Every month or so, our GraceNotes blog will review and recommend a book that we hope will enrich our souls, edify our lives, and compel us to be a community on mission. The series kicks off with a review of The Meaning of Marriage by Dr. Timothy Keller.
Maranatha Grace’s MG Reach ministry sent a team to Romania this week to serve alongside a missionary family we partner with. Please continue to pray for the team as they continue to serve and make their way back to the states.
Continue reading for an update from Pastor Jon Anzardo on behalf of the team.
This week, the ladies of Maranatha Grace Church will spend a weekend away at the Solid Rock Day Camp in West Milford, NJ. Come with us. As you take a step of faith and open yourself up to the preaching of God’s Word and open yourself up to the other ladies, you may find yourself so relieved afterwards that you didn’t miss it.
Once again, by God's good graces, Maranatha members are hard at work on the mission field in Buff Bay, Jamaica, serving a church and community we've had the pleasure of working with for several years. Let's continue to pray for the Jamaica team over the next week as they serve in various ways -- providing medical care, lending a helping hand to the local church and brethren there, and faithfully preaching the Word.
This week, a valiant group of MGC youth loaded into the church van and headed off to Cleveland for a week of ministry. They’ve spent this week helping run Vacation Bible School (VBS) at a local church, but they’ve also been out and about the city of Cleveland, connecting with others and sharing the Gospel. You can read about their individual experiences here and get a picture of their work this week. As you read, please pray for MGC’s youth, the city of Cleveland and the local churches there.
[Last week, six Maranatha folks attended The Gospel Coalition Conference and shared some of our reflections. Here are some more.]
Doo-doo doo do... At the house, the Cranberries blasted from the speaker. The smell of onions filled the air and the taste of soy sauce and chicken filled our mouths. Garlic broccoli and rice warmed our stomachs. We had just spent the last 24 hours being fed with the book of Galatians on how salvation is not by works but by faith alone. Truths Luther and the Reformers had fought for 500 years ago. And now we were about to return to the Convention Center to divide into smaller workshops of our choice.
While I was at the Gospel Coalition Conference, I attended some wonderful workshops. However, one of my favorite things about conferences is divine appointments. You are surrounded by thousands of like-minded people with the same passions—in this case the shared passions of Jesus and doctrine. Chances are high that you will talk to and meet people who God will use to speak through and impact your life, even significantly, and vice-versa.
On the second day of the conference, as I was studying a map to find my workshop, I overheard a man say to someone what church he goes to.
I approached them. “Oh my gosh! I’m sorry to interrupt but I couldn’t help but overhear that you go to the same church I used to go to!”
He had started going to my old church two years after I had moved out of that state. Out of the over 8 thousand people at the TGC conference, what were the chances that I would bump into the one person from the medium-sized church I used to attend out of all the 50 states that were represented? And that I would overhear him say what church it was??
As transparency is appropriate among those who are from his state, I shared with him the tragic circumstances surrounding my move back to New Jersey.
He responded, “I feel lead to share with you,” some of his significant failures before he was a Christian and what God had done since then. Even after he had become a Christian, his relationship with his family remained difficult. After studying at a seminary, Biblical counseling classes, and other experiences, he “decided to set up an atmosphere in which my family could forgive me. I couldn’t force them to. But I could be faithful and trust God with the results. I decided I needed to allow my family to express all the ways in which I had hurt them in the past and the impact and pain they had felt from it. I decided just to listen and not defend myself or minimize what I had done. And after that they were able to forgive me.” He continued, “I learned that my mom wanted sharing and transparency. My dad didn’t need that. He just wanted respect. We show respect in simple things, like looking at a person and listening when they are speaking.”
“Wow.” I gulped. That was a lot for me to digest. “I think I learn something from that both ways. First, that’s really validating.” It made me realize that while I had forgiven some people in my life as far as it depended upon me, it put words to the idea that the missing puzzle piece to full reconciliation was that I had never felt safe or welcome to express to them just how deeply they had harmed me. “But I think there’s also an application in the other direction as well,” I said. “I’m sure there are people I’ve hurt and will hurt who I could be willing to listen to and not minimize the ways in which I hurt them.”
What an interesting application of the gospel! I’ve often heard people who have been through unimaginable trauma say the things that heal them most are validation (as opposed to the minimizing of their suffering). God had used this conversation to provide validation to some of the scars that remain of past hurts. I really think the Lord had some significant healing for me in that conversation.
While that 45 minute conversation caused me to miss my workshop, I sat down on a bench just to absorb it and take notes on what I had just learned. I saw God in that conversation and it was probably my favorite “workshop” of the afternoon.
I did make it to the next workshop and loved it. Author and award-winning professor at Liberty University, Karen Swallow Prior, taught on the importance of reading literary fiction. Yes, fiction. Who knew such a subject would be considered important enough to be taught at The Gospel Coalition?
With eloquence as beautiful as music she explained:
- That as C.S. Lewis says: we cannot desire what we cannot imagine. We must first imagine what we ought to love. This is how commercials work. Literature grows and exercises our imagination so that we can imagine what we ought to desire.
- There are books that have changed people’s lives. This is a revolutionary statement in post-modernism.
- College kids are resisting the study of literature not because they don’t desire wisdom and guidance towards the desirable life, but because they don’t see literature as the source of these. Because they've mostly depended on Wikipedia and Spark Notes, which diminish the way an author creates an experience for the reader.
- By reading, we learn to experience from another point of view. Only literature offers constant practice in empathy. Escape from the prison house of self.
- The act of writing and act of reading don’t just move us. They transfigure us. Reading is by nature spiritual. It is a ministry of reconciliation. It brings order to the chaos of life. A cracked china cup in which meaning is recovered.
- Studies show that reading literary fiction grows a person in empathy.
- How to read well:
- Attentatively, slowly, and literally. Understand what it says literally, not what it means to you.
- Read luxuriously.
What I love most about the ideas above is the notion that fiction teaches you how to understand another point of view other than your own. It teaches you empathy. How can we truly minister to people if we don’t have compassion? And how can we really have compassion if we’re unable to imagine ourselves in their situation? Fiction exercises the ability to see behind another person’s eyes and feel from within their skin.
The other workshop I attended was by former lesbian, now married artist, writer, and rapper, Jackie Hill Perry. She took us to Genesis 1:1 to show us that one of the first things God wrote in the Bible was that He is Creator. He made something out of nothing. And what He made was “beautiful.” Art is our attempt to create something out of nothing.
- Cooking, decorating, getting dressed, even preaching is all creating art.
- But as we at
tempt to create, we should imitate how God creates—
- we should do it well,
- make it beautiful,
- and for the glory of God.
- Does it always have to have a verse in it in order for it to be Christian? Have you ever seen a mountain that says, “Jesus made me?” But Romans 1 says His creation implicitly says, “God made me. And He is a big God.” So, no, it doesn’t have to explicitly say Christian things in order for it to be Christian.
- Artists have an affection for beauty.
Jackie pointed out how Matthew 22 says to love the Lord and love your neighbor. What she said made me think even if you yourself do not do anything that requires you to create, you probably watch T.V. or consume something that someone else made. Jackie asks these questions to help determine if the art is good:
- Does this work of art help me and others love God with all of our hearts?
- With all of our souls?
- With all of our mind?
- With all of our strength?
- Or does this art distort? Distract?
- Does this art induce lust? Gossip?
- Or does this art help others to think on what is good, lovely, and true?
- Or to focus on the flesh?
She believes that a lot of the sin we struggle with is provoked by demonic art made by humans that doesn’t pass the test of the above questions.
God’s creation is good not just because He made it good, but because He is good. Similarly, the level of our submission to Christ will impact whatever we create. Where we are at spiritually will be reflected in our art.
I realize that you can listen to all of these messages online. But there is something about meeting all together with thousands of believers to listen to these preachers and worship together in song (in this case wonderful, theologically deep hymns). There are moments in which you can feel God is there and working in your life for His glory in very present ways.
Another highlight was being lead in worship by Matt Boswell and Sandra McCracken. If you’ve ever listened to any of Sandra McCracken’s music her voice sounds delicate, yet has an endearing vulnerability and honesty to it. But in person, her voice sounds powerfully amazing! All the more reason to attend one of these conferences in person another time!
“Alexa, play some smooth jazz. Alexa, play some John Coltrane. Alexa, play the Cranberries.” You may know of Alexa, Amazon’s voice-activated device, and it was my first experience playing with it during TGC.
Technology never ceases to amaze me. It seems like there’s an app or device for everything today. I even thought I had a brilliant idea several years ago, but my wise, non-dreamer friends told me to let it go (ask me about the Teaching Towel, maybe the dream can continue).
While many ideas have flopped, many have greatly influenced our society. I believe this reflects the human desire to be significant; the created reflects the Creator. All of us want to be significant, all of us want to matter, but sadly, we often seek to fulfill this desire in sinful and selfish ways.
I was humbly reminded during Kevin DeYoung’s talk on John Calvin that all things in this life will fade and wither. There is only one thing that will surely remain, and that is the Word of God. Our significance will only be truly significant when we are found in Him who is eternal, God Himself.
DeYoung’s final exhortation really struck me: “The only way that our lives will touch that which is eternal is to admit that our lives in and of ourselves are hopelessly temporal…Let us let go of our vain supposed successes and grab hold of that which will outlast us all, the Word of God.
Isaiah 40:6-8 reads,
“A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ’What shall I cry?’
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.””
Let this be an encouragement to us all to cling to eternal Word of God, knowing that in Christ, we are more significant in God's eyes than we could ever imagine.
[Listen to some of the great preachers of our day preaching at the conference here!]
[Six Maranatha folks attended The Gospel Coalition's biennial conference. Here are some thoughts they'd like to share on their experience. Three will start this post with two or three more following up next week]
So this past Sunday, we drove 700+ miles for 12 hours through the night to Indianapolis, where some 8,500 folks gathered to celebrate and commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And as the conference themed "No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond" kicked off Monday with Pastor John Piper "batting" leadoff, my friend Steve Martinez texted me, "Catching the livestream now!"
So why did we travel hundreds of miles to catch it live when we could've simply live-streamed it?! I asked myself this very valid question upon receiving Steve's text...
Here are three of my reasons:
1. It was an epic event with world-class pastors/teachers/scholars like Anyabwile, Carson, Guthrie, Keller, Piper, and Um leading plenaries and breakout seminars. And if those names mean nothing to you, just know the Gospel was preached powerfully and clearly. So while we learned much about Reformation history and heroes (Beza, Bucer, Calvin, Farel, Luther, Zwingli, and others), we worshiped God─the One who spurred this great movement back to the solas of our biblical faith. Led by Matt Boswell and Sandra McCracken, we sang Christ-centered hymns & songs and prayed with Christians from many "tribes, languages, peoples, and nations" as all 50 states and 57 countries, and a boatload of denominations were represented. It was encouraging to discover that the majority of attendees were under the age of 39 (57%) and about 1/3 were of the female persuasion. It was supremely glorious and this 46 year old-fogy did not feel one bit outta place amongst the hip bearded and plaided millennials that surrounded him.
2. Twenty-five hours in a minivan isn't how I prefer to spend most my days, but the deeper, more intimate conversations and fellowship (and silliness) that often takes place on such treks is invaluable for team-building and unity. We were able to bond with Eric Yang, our "newest" staff member and youth director extraordinaire, who had the distinct privilege of sharing a hotel room with a guy who snores rather obnoxiously. But we also had two sisters join us for the conference, Grace Mark and Ruth Pham. And boy, was it really nice to spend some time with Ruth and see her hubby, Irvin, who dropped her off at our rendezvous in Parsippany. We're praying Phams...hint hint.
3. Our faith is a biblical faith...one that has been revealed to us by Almighty God who has spoken to us through his perfect Word (sola scriptura). But ours is surely also an historical faith: God commissioned his only Son, Jesus the Word incarnate, into the time and space He created. God's plan from before time began was to fulfill his redemptive plan by sending Jesus to be born of a virgin, live a majestically pristine life, suffer and die an ignominious and substitutionary death, and then be gloriously resurrected for the justification of rebel sinners: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). We believe Reformation history to be a crucial moment of history when God chose to use men and women devoted to the solas to bring his Church back to him. Semper Reformanda...we are always reforming by his Spirit.
For these reasons and more, #TGC17 was a conference to remember!
Attending TGC ‘17 was a blast or otherwise helpful in all sorts of ways (fellowship, food, car games). I’ll highlight how the conference’s teaching was helpful: it reminded me that the simple gospel truths we speak, love, and live by at Maranatha are truths we’ve inherited from the Reformation, and that the Reformation faith is a biblical faith.
Here’s what I mean: we can summarize the Reformation as a departure from the Roman Catholic Church in two large ways. First, it departed from Rome on the question of what the authority for Christian faith and practice is─what’s called the “formal principle of theology.” Rome elevated the Pope, the Church, and tradition to the same level of authority as the Bible. The Reformers revolted and said that Scripture alone has divine authority. Second, the Reformers departed from Rome on the content of Christian faith and practice─the “material principle” of theology, or what the gospel is. They recovered from Scripture the truths that we are justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and not by any works of the law (including sacrament), and this is all for the glory of God alone, so we can’t boast in anything we’ve done. By faith alone, sinners are justified, and find heaven’s gates opened to them.
What TGC 2017 did was demonstrate how these two revolutionary recoveries of the Reformation─biblical authority, and justification by faith─are actually straight from Scripture; they connect to the two largest themes of Galatians! The talks on Galatians 1-2 demonstrated the authority of Paul’s gospel, those on 3-4 explained how justification is by faith alone, and 5-6 showed how this affects how we live. I recommend them all, but I found the talks on chapters 1, 2, and 5 especially helpful.
The Gospel Coalition National Conference is a well-oiled machine that runs excellently - huge venue, beautiful displays, world-class teachers and scholars, excellent music, and helpful resources galore. But one of the most meaningful aspects of the conference is the special time to worship corporately and connect with other brothers and sisters (some known and many unknown). You simply cannot get from a livestream. There is something overwhelming and movingly beautiful about 8,000 people belting out “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It points us forward to that great Day.
More than the corporate time together a conference of this size allows for sweet get togethers. This past week I was able to meet-up with some dear friends from the past─some from seminary and some not. We were able to catch up on life, pray for one another, and just simply chat face to face. A conference of this magnitude also affords the opportunity to meet new people and learn about new ministries. Whether meeting long time friends or perfect strangers, through the fellowship of the saints at #TGC17 we had a front row seat to see how God is at work all around us in powerful, exciting ways! There is too much to share in this brief space, but what is clear from this week (as it was for Martin Luther and the reformers) God is still on the move. Christ is busy building His Church and is still using ordinary saints along the way to do extraordinary works. Soli Deo gloria!
The conference is so well-oiled that videos from the expository plenaries are up! Click here if you're interested in 5.5 hours of God-Centered exposition of Galatians.
What does contentment look like in the life of a believing woman? How do we resist the temptation to compare our lives to that of other women and instead approach our own lives with contentment and gratitude, no matter what season we are in?
In just a few short weeks, the ladies of Maranatha Grace Church will spend a weekend away learning about "Cultivating Contentment that Glorifies God" with featured writer and speaker, Mrs. Jodi Ware, who's reviews and writings have been featured on places like The Gospel Coalition.
Maranatha members are hard at work on the mission field once again -- this time, in Buff Bay, Jamaica. Let's continue to pray for them over the next week as they serve in various ways -- providing medical care, lending a helping hand to the local church and brethren there, and faithfully preaching the Word.
Our brother Daniel Lee preached a timely message last Sunday titled "A Tale of Two Sabbaths." To help you meditate on the sermon throughout the week, and as we prepare our hearts for next week's sermon, we share some of the sermon points here. Or, you can listen to the full sermon.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, likely because the scents and flavors of the fall point to even more joyous celebrations to come. This time of year as we enter the Christmas season always brings much joy and anticipation, and Thanksgiving, with its amber tones and abundant food, seems to usher this all in. Nothing quite communicates joy like roasted poultry, the scent of cinnamon and pumpkin pie. Except, maybe, coconut custard pie.
But joyous holidays and celebrations have a way of also evoking sadness for those of who have suffered deeply or are in the midst of suffering--which is nearly all of us. If you aren’t suffering now, you have, and surely you know someone who is.
At Maranatha, we have a good number of women who are full-time stay-at-home moms as well as small business owners. One such sister is Carolyn Hoerl -- wife, mother of twin girls and owner of Two Sparrows Headbands. As part of our "Faith that Works" interview series, I talked to her about what life is like balancing motherhood while owning a business -- for which she makes all of her goods -- and how she hopes to glorify God in her work. It was a joy to learn about her passion to be creative, a reflection of our very creative God. I also learned the meaning behind the name of her shop, which gave me a glimpse into her life and her trust in the Lord. I hope this encourages you as much as it encouraged me.
Two Wednesdays ago, we kicked off our Summer Seminar Series by laying down a backdrop of the cultural crisis that confronts Christ-followers. Whether it is the latest tweets by a presidential candidate or the most recent stories of bloodshed spurred on by racial bias or blatant disregard for the authority structures in place, Christians are living in a culture that is hostile to the gospel.
In my session entitled, “Flourishing in the Desert,” I expounded on three points hoping to provide an introduction for the rest of the series.
Landscape (the World)
Light (the Word)
Life (the Work)
Any bystander living today would be swept away by the seismic changes in social mores, values, and even the legislation that gives way (and defense) to such perspectival change.
I traced two overwhelming realities in American society:
There is a moral and cultural revolution taking place in our society.
- The pace and reach of cultural and moral change spurred on by this revolution is at best, breathtaking and exciting to some and at worst, shocking and frightening to others.
Within the last two years, same-sex marriage has become the law of the land (June 26, 2015) as institutions like marriage have been deconstructed and reconstructed to look quite different from traditional (biblical) marriages. Looser sexual practices spurred on by ‘liberated’ attitudes on sexuality are enabled through the help of social media apps like Tinder. Dr. Denny Burk bemoans, “This technology has put the hook-up culture on steroids.” Gender-identity is as fluid and as slippery as a drop of mercury in a calphalon pot. In many schools and especially in the more elite institutions, the use of pronouns may result in your grades being docked. In fact, it’s almost offensive to use pronouns in some arenas of higher learning.
And in May of this year, the Obama administration weighed in with a “directive” that public schools must permit transgender students to use facilities such as bathrooms and locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity expressions rather than their sexual identity at birth.
Dr. Albert Mohler so precisely wrote back in May of this year:
“One metric to watch very closely in terms of cultural and social change around us is how fast it takes for something to be considered absolutely unthinkable, then ludicrous, then improbable, and then possible, and then of course, actual. Just consider that sequence when it comes to the fact that in recent days, the Obama Administration, through its Departments of Justice and Education, has ruled that every single bathroom and facility of similar sort and every single public educational institution in America must now fully bend the knee to the transgender revolution. This is a stunning development, but it’s not all that shocking given the direction of this administration and the velocity of the change.”
(*officials in 11 states have since sued the administration to overturn the move)
There is a revolution taking place and it’s changing our world and our lives. And how have we gotten here?
Sociologists (both religious and secular) maintain that we are living in a post-Christian Era in America. Their premise is that people no longer assume the Judeo-Christian ethic to be the guiding rule for society and life. Some of these same experts say, “Once upon a time, when America was a Christian nation, things were much different,” as they lament the inevitable changes in any society that does away with the Judeo-Christian moral compass and moves toward a post-Christan worldview.
But have we ever lived or experienced any American era where we embodied anything remotely resembling a Christian nation as defined by the Bible? I think not. And so my first point hinged on our entrance into an age of “post-Nominal Christianity” as opposed to post-Christianity. Now what does that mean and what is the difference?
Three years ago Dr. Timothy Keller gave a talk/interview at the Ethics & Public Policy Center’s “Faith Angle Forum on Religion, Politics, & Public Life.” His talk was titled, “Conservative Christianity After the Christian Right,” and in it Dr. Keller discussed “the disappearing umbrella over conservative christians.” And what he gets at in this talk is his observation that the ranks of conservative evangelicals are growing...but that secularism is also on the rise. Now if both are increasing, something has to give. So what gives? What is on the decline?
He insightfully declares it to be the ‘middle’ crowd that is disappearing (In my poor attempt at humor, I referred to this crowd as the NCCC = “Nominal Cultural Christianity Crowd”).
Now, this is where it relates to this moral/cultural revolution and the hyper-speed nature of change taking place. This disappearance of the middle, has not only affected conservative Christians as Keller claims, but I believe all of American society. Keller uses the analogy of a roof or an umbrella:
“So what’s happening is the roof has come off for the devout. The devout had a kind of a shelter, an umbrella. You couldn’t be all that caustic toward traditional classic Christian teaching and truth. I spoke on Friday morning to the American Bible Society’s board. American Bible Society does a lot of polling about the Bible. The use of the Bible, reading the Bible, attitudes toward the Bible. They said that actually the number of people who are devout Bible readers is not changing that much.”
“What is changing is for the first time in history a growing group of people who think the Bible is bad, it’s dangerous, it’s regressive, it’s a bad cultural force, that was just never there. It was very tiny. And that’s because the middle ground has shifted, so it is more identified with the more secular, the less religious, and it’s less identified now with the more devout.”
Later, he explains what the loss of this covering means for Christians:
“The roof came off. That is, you had the devout, you had the secular, and you had that middle ground that made it hard to speak disrespectfully of traditional values. That middle ground now has not so much gone secular, but they more identified with this side. They are identified with expressive individualism, and so they don’t want to tell anybody how to live their lives. And so what that means now of course is that the devout suddenly realize that they are out there, that the umbrella is gone, and they are taking a lot of flak for their views, just public flak.”
To summarize the contours of the landscape we must recognize these ABCs…
A. What we’re now experiencing is not only criticism.
B. We are now being told that we are beyond the pale. We’re not just wrong in our views, but that for anyone to have any respect for our views is wrong.
C. The secular mindset isn’t just opposed to the Christian perspective, it’s opposed to the evangelical Christian even having a place in the public square of ideas.
Those on the other side of the cultural divide have decreed that we don’t have such rights anymore. Hence, the landscape is nearly made unnavigable for us!
With the NCCC now siding with the secular/liberal mindset crowd, what has resulted is tremendous support in public opinion, and a very loud voice to go with it, for all the laws and policies on moral issues that are changing through judicial pronouncements. This is what we are seeing happen right before our eyes.
In an article also written in May of this year, Dr. Mohler (SBTS president) wrote:
“Now that the moral revolutionaries are solidly in control, what is to be demanded of Christians who, on the basis of Christian conviction, cannot join the revolution? The demands have now been presented, and they represent unconditional surrender.”
I painted a pretty grim picture of our culture-at-large. Are we on the verge of losing this Culture War? Have we already lost?
Absolutely not...and we can declare this because we must remember the words of Jesus when he declared:
“My Kingdom is not of this world.”
He declared this not only to Pilate, but also to Satan as he was tempted by him after forty days of fasting in the wilderness.
So what does this signify for us?
So much because of who are. We are those who once dwelled in darkness—kingdoms ruled by fallen men. Kingdoms that will inevitably spiral downward in a demise of greed, corruption, self-idolatory, and self-preservation. This has been the story of every ‘indomitable’ kingdom throughout human history.
Listen to the words spoken by Dr. Russell Moore in his ERLC Inauguration Speech three years ago:
“It’s good to be here in this place and to see around us all of the monuments to American power. But it’s also good to remember, that like Augustine’s Rome, one day, perhaps in 1,000 years, or perhaps in 3,000 years, perhaps in a million years, that shining Capitol over there will be in ruins. That Washington Monument will be torn down. The Jefferson Memorial will perhaps be covered in vines. But the kingdom of God is not shaken.”
But by God's loving-kindness alone, we have been ushered into God’s eternal kingdom reign where He is the Light (light, light...light of the world...shining bright, bright, bright).
 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned. (Matt 4:16 ESV)
The Bible Belt “kingdom” is collapsing in America and in other parts of the world. The world of nominal, cultural Christianity that took the American dream slapped Jesus on to it in order to say “you can have everything you’ve ever wanted and heaven too” is soon to be gone. And this is all good riddance. Here’s Dr. Moore again:
“We can no longer pretend that we are a moral majority in this country. We are a prophetic minority who must speak into a world that is not different than any other era of this world’s history, but is exactly what Jesus promised us the world must be.”
We can be assured that we have no reason to fear because Jesus speaks of it in the Gospel of Luke:
And as Jesus spoke this word, he spoke these words without fear. And why did He do so? Because Jesus is announcing a kingdom, and has said to all of us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom...” (Luke 12:32 ESV)
As we are people who have seen the light of life, we are called to reflect his kingdom light truthfully in word and graciously in deed. We are to stand firm and shine his resplendent light...
 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world... (Philippians 2:14-15 ESV)
But the wondrous beauty and mystery of the Church is that we stand united with Christ and one another as a trans-cultural kingdom that should not remain a secret society. In other words, we are his Church and not his monastery. God's people form local churches that gather and scatter this side of eternity (IN the world), remain set apart from the culture-at-large (not OF the world), and strive to live as missionaries who seek the flourishing of whatever society we form (FOR the world).
We live as sojourners and strangers as we look forward to the Celestial City, as the book of Hebrews proclaims, lest we forget, that here we have no abiding and lasting city. Hence, we are never quite at home, but we are awaiting our future home.
For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Our citizenship is in heaven. (Phil. 3:20)
We also learn from the biblical witness of the prophets of old on how to practically engage the world around us. The book of Jeremiah tells the story of God using the prophet to instruct the Jews in Babylon not to hate or remain indifferent towards the pagan city. Instead, Jeremiah relays Yahweh's life instructions:
- Become long-term residents of the city
- Exercise good will toward it through prayer
- Seek Babylon's peace and prosperity
- Build up the social fabric for the common well-being
- Serve your neighbors in the land
At the same time, God’s people are not to place their future hopes in social, economic, and even moral improvement. We are to love and serve our earthly city, but they were not to forget that God would some day judge our city for its evil and injustice. It was only in God that believers could be sure of a “future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). With this ultimate hope in mind, instead of merely co-existing and thriving materially with the Babylonians, the Jews in Babylon were to strive for the glory of God through Jesus Christ to be made known to all.
Hence, we must not simply declare that our citizenship is in heaven (however true that is) and then refrain from debating and even speaking out against public policy and laws. In fact, because our citizenship is in heaven, we must speak remembering that we are called to pray…
“Thy kingdom come and thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
We are called to be the Church that proclaims and displays the love of God. So the life and work set out for us demands that we continually take inventory and ask ourselves questions like...
- Are we living by conviction in Christ, or are we being conformed to the pattern of the age around us? In other words, is our message distinct?
- As we live for Christ and on mission with him, are we living with a posture of convictional kindness rather than self-righteousness? In other words, is our life (both individually and together) distinct?
Remember the Apostle Paul's clear admonition in Romans 12 after giving chapters upon chapters of doctrine:
 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
So as singles who are living in a hookup culture, we must strive for purity and maintain modesty, and yet we must do so in a way that reveals the beauty of sexual integrity. The Church must treasure and protect marriages by teaching, preaching, and equipping on how marriage is a picture of Christ married to his bride, the Church. Divorce must be hated and avoided, and yet we must show appropriate compassion to those who are divorced or experiencing the brokenness of divorce. Parents must be engaged in both the spiritual and the practical discipline and instruction of their children. We mustn't let the public sector be the only voice in the moral, social, and even physical development of our children. We must seek to understand how our lives should be marked by the power of the Gospel in the marketplace, politics, academia, and all areas.
We also must not ignore the issues of mercy and justice and revert to talk about mission and the gospel only. We cannot because we are called to Christ-likeness. We must speak the truth about him and his justice which is part and parcel his mission to this broken world...
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause. (Isaiah 1:17 ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV)
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9 ESV)
Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (chapter 61) directly in Luke 4…
 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
(Luke 4:16-19 ESV)
So if we remain silent, we are simply “baptizing the status quo” of all the ills in our society. Two of the 20th century's greatest martyrs died fighting against injustice and evil. Remember their piercing words...
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Darkness cannot push out darkness; light expels darkness.” ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We must shine this light of Truth on behalf of those who have no voice in this world...those in the womb, those being trafficked, those being enslaved.
We shouldn’t be depressed by political cycles and shifts. We know that the gates of hell shall not prevail against us. And whatever our circumstances, Christians are called to humbly pray for rulers and nations.
Join us tonight for installment #2 as Daniel Lee teaches on "Ethics." Future installments include:
- [Aug. 17] Session 3: The Moral/Sexual Revolution - Pastor Jon Anzardo
- [Aug. 31] Session 4: Religious Liberty - Dr. Paul Mueller
Here's a link to session #1 audio.
This marks the first interview we’ve ever done through GraceNotes and the first interview segment of our “Faith that Works” series.
Meet Christina Munoz, wife of Ronnie Munoz, mother of 2 beautiful children, and attorney at law.
Being a new parent myself, I originally wanted to interview her to gain some perspective on how God works through her at her firm, but also how she balances everything as a working mother. I came away extremely encouraged and blessed by how disciplined and how focused she is on her responsibilities and her faith!
Without further ado, here is our first “Faith that Works” interview with Christina Munoz.
Interviewer: Edward Yip
Over the last two weeks we have been considering how we are to understand both God's sovereignty and our suffering. While we merely broached the topic, we trust and pray that your hearts have been encouraged with the God who "works all things for good." If you haven't yet had the chance or wanted to listen again you can find the two sermons here and here.
Also listed below are practical ways that we can serve one another in seasons of suffering. This is a very practical list of things to do (and not to do) while walking with one another. The list may look familiar to those who have taken our CLC class on Biblical Counseling led by Pastor Rob. We pray that it will be a useful resource as we walk with each other in seasons of rejoicing and weeping.
As we press on to the goal, let us keep our eye on Christ the "author and perfecter of our faith" knowing that God uses even suffering for His glory and our good.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Speaking into Suffering
By Robert Freire
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… (Ephesians 4:15)
Before we speak, we need the right goals.
- to be an agent of sight
- to be an agent of repentance (change)
- to be an agent of encouragement and comfort
There is no formula for speaking truth in love.
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
- The diversity of needs requires a diversity of approaches.
- Notice that patience is the one constant in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
- Speaking truth in love includes speaking in the midst of trouble—suffering and sin.
Speaking into suffering
1. Express compassion verbally.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
2. Remember and follow-up.
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)
3. Look to God’s word for comfort.
- Christ’s presence with us in our suffering. (Psalm 23)
- Future peace and the resurrection. (Revelation 7:17)
- The temporary nature of suffering. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
- The honesty of the Psalmist as he pleads, complains, and cries out to God. (Psalm 13)
- God’s willingness to listen to his children. (Psalm 34:17-19)
- God’s love. (Remind your friend, “Christ loves you.”)
- What else would you list?
4. Be sure that you yourself are finding comfort in God’s word.
- Seek comfort in God’s word before you direct others to do the same.
- Minister out of how God has been ministering to you.
5. Ask what you can do to help.
- Better to ask, “How can I help you?” than to say, “Let me know if you need anything.”
- Follow up and ask again after they’ve had a chance to think about it.
- Think of ways to provide unsolicited, practical help (e.g., groceries, childcare, outing).
6. Remind the person of your love for them.
7. What are some “don’ts”?
- Don’t say, “It could be worse.”
- Don’t “match stories” or be quick to say, “I understand” or “I can totally relate.”
- Don’t demand that your suffering friend “feel” a particular way right now (e.g., stop fearing, stop grieving, stop being discouraged). Rather, point them to truth from
- Scripture that will provide comfort and will, by God’s grace, help them to feel differently.
- Don’t rush to find meaning in the suffering or to discern what God is teaching through the trouble.
Some Miscellaneous Notes:
- The time may very well come to help our friends discern what God is teaching through their suffering, or to find comfort in passages like Romans 5:3. But I suggest not trying to do this in the immediate aftermath of loss or in the initial stages of a helping relationship. Don’t rush. Don’t circumvent compassion. Don't treat suffering like a riddle to be solved. The Holy Spirit may very well use you to help your friend see the good in their suffering, but don’t rush to that. Ask the Lord for help to speak appropriate words in season.
- Next week, when we consider how to speak about sin, we’ll see how the gospel comforts us (with indicatives) but also calls us to repentance and acts of obedience (with imperatives). We’ll give more attention to the role of those imperatives (commands) as we think about how to address sin in others’ lives.
- All of this requires humility. It requires us to see ourselves (like our friends) as weak and in need of patience and grace. It requires us to acknowledge the difficulty of living in a fallen world. God is the one who rescues his people from suffering. He’s the one who helps the Psalmist who cries out, “How long, oh Lord?” We need to humbly ask him to use us as instruments.
- God treats us with gentleness in our suffering. Let’s seek to do the same for our friends. Remember that we want to “love with an agenda,” and our agenda should be the good of our friends — their sanctification. That is, after all, God’s agenda. But let’s prayerfully keep in step with the Spirit so that we can be useful instruments to that end. We will no doubt fail, and when we do, let’s confess that and seek forgiveness. What an encouragement it is to know that even as we seek to help our suffering friends, God is at work sanctifying us, too!
- How have people ministered to you in your suffering? What helped? What didn’t?
- How has God’s word comforted you lately? What is it about Christ or about the gospel that God has used to bring encouragement and peace to you recently?
- Think about the person you are seeking to help. Is he or she suffering? How? How can you help him/her find comfort in God’s word?
- Are there simple, practical ways you can help him/her?
- Given the busyness of life, what measures can you take to help you remember your friend and follow up with him/her?