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.

A Decade of Perspective

This morning, I spoke from Romans 12:14-13:14 about the perspective that we should have as Christians on the events of 9/11.  You can listen here:

A Decade of Perspective: West Greenway Bible Church Sunday Sermons

Paul’s message in this passage shows us how to interact on a personal level with those who wronged us, how to consider our national response to terrorism, and more than anything else helps us keep the most important things in life in focus.

Give it a listen; I think it’s worth your time.

Tell me, what’s your perspective on 9/11 ten years later? Has your view of the events or their aftermath changed in the past decade?

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?

The Eye of the Hurricane

Melanoma.  What a scary word.  A couple of weeks ago Laura went to the doctor to have a weird mole on her knee looked at.  The doctor didn’t like it and so he removed it and sent it for a biopsy.  Then last Monday the office called back and said it was melanoma.  Google melanoma and the first hit is this; the first two sentences are frankly terrifying.  Even though the doctor said it was “stage 0/in situ” and therefore easily treatable, it’s still no bueno. 

Today she goes in to the doctor to have some more tissue removed from around where the mole was, just to make sure it’s all gone.  We’ve had a couple of weeks to think, talk, pray, and consider what this means for Laura and for us.  And this morning, as I was walking in from my run, God reminded me of where my attitude needs to be:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7, NASB)

Rather than being anxious for my wife, I need to pray and give God the place He deserves.  I need to trust in His grace and in His goodness and tell Him my desires.  My Calvinist friends may say that God already knows; that may be true, but Paul still tells me that my anxiety is not solved by God’s omniscience but by letting Him know my needs with thanksgiving.  Then His peace will guard my mind and my heart.  Thanks, Lord, for the reminder today.

If you get a moment, please pray for Laura and for the surgery.  Pray that it’s all gone and that her recovery is swift.  Pray for the next four weeks as she is on restricted activity and can’t run or bike or take ballet.  And pray that I don’t drive her nuts during that time. 🙂

And please, look at that link again and if you have any moles pay attention to the ABCD symptom tool.  Go get it checked!

What strategies do you use to fight anxiety?  What is most helpful to you as you face an uncertain future?  Where do you struggle the most, and how do you deal with it?

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?