Refreshing Grace: The First book from Biblical Framework Press!

RefreshingGraceFrontCoverOnlyHave you ever wondered how God can be in control of everything and still allow people to have free will? I think that for many Christians, this is a real conundrum. Sure, there have been “fights” between Calvinists and Arminians over this issue for 500 years; Calvinists argue that God is great and in control, and Arminians counter that God is good and offers salvation to all.

 

For many Christians, though, neither answer is sufficient because God says both in His Word. But how can both be true?  Well, this week I published a new book titled Refreshing Grace. This book takes a new approach to this often emotionally charged issue and explains the issue, and a fresh biblical solution to it, in an understandable way.

 

If you’re interested in the issue of God’s sovereign control and our free will in salvation, my prayer is that Refreshing Grace will help you understand the issue with more clarity and passionately pursue Christ with that new knowledge.

 

The book is available on Amazon.com in paperback as well as on Kindle.

 

Amazon.com paperback edition.

 

Amazon.com Kindle Edition.

Radical Grace

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy it when we try to “church it up” and play nice when life gets messy.  The God we serve specializes in messy!  Jesus makes “church people” uncomfortable in the Gospels with His radical message of grace.  We feel like people have to clean themselves up before they are worthy of God’s love or forgiveness.  Or, if we want to church it up, we say that they have to allow God to clean them up because that sounds like we’re not doing anything and God’s doing everything, passing that off for grace.  We supposedly know if we have grace because we’re doing enough work. Wait, what?

Well, that’s not how God works.  His radical grace is not offered in response to our promise to clean ourselves up or our efforts to do so, but instead is offered because of His great love for us because of the perfect faithfulness of Christ.  This is perhaps most clearly seen in the episode of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11, a passage I got to proclaim from the pulpit a couple of weeks ago.  Please, if you have some time, listen to the way Jesus treats people in sin:

http://westgreenway.com/Sermons/MP3/11-08-21.mp3

No commendation, but no condemnation.  Jesus offers radical grace, grace so overwhelming that our minds have a hard time with it.  We live in a culture and in a time when the motto “you get what you pay for” is practically our mantra.  We look skeptically at anyone who offers us something for free, assuming it has a “hook” in it or some ulterior motive.  But the message of Jesus is a grace so big and so consuming that it encompasses the worst we have to offer.  It offends those who believe that we must act a certain way to prove to others that we have God’s grace, but Jesus makes a specialty of offending people who focus on style over substance.

We like to make the old “bait and switch” in theological circles; we begin by proclaiming to people that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23).  That’s all well and good until someone doesn’t conform to our expectations of what their Christian walk should be; then we start questioning whether they were really saved to begin with.  In so doing, we rob people of the joy of unconditional love from God that He has promised them:

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, ESV)

God doesn’t love us or accept us because we clean ourselves up.  He loves us because Christ, the one who is perfect, obeyed in our place so that we who are wretched and poor and destitute can be made clean by His sacrifice on our behalf.  His sacrifice is so big that even those who we don’t see God working on them from the outside, if they have trusted Christ then we know that He is working on them on the inside, in His timing and in His way.  And yeah, that crazy and radical love should change us from the inside out.  But making it a requirement of that love is turning God’s plan on its head and making it performance based instead of grace based.

For me, I can’t handle performance-based love.  Telling me that if God loved me enough to die for me, and if I were converted to Christ, and if eternal life dwelt within me, then I must act a certain way in a certain timeframe or I never experienced God’s love, makes the whole thing a contract.  If you do this, I will do that.  God’s love looks like this:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)

It is, to “church it up” a little, an unconditional covenant.  God said that by faith and not by works we are saved. (Eph 2:8-9) That is an unconditional promise.  And even if we louse it up badly, He loves us and seeks our restoration. (the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 comes to mind)  That’s unconditional love, and in that environment our faith can be nurtured and grown to the place where we can see God not only in our hearts but in our lives.

So which is it in your life? Have you experienced performance-based spirituality, or grace-based spirituality? How have they affected your vision of who God is, who you are, and how they interrelate?

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 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!

An “Inside Out” Perspective

A big question I often have is perspective and motivation.  Should I do the right thing only when I feel like it, or should I work on my beliefs and understanding and not worry about the outside as much?  Obviously the goal is to be an authentic, transparent disciple of Christ whose motivation is right and whose actions are God-honoring.  If I have to err, though, which side should I err on?

Several guys at our church started an online men’s Bible study last week,  (the link to the group is in this post if you’re (a) male and (b) interested) and today’s reading in our group really got me thinking about this topic.  We are reading the book of Colossians every day for the month of March.  I am posting my entry from today because I think that the approach that God wants is for us to focus on the truths of Scripture and the hope of eternity with Him, allowing that hope to change us from the inside out.

Today I did my reading after men’s group. I got chapter 1 read, then had a meeting, and then read chapters 2-4.

What really struck me today is the theme of hope in chapter 1. I looked up the term “hope” in my handy dandy Bible software, and Paul uses the term three times in Colossians; all three of them come in chapter 1. (that’s why I checked; I wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss any!) This seems to be an important concept that he wanted the Colossians to be reminded of right off the bat in this letter. The first use in verse 5 comes in the context of Colossians 1:3-5:

3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you,
4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints;
5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel

The second is in 1:23 and comes in the context of Colossians 1:21-23:

21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—
23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

The final use in Colossians 1:27:

to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

It really struck me how important hope is in chapter 1.

  1. In the first instance, the faith of the Christians and the love they had for the saints came as a result of the hope they have laid up in heaven. Our godly actions came from the source of our hope!
  2. In the second usage, if we go backward from verse 23 it is “the hope of the gospel” that causes us to be firmly established in the faith, which then as we continue in it will present us to God holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
  3. Finally, in the third usage we see where the hope is anchored: Christ in us. Christ within us, and His righteousness living inside of us, is the source of the “hope of glory” that Paul talks about in chapter 1.

So what is hope? Well I looked it up in my “Student Bible Dictionary” (and confirmed it in my Greek lexicon for you Bible nerds), and it defines hope as “Belief that God will accomplish what He has promised.” The term means to look forward to something with confidence, expecting fulfillment. The gospel, or “good news” that is the anchor of our hope, is that all who trust in Christ alone for eternal life will spend forever with God, pardoned for their sin and in perfect fellowship with Him!

When I put those two together it really hit me how important my outlook and focus are. Christ in me is the reason for my confidence that God will rescue me from hell and welcome me into His presence forever. By remembering that hope, having confidence in God’s fulfillment of His promise and not being moved from it, by focusing on it and keeping it in the front of my mind I know that when I meet God on the day of my death I will be presented to Him “holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (v. 22). The meeting day will be a good one, filled with celebration at His gift given to me and His faithfulness to His promise. Finally I know that the path of hope expresses itself in the love I have for God’s people and the trust I have in Christ in my daily life.

So today’s theme and focus for me is hope. Am I confidently expecting God to fulfill His promise, focused on the eternal life that awaits and eagerly anticipating it? That is then the source of my actions, my trust in Christ for my daily needs and love for His people. Truth drives action today.  I will focus today on living “from the inside out.”

May your day be a day of hope today as well!