The Obligatory Halloween Post

Halloween is without a doubt the most controversial holiday among evangelicals.  Everyone has an opinion, and can back that opinion up with some biblical data.

 

Read my Halloween post from last year to get my take on the subject.  I think that one of the aspects of this discussion that we completely forget about during this holiday is the principle that Paul espouses in Romans 14 and 15, as well as 1 Corinthians 8.  In matters that are not cut and dried, please hear my heart: allow one another to live out our individual consciences within the bounds of morally upright behavior and with love for one another. 

 

In other words, dressing up like a zombie hooker is probably not okay.  Getting completely smashed drunk is not okay.  I can point out particular biblical mandates there.  Holding a séance is not okay.  But is trick or treating forbidden?  Is dressing up not alright?  Can I allow my daughters to play dress-up every day of the year EXCEPT October 31st? (or my son, who has several Jedi costumes)

 

Please, whatever your position on this issue treat one another well.  Remember the words of Jesus in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  When we treat each other poorly it does not show the love of God to the world but rather makes us look pretty pathetic.

 

So this Halloween, treat one another well.  No tricks!

Grace Modeled…and Abused

There is a question that I hear often when I talk about the truly free offer of eternal life that Christ offers. 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17)

 
The offer of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone is the central message of the New Testament; it is a testimony of the grace of God and a truly phenomenal gift.  Not only that, but the gift comes not on the basis of anything we have done, but only on the basis of what Christ has done.
 

…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (Romans 3:24)

Eternal life is a gift.  You can’t earn a gift; something that is earned is not a gift but a wage.

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, (Romans 4:4–5)

The question that I hear often is, “If the gift is truly free, can’t God’s gracious offer get abused?  If the offer of eternal life truly comes without works, can someone accept Christ and then go on living in sin?”  It’s a good question, and one that God brought to mind this Saturday at our church yard sale.

A member of our church had a financial need that he couldn’t possibly meet.  He suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and his doctor told him that he needed a wheelchair, as his legs have a hard time on trips to the mall or grocery store.  He and his wife live on a small pension and her job and have to be very frugal.  The chair would normally cost about $4,000 to buy, but by the grace of God the vendor had a demo unit they were willing to sell for $1,050!  My friend called me about it, because there was no way he and his wife could afford it.  It was a fantastic opportunity, but it may as well have cost $1 Million in his situation.

We decided as a church to act.  Our elders agreed that in the spirit of Acts 2:45 that we needed to provide for this man’s need, so we bought the chair for him.  He did nothing to earn that, and it was amazing as a pastor to see the grace of God modeled by our church family.  It was a truly free gift given without strings attached.

The story continues though.  Our church, like many in these economic times, didn’t have $1,000 lying around just to provide for the need.  We decided to ask our members to bring donations to hold a yard sale to raise the money we needed to buy the chair, and they responded graciously!  The people decided that since our friend could not buy what he so clearly needed that we would provide what was needed.

We posted the sale on Craigslist and had a LOT of people come to buy items.  We had a simple message for everyone who came and perused what we were selling:

  1. The sale was to fund the purchase of a wheelchair for a member of our church who needed it.
  2. We needed to raise $1,050 to buy the chair.
  3. There were no prices on any of the items; everything was sold for whatever donation that the person wanted to give.  Their conscience was their guide, as we would not haggle.

Generally, most people were quite generous.  They almost always donated more than we would have asked for the item at a yard sale, and this method is far less stressful than haggling over a $0.50 coffee mug.  However, there is always “that guy” at the yard sale.  You know “that guy,” the one who takes advantage.  In this case it was a man who came with a full-size pickup truck. 

When he found out what we were doing and how we were doing it he set about building himself a huge pile of items.  He took a working washing machine.  He took two vacuum cleaners.  He took a full-size futon with a nice frame.  He took a nearly-new microwave with mounting brackets.  He took a nice sewing machine.  He took a set of end tables.  He took a bunch of clothes.  He also had a pile of other stuff that I didn’t really get to see, but by this time you get the point.  He cherry-picked the place clean!  He knew that we were raising money for a man who needed a wheelchair.  And after loading it all up and filling the entire bed of his full-size pickup to the top of his bed rails…he gave me $30 and drove away.

I wish I could say that I smiled, waved, and wished him well.  I mean, we said that his conscience was his guide, didn’t we?  We said it was donation-based, so whatever he wanted to give was acceptable.  But when the time came to put that plan to the test, I was frustrated and upset that he took advantage of us.  I mean, it’s for a good cause!  It’s not like we were going to throw a kegger with the money or take a trip to Aruba; it was to buy a WHEELCHAIR!  It really chapped me that he took so much and gave so little.

Fast forward to the end of the day.  I was worried that we wouldn’t make our goal, and after getting taken to the cleaners by “that guy” I was really concerned.  Even with Captain Skinflint stealing our lunch money, the sale was a huge success.  We raised $1,240!  The chair was paid for and we even had money left over to help another family who might need it in the future.  God provided for the need and more.  Yes we had Mr. Scrooge take us to the cleaners, but we still had more than we needed and that guy will have to take his actions up with God.  I needed to be grateful that God provided for the chair rather than worry about one person who wasn’t onboard with the whole generosity thing.

Can you see the lesson in the “parable of the yard sale”?  I can see two, personally.  First off, when my friend had no way to provide for his need, the church provided for his need completely!  In God’s economy, that is how salvation works.  We are made right with God 100% by His work, not our own.  We are the recipients of His grace without any merit on our part whatsoever.  We have redemption not because we serve God, but because Christ was faithful and was sacrificed for us.

Secondly, I see a lesson about taking advantage of God’s grace.  Yeah it frustrated me when that man took advantage of our policy in the yard sale.  Only one person out of dozens and dozens did that, though.  It wasn’t a widespread phenomenon.  And while he split without really contributing, it was our offer that allowed it.  We didn’t say, “Well, it’s donation based unless you try to rip us off…then it’s pay up or pack sand.”  Likewise, the “water of life” is truly free.  God doesn’t play “bait and switch,” saying that our salvation is a free gift unless we don’t meet His standards afterwards.  Certainly He asks us all to live for Him out of gratitude for the amazing gift of eternal life, and just like in our yard sale most respond to the gracious offer with generosity and love for the God who bought them from their sin.  However, the offer stands and is still good, even if we are not faithful to the calling of holiness that He has called us to.

Eternal life is a free gift that God gives to all who trust in the work of Christ on their behalf.  There is no front-loading of the gospel allowed (it takes faith PLUS [baptism…confession…stop committing that one sin you like so much] to receive eternal life), and no back-loading (it takes faith alone, but if you don’t do x, y, or z then you never got the gift because you don’t have real faith) either.  And God reminded me of that at our yard sale.

How about you?  How is God reminding you about the truly free gift of eternal life in Christ that you have received?

FGA Conference, Day 2: Blessings and Responsibilities

It was another great day today at the FGA conference.  The plenary speakers were really good, and I am looking forward to getting to hear the other breakout session speakers on MP3 later in the week!  It was a day of blessing for me as well.

I got out for a run this morning, and it was interesting!  Dallas is cool in the mornings right now, and I got to run a path I have never run through some fields that I couldn’t really tell what kind of footing I had in.  Rather than fret that it wasn’t my preference I decided to enjoy the experience, so I had a great time.  It was a harbinger for the day, as things weren’t 100% as expected but that was good anyway.

Our plenary speaker in the morning was Dr. Jody Dillow, who impacted me mightily through his book Reign of the Servant Kings.  Dr. Dillow shared on Matthew 7 and on “entering the kingdom of God” from a very interesting viewpoint that has sent me off looking for some cultural context on “entering” that might prove fruitful.  The sessions were interesting to say the least; when they are available online I will post them!  I got to go to lunch with Dr. Dillow and my good friends Keith and Lori, which was a really good time of fellowship.  It’s fun to meet your theological heroes and realize that they are real people, and especially fun when you see a devotional heart and great humility in Christ.

I got to lead a breakout session today which was awesome.  Within the theme of “getting the gospel out” I was asked to teach of Preaching and teaching the free grace of God.  So I titled my message “Don’t Church it Up!”  I was very blessed to have about 20-22 people attend my session; I think it went very well.  We had fun talking about keeping it simple in presenting the gospel of Christ, centered around Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 2:1-5.  The audio file will be available soon.

We went from there to our annual business meeting.  I HATE meetings; they are “where minutes are kept and hours are wasted.”  There were some procedural things that needed to be done, but after that I was very touched that Dr. Fred Chay put forth my name to serve on the board of trustees (they call it an executive council) for FGA.  Along with four other good men I was approved by the membership, and so for the next two years I will be a board member.  This was a great honor and I am blessed to be able to serve God by helping people see the truly free offer of eternal life in Christ.

The evening was really great as well.  We had our banquet, and the banquet speaker was none other than Dr. Charles Ryrie!  I use Dr. Ryrie’s Basic Theology in my Systematic Theology classes at SWC, so it was great to meet him.  He is a humble man to be sure, and a great thinker and writer.

So all in all today was great.  I was very honored to get to speak to friends and colleagues in my breakout session, and even more humbled to be asked to serve on the board.  I got to spend some great time getting to know some amazing theologians and writers as well, and that time of fellowship was very precious to me!  I am being filled with the grace of God as I listen to the speakers and challenged in my theology, which is always a good thing.  And I am having godly fun with friends, which is like the cherry on top of the sundae!

I used to disdain conferences because of their “rah rah” nature, but now I see that doesn’t have to be the case.  If they are run correctly and the content is really solid, they can be a very useful tool and a helpful time of growth and refreshment.  I am ready to get home to Phoenix and help people see the grace of God more clearly!

FGA Conference, Day 1: Ain’t No Coincidences…

I am in Dallas at the Free Grace Alliance national conference.  It was an interesting day to say the least, but God showed Himself in big ways. 

The day started pretty amazingly!  Laura dropped me off at the airport at about 5:30 and I had to do a special check on my bag through TSA.  No problem, and they handed my bag to a nice man named Samuel.  He had a beautiful voice and what sounded to me like an African accent, so I asked him where he was from.  “Oh, I am from central Africa” he replied.  When I pressed, he told me he was from Rwanda!  Not a minute later I noticed that his name was Samuel Ishimwe; Ishimwe is the Kinyarwanda word for “praise.”  I told him about our trip and desire to go back, and he told me in return that he was a pastor in town and a translator between English and Kinyarwanda.  He was very excited to hear about our plans and wants to help!  Coincidence?  Doubt it!

The flight was uneventful, but unbeknownst to me trouble was brewing.  I had never flown in to Dallas, so when I heard that the conference was at the airport I booked my flight from Phoenix to Dallas.  On Southwest.  Only after landing did I find out that Southwest doesn’t fly into DFW airport; they fly into Love field, which is 20 minutes away!  Well, in my desire not to pay $50 for a cab I caught a shuttle bus that was cheaper and would take longer.  I got to ride shotgun next to Thomas, who is from Nigeria and loves the Lord.  He has been here for 3 years and loves America, but wishes we had more heart for Christ and to reach people for Him.  Coincidence?  Doubt it!

I knew I was running late for the conference, but tried to keep a good attitude.  I got my room key and headed for the elevator.  The FIRST person aside from the front desk clerk that I saw was my good friend and mentor, Keith.  He gave me a huge hug and encouraged me greatly.  We spent the whole afternoon together, and through him I got to meet some important theologians I respect and admire.  Coincidence?  Doubt it!

The topic of this conference is “getting the gospel out.”  We had a plenary address this afternoon from Dr. Larry Moyer from Colossians 4:2-6 that we must have proper prayer (v.2-4), proper living, (v. 5) and proper speech (v. 6) to meet God’s call to share the gospel.  It was a fantastic time!  Also, Dr. Michael Eaton shared in the evening session on the topic of assurance and how the church grows the most when our assurance of eternal life is preached with conviction and passion.  It was a stirring talk as well, and I have been emboldened to pray and to preach with more conviction.  Coincidence?  I doubt it.

Wait, there is more!  In my email inbox when I got to the hotel room tonight, I got an email from a man working for Christian African Leadership Ministries who is developing a pastor training program to implement.  IN NORTHERN RWANDA.  No I am not joking.  And he asked if we could meet because a mutual friend said that we had been to Africa this summer (not specifically Rwanda)  Coincidence? I doubt it!

So as I hope you can see, God is at work in BIG ways today.  I am not sure how all the pieces fit together, but He definitely is putting some pieces in place for our desire to build up the church in Rwanda and serve them as part of our service to God.  All of this comes today in the context of being encouraged to spread the message of the grace of God in Christ freely and appropriately, which is amazing and very encouraging. 

So pray for me today that God keeps showing Himself and what He would have me do through my time here in Dallas.  It’s been a whirlwind day, and I am pretty darn excited about what is in store!