Note: This series is written as a first-person narrative in order to present Jesus in the context he walked with the unknown disciple that narrates presenting my thoughts and sparking more thoughts with his questions. Enjoy.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Seriously? I don’t think I ever heard a teacher teach such radical dependence on God.
“Which of you,” Jesus waved his arm over the crowd, “if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
My father was a good provider, and it makes sense that God would be an even better provider. A loving parent doesn’t give their children anything that can harm them.
“So in everything,” Jesus bore down on ‘everything’, “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Really? Well, I don’t want to dishonor my parents, kill anyone, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet people’s things. That’s six of the commandments that focus on my behavior towards others. That’s actually a very nice sum up.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Now, this is different. We’ve been taught most Jews would be saved. Yet Jesus is saying most would be lost because the way is narrow. How do I know where the narrow gate is!?
You know what I like about the Jehovah’s Witnesses? Their unity, they’re centralized. If the universal church (all believers) were that unified, we could do an even mightier work. Why don’t we?
A couple of reasons come to mind, we take it for granted, and we think of our churches as Burger King, where we can have it our way.
What do you mean ‘take it for granted?’
Our salvation and God’s grace and favor in offering it to us. We can’t earn it, it’s a free gift that came at the cost of Christ’s life. Say a prayer, and then keep on doing what you do, without even trying to make a Kingdom impact.
Statistics show that people attend church 3 out of every 8 Sundays. Try that with work. Reasons are given, too busy and don’t have time. That’s a pretty good indicator where God is on a person’s priority list.
In the parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) Jesus says “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Is that you?
How can I prevent that?
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
There’s a lot of deep theology in there. It’s challenging. I spent weeks on grace and salvation after a challenging sermon. Is the reason you’re not in church because it doesn’t feel good? You feel convicted?
If you never walk out of church feeling convicted, I warn you, your heart is hardening. Jesus cares for and lifts us, but also disciplines when we are wrong.
What can I do?
Endure, cling to Christ and don’t let go. Be tender-hearted and mature enough that when the Bible or Holy Spirit says to do this or don’t do that, you listen and obey. That’s being trained by, and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26).
God’s grace, His undeserved favor, isn’t to be wasted, cast aside, and we can’t negotiate the terms of it. It’s the most important thing ever. To do otherwise cheapens it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a lot to say about cheap grace in The Cost of Discipleship…
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace…Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing…In such a church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin…
Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.
It calls for a life of ongoing repentance.
Yes, an awareness of the cost of your salvation, and the joy that the deliverance from hell into eternal life is yours. “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)”
Working it out, not working for, means growing in God’s grace by trusting Him more because faith is the only way to be saved. Because you trusted God to save you, it’s easy to follow and listen to Him. Because you love Him for what He did for you, you seek to please Him and avoid anything that doesn’t.
When you sin, and you will (I did right before I typed this), ask for forgiveness with a repentant heart, not one wanting a rubber stamp.
What’s this have to do with going to church?
The universal church–actual followers of Christ–is called the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head of the church (his body), and as such, that means we have to sacrifice our preferences so long as it doesn’t go against the essential doctrines.
Why is this important?
Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
You have a purpose, and you cannot do it very well lone-wolfing it (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). You need encouragement, relationship, and people who love you enough to confront you when you’re wrong. Find a Bible-believing healthy church that’s like a family and go get involved. Do more than listening to a preacher for an hour and singing some songs. Serve, make friends, make a difference for the kingdom.
That spiritual drought will end with a torrent of living water.
August 10th, 2014, forever known as the day I acknowledged God as God. In these three years, it’s been an interesting journey. I have a picture on my wall from that day, mostly inexpressive, looking into the camera. What a change since then, and the year before.
The Day the World Stopped
It started a little over a year earlier. I had been attending church out of obligation. When my godson was killed in an accident in my home, the church surrounded us. Even our jobs helped where they could.
An investigation started on us, and I eventually became the focus of it. I looked for an attorney, finding I couldn’t afford one and was starting to panic as paranoia crept in. That’s just the outside, inside I was either numb or angry, in shock or filled with anxiety and guilt.
And I couldn’t stop the tremors in my hands.
My wife and I were in counseling for six free sessions through a program offered by work. It was a nightmare to get her in due to a lack of an interpreter. Our pastor filled that role, later taking on counseling us both since our insurance wouldn’t pay for psychotherapy. I paid out of pocket for as long as I could, lamenting my own turmoil.
At one point in August 2013, I was completely broken. I felt like I was stuck in a nightmare, sure I was going to jail, hated by others, and hating myself. I sat crying in a pew at church while everyone was singing Just As I Am.
Weeping and sobbing, I made the chorus into the most sincere prayer I’ve probably ever prayed.
I come broken to be mended,
I come wounded to be healed,
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled…
God Begins to Move…
Things began to happen. A lawyer offered his services to us free of charge. My wife was cleared, though I was arrested and charged with child endangerment. They let me out on a signature bond, and the officers that did the booking paperwork acknowledged that is was an accident.
The court process went smoothly, so smoothly that our attorney remarked he’d never seen a case go so smoothly. I was given probation, a suspended jail sentence, a fine, and I could never get a concealed carry permit in the state again. That was the deal, and we only had one quibble that quickly went our way.
This, among other things falling so easily into place, despite the emotional turmoil and probability, I began to suspect someone was working in the background.
These lyrics from Andrae Crouch’s song came to mind to explain the year between the accident and my baptism.
Through it all,
through it all,
I’ve learned to trust in Jesus,
I’ve learned to trust in God
The Year of the Prodigal goes over 2014 in depth. I began to study the book of James and reading Immediate Obedience. I was learning how to follow Christ. In that year, I realized I was a lot like the prodigal son in the Gospel of Luke, and God is the loving Father.
The Year of Renewal was spent diving into apologetics, and slowly turning away from things that didn’t honor God. During that year, I was diagnosed with PTSD, yet Christ works best with broken things.
I walked away from a business I had inherited the previous year, that had made the original owner wealthy. It didn’t fit me now, I was a new creation. That year rather than being a prodigal, I felt like I had been worked on by a divine blacksmith in life’s fires.
2016 was the Year of Searching and Growth, where I worked on developing relationships and philosophical musings on God. I felt like I was being prepared for something, and I’m still not totally sure for what.
I lost two friends in a week’s time as I continued searching for my purpose. Occasionally struggling with the idea of relationships, because I think God is getting a chuckle at making a loner logician value and understand people from an emotional perspective.
The end of the year brought our second pregnancy along with our second miscarriage. We grieved, we questioned, yet we trusted God. This was a fire that tempers or destroys faith, and considering how I got here, it was a hotter fire that brought me to Him.
Faith was grounded, tested, and proved that year.
What About Now?
This year has just been me given greater roles at work and church, relationships developing and growing, and working on one big thing. The contrast from then and now has been a complete 180. I’m not sure if any of my old friends understand it, maybe they will if they read this. I’ve even lost some friends.