2014 Archive

Seriously, who doesn’t love free stuff?

Recently, my friends and I had the privilege of visiting Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC) in Washington, D.C. We had a great evening visiting and gleaning wisdom from the elders of their church. CHBC is also the headquarters for an organization known as 9Marks, an organization that publishes resources to help equip and build healthy churches. Most of their books are on my Amazon wish list, but since buying them all would cost a pretty penny, I was waiting until later to buy them.

While we were visiting with the elders, they were telling us about some of the work they do in 9Marks. As we were talking with them, they invited us up to the 9Marks office to see where all of their work was done. When we got to the office they shocked us all with a gracious gift – they offered us any number of their books that we wanted to take – for free!

Free!

It was such an unexpected and gracious gift, I could barely contain my excitement.

Now, free stuff on its own is great, but free stuff that we wouldn’t be able to afford on our own is even better. A free meal from McDonald’s is a nice gift, but if someone bought you a steak dinner out of the blue – how much more shocked and grateful would you be?

I must’ve taken 15 or 16 books, all of which I was planning to buy at some point but didn’t currently have money to afford. Being at the church was a gift enough, but a stack of nice books that I couldn’t afford was amazing.

As Christians, we know all about getting extravagant gifts for free. The Bible is clear that apart from the mercy and grace of God, we are destitute broken, and alone. Our good works – works that we often think are worth something – are described as either filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) or (literally) poop (Philippians 3:8). Our violation of God’s law has left us in an eternal debt that we are unable to repay. Even on our best day, we are entirely unable to achieve or pay for a right standing with God.

And yet, God is merciful and gracious towards us in astounding ways. The Apostle Paul explains to us the free gift that we have in Christ:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:15-17)

We were dead in our trespasses before receiving the free gift of God, but because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have been given grace in abundance (verse 17). We are justified, that is, declared to be in right standing with God. Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul says that the gifts and riches of God’s grace are lavished upon us (Ephesians 1:7-8). We can’t even come close to affording this gift on our own, not even close! When we confess our only hope in Christ the King, we are not given a door-prize of a free gift. No, we are given far more than we could ever imagine or hope for, a gift that keeps on giving; now and into all eternity.

Photo Credit: Kalexanderson via Compfight cc

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Do you remember teasing that phrase around the play ground? It is a cute little cliche phrase that catches on quickly. We like to teach this phrase to our kids with the hope that we can instill in them the idea of self-confidence, ignoring what other people say about them and finding positivity in themselves.

If we stop and think about it however, I think we would realize that this is one of the most deceiving and harmful things we could teach our kids. Perhaps the way this phrase should really be taught is, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but say them enough times and words will kill me.”

As adults we know that words can sting. Not only can they sting, but they can consume and eventually kill us inside. Let’s all face reality for a minute; if you’re called names like liar, loser, pathetic, worthless, failure, ugly, miserable, stupid, or unqualified enough times – you’ll start to believe it. Not only will you start to believe it, but you will be consumed with the idea of proving everyone wrong and that you’re not any of those things.

Let’s take this a step further. If we’re honest with ourselves, every time we try to tell ourselves things like “I am what I say I am,” or “no one can change the way I feel except for me,” or “I accept myself for the mess that I am,” or whatever other crafty little saying you can find on Facebook – these are all just defense mechanisms to cover up the fact that we are hurt by what other people have already said about us. Because we are so consumed by what everyone thinks about us, we need to tip the scales by consistently telling ourselves that their words don’t matter. We have to tell ourselves this because those words do, in fact, matter.

For those of us who are in Christ however, God’s words are stronger than the words of this world.

Forgiven.
Loved.
Reconciled.
Adopted.
Child of God.
Righteous.
Clean.
Accepted.

Because God’s words about us are final through the sacrifice of Jesus, we don’t need to try and find positivity and acceptance inside ourselves. We can rest in the love of God toward us once and for all. His words about us are complete and eternal. There is no need for us to put up defense mechanisms because of what other people say; God’s word carries infinitely more weight.

Christian, rest in the words God has declared about you to be true. You don’t need to spend time defending yourself to others or trying to make yourself feel better. Jesus’ bones were broken by sticks and stones, so that his words would give you life. Take comfort in what was done on your behalf so that you would be given a new identity in Christ.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” – 1 John 3:1

*A shameless rip on a JI Packer classic.

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This same month four years ago I truly heard a message that would change my life forever. I was sitting in the very back of an auditorium that could hold thousands of people, listening to a pastor preach a message on what it means to turn from a life of sin toward a life of obedience to Christ. “Skeptic” would be the best term to describe how I felt toward any form of religion. Yet, in an instant, the message pierced my heart and transformed me in a way I didn’t know possible.

Since that day, the past four years of my life can only be explained by the absolute sovereignty of God in all things.

I have been an observer of God’s grace and faithfulness to his people. I have seen God raise the dead as he turns lifeless stone hearts into beating hearts of flesh. I have watched him transform people by the power of his Spirit as he fashions them in the likeness of his Son. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen men and women raised up and sent out for ministry, both overseas and in their own backyard. I have seen little children grow up and make genuine professions of faith.

I have also been a participant in God’s redemptive grace and faithfulness as he makes me more like his Son. I have felt God’s guiding hand over me in multiple job positions. God graciously called me into part-time ministry and affirmed my desires to someday pursue vocational ministry. He miraculously not only allowed me to apply and get into a great seminary, but also provided the finances to make it possible. Then, even though I am an absolute wretch of a man, God sent me a wife who loves me, cares for me and helps to sanctify me.

And now, God is calling both my wife and I to faith and obedience in the next stage of our wilderness journey.

This week is my last week at my job. For the past 5-6 years, I have worked full-time as a programmer, administrator and integrator. I love my current job and all of the people I work with, but I know God is calling me to something else. Through the careful guidance and affirmation of friends, family, pastors and my loving wife, we have decided that it is time for me to pursue training for vocational ministry full-time.

Under no certain terms do I think myself as better than anyone else for making this change, nor do I even feel qualified to be doing this. In fact, in a lot of ways I feel like I am taking the “easy way out.” I have shared this with multiple people and they are always quick to point out that vocational ministry has many unique and challenging difficulties. This is true. Yet, at the same time, I think it would be harder for me to stay employed and work faithfully in a full-time IT position as I am now. I say this knowing that my current position places me on the frontlines every day. I wake up knowing that I am going to work with plenty of people who don’t know Jesus, and that I will be placed in plenty of situations that will test my faith, obedience and my witness.

Now, I am taking a step back from the frontlines in an effort to try and equip and motivate other people for that form of ministry. Having been there for the last 5-6 years, I know it is a daily challenge and it is something I have never quite figured out. Moving forward, unless I am intentional with my time and who I talk to, it is going to be very easy for me to slip into a Christian bubble; one that is completely separate from the outside world.

Beginning in September, I will now be going to school full-time at Reformed Theological Seminary. I have been able to complete about 26 credits over the last two years, which means I still have 80 credits left. In addition, I will be beginning a pastoral assistantship at my current church. I am eager and grateful to be able to serve my church in whatever way God would allow.

Neva has been working on her Masters of Science for about the last 9 months in Predictive Data Analytics from Northwestern University. She has a work ethic that both inspires and challenges me. Her program is on a quarter system, and she hopes to be done by next summer. I am extremely thankful for her, and I know I could not take this big step without her support and encouragement.

In all things, we want to honor Christ and be sanctified to become more like him. This season will bring with it new challenges as we learn how to balance busy schedules, stick to a tight budget, honor Christ and love people well amidst all of it. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we move into this next season of our lives.

I hardly need to introduce the subject matter of pornography. All of us know what it is, and many of us are aware of the chokehold that it has on society today. What was once regarded as a habit or indulgence of men only is quickly being picked up by women as well. While many people are still either trying to defend porn or advocate for its use, numerous studies have shown the terrible and negative impact it has on the human brain.

In summary, pornography rewires our brain. It changes the way we think and causes our relationships with real human beings to suffer. In the marriage relationship, it becomes increasingly harder for the partner who is hooked on porn to be intimate because they are getting their pleasure and intimacy from a computer.

As a result of our brains becoming rewired, our desires and thinking changes. Christians are not immune to this. While our hearts are made to love, cherish and desire Christ above all things, instead a rotten seed is planted that shifts our attention and love toward a sinister, glory-stealing idol. To fight this rewiring in our brains, we don’t just need behavior change or accountability but we need a heart change that reorients our desires and thinking!

Pornography, like most sins we face, is a problem that we say we want to fight – until the temptation hits. It is often in these moments where the rotten seed blossoms and overwrites what we know to be true about Christ our Savior and the reality of our sin. For this reason, it is helpful for us to know how Scripture applies to us in those moments, helping us to remember the weight of our sin and the beauty of Christ.

Below are 8 questions to ask yourself in the midst of facing a temptation from pornography. These questions are based on the beautiful passage, Philippians 2:1-11. They are also adapted from a series of questions laid out by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp in their book how people change (page 168).

1. Porn, you look beautiful to me right now, but when did you ever leave your place of prominence and glory to humble yourself for me?

2. Porn, when did you ever enter my world to suffer on my behalf?

3. Porn, when did you ever shed your blood so that I could be cleansed from my sin?

4. Porn, when were you ever raised from the dead on my behalf?

5. Porn, when did you ever promise to give me new life and power?

6. Porn, when did you ever promise to send the Holy Spirit that would help me to please God?

7. Porn, when did you ever promise to intercede for me to my Father in heaven, so that I could be strong during this trial?

8. Porn, when did you ever promise to come again and redeem me from the things that capture me and make me their slave, like you?