Evil and Grace

Jesus on cross black and white

Why did God let a madman shoot up a school? Better yet, why did He let Adam sin? Better yet, why did He let Satan into the garden? Better yet, why did He let evil into Satan’s heart?

Why is there evil at all?

Sure it’s true that God Himself through Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners from evil and to redeem the world. But why should the world and the people in it need rescuing in the first place? Is God like a man who built a house, rented it out to tenants and then set it on fire so that He could later rescue them? And even if we say that, in God’s case, He did not actively set the house on fire, He just allowed it to happen, He is still the one that had the power to stop it and chose not to. Why?

Some say God did not stop evil because He could not; others say He did not stop evil because He chose not to. Among those who say He chose not to stop evil, there are those who say it is because God is evil, and then there are others who say it is because God wants to work good from the evil.  In either case, God still appears evil. Because even a God who allows the ends to justify the means appears to be a God who is simply a manipulator of creation, like someone just doing the best He can with what He has to work with.

But the God of the Bible is none of these things. So why then did YHWH allow evil into the world?

Imagine evil never existed. Imagine Adam and Eve never sinned. And not only did they never sin they never had the option to sin, because evil was nowhere in existence. What then could we know of God? We could know His power.  We could know His intelligence. But we could never know His Grace.

Grace–unmerited favor–cannot be known in a world without evil.  Grace does not exist in a perfect world because in a perfect world everything is merited.  Every reward is the natural consequence of the perfect action that preceded it. But in a world where there is evil, there are many actions that merit condemnation, judgment, and even wrath. And in that world there is now space for Grace.

In an evil world there is now an open place for favor to be poured out where it should not be. In an evil world Grace shines brightly against the just consequence of condemnation.

Grace…an unknowable quality of God in a world without evil. Could it be that the great I AM is interested in displaying all of who He IS?

In Grace we see a characteristic of God that is wholly unlike any other conceived divine being. In Grace we see the holiness of God (His otherness). In Grace we see the beauty of God. In Grace we see the love of God in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

The Cross, the great symbol of Grace, is not just about salvation from evil, nor is it just about Jesus conquering evil. It is even more: it is a glorious beacon brightly shining in the darkness of night, displaying who God IS.

Evil is necessary for Grace. Grace is an essential attribute of God. God desires to fully display His attributes. Therefore evil exists.

What are your thoughts?

Discipleship as Worship

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

The goal of discipleship is worship– whole-life worship as described by Jesus in Mark 12:30:

“…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

According to Carson’s and Beale’s, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (which by the way is awesome), the following is true:

To love God with your Heart = Loving God with your moral choices/character

To love God with your Soul = Loving God to the risk of one’s life

To love God with your Mind = Loving God with your thoughts

To love God with your Strength = Loving God with your possessions

Now look at the words Jesus uses to call people to be His disciples:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”(John 8:31-32)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”… Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:16, 21)

In each of case (and many more like these) Jesus is simply calling people to live out Mark 12:30.  That is to worship Him (as God) with all their Heart (choices), Mind (thoughts), Soul (life) and Strength (possessions).

For those of us in leadership positions our goal is the same, to lead people to the joyful worship of the Triune God– this is true discipleship.

How do you lead people in whole-life worship of God?

Overcoming The Intimidation: 3 practices for ministry volunteers

Students haning out

There’s nothing more intimidating than walking up to students, as a new volunteer.  No matter who you are, students won’t introduce themselves, they won’t make you feel welcome, and they will likely avoid you.  And when this happens your first temptation will be to go find the nearest group of adults and talk only to them.  Fight that temptation.

God has called you to help students grow closer to Him,  and thankfully there are a few things you can do to overcome the intimidation and allow God to work through you:

Pray
Pray that you would be sensitive to God’s leading
Pray that God would lead you to the students He has for you
Pray that Jesus would make Himself known through you

Commit  
Commit to knowing a small group of students (5 or less)
Commit to learning their names and listening to their stories
Commit to praying for them

Share
Share things you like with them
Share why you’re there
Share stories of God’s work in your life

It may take some time,  maybe a lot of time, but whether you’re  a new volunteer, or one that’s been around forever, when you  Pray, Commit, and Share,  God will show up in your life and use you to change the lives of others.

If you’re a youth leader or volunteer, what other practices have you found helpful?

The Four Tasks of Discipleship

In the church we hear a lot about “discipleship”, but for many people the idea of discipleship seems overwhelming. We still have questions like:  How do I disciple my kids ? How do I disciple people at work or at school…is that even possible?  How should I as a pastor disciple people at church? How do I know if I am doing it right? There are many great resources for one or more of these areas but few resources give us a paradigm for discipleship that can happen in any context, and at any time.

The Four Tasks of Discipleship

Discipleship is a big topic, with libraries full of books devoted to it (and justifiably so).  But that said,  there are basically four overarching tasks of discipleship.  And if you prayerfully ask God to lead you in these four tasks you will make disciples.

Reach Out– Take the initiative to Pursue others.

God loves to pursue others, He’s been doing it now for awhile (Genesis 12:1-4).  God reaches out even in the face of rejection (John 1:11). And He does it with the heart of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). Discipleship making starts when we ask God, “How can I reach out to others? Who should I pursue?”

Bring InInvite others into your life and God’s family.

In the Old Testament God formed the nation of Israel, and told them I will be your God and you will be My people (Exodus 6:6-8). It was God’s way of saying to Israel “I have made you to be in relationships with Me.”  Today through Jesus, God continues to give all people the opportunity to be in relationship with Him by being part of His family (John 1:11-13). Our task then is simply to ask God, “Who do you want me to invite into my life that they might through Jesus, become a part of Yours?”

Walk With Guide others as they follow Jesus Christ.

God shares His life with us, not just to hang out, but to walk with us that we might become mature in our faith. He teaches us about Himself and His ways (Deuteronomy 6:4-8).  He calls us to whole-life of worship of Himself (Mark 12:30). And  He prepares us to do what He does (John 14:11-13).  As we walk with others our questions to God simply need to be “ How can I be a guide?  How can I teach them about Who you are and what You do? How can I lead them to whole-life worship of You? How can I prepare them to do what You do?”

 Send ForthSend disciples into their world (home, school, work, community, and beyond) to pursue, invite, and guide others.

God the Son declared “make disciples all of nations” (Matthew 28:16-20) and then gave us God the Spirit to make it happen (Acts 1:8). We make disciples when we allow ourselves to be sent, and to be senders. We do this when we ask God “Who do You want to send?” and “Where do You want to send them?”

Discipleship may be challenging  but it shouldn’t be overwhelming. God wants to use you to make disciples. And He wants you to be able to do it anytime and any place. You don’t to read a library worth of books to do it well (though don’t let me stop you), you simply need to do what God does: Reach Out, Bring In, Walk With, Send Forth. When you prayerfully pursue these four tasks, you will make disciples.