grace Posts

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Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

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It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.  

Refugees, Immigrants, and the Law of Love

Turkey syrian refugees kurdsa recent post for the IMB – Dr. Jeff Warren

North Dallas is known as a place of prosperity, posterity, power, and position. Though not as endearing, some would add privilege, even pretention to that list. I serve as the senior pastor of an amazing church in the center of North Dallas. The Park Cities Baptist Church is located in the township of University Park, one of the most affluent zip codes in the nation.

Now, come with me on a trip less than two miles to the east on Northwest Highway and you will experience another neighborhood of North Dallas. Go past North Park Mall, across Central Expressway, and we will come to Vickery Meadow. Take a walk around the neighborhood and you will meet people from around the world. As you pass by the aging apartment complexes, you will likely hear one of the 50 languages spoken here. Listen and you will hear songs in Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Burmese, or Hindi. You’ll catch the aroma of Ethiopian, Indian, and Mexican food unlike anything you’ll find in the upscale restaurants, of the Park Cities or Lake Highlands, just minutes away. No wonder this slice of North Dallas is known as the “Little United Nations.” 35,000 people live in this 3.3 square mile area, the highest density of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly every resident lives in an apartment and 60% speak Spanish, though only 10-15% are from Mexico. Vickery Meadow has the highest population of U.N. resettled refugees in the U.S.. 99% of the people live below poverty level and over 50 different languages are spoken at Conrad High School. It was here that the Ebola virus first showed up in the United States, contracted by a Liberian man visiting immigrant family members. It is here, as Teri Heard, one of our ministry champions in this area noted, “God is bringing the nations to us.”

The rule of love

In light of recent debate over issuing bans and building walls, our church family has been faced with the very real question: What is the Christian’s response? How do we live in this tension between upholding the law and displaying love to the most vulnerable among us? Augustine spoke of the profound unity of Scripture, reflected in his famous “rule of love”? According to Augustine, whoever “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation on them that does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (Christian Doctrine, 1.26.40). Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus.

We must always follow the rule of law while always practicing the law of love.

Jesus’ challenge to “render unto Caesar”, challenges us to ask two questions: “What does not belong to God?” And, “Doesn’t Caesar himself belong to God?” I’ve told our congregation that we will leave the security and safety of our nation to our governmental leaders. But we do not need politicians to tell us how to treat outsiders. 1 Peter 2:14 says that those who govern over the nations are “sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens. We believe that we must live in a land of law and order. There must be a rule of law.

Chosen leaders are called to protect their citizens.

As Christians, we know too that we are citizens of another kingdom and we are ambassadors of another King. Exodus 23:9 says, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Jesus told us we are to invite the stranger in. We are to give to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger who is sick or needs clothes to wear. In fact, He so identifies with the outsider, He says when we serve them, we are serving Him (Matthew 25:25-36). Galatians 5:14 says, that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul tells the church to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The rule of law and the law of love

John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are filled with the Spirit, united in the Spirit and we love all people as Christ has loved us. Exodus 34:6-7 says, “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” The rule of love has order built into it.

Our church family is constantly confronted with the fact reality, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). One of the core values that drives us is, “overflowing generosity”. Our church is filled with generous Christ-followers who are eager to give away and to share with others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Our members have been serving the Vickery area for over 30 years. I t all started as God prompted a few of our members to start a Bible study for a small group of Spanish-speaking women. After years of ministry in the area in a variety of ways, we began a Bible study in our mission office that soon grew into it’s own service and finally became one of our five venues on campus every Sunday morning. It is a bilingual service, but the members are integrated into our ministry programs, mission efforts, camps, Wednesday night opportunities, and Connect groups. In every way, this a portion of our congregation, are valued members as much as any other group within our church family. We have several deacons who have come out of the “PCBC En Espanol” portion of our congregation. They are a vibrant part of our family who are teaching the rest of our congregation how to pray, serve, and worship the Lord with great passion and energy.

A long-lasting legacy of love

Out of this single Bible study years ago has come multiple Bible studies, women’s groups, and mentoring for children through the years. Annually we have served the community at the beginning of the school year. Most recently we provided 1,200 backpacks, 350 teacher supply boxes, 300 eye exams, 100 athletic physicals, and 500 immunizations. We have had 15 different teacher appreciation lunches and breakfasts in Vickery Meadow schools. We have distributed food backpacks on the weekends for the most needy children. We also provide a kind of Spring cleaning, refurbishing, and landscaping. We currently support eight refugee congregations: Burmese, Nepalese, Kenyan, Indian, Arabic, and several Spanish-speaking congregations.

God’s love for this community is leading us to the completion a 6,500 square feet, Community Care Center for training refugee and immigrant pastors, ESL classes, after school care, church planting, healthcare, women’s groups, and a ministry among the Royhinga people group, of which, there are no known believers. Jana Gardner, one of our church members, started Healing Hands, a Christian clinic for the uninsured. Last year Healing Hands served 12,000 patients, nearly all refugees and immigrants. Over 100 people have come to Christ, and they are ready to plant a church for the new believers.

Most recently, our church hosted a city-wide leaders’ meeting for those who serve refugees and immigrants. Our purpose was to equip ministry leaders with accurate information, resources, and best practices for caring and serving those in need. Among the leaders present was Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas, our county judge, pastors, ministry organizers, volunteers, and others who simply want to get involved. It was a wonderfully diverse gathering that brought factual information to many who are misinformed. We also heard from a refugee family, the struggles of a father and his children, who were present as well. Leaders shared best practices and we provided opportunities to get involved. We experienced again, the very presence of Jesus, who told us that when we serve the most vulnerable among us we are actually serving Him.

I challenge every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and every church to pray, look around you, and see if God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants. We care and serve, all in the Name of the One who was Himself an immigrant, living in a foreign land. He came from the very top, all the way down to where we are, to lay down His life so that we too might live. The Gospel drives us to go do likewise. May we follow Him, and none other, to be salt and light to the misplaced and marginalized, to the immigrant and refugee.

 

 

 

 

 

The Key (and almost always overlooked) Ingredient to New Year’s Resolutions

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45% of all Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, while only 8% actually achieve them. The more troubling number is the 55% who make no resolutions at all. Goal-setting is the beginning of a pathway to growth, improvement in certain areas of your life, and the accomplishment of greater things in the coming year. If you have not set goals for the coming year, let me help you begin by focusing on what matters most.

If you are a Christian, you are called to follow Jesus every day, always motivated by the Gospel – that is, what He has already accomplished for you. This is critical:

The most important goals that you could ever set or achieve for yourself, have already been achieved for you, by Christ Himself.

Jesus lived the perfect life on your behalf, suffered the punishment for all of your sins, and He died your death on the cross. He rose again from the grave to conquer death and hell, so that you could live the resurrected life now, and into eternity. So, the key question you face as you set your eyes on the coming year is this:

Now that Christ has already done everything necessary for your salvation, what will you do?

This question sets up all the hopes, dreams, and goals for your life in the coming year. If all that really matters has already been accomplished, you can now live without fear of failure or a need to gain the approval of others. It means that all you need to do is worship Him daily and follow Him as His Spirit leads you, one day at a time. You are now free to love others without any need for love in return, because all the love you need you have already found in Him. So, as you set more specific goals in the freedom and rest of the Gospel, begin with these key truths:

  • As you pray for blessing, remember that Jesus Himself is the Blessing.
  • As you pray for guidance, remember that Jesus Himself is your Guide.
  • As you pray for rest, remember that Jesus Himself is your Rest.
  • As you pray for joy, remember that Jesus Himself is your Joy.
  • As you pray for success, remember that Jesus Himself is your Success.
  • As you pray for direction, remember that Jesus Himself is the Way.
  • As you pray for truth, remember that Jesus Himself is the Truth.
  • As you pray for life, remember that Jesus Himself is Life.

Now, set specific goals for the coming year in light of these life-changing truths.

“… Christ is all, and in all.” Colossians 3:11

Jesus: the God-Man

Jesus raised questions as soon as He appeared on the public stage. Since the first century the questions have continued: Who is He? Where does He come from? How can He speak with such authority? Believers, skeptics, the curious, and opponents continue to debate the answers. 2,000 yrs. later, Jesus remains the central figure of history and still the dominant influencer of our culture. A recent updated TIME magazine lists Jesus as one of the “100 People Who Changed the World”. He’s on the cover with the Beatles, Mother Teresa, Hitler, and others.

I remember, many years ago, at the turn of the century- the millennium- TIME ran it’s normal “Person of the Year” cover story and then added, the “Person of the Millennium”. Guess who? You got it: Jesus Christ. I remember thinking, “Yes, and the millennium before that, and the one before that, and the millennium to come, and the one after that one…” Jesus is the central figure of all of human history.

So, “Who is Jesus?” remains the key question. Many Christians don’t realize that Jesus made His identity the focus of His teaching. Think about it: the central focus of His teaching was not a certain principle or truth, (in fact He said that He IS “the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). He personified Truth. Who He claimed to be was the central focus of His teaching and ultimately, their reasons for crucifying Him. This is why His question from Matthew 16:15,  “Who do you say I am?” echoes through time and space into our hearts today. This is the big question. And it’s a very personal question He’s asking: Who do you say He is?

Through the years it seems that we have drifted away from the biblical Jesus and preferred a safe, ethereal, sanitized Savior. It seems this has left many with no choice but to conclude that the stories about Him are myths and legends. For some, He doesn’t seem real or “now”.

This is not a new thing. Rudolf Bultmann, an influential German theologian and New Testament scholar – a prominent liberal voice in the 1800s – is best known for his concept of demythology – which was actually not what it sounds (a divesting or a “getting rid of”) the so-called mythological approach to the historical Jesus. Instead Bultmann advocated that theologians need to interpret, what he called, the mythological elements in the New Testament existentially. Meaning, he contended that faith in the kerygma or “teaching” and proclamation of the New Testament was necessary for Christian faith, not any particular facts regarding the historical Jesus. Or to say: You don’t need the historical Jesus to have faith.

But without the historic Jesus, He’s just a fairy tale. N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop and today’s leading New Testament scholar, said, “It’s been said often enough, but it bears repeating: without the real human (historical) Jesus of Nazareth, we are at the mercy of anybody who tells us that “Christ” is this, or that.” So through the eyes of the historical Jesus we see God for who He is – the sent and sending God. He is the God who is on mission, “up close and personal” in our world, throughout history, and is at work today. We say Jesus was the God-man. Perhaps the more accurate expression is that Jesus was “the God, in man”.

And indeed, a man with flesh and bone and blood running through His veins, given the name, Jesus. Non-Christian historian sources reveal the historicity of Jesus. The First Century Roman historian, Tacitus, others like Suetonius, wrote about Christus (Christ) and His crucifixion. Flavius Josephus, the Jewish historian writes of Jesus, as does Thallus and other government officials like Pliny the Younger, the Emperor Trajan, the historian Hadrian, and more Gentile and Jewish sources all wrote about Jesus and the emergence of the early church. Not long after His crucifixion (and resurrection), they immediately began gathering and worshipping Him as God. In fact, without the historical Jesus and His crucifixion there is no way to explain the birth of the Church in the First Century. There is no other explanation for it.

Without the historical Jesus, we tend to sanitize and tame Him by encasing Him in abstract theology. The idea is this: Let’s get our Christology right and then determine to put everything else at its service. In other words, let’s make sure that we understand who Jesus really is and then recalibrate who we are and all we do according to His character, His Person, and His life in us. In fact, let’s get our Christology right and then dare to place our deeply held desires for how to do church at its service. Not vice versa. Are we fundamentally aligned with Jesus’ purposes and His will for His community on earth? Let’s recover the absolute centrality of the Person of Jesus in defining who we are, as well as what we do.

If we do not recognize Jesus in His humanity we will see Him as distant, almost fictional, a kind of super hero or mythical character whom we may worship, but we will never follow. Some of us do not approach the Gospels in order to emulate Jesus but only to read stories about Him. A good place to start with a proper Christology is found in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

Transformed by His love, may we behold Him. And in-so-doing, be transformed by Him.