LWAYG: Living in Costly Grace

My son, Matthew, is two years old and he absolutely hates everything about broccoli.  A few nights ago my wife, Tracy, and I were giving him dinner and she decided to try to slip a tiny bit of broccoli into his pasta dinner to give him some extra nutrition.  Guess what happened… yeah, he spit it out in a heartbeat since he tasted the faintest hint of broccoli.  I was at a loss, but my ingenious wife grabbed some goldfish crackers (Matt’s absolute favorite!  He’ll do anything for a goldfish!).  When we put a scoop of pasta with broccoli on the fork and topped it off with a goldfish cracker he’d actually eat it!  His love for the goldfish completely outweighed his hatred for broccoli.

I know this is a bit of a stretch of an analogy, but I learned something from that.  I was reminded of Christ’s call for me to forsake sin and resist temptation (eating some broccoli) because the joy and rewards of faith in Him (getting a goldfish) are so much greater than what we give up.

Matthew 13:44-50
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

In Church, and especially in evangelistic situations, we talk about salvation and faith like it’s easy and doesn’t cost you much.  I remember being in college really wrestling with some tough questions about my faith when I came upon Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship.  To this day, the first chapter of that book is still the most life-forming thing I’ve ever read outside of the Bible.  It’s not a light and easy read, but it’s 100% worth the work!

Bonhoeffer writes:

“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son… and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.”

Think about that!  How often do we want the treasures of Christ without having to sell everything we have to get them?  How often do we want the freedom and forgiveness of Christ without actually needing to obey Him?  We want a cheap grace – grace that gives us treasures for free and that makes no demands on our lives.  That’s simply not a picture of what biblical grace is.

The grace of Christ, as Bonhoeffer wrote, is costly… but it is completely grace because the rewards are eternal riches.  Again, remember the first example Christ gave in the passage above: The Kingdom of Heaven is like finding a treasure and selling all you have in order to buy the field where that treasure is hidden.  You don’t steal the treasure, because then you’d be a thief.  You sell all you have, even though outsiders don’t understand why you’re doing it and may mock you and call you foolish.  But you know something they don’t know.  You know that by selling everything, you’re really gaining a treasure they don’t understand.  And that makes all the difference!

Final warning: Don’t be this guy (from Mark 10:17-22)

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

What is Cellular Purity?

Below is a great video on the connection between cell phones and pornography, this is a “must watch” for every parent and youth worker!

For more posts on Sexual Purity and Moral Boundaries check these links out:

  • Previous post I’ve written entitled “Struggling against porn
  • Pornography Harms” is the name of a new site devoted to helpful, informative, credible information regarding the harmfulness of pornography.  Great site!
  • Link for Teens: Teens Against Porn – this is a GREAT site that deals with the allure and the effects of pornography while giving you encouragement that you’re not alone and that through Christ you can overcome this temptation!
  • Link for Parents: The Porn Talk – don’t know how to talk to your son or daughter about sex and pornography?  Check this site out for some ideas and resources.

What Truly Matters Most?

I’m a pastor, but I’m also a shotput and discus coach for one of the local Track & Field teams.  I get irritated when my throwers skip practice and don’t take their commitment to the team seriously, but I get sincerely concerned as a pastor when my students are
“missing” from church and youth group too!

Many youth pastors live in a love/hate relationship with high school sports.  The reality is that sports demands so much commitment that there’s often little or no time left for church commitments.  When there’s a conflict between going on a retreat with youth group or missing a baseball game, guess which commitment typically “wins?”  I’m caught in the middle, as a youth pastor and as a coach.

I’m not going to give all the thoughts on this subject I have, because that wouldn’t be productive, but I will ask this:

What truly matters most?

I love sports, if I didn’t I wouldn’t coach.  But I love Jesus Christ more.  When I was in high school I played Football, and threw in Winter Track and Spring Track.  I have great memories of those teams and am so very thankful for those experiences!  However, my memories and experiences at church and with youth group were absolutely life changing.

Most Christian parents say their number one hope for their son/daughter is that he/she would worship and follow Jesus Christ daily.  Yet, there’s also the hope and expectation to do chores around the house, finish homework and study, and participate in sports or band or drama or any other extra-curricula activity… oh yeah, and go to Youth Group too.

Why is it that the “activity” (Youth Group) which is intended to help students know Christ and live in Him is often at the bottom of the “commitment ladder?”  Play football, soccer, throw the shotput, be involved in the drama production, etc. – but make sure you keep your eyes focused on what truly matters most – your relationship with Jesus Christ.

It might take some creativity and work to figure out how you can honor your commitment to your coach while staying connected to your church’s youth ministry, but it’s worth the work!  When you’re a little older and everything in life seems to be falling apart, the “glory days” of high school won’t help you… but a strong and healthy relationship with the King of All will.

Honor commitments, but don’t neglect what’s most important.

Religiosity Among Youth and Young Adults

Here are a bunch of links related to the religious lives of “Millenials” (people born after 1980).  As a youth pastor who was born in 1980, I’m really interested in these types of articles and studies:

Hope this is as interesting and enlightening to you as it is to me.  Let me know your thoughts below.

How the Internet Changes our Relationship with God

It’s no secret that the internet, and especially social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook, has changed the way that people relate to each other.  But how does has it changed our most important relationship: the one we have with God.

I wish I had time to really flesh this out, but I just don’t.  Instead I just want to take a few minutes to “brain dump” some of my thoughts about this.  If I get enough comments below then maybe I’ll put more time into this topic again some other time.

It’s so easy to write things to people and about people over the internet.  Example: I was just talking to some youth pastor friends of mine today about cyberbullying over Facebook and how easy it is for people to write comments about someone on Facebook that they wouldn’t dare say in person, because they know how rude it is.  The internet has a way of making us feel “faceless” and anonymous, even though what I write can be tracked back to me and I need to take responsibility for what I’ve written.

I think that as we grow more and more comfortable relating to other people “anonymously” through the internet we also grow more and more comfortable treating God the same way.  We’re “friends” with people on Facebook; we’re “friends” with God because we acknowledge his existence and go to church every once in a while.  We write posts on people’s walls; we shoot up prayers to God.

But what about actually calling people up and spending time with them?  How many people over the internet would you actually call up to ask for advice or to share some new heartache?  Instead, you just post it up to Facebook for the world to see and to comment on without any of the “messyness” real relationships.

It is absolutely impossible to create intimacy with someone over the internet.  I know, I know… “But I’ve formed some really good friendships because of the internet.”  Yes, that’s true – but if you haven’t heard the person’s voice, if you haven’t seen his/her tears or excitement IN PERSON, then you don’t really have true intimacy.  Remember: Intimacy =“Intimacy is the joy of knowing someone fully and being known by that person with no fear of rejection” (Andy Stanley, The Seven Checkpoints.  Howard Books, 2001. p.81).

I find the internet very helpful in initiating communication with some people that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate to.  But when communication over the internet becomes my “default” there’s a dead end in that friendship.

Final thought for now:
Unless we work to maintain person-to-person friendships, endure awkward silences with others, don’t know what to say when the other person says something really difficult, and go out of our way to realize that real friendships aren’t always “convenient” like internet friendship… then I’m convinced we will grow to treat God the same way: like He’s “convenient” and impersonal and doesn’t require much from us.

The Gospel Declaration

Converge WorldWide (formerly the Baptist General Conference) has recently issued “The Gospel Declaration: A Call to Gospel-Informed Ministry.” My church, EBC, is a Converge affiliated church and I am very excited about this “Gospel Declaration.”

The declaration is only three pages long, and easily worth your time!  This took me about 15 minutes to read through and reflect on… surely you can spend that much time on it too.

Everything is written in plain English, so the document is very accessible, even if you have little or no experience reading theology.  I believe this could be very helpful and inspiring especially to teenagers and simple believers (I don’t mean that as a put down. I’m thinking of believers who do not consider themselves interested in theological and intellectual reading).

This Gospel Declaration is a wonderful reminder to me as a pastor about what my focus in ministry ought to be.  As the declaration states: “The message is not ‘try harder,’ ‘be moral,’ ‘become religious.’  The gospel is a news flash of what God has done in Christ.”  Amen!

Illuminate: How Long is Your Shadow?

This past weekend was “Deep Freeze 2010,” our youth group’s winter camp which is put on by Camp Berea.  This year’s theme was “Illuminate.”

Duffy Robbins, our speaker, emphasized 1 John 1:5-7, “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Another translation says “In God there is no darkness whatsoever.”  I like that… God is pure light, no darkness at all.  Duffy used the illustration that if you’re standing directly under a strong light you have no shadow, but the farther from the light source you walk the longer your shadow goes.

If God is that light, how long is your shadow?  Or are you so far from Him that you don’t even have a shadow because you’re walking in the darkness?  Do you feel trapped by your shadow, feeling like God wouldn’t want you back?

The Good News is that Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to “purify you from all unrighteousness.”  What that means is that through faith in Jesus Christ all your sin is wiped away, so that when God sees you he sees a holy saint.  Jesus Christ says this, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Finally, notice that 1 John 1:7 says not only are we “purified from all sin,”  but also “…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  We cannot stay strong in our faith alone.  We were created to draw strength from God and from other people.  Christianity is not a solo religion, it’s a communal faith – don’t be a stranger to the Church.

Will you come to the light of Jesus Christ?

Listening to the Spirit

It seems that listening to the Holy Spirit has been a theme that has come up more and more in my personal time in Scripture lately.  Here are a few verses God has used to be speaking to me lately as well as a song that struck a chord in me this morning.  Enjoy:

  • “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD I will seek.” (Psalm 27:9)
  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” (Ps. 32:8-9)
  • “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Ps. 51:11-12)

One thought seems to keep coming to mind, based off of Ps. 32:9 – “Don’t mule kick God’s will.”  I don’t want to be like a horse or mule, forced to do God’s will.  I want to have a submissive spirit that joyfully obeys whatever God asks me.  Yet, when I’m really honest, my heart resembles a stubborn mule more than the submissive spirit I desire.  Holy Spirit, keep on working in me so that you can work through me.

“Holy Spirit Have Your Way” by Leeland

Social Networking Statistics…

Average Time Spent on Social Network Sites in December, by Country*

1. Australia 6 hours, 52 minutes

2. U.S. 6 hours, 9 minutes

3. United Kingdom 6 hours, 8 minutes

4. Italy 6 hours

5. Spain 5 hours, 31 minutes

6. Brazil 4 hours, 33 minutes

7. Germany 4 hours, 12 minutes

8. France 4 hours, 5 minutes

9. Switzerland 3 hours, 55 minutes

10. Japan 2 hours, 50 minutes

*Countries with the highest social networking activity

Source: The Nielsen Company

Loving the Unlovable

That’s what Jesus Christ did: he loved the unlovable, and he calls his disciples to do likewise.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  (Matthew 22:39)

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  (Luke 6:27–29)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34–35)

A few weeks ago Pastor John emphasized in his sermon the true nature of Christian love: that it loves the unlovable.  I haven’t been able to get that out of my head.

Jesus set the example by dying on the cross for my sin when I was so totally unworthy and undeserving.  Honestly, it’s still really difficult to remember God’s grace has covered over my sin – especially when I see all my failures and wrestling against what God wants from me (and FOR me, too).  But God’s grace is sufficient for me.  I know I’m not worthy of God’s love, and I never will be.  Thanks be to God that His love is not like a reimbursement check for godliness we’ve acquired.  It’s a gift – freely given…

… but as a gift that’s freely given to us, it also demands that we pass it along.

God loved me when I was unlovable (and I still am most of the time!).  Am I loving the unlovable, passing along that grace?