks weren't grateful? A man just approached them out of the blue and returned their lives back to them. Of course they were grateful!
The point of this parable has nothing to do with being grateful. It regards what you ought to do with your gratitude.
The one leper left with the others. Then it dawns on him... Maybe I should give credit to whom it is owed. He returns praising God with a loud voice, falls at Jesus' feet and gives Him something. This is the picture I want you to take from this: picture gratitude as a coin. A coin that you may retain possession of, or give away. You see, I am certain that the other nine, who desired to be healed greatly, had gratitude. They possessed the coin that is gratitude. And while this is a good thing, it is not the end of the responsibility of the one healed. The one who returned, took that coin of gratitude and gave it to Jesus. This is what we mean by saying we owe a debt of gratitude.
The awesome part of the story is that the one who returned got a further lesson regarding what healed him. A lesson that the other nine missed out on: "your faith has made you well."
There is a direct correlation between one who does not acknowledge God in all his ways and give Him thanks, and struggling with faith and worry. If we fail to both remember God's faithfulness, or even fail in saying "thank you" for His faithfulness, we will quickly find ourselves loosing sight of what He is doing in the midst of difficulties.
Are you grateful for God's salvation? Are you grateful for His promise to present you faultless before the throne of grace? Are you grateful for good days? Bad days? Are you grateful for His Spirit forming you more and more into the image of Christ?
All the time.
I tell you, truly, there is no more transformative prayer I pray than to give God the thanks I owe Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
~ Happy Thanksgiving to you all! ~
Imagine, for a moment, that you are part of an organization or movement whose vision statement and intention you resonate with very strongly. Imagine also that you are a part of this with others who are likeminded. Isn't it great? Now that you have this in your mind, I have a question for you to ponder:
How do you know that being a part of this is good?
In our world of insanity, we have come to define that that which is popular is right, and that which is common is good. If something or someone is well accepted then it must be the proper response to admire or even respect such. And disagreeing with someone or something that is famous or popular is a very risky move indeed.
"But I've overturned a new leaf!" You say, "I stand up for the bullied, and the underdog; I appreciate niche art and savor the glory that is my snowflake-like fellow man, fingerprints and all." I've got news for you. It is also popular (granted, to a different group of people) to like and support those things that aren't popular. The "new leaf" you've turned over is just a different light on the same leaf that mankind has been revelling in for millennia:
"As the masses go, so I go."
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
How are we to know if the building project was right or good? If there was a newspaper in that day, it would be rife with observations of how well everyone was working on the tower together, how much everyone was getting along, even descriptions of how much was being accomplished! That's a good thing, right? Right? After all, the goal for them was to build a tower, and they were shimmering examples of success! If you weren't a part of what they were doing, you were missing out.
Is knowing what is right and good really a question of agreement between all parties involved? Milestones achieved? Unity of vision? Charismatic leaders?
Where does God fit into this determination?
Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another's speech.” So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth. And from there the LORD dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
God had already made it clear to the people what their job was: they were to worship Him and fill the Earth. Instead of that, the people chose self-exaltation and staying where they were.
The sad part of this story of humanity is not so much that this is how the world is, but that the church follows close on its heels. We have been given the gospel and a mission to preach it to a dying world, but so many find that the gospel is not popular in the world and it is quickly pushed aside for less confrontational messages.
How "church" is done begins to reflect this. Rather than the gospel being fully present in the life of the church, there is an emphasis on validating people in their sin, encouraging them with false hopes of God's love and approval. Rather than evangelism unto salvation, there is a focus on community outreach that has everything to do with 'getting them to come to our church.' Anything to swell our numbers, our presence, our selves.
How do we protect our churches from spoiling the gospel with a rotting message that tickles the ears of dead men? How do we know what we are doing is good? Ultimately it is a question of what authority we are appealing to.
Everyone has an authority, who is yours?
"Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"
As Jesus speaks to His disciples, there is an unmistakable reality that they may (and in fact did) face the physical death that following Jesus may lead to. Whatever "following Jesus" means, the prerequisites for it are to "Deny yourself" and "Take up your cross". As this is before the crucifixion, what it would mean to the disciples is to lay aside your own desires for what you want in comfort and success and join the death march. The cost of discipleship is no mere nodding of a head to Jesus, it is a commitment that pervades every area of our life due to its worth. This is why Jesus immediately follows the statement up with "whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." There is no living that is valuable if it is not lived (or lost) for Christ's sake.
So, after seeing the prerequisites, what does it mean when Jesus says, "Follow Me"?
Denying self-will. Replacing those self-desires with those which God has for us. Conducting our faith and our life by His order and direction, rather than ours.
If this means even losing our very lives, so be it. We have a Christ who has given us hope beyond the grave.
Some verses that help remind:
"Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."
"Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Does this mean selling everything and living in a hole somewhere? No.
It means learning from Jesus (the root meaning of "disciple") and holding everything, even your own life, with and open hand. Proclaiming the gospel may cost you your family, your reputation, your children, your spouse, your comfort, or your life. Is it worth it?
The answer, is "yes, it is worth it". Because what value is having the entire world, yet losing your soul?
Following Christ sounds hard only if we are valuing ourselves above Him. In reality, living selfishly is the hardest life that there is as you will find yourself wrestling against God. Christ even promised how wonderful it is to follow Him in contrast to the difficulty life is against Him in Matthew 11:27-30
"All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”