Psalm 139:13-16 God knew you before we knew you…

Lately there have been more folks reading this past blog-piece, so I thought I’d put it front and center on our site. I wrote it a few years ago, and yet am still amazed at the idea that God knew me before it was even possible for the greatest microscope created to see me! What a wonderful God! Blessings, Pastor Ken

Am I in an abusive church? Three Questions. . .

There is a growing number of excellent books and website today that offer the reader first-rate scholarship and discussion about abusive churches and cults. Most of them clearly describe the attributes of such destructive groups, and give some great information for those recovering from membership in them. In this short piece I am not intending to offer such extensive information, as much as to provide three, short questions to a person who is genuinely wondering if the church they belong to is a healthy church that is good for them and their family, or is perhaps a church that has become (or has always been) abusive, and is therefore a bad place to be. I crafted the following three questions as a means of helping member to think through their feelings and beliefs about the church, and perhaps gain strength to leave churches that are, in fact, destructive and harmful to their members.

What got you in? What keeps you in? and What would happen if you left? 

These questions form a pretty small launch pad for the discussion, but perhaps they can be a first step. I am a survivor of any abusive church, and believe the following three questions, though buried deeply in consciousness while I was a member, would have been very helpful to me had someone clearly, pointblank, asked me to consider them.

  1. What got you in?

Members of abusive churches did not join them with a full knowledge of the damage and pain that membership in the church would cause them.  Instead, they joined with some notion of good, blessing, or benefit that they expected to find in the church.  For some, it was the promise of quality, genuine relationships with other, and like-minded people. The culture around us can seem a very cold and superficial place, full of Happy Hours that don’t make anyone happy, Facebook friends whom one never meets face to face, and a perpetual stream of short-term, casual relationships that never seem to meet any deep needs.  Friendship in our world is often a moving target. To find a group of people that share one’s faith and values, and promise friendship and commitment—that can be a very powerful draw!

Others are drawn to a church because it promises to meet their desires for advanced growth in their faith, perhaps even to the point of vocational preparation for some form of Christian ministry. The abusive church that I joined as a young man promised me academic training greater than that of a seminary, along with the “character training” I knew I required if I were to ever succeed in ministry.  Along with that personal expectation, the church itself boasted of a plan to “plant churches up and down the I-5 corridor.” I envisioned my wife and I arriving in Salem, or Ashland, Tacoma or Seattle and starting our own church.

Destructive, abusive churches always offer something to the recruit that is attractive and personally desirable.  Such churches are invariably easy to join, and very difficult to leave. They promise to meet needs that have gone unmet in the recruit’s life so far—to have the “answers” he or she is looking for in life.

Therefore, a valid question to ask yourself, if you are questioning whether or not you are a member of an abusive church, is “What got me in to this church? What was the promise, agreement, or expectation that made it seem so good at the time? Is that promise or agreement being kept, as it was conveyed to me when I joined, or does it remain distant, future, or has it been altered or ignored, now that I’m a member?” In my case, the I-5 dream was exposed over time for what it was—simply a recruitment tool designed to appeal to young, idealistic, ambitious young people like me.  As I write today, that church, over 35 years old, has yet to train anyone for ministry anywhere other than in its own, tiny congregation—and has never come remotely close to planting a new church.

What led you to join your church, and how has it worked out for you today?

  • Did you expect to find friendship in a non-judgmental, free, relaxed church, only to find that friendship is based on your commitment to keeping the standards and rules of the church? Are the friendships you have in your church actually very conditional, despite what was suggested or promised to you when you first looked into joining the church? If so, it is likely that you are in an abusive church, or at least one that is very, very unhealthy. If you are willing to communicate with the leaders of the church, than by all means do so.  But, if you are simply to intimidated, hurt, or uncertain of their receptivity of your input, then it is best that you leave the church, at least for a time, so that you can heal and think through whether your church is a good fit for you.
  • Did you expect to receive a level of academic or professional training in the church that has yet to materialize, or to result in your placement in ministry?
  • Did you anticipate growing to a deeper level of spirituality and character formation, a level that you never seem to come close to attaining?
  1. What keeps you in?

People stay in harmful situations in many other areas of life than churches. Sadly, they remain in hurtful marriage relationships, family systems, jobs and schools that are clearly destructive. With abusive churches, members remain in them, despite the growing, negative costs, and diminishing returns—because they believe it too costly to leave, that leaving the church will prove to be more emotionally painful than the discomfort and joylessness of remaining.  Once a person has become a committed member of any abusive church system he or she has made significant investments in the church, usually on many levels.  He may have given much money to the church, expecting to be a part of its growth and gain. He may have passed up promotions and educational opportunities that would have enhanced his income and career, all to be more available for the programs and ministries of the church. His marriage may have become so identified with the church that his spouse may insist on staying in the church, even if he left it. His children’s best friends might be their fellow church kids. He may have lost many of his friendships and family relationships as he gave his preference, time, and emotional energies to fellow church members above all others.

My wife and I became so embroiled in the life of our (abusive) church that we hardly had any aspect of our relationship that wasn’t in some way affected by the church. We spoke of little else than church-related issues, and subjugated time, finances, even our child-raising practices, to the good of the church, and never our marriage.  In short, it seemed too costly, on too many levels, to leave the abusive church, so I stayed in it long after I became disillusioned with it.

What about you? Have you found yourself in the position of being held IN the church, rather than attracted TO it, as you were when you first joined? Do you stay in the church in order to keep the peace at home, to keep your friends, or to avoid the feared I-told-you-so’s of friends and family that may have shared their concerns about the health of the church? Are you staying in the church, despite growing, privately held concerns over its health, out of a hope that perhaps better days are coming, and needed repentance on the part of its leaders is just around the corner? Do you stay because you want to stay, or because you are afraid to leave?

Tough questions to ask, but if you are willing to at least consider them—even in the privacy of your own thoughts—you will be taking some of the first steps to freedom and genuine joy in your faith!

  1. What would happen if you left?

You might think that I’ve asked that question in order to argue that nothing bad will happen in you leave, and that your fears and pessimism regarding life away from the abusive church are all unfounded. That is not my desire at all. I would like to simply ask you to consider what you believe would happen to you if you left, and I mean what you really do believe. Abusive churches always have some sort of running narrative that promises varying degrees of failure, loss, and doom to those who leave them, or at least those who don’t leave in the “right” way, with the blessing of the leaders of the church. They keep their members from actively exploring leaving the church with doomsday predictions, along with their claims to be the best church, or the only church, or perhaps the only church that is God’s will for the member to belong to. After opening up the issue of my desire to leave the church, our senior pastor soon preached a sermon focused on exposing the “evils of leaving the place God has called you to for training” along with a vivid description of the horrible life that awaited such a “defecting disciple.” (The congregation knew exactly who that sermon was aimed at!) I imagined the mockery of my co-workers if I left the abusive church I was a member of: Looks like Ken’s a wash-out—and the religion he’s been trying to sell us for ten years is a bust! I wondered if I would be accepted by any other churches, coming from such a strident, abusive church. Would anyone understand? Would anyone want to include me in their church? And there were deeper concerns, too. Would my children be okay? Would they make new friends? Would there be anything left to rebuild my marriage on, since the abusive church had demanded such a role in it? Our pastor promised a life of meaninglessness, and zero impact for the kingdom of Christ, should anyone leave the church. Of course, I was wrong in every prediction I’d made regarding what I could expect if I were to leave the church.

But in posing the question, What would happen if you left? I am asking you to do something that is very serious and powerful.  You see, to begin to envision leaving, to the point of actively thinking through issues of what you fear life would be like, versus what you know life would be like—opens the door to imagination, possibility, and even faith and hope.

What would happen if you left?

  • Would you suffer loss in your marriage? (Have you spoken with your spouse about that?)
  • Would your children suffer? (How do you know that to be true?)
  • Would you be shamed by friends and family? (Why not ask them if that is true?)
  • Would you become irrevocably unhinged, a wandering, miserable spiritual reprobate whom God could never use? (Does that idea square up with how God treats His children, and with the broken saints Scripture who go on to be used by God in marvelous ways, as He heals mends their broken hearts?)

I don’t think anyone really has the answers to those questions before they finally leave their abusive church.

However. . .

To simply ask the question, and to work through finding honest answers to it—is in itself an act of spiritual empowerment, and opens a door for the Lord to speak to the soul in some powerful, private ways. Your willingness to simply ask these three questions, and to interact with your answers, can prove to be life-altering, and might even be the first step towards a deeper, more satisfying, healthy faith.

Blessings,

Pastor Ken

 

 

Breakfast on the back porch (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

“If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

A loophole is a condition or application of a law that allows for a person to subtly circumvent the law itself—all without formally breaking that law.  We’re pretty good at finding loopholes in our tax laws here in American, come April 15th!  But let’s put ourselves in the sandals of those to whom this text was originally written—the Jewish people of Israel, approximately 1400 BC.  Let’s pretend that we’re just finishing breakfast, and are preparing to head to our field to put in a long day’s work.  We look out the door of our small, stone house and see a poorly dressed man, standing.  He’s obviously waiting for us to come outside.

I say, “Oh, great.  There’s another one of them today.  What are we going to do?  We can’t become village lunch ticket!”

You say, “He’s poor, we’ve got to help him. ““If there is a poor man with you…””

“How do you know he’s poor,” I say.  “He’s got shoes on his feet, clothes on his back.  He walked here; he could just as easily have walked down the road to the next farm.”

You say, “But he’s a brother, like it says, “one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you…”

“Let’s not get literalistic or fundamenalistic here!” I say.  “How do you know he’s a Jewish brother, or from this town?  And sure, God may have giving the nation this land…but we’ve worked it ourselves, and own it, and need to be good stewards of it, not giving its produce away to every guy that comes along looking for a handout.”

You say, “It’s commanded, “you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother.”

“Well,” I say, relieved and a bit offended, “you certainly don’t know my heart, do you?  This is an issue between me and God.  Remember, “Judge not!”

“Right,” you say, “…but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

“Yes!  I’m glad you quoted that verse,” I say.  Lend!  Lend!  We’re supposed to lend him what he needs—NOT give, but lend!

“Yes, but—“

“But how can you lend something to someone who doesn’t have any way to repay it?  And how can you even know that he’ll be around to repay it,” I say.

“But you just said that you don’t know that he’s really poor.  You said, “He’s got shoes on his feet, clothes on his ba—“

“Right!” I say.  We can’t know, so how can we really apply this literally, without some sort of verifica—“

Suddenly, I don’t have your attention anymore.  You’re looking out the doorway.

“He’s gone now,” you say.

“Just as well,” I say.  But I’m thinking “Mission accomplished.

And I say, as if changing the subject, “Tomorrow, let’s eat breakfast on the back porch.  It’s nice and quiet there in the mornings.”

–Pastor Ken

Reposted from May, 2009.

What are Our Boundaries?

15 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. 16 ‘You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. Leviticus 19:15-16

The boundaries of fairness and respect in our relationships are not to be determined by the external circumstances of poverty, wealth, or appearance. Instead, all people are to be treated with an equality that is based on our recognition of them as our neighbors.  We are not only to see that all are treated fairly in whatever dealings we may have with them, be it the PTA, Little League, the gas station, or simply the service counter at our local store.  And we are to practice fairness in our dealings with each other even when we are apart; we are not to slander our neighbor.  To slander someone simply means to speak of them in their absence in a way that is false, incomplete, or simply damages their reputation.  It stands to reason if someone isn’t present to defend themselves concerning what is being said about them, they aren’t really being treated fairly, are they?  In short, we are not to take any action, or utter any word, that detracts or diminishes the life of our neighbor.  Honestly, when it comes to dealing with living beings, we are simply not to act or speak against the life itself of that person.  “Who is my neighbor?” is a question once asked of the Lord Jesus by a man who wanted to draw some boundaries between the people he bore an obligation to and those he didn’t.  The Lord’s answer forever erased the lines people draw between those considered worthy of protection and those considered unworthy (Luke 10:25-37).  But let me put a different spin on the questions.  Ask yourself, “Who isn’t my neighbor…and why aren’t they?  Your answer will reveal your boundaries.

See you Sunday,

Pastor Ken

 

 

Spiritual Disciplines @ GBC

Well…by the time you’re reading this you’ll know that I’ve by home fighting a cold this week, and it hung on for so long that I finally gave up the hope of going to church yesterday.  My voice was shot–preaching wasn’t going to happen for me.  (Thank you, Ben “Handyman” Sadler, for preaching at Grace!)  I was going to preach a sermon to simply review the seven spiritual disciplines of our church that we’ve introduced over the past couple of months.  Rather than preaching that sermon, this link will take you to its notes.  Review. The Seven Spiritual Disciplines of Grace Bible Church

Please be in touch, comment, FB, email, etc., with any comments, questions, or experiences you’d like to share about how these disciplines worked for you!

Thank you, Pastor Ken

 

Update: Logan Lawrence, Easter in Nepal

Nepal

My blog is in reverse chronological order.

If you have any questions or would like to contact me for any reason you can do so by emailing me at llawrence1017@gmail.com

04/11/2017 – 04/16/2017

The night before Easter I was staying at Silas’ family’s house with Amit, although Silas had left to go home for America last Monday, Amit was gracious enough to offer me a place to stay when I visited their church Saturday. They told me that their church was waking up and meeting at 5:30 Easter morning, and that we would be meeting with some other church branches in the morning at a park in central Kathmandu. I had heard that Silas had a few other churches in the valley, so I was excited to meet them.

In Nepal, you don’t move out of your parents house when you get married, the wife moves in with the family. Amit’s house is four stories, and houses 15 people. Him, his wife, his sister, his mother, his uncle, and many of his cousins. The bottom floor has three rooms full of bunkbeds where the kids stay, and there are maybe 8 of them. There is also a guest room where I am staying. It’s really cool.

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Early morning church gathering

Early Easter morning I walked with the kids to church, which is a twenty or thirty minute walk. We arrived to meet the rest of the church members, and then had boiled eggs, bread and tea for an early breakfast snack.

At about 7 we gathered into a line and I saw that we would be carrying a banner with our church’s name, and they began singing and dancing as we marched through the alleys of the neighborhood towards Kathmandu. People stared from their balconies and their yard in amazement to watch the commotion.

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Walking and singing

After a while of singing and dancing as we walked, another church joined us from behind, with their own banner. It was really cool. They also sang and danced.

Then another crowd of Nepali Christians joined us from behind making us into quite a large group. I was really excited to see all the Nepali’s singing and dancing because I wasn’t expecting there to be so many of us.

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We are joined by two more banners

Then we ran into another crowd that was five times as big as ours, and we all attempted to walk in neat lines as to not disturb traffic. I realized that this wasn’t going to be a small gathering.

As we approached a major roundabout I saw from the right an infinite line of banners and people merging with our group. I couldn’t see the front of our line, and had no idea how far it stretched, either in front or behind. The streets of the city were full of Christians singing, dancing, and proclaiming Jesus. Everyone near the crowds had gospel literature in their hands, and some looked like they were reading it out of curiosity. Others had blank faces.

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The line stretched as far as I could see in either direction

Every round about we came to had Christians marching from every direction to merge with our line. All the streets in Kathmandu must have been full of Christians who were marching. We walked for about two hours like this. As we approached the heart of the city from the Southwest, lines from the Southeast and Northwest merged all merged into a massive line in the Northeast quadrant, and we marched into a large space where a stage was set, and thousands had already gathered.

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The crowd was this thick in all directions

In all, once everyone arrived, the number of Christians was several thousand. This video was taken right when I arrived, and people were still pouring in throughout the city. The whole space was nearly shoulder to shoulder, with all of the empty spaces being filled.

Nepali Christians are about 1.4% of the population, but are one of the fastest growing Christian communities in the world.

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A church of Nepali’s that dressed in their ethnic clothes for the gathering

At around 10:00 some of the crowds dispersed, but it went strong until noon when the program ended. The crowds were full of dancing, singing, and happy Nepali people, glad that Jesus has risen. It was the most emotional, overwhelming, amazing, inspiring moment of my life.

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A bit past noon after everyone left. I couldn’t get this shot while the event was going on because the crowds were too intense. This whole field all the way back to the far buildings was packed.

I walked to a book store and picked up a more comprehensive dictionary, and a book of Nepali folk tales. I then walked to rest at a coffee shop because I had been walking or standing for like 9 hours already by 2pm. I then walked to meet the church at the Bible College at 3:30, and their church was packed full, and overflowing. Many of the Nepali’s who came for church had never heard the Gospel.

I fellowshipped for a while afterwards and got to know the guy who started the bible college. I’m really glad to have met these people and am sure I will run into them in the future.

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Kathmandu ‘suburbs’ landscape

I caught a packed local bus back to Amit’s house and am trying to find out what to do on my last two days here.

I wanted to start off this post with Easter, but I skipped a few days which I will briefly summarize. I left Pokhara Thursday, which happened to be the Nepali new year’s eve. Kathmandu was quite busy for new years. I stayed at a super cheap hostel for the first two nights, on Friday I visited the bible college for a Good Friday Service, then on Saturday I visited Amit and Silas’ church in Bagdol, which is how I was invited to stay with them. I also visited the bible college again for their Saturday service. It has been a busy time.

The Sorrowful Song of the Mother and Child

Image: By Akseli Gallen-Kallela – www.kalela.net, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=152707

In this third week of Advent we are focusing on the third of the seven last words of Jesus from the cross–“Woman behold your son . . . behold your mother.” I’ve reposted this piece that I wrote in 2012, when considering the death of my mother in a larger backdrop of mothers and sons, and of Mary and Jesus.  Blessings, Pastor Ken 

One of the most moving, haunting pieces of music I have every encountered is Harmon Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony: Three Sorrowful Songs.  It is one of the songs that I routinely listen to while reading and preparing sermons.  I’m very particular about what music I can listen to while I study—it must be non-invasive to my thinking, and yet provide a gentle screen to keep out the street-noise that is almost a constant in my downtown neighborhood.  The three movements are equally poignant and passionate explorations of maternal relationship, as Gorecki himself said, “…the ties between mother and child.”

The first movement describes Mary’s anguish at the death of Jesus.

The second movement has a particularly fascinating origin.  Its words were found etched onto a wall of a Gestapo jail in Poland.  An eighteen year-old girl wrote:  “O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie (“Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always”).  Gorecki himself visited the jail, read the inscribed plea, and was understandably moved. Surrounded by etchings in the plaster calling for justice, revenge, and divine intervention—written presumably by adult prisoners, the composer noted the girl “…does not despair, does not cry, and does not scream for revenge. She does not think about herself; whether she deserves her fate or not. Instead, she only thinks about her mother: because it is her mother who will experience true despair. This inscription was something extraordinary. And it really fascinated me” he later explained in an interview.

The third movement describes the heartache of a mother searching for her son, who has been killed in battle.   Its roots are found in a folktale from the Silesian Wars between Poland and Austria in the 1700’s.  All of the movements are somber, complex—and, to me, comforting.

I think we all have some background music in our souls.  These songs and pieces are like lodgers that show up asking for a place to stay for the night, but soon make it very clear that they should really move in for good.  Gorecki’s Three Sorrowful Songs symphony moved in to my soul—but didn’t stand out from the other music there until winter of 2011.

It was the season of Advent. I was preparing my sermons for the coming weeks—and especially wanted to focus on Mary and Joseph, the earthly parents of the Holy Child. I had researched Gorecki’s piece enough to know that it spoke of the theme of mothers and their children, and in one movement spoke of Mary and Jesus.  It formed a low-level soundtrack to my preparation of the sermons, playing for hours as I sat at my desk working.  Often, as the biblical text and the music intertwined, I found myself sitting at my desk in tears evoked simply by the pathos of the piece as it seemed to pour over and meld with the gentle, soon to become tragic story of the young virgin bearing a child, and hearing that the events of the child’s life would one day comprise a sword that would pierce her own soul.  These tears were the first of many that would flow in the coming months, for another movement, this one in my life, began at that time.
“Your sister called.  The hospital just called and told your Mom they want her to come in—now—for an MRI.” 

“Right away?” I asked. “Without an appointment?”

“Yes. They’re there now, alone.”

I drove immediately to the hospital, where my folks sat in the waiting area of the Magnetic Imaging Department.  They were nervous, not so much because of the need for an MRI.  Such a diagnostic tool is likely used on everyone with suspected gallbladder troubles, which is what had brought my mother to her doctor’s office just a few days earlier.  It was the “Come in this morning” part that they found troubling; for once a person reaches their seventies the assumed certainties of health and wellness begin to show small cracks and chips.  Appointments are made for MRI’s—not sudden phone-calls, “Come in this morning”!

At the time, they didn’t know what would be found, but in the ensuing weeks it would be confirmed that my mother had pancreatic cancer.

As the dust settled, and the future began to form into a much different shape than any of our family would have imagined, I found myself sitting at my desk, continuing to work on Advent messages, particularly those with emphases on the Holy Family, with Gorecki’s symphony gently, quietly playing in the background—and would simply, suddenly, begin to weep.  Mary and Jesus.  Mothers and sons.  An 18-year old daughter in a Gestapo jail.  “O Mamo.”

“Queen of Heaven.”

Mom.

“They called.”

O Mamo.

“This morning, come in.”

“Tests.”

“They found something.”

My mother.  My mother.

Mom.

So, the haunting, intertwining accounts of mothers and sons, and mothers and daughters suffering the loss of each other melds into one ache seated in the deepest, rarely disturbed chambers of my soul.  And despite the kindnesses of others, and the hope of faith—the faint, barely discernible echoes of loss and separation keep tapping at my soul like moths rustling against a lampshade after the light has been turned off.

When Jesus hung on a cross, His body in the final death throes of crucifixion—He looked at His own mother, Mary.  His sunken eyes then fell upon a friend, John.

“Woman, behold your son.”  And to John “Behold, your mother.”  Christian tradition tells of the apostle then taking Mary into his own family, and caring for her until her death.  To the end, mothers and their sons, mothers and their daughters.

“Mom, behold your Jesus.”

“Jesus, behold my mother.”

O Mamo.

For my mother, Judy Garrett (March 23, 1939-June 13, 2012)

 

 

 

Grace in Three Parts, part three

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

 

Part Three: Grace Creates Christian Assurance

…but the grace of God with me. 

The third aspect of the grace of God in this verse is that of a relationship. The word “with” in the original language is a preposition that one scholar has called the “aristocrat among all the prepositions” because it is so rarely found in the New Testament (Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament).  It suggests closeness, partnership, assistance, and sharing. The grace that provided Paul a way to view his past, to understand his calling in ministry, and empowered him to expend enormous effort in his ministry was also a grace that stayed with him, deeply embedded in his soul. It was therefore a source of great confidence and assurance to Paul, knowing that the grace of God, the source of such magnificent power and security, was indeed a partner with Paul in his ministry of service to the churches of the Lord Jesus. The presence of this grace is described in a relational sense—as if a lifelong partner that could always be counted on to be present in life, and powerfully engaged in the ministry Paul did.

Grace works the same in my life, and the life of every follower of Jesus. I can count on it to be there through thick and thin, through difficulties, through days of clarity and inspiration (rare as they seem!) and the long, lonely, nights that regularly follow. Grace will not leave, and will provide the enabling power needed to accomplish every good thing, along with the emotional, spiritual assurance that I regularly crave as I make my way through this life.  As I reflect on this role of grace in our lives, it seems to me that our biggest challenge is our not uncertainty as to whether or not a thing called “grace” exists from God, for us. Rather, the challenge seems instead to be our hesitancy in actually choosing to act as if we believe we possess such a thing as grace. Further, we are challenged to live in confidence that the grace we possess will truly be as wonderful, permanent, and powerful to us as it was for Paul the apostle, who threw himself headlong into a life of ministry and service, confident that the grace of God would see him through. The very nature of grace is that it is powerful, and permanent, and actually re-creative of our lives.

Is there any reason for you and I to fear that such grace could fail us in our day of need?

Grace in Three Parts, part two

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Part Two: Grace Invites Christian Service

…His grace toward me did not prove vain, but I labored even more than all of them… 

The second effect of the grace of God that Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:10 is an invitation to hard, sacrificial service to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul says that he’d worked hard in his ministry of apostleship. The word he used, labor, also described the exhaustion of fishermen after a long night of hauling in nets, or the bone-dry weariness of a traveler who had walked a long distance without food and water. Paul writes that had he not labored harder than even his fellow apostles had, then God’s grace would have been emptied of its power and effect. It would have become a failed endeavor. Grace, according to this verse, is diminished if it is not met with a wholehearted, engaged, life of service.

Grace invites us to the same sacrificial, lifelong service to our Lord Jesus. I don’t have the insight to know if I work harder than any other Christian does in ministry (in fact, I think I can safely guarantee that I don’t!), but the grace of God calls me to work hard. It falls short of its purpose, at least as far as I am to experience it, when I do not use it to lead me to a life of a deeper, more robust engagement in whatever works of ministry He sends my way. Grace is not given to us to make us a well-rested, safer, more common-sense people. No, in its giving comes a calling, opportunity, and empowerment to live in a deeper commitment of service to the Lord, to His beloved people, and to all the world.

Grace in Three Parts, part one

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Part One: Grace Forms Christian Identity

…by the grace of God I am what I am…

In the fifteenth chapter of his first letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth, Paul writes concerning the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, including its historicity (vv 1-11), theological implications (vv 12-57), and practical application (v 58).  In verse 10 Paul concludes his defense of his own role as a witness to the resurrected Christ, and gives an explanation of how he, a former persecutor of the church, was granted apostleship in the administration and establishment of the very religion he’d done so to destroy younger years. It is notable that the word grace appears three times in this one verse–the most appearances of the word in one sentence in the New Testament. I believe by its very repetition and use in Paul’s argument, three powerful truths surface about the magnificent grace of God—something that all believers experience to this day.

First, I see that the grace of God shapes my identity as a Christian. Paul simply stated that by the grace of God “I am what I am.” A look at the verses preceding reveals that what Paul was—was not very pretty. He had attacked the church of God, administrating over the mob-execution of Stephen, storming into the homes of Christians to arrest and imprison them, and “breathing threats and murder,” obtained official permission to travel to foreign jurisdictions to identify, arrest, and extradite Christians to Jerusalem for trial and punishment (Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-30). Paul clearly included the who he was in those horrible days in his past with who he was as he wrote to the Corinthians as an experienced, beloved apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the thing that Paul named as tying those two, seeming antithetical identities together was the very grace of God. The grace of God is that manner of God’s treatment of His children that somehow creates beauty by including their most horrid, monstrous failures in life, folding their sins into a new narrative in such a way that they become the material of something beautiful, lasting, and changed. The grace of God in our lives redeems our lives for something good. In Paul’s case, that grace allowed him to fully face and embrace his past—knowing that by God’s grace, he need not fear or deny the things he’d done and said.

The grace of God in our lives today invites us to fearlessly look back at our lives and own who we were. Then, we can truly understand who we are through that grace. Grace has the power to shape our self-understanding, our identity, and gives us a lens through which we can view the past without being destroyed or driven to despondency by it.