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Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

Maybe you’ve experienced it. Surely you have at least witnessed it. Relationships have their ups and downs. Sometimes they deteriorate and sometimes they deteriorate to the extent that you don’t hear what each other is saying. The deterioration has a deleterious impact on your communication and it is so hard to recover. When you say something, the other person doesn’t hear what you are saying. Rather, they hear what they think you mean rather than what you actually are saying or what you mean. Sometimes your communication partner will even assign motive to what you are saying and by the time they process what came out of your mouth, it is nothing like what you actually meant. When you reach this state, you just don’t hear each other and it is hard to repair the relationship because you just don’t hear each other. You just talk past each other and the emotions heat up and you get angrier and angrier with each other.

This is where race relations are in this country. The different sides in the culture war are just yelling slogans at each other. People are yelling and not listening. The slogans used are employed to advance a particular narrative on race relations. Opponents are caricatured and very little listening is done.

Some chant “Black Lives Matter!” while others yell “All lives matter.” Some say “Make America Great Again” while others are infuriated by the slogan. The truth of the matter is, other than the rare exception, nearly all Americans would agree that black lives matter and that all lives matter. Nearly all Americans want America to be great. It is not the statement or slogans but it is the unspoken statements that make those on both sides of the culture war angry. It is the assumptions we are making about people when they use terms like “systemic racism” or “white privilege.” We aren’t communicating with each other. I feel like it is like the relationship that has reached that point where you just aren’t communicating. We just aren’t hearing each other. We are talking past each other and just getting angrier and angrier.

So, I am wondering if we have past the point of no return. How do we get to a point of where both sides can hear each other and listen to the legitimate concerns that both sides have in the race debate? Both sides have to be willing to listen.

Today’s cultural conversation is about police brutality against the black minority. One side of the cultural debate has a particular negative point of view about law enforcement. Is there anything that law enforcement can do in order to get the black community’s trust? Will the black community be satisfied with anything less than being freed of the shackles of police? Is there a way to move forward or will there be division in our society forever.

There is hope for our society. Change can happen but it won’t come through reconciling the two sides of the culture war. The change will happen through heart change and it must happen one person at a time. Hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else will change the strife and division that we see. It ebbs and flows but it is always there. Sometimes it is below the surface and at other times it erupts like it is now. But the strife is always there. It can only be overcome with heart change. The heart change I am referring to is the change that Jesus bring to a heart that is dead in trespasses and in sin and He comes and gives a new heart. This new heart views the world in light of God’s laws and the fact that we have committed sins for which we deserve death as our punishment. It sees others as better than ourselves and places the interest of others above our own. It sees others as people that are loved enough that Christ would die and take the penalty for their sins. Without this heart change and the transforming power of the gospel, things will not get better. May the prayer of our hearts be, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Soli Deo Gloria

 

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I have been involved in a conversation with a group of men about the gospel. We all understand that we are all sinners and we are under God’s wrath. As Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says that the penalty for that sin is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We are all separated from God because of our sin. We are all sinners without exception. We all deserve God’s wrath without exception. We all inherited our sin nature from Adam. We are sinners and we sin.

The interesting thing about conversations about the gospel is that, many times, these conversations end up focusing on what one must do to get into heaven. We talk about how some people think that they have done enough good deeds during their time on earth to get into heaven. Some people don’t even consider their bad deeds but think that the good deeds of their life will tip the scales in their favor, while their bad deeds don’t even make it on the scale. I think this a fairly normal conversation when people talk about works and the fact that nobody’s works are good enough to get them into heaven. We are all in need of God’s grace to get into heaven. No amount of good deeds and can tip the scales in our favor.

The more I reflect on these conversations about getting into heaven, the more I think that we are asking the wrong questions and we need to approach the discussion from a completely different angle. When I look at the words of Christ in the New Testament, I do not see him engaging people in conversations about whether or not they will get into heaven or even if they have lived lives good enough to merit entrance into heaven. It is clear that heaven and hell are realities and that heaven is a place where Jesus is preparing an eternal place for us to dwell with Him. But, His conversations usually center around people’s faith and repentance. He tells people that their sins are forgiven because of their faith or reflects on the sadness of situations such as the rich young ruler who loved his possessions more than following Christ. One thing we don’t hear Him ask is, “What will you tell the Father when you die and get to heaven?”

The reason we don’t hear Jesus ask the question about entrance into heaven is that the most important issue to be discussed is the reality and seriousness of people’s sin and their enmity with God. We need to repent and believe and then live a life of obedience and faith. John 10:10 says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus doesn’t say that He came so that people could go to heaven but that we could have an abundant life — now.

May we frame our gospel conversations around what is important. May we understand the seriousness of our sin and the depth of our depravity. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. By God’s grace, He provided His Son to take our punishment and in return we receive His righteousness. This is the great exchange. May we focus on reason Christ came to earth which was to take the wrath of God upon Himself on our behalf and redeem His people. It was not to give us life-after-death insurance to give us a way into heaven. May we have a biblical understanding of the gospel and may we preach that gospel to ourselves and to others!

Soli Deo Gloria

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Whether you move to a new community or your church decides to shut its doors, you may find yourself looking for a new church home at some point.  When you are looking for a church, what do you consider the most important issues or reasons in selecting a particular church.  As I consider this, these are what I consider the most important issues in the selection process of a new church home.

1. Agree on primary theological issues. The first and most important characteristic needs to be that we agree on the primary theological issues. That is, they must have a biblical understanding of the gospel. This is a non-negotiable point. They must understand the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ’s work on the cross. They must agree that one’s salvation is by grace and grace alone. Salvation is a work completely of God and He doesn’t need our help. You must only repent. The church must agree with the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. We may not always agree on how to interpret Scripture but we must at least agree that the Bible alone is the rule for all that we do.

2. Credobaptism. Any church that I join must practice believer’s baptism. I will not join a church that does not practice baptism by immersion. Sprinkling is not baptism. Baptism is, by definition, dipping someone under water. Baptism must be reserved for believers who have demonstrated a credible evidence of regeneration and who want to join the church and become part of the community of believers. They cannot baptize infants. They must baptize only believers.

3. Ministry to all ages. I need the church to minister to all ages, at least the ages of the people in my family. Since I have youth aged children, I need it to be a place where my youth aged children can live in community with other youth. I need it to be a community of believers where adults speak truth into children’s lives and show them what it means to live as an intentional disciple of Christ. I need the church to be intentional about preparing the youth biblically for a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. I don’t need it to be about parties, concerts, and amusement parks. I need it to be intentional and gospel driven. I need to it to be a church that understands the parents’ role in the youth’s lives but will alongside the parents in discipleship.

4. Expository Preaching. I believe that a church needs a steady diet of expository preaching. It is okay to depart from it on occasion but in general, expository preaching needs to be the practice of the preacher. It helps in preaching the full counsel of God and not just focusing on the favorite texts of the pastor. It also allows the text to drive the message rather than using a Bible verse for a launching pad to say whatever they want.

5. Welcomes workers. I hope that my next church would be open to having new people serve and minister in the area of their gifting. There are areas in which we could contribute to the ministry of the church but I need the church to be open to having new people get involved. I don’t want to be a part of the church that always goes to the same people to step in and minister.

6. Missions. I would hope that the church would have a biblical understanding of missions. But, if they don’t, it needs to be a church where the pastor is leading them to give financially to support missions. It should be a significant part of the budget, prayer, and preaching.  It should be a climate conducive to the church growing in this area.

7. Love in spirit and practice. Does the church have a sense of unity in spirit? Do they love on one another? Are they welcoming to visitors?

The answer to these should be a resounding “yes!” These are really the minimum of what I think should characterize a church that I join. There are several other traits that I think are important but are not must-haves such as high expectations and accountable church membership.  However, if the church is getting a steady diet of expository preaching, these other issues will eventually fall into place.

What are your thoughts?  What do you look for in a church?

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When I called this post, “Our Adoption,” I was referring to our adoption in two senses.  I am not only about the adoption I experienced as an adoptive parent but also the adoption by God of me as a co-heir with God’s son, Jesus Christ.

When I adopted by sons from the former USSR, I had no idea really what I was getting into.  I just knew that these children needed a loving family and I was offering them that.  They brought nothing with them–except themselves.  We went through all of the legal process of them to become our sons and then it became time to go to the orphanage and bring them physically into our family.  We went shopping at the local market for some clothes and shoes for them because they literally had nothing.  The clothes they wore in the orphanage belonged to the orphanage and would not be coming with them.  So when we went to pick them up we took with us a new set of clothes for them to wear.  They took their old clothes off an put on their new clothes.  They had nothing that belonged to them.  Not even a toy or a doll or clothes to wear.  They stripped down completely, put their new clothes on, and turned their old clothes back into the orphanage for other kids to use.  They became ours sons.  Everything I have became accessible to them through me as my children.  I love them as my own offspring and withhold nothing including my love for them.

Isn’t this true also of how we came to Christ?  When I became a Christian, I brought nothing.  I had no good deeds or righteousness to offer.  They were all as filthy rags.  The only things I have are what Christ freely offered and gave to me.  Just as my sons were wearing clothes I gave them when we left the orphanage, after my encounter with Christ the only righteousness I had was that of Christ.  I only had it because of what He did for me on the cross.  I now have access to many blessings through Christ just as my sons now have access to many things as a result of being adopted.

I thank God for His adoption of me.  It was merely a work of His grace.  I trust that my sons are thankful for my adoption of them also.  Their adoption was also a work of His grace.  May God get all the glory and praise.

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