Category Archives: grace teaching

Lent: What it really says about our understanding of the Cross.

Outside of the Vatican or maybe Boston, you’d be hard pressed to find a city with stronger Catholic roots than my hometown of South Bend, Indiana.  As such, about this time every year, I usually receive a lot of questions about the observance of Lent and whether believers should participate in the practice.

Before I share my thoughts on the subject, for those who didn’t grow up in a tradition that celebrated Lent, allow me to first present an explanation of the observance.  Wikipedia states the following about the season:

Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw themselves near to God.

Simply put, Lent is a yearly time of self-denial and penance in honor of the suffering of Christ.

In more extreme cultures observations of Lent take on more dangerous forms, such as self-mutilation, self-crucifixion, and other radical methods of religious self-denial and penance.  In fact, in the Philippines, despite strong warnings against such practices by the Catholic Church, flagellants put on a religious performance – a real-life passion play – complete with costumes, microphones, and an actual crucifixion! Since crucifixion offers a slow and agonizing death, the majority of time the actors have time to be taken down and treated by medical professionals at the end of the performance before it’s too late; though there have been some who weren’t so lucky.

Hopefully we can all agree that such extreme acts are unnecessary, unbiblical, and ludicrous, but what about the typical and lesser forms of penance or self-denial observed throughout the Lenten season?  Are these practices still necessary or appropriate for the believer?

To address this fully, we must first seek to understand what was really accomplished at the cross of Christ.  Isaiah 53:4-6 tells us:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah reveals that Christ was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  This means that through his death, he paid the price for our sin – once and for all time!  So the question remains, if my sin was placed on Jesus, then what sin is left in me to atone for?  In fact, Hebrews 10:2 challenges our understanding of penance even further by asking, “For if it were otherwise, would not these sacrifices have stopped being offered?  For the worshippers, having once [for all time] been cleansed, would no longer have a consciousness of sin.”  The writer proposes that if Jesus accomplished what he set out to do on the cross, then no other sacrifice or offering would be required in order to cleanse the worshipper and remove even the consciousness of sin in the heart of the believer.

Of course, that’s the point – through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. he accomplished exactly what he set out to do, which was to remove sin and make righteous all who put faith in him!  As such, true repentance is not found in abstaining from pleasures or denying oneself, rather true repentance is about recognizing who we are in Christ and celebrating the liberation that the cross provides!

Paul challenged the church in Galatia for their failure to hold true to this simple Gospel message:

“But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  You are observing specials days and months and seasons and years!” (Galatians 4:9-10)

Despite the Galatian church having initially received the grace of God, Paul was apparently afraid that they were falling back into legalism – attempting to earn God’s love through their religious piety, instead of relying on God’s grace.  Though some simply see Lent as an opportunity to practice spiritual discipline, many continue to treat it as a means of earning God’s love and atoning for their sins.

Are the issues with Lent isolated to the Catholic Church?

Though Lent is more commonly thought of as a Catholic practice, dozens of evangelical denominations practice it as well.  For me, I personally grew up as an evangelical, yet I used to fast one day a week, not just during Lent, but throughout the entire year.  Back then my weekly abstinence from food was unfortunately misguided, as I hoped that by fasting I would appease God’s anger toward my continued failure or obtain a standard of holiness I felt was expected of me.  What I came to later realize, well-intentioned though my efforts were, I was really trying to rely on my own form of righteous to attain God’s standard of holiness, instead of relying on Christ for my righteousness.

Does this mean that Lent is bad?

Of course Lent isn’t bad, but I do think that man’s attachment to the practice shows how little we understand what happened at the cross.  The overwhelming teaching of the New Testament is that through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, man is made righteous, free from sin, and united with the Father.  The focus of Lent, as described above however, is to offer penance for one’s sins and to make atonement through self-denial.  Yet, the gospel reveals that no amount of penance can ever come close to making up for one’s sin.

With this in mind, elevating Jesus through our lives, not self-denial, is the greatest ‘thank you’ that we can offer God for all that he has done in our lives.  Although fasting and self-denial may have their place in the life of the believer, they are never to be used as a means of earning God’s love, making up for past wrongs, or atoning for one’s sin.  To attempt to do so, is simply an insult to the Cross.

So this Lenten season, go ahead, set aside time to pray, read the Bible, or even fast.  Just don’t think that by denying yourself you are adding something to the cross in order to atone for your sins.  The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus suffered for our sins, so that we don’t have to.  I call this the Great Exchange – his righteousness for my sin, and my sin for his righteousness.  This is the message of Easter and it deserves to be remember, not just for forty days, but for all eternity!

Did you enjoy what you read?  If so, make sure and order a copy of Lucas’ new book, Good God: The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace.  Additionally, Lucas is giving away a free missing chapter of his book, available at Chapter X: The Story of Authority. 

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March 20, 2017 · 9:33 pm

Why America is in love with the doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.

In my book, Good God:  The One We Want To Believe In But Are Afraid To Embrace, I tackle one of the most widely held false notions about God – his sovereignty.

For some time the church has held to this idea that God is divinely controlling all things – the bad and the good – and that our lives are the result of his choice, will, and dominion.  Although this might sound spiritual, it’s actually a form of Gnostic teaching and rooted in pagan mythology.  The Gnostics believed that “god” was both light and dark; that is that he embodied both good and evil.  In fact, they taught that the father was “dark” and the son was “light” and that the son came to save us from the father.  This is why John writes in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”  This would have been revolutionary to the Gnostic people.  John proclaimed that the God of the true gospel is all light and that there is no darkness – no confusion, nothing hidden, no ill intention.  From his biblical understanding, in Christianity, we understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all one in the same – God in three persons.  Gnosticism taught their separate identities, much like the various deities that dwelt together on the Greek’s Mt Olympus.

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Today, this Gnostic teaching, has resurfaced in Western theology through the doctrine of extreme sovereignty.  I believe one of the reasons why sovereignty teaching (and hyper-Calvinism) is so attractive is because of its removal of personal responsibility on the life of the believer.  As Christians, many are frustrated today by the continual devaluation of personal responsibility in our society.  According to today’s world, crime is due to guns and not criminals, sexual perversion is due to nature and not sin, the list goes on and on.  So removed is the idea of personal responsibility that in several countries in Europe pedophiles actually received disability benefits.   But it’s important that we see that this loss of personal responsibility does not exist only in the world today – it’s also in the church.  Through the doctrine of sovereignty, adherents distance themselves from the power of their own decisions and behavior, by claiming things like God “has them in this season”, “is leading them through a desert time”, or “trying to teach them something”.  Cloaked in spiritual language, religious minded individuals unable to come to grip with their own depravity, cling to the idea that God is in control of the outcome of their lives, and hide from the reality that, outside of the impact of others’ freewill and the result of a fallen world, their lives are the summation of the choices they make.

This is the exact same belief system that Job was rebuked for in the last chapter of the book of Job.  Job, a man who faced massive amounts of suffering and loss, mistakenly thought that God was the source of his pain.  Job, overconfident in his own righteousness, was unable to see how his fear and pride (two of the biggest themes in the book of Job) affected his life.  He was also completely unaware of the existence of Satan.  Job saw all things (light and dark/good and evil) as existing in the Godhead and would rather blame God than himself, nature, or the enemy.  But in the end of the book, upon finally seeing God face-to-face, Job saw the error of his ways, repents and says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’  My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

In reality, God’s goodness is displayed in the freedom to choose that he bestows upon his children.  Personal responsibility should actually empower us, not condemn us.  When we realize that God is not the cause of our pain, it frees us to draw near to him, rely on his grace, and seek his guidance in our life.  If the problems of life are God’s will for us, what hope do we have?  But if God is really “for me”, then I can stand firm, resist the enemy’s advances, and walk in victory.  This doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, but if and when they do, I can rest in the knowledge that God is not the source of my pain.

Theology is simple, “If it’s good, it’s God. If it’s not, it’s not.”

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The Final Secret: Part 5

2 Corinthians 6:2

For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[a]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

The key to this is just putting Him first.

We talk about the timing of God. You’ve heard it before.

“In God’s time…”

“In the Lord’s timing…”

Basically, it’s a way of people saying they really don’t believe in you, but if God wants it to happen he’ll surprise me. That’s the undertone. That’s the condescending, “In God’s timing.”

In reality, God is a present God. His timing is now. Today is the day of salvation.

I believe heaven is actually – fully – a present environment. Meaning you are fully in the now.

We talk about it, but seldom do we grasp that God wants us to experience everything he has for us right now.  That’s not how we think. We talk about it, but what we’re actually saying are words from a heart filled with doubt.

I ask people what they want to do and some want to be surgeons, musicians, to teach children life skills…yet, they’re doing something entirely different. So then I ask, “What are you doing today to work that out?”

“How are you putting God first to see it come to fruition?”

But, we compartmentalize our will and God’s will because we think they’re two different things. We think “I want to do this, but if I seek God’s will – his will for my life is going to suck.” So, we wait to do God’s stuff because we think it’s going to suck. But, the Bible says today is the day of salvation.

And, you know what? I realized this: God made you. And God made all the desires of your heart. And when you walk in them he fulfills them.

God’s not going to take you to a place that’s miserable. That’s not spirituality. I’ve met a lot of Christians who think being miserable is spirituality. But my guess is they’re not actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

The church I grew up in allowed me to become more involved the older I got. I helped out, led studies, and took offering, helped with communion. One day I asked one of the ladies how long she had been helping set up for communion. She told me she had been doing it for 18 years. I asked her what she liked about it and she shocked me with her reply. “Nothing.” Because she had to get up early to set up and she was miserable. And some would say she was doing God’s will when in fact she was just going through religious calisthenics. She thought she needed to be a slave for Jesus. There’s no reason to return to bondage. He has set you free.

When you are doing what God wants for your life it should produce love. And love should produce an individual expression of how youy can use your time and talent and energy for God. It’s going to be something you love.

God’s timing is not about all the spiritual stuff. God’s timing is now. The question is – do we have the intention to actually do it some day? Because a lot of dreams and callings we have – we want God’s blessings and his wisdom. So, why aren’t we doing it today?

We should want to do his will today and walk it out.  In finances, relationships, health…

When we submit our intentions to his way of thinking the result is action. The result is blessing. The result is – we experience just what we desire.

Some people say, “I can’t wait to be a millionaire because I want to give so much money away.”

My question is, “How much are you giving away now? A dollar? Five?” The amount doesn’t matter. What matters is the intention of the heart. And if you’re not generous now – you won’t be generous then. If you are not generous with your time now – you won’t be generous with your time then – when you’re financially free.

If you’re living for yourself now – you’re going to live for yourself later.

The question is – today is the day of salvation. God wants to invade your way of thinking and transform your attitude. And guess what – it’s IN you.

That grace, that seed – it’s been planted. You don’t have to dig it up. It’s there. It’s growing and it might take longer than you thought, but His grace is growing in you.

If you continue to put him first – not out of performance, but out of understanding that his way is the way to a blessed future – to our preferred reality…His path is the path to that if you understand that you will experience the life of your dreams.

Sure, there’s an enemy and he wants to choke you out. But greater is the One in you. And we don’t have to be afraid.

1 Timothy 1:7

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 

God’s wisdom is really simple.

Seek Him.

Seek what he has to say.

Remember when I started this series – I asked you to close your eyes and ask yourself what your life would look like if it was working? Once again I want to ask you to close your eyes. And this time I want you to ask yourself what your life would look like if you put God first. It should look better than the first time you pictured it. Because, now you have the secret. And the secret is simply this: Put God first. 

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The Final Secret: Part 4

2 Corinthians 3:6

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

I’m a recovering legalist. There was a time in my life when my relationship with God was based on how well I did and how well I performed. But, that’s not the Gospel.

The verse from Ephesians reminds us that the law brings death. It’s taken me a long time to realize that. If something isn’t working in my life there’s a simple reason. I’m not talking about those things that take time. There’s seed time and harvest. Sometimes we have to plant seeds and wait for them to germinate. We have to wait for them to develop and we seek a harvest on that.

I’m talking about things that are flat out not working and you know they’re not working. Whether it’s a relationship, how you’re connected to people, how you talk to people; maybe your financial goals and you realize – this just isn’t working. Weight loss, parenting, a dream… If something isn’t working in my life I’ve found that I’m not operating in grace in that area. Because – GRACE WORKS.

Grace works every single time. It gives life. It increases, it prospers, and it grows. Grace works. There’s life in it. It’s that life giving seed planted in the ground and you know what it will do.

For about three years my wife Krissy and I planted a garden. Before I go any further – you know we’ve all had our dumb moments. We’ve all done stupid things. This was one of those things for me. No joke, the first year I planted the seeds – I’m looking at the back of the package and it says the corn will grow in 6-10 days. Day 6, day 7…I was getting irritated because there was nothing there.

So, I’m serious – I actually went to the garden and dug up the corn to see if the seeds had germinated. And I immediately remembered Jesus’ parable in which He says no one plants a field and then digs it up to see if it’s growing. And I was like, well, this kid does!

And as silly as all that sounds – we do it all the time. We say, “God, you said this was what I was supposed to do. Is it working? Why isn’t it working yet?” And we push and prod and pull.

Bottom line – grace works. And it develops in our lives and we cannot stop that.

What doesn’t work is legalism and law and performance. When we have that kind of thinking and are consistently falling apart in our finances – then there’s legalism. It’s an attitude of lack and performance in our finances that is preventing that area from growing and developing.

Believe that God wants you to prosper and that it happens when we put him first and we worry about him and we let him worry about us. That’s the starting point. We have to start there – in parenting, health – we have to look in the mirror and ask, “Lord, am I doing this through grace?”

There are still those areas in my life as a grace pastor that I’m still open to that I haven’t yet been able to identify. Areas that God is going to show me and he’s going to eradicate those blind spots and I’m going to be able to walk in grace in those areas. And that’s humility that allows us to ask for help.

God uses others to speak to us when we can’t see it ourselves. He uses others to share these areas – but I have a rule. I do not let someone who doesn’t understand the Gospel of grace to speak into my life on heart issues, heart level – grace oriented stuff. Other areas – tech stuff, construction – sure. But, not heart matters because it’s the heart of the Gospel of Grace.

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The Sign of the Rainbow: Grace and the Homosexual Community

I regularly receive questions regarding issues of what I call “practical” grace.  Lately some of the most common questions have dealt with grace and homosexuality.  Many pastors have chosen to shy away from answering similar questions, due to the immense controversy, but I personally believe that as this issue continues to gain increased attention both socially and politically, it is likewise important that churches and individual believers know how to respond to such questions.  More specifically, I believe that it’s important to know what the Bible teaches regarding faith and sexual orientation/sexual identity, no matter how controversial the answers may be.

Additionally, I think this topic is important to address, because many homosexuals are in fact seeking a relationship with God, but have been isolated and segregated in the past, or simply made to feel this way, from the church due to hate speech, bigotry, and religious thinking.  My hope is that by addressing properly and clearly what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, sin, and most of all God’s grace, that the church might once again be restored as a place of refuge and healing for all who are seeking a Savior.

With that being said, I would like to acknowledge from the start that issues of gender, sexuality, and identity are quite complex and usually trigger strong emotions on either side of the debate.  In no way, especially in so few words, am I able to adequately answer all questions related to sexual orientation, but hopefully the below questions and answers will serve to give initial insight into what we teach and also provide much needed biblical perspective to readers wanting to understand a gospel oriented view of grace and homosexuality, etc.  I trust not all will agree with my responses, but I very much hope that all will at least see this as a positive step in furthering the discussion.

Q: Are homosexuals welcome at your church?

Assuming they aren’t coming for nefarious reasons, absolutely everyone is welcome at any one of our Oasis’ churches.  At Oasis, we aren’t focused on sin management or trying to uncover everyone’s deep, dark secrets, rather we focus on love and identity in Christ.  People are very safe at Oasis to engage, learn, grow, and ask questions relevant to their lives.  Our assumption is that every single person who attends one of our churches has “issues” to some degree; shortcomings, secret sins, or character flaws.  It isn’t that we look at these struggles as if they don’t matter or aren’t important to God.  Our character matters deeply to God, because it affects the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us.  The difference though at Oasis is not in what we believe about sin or character, but rather in what we believe about God’s grace.  Titus 2:12 says that grace “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”.  At Oasis, we understand that the secret to life transformation and healing is experiencing God’s love and grace, and doesn’t come through finger pointing, fault finding, or condemning words – what unfortunately many people are used to finding at church.  Grace doesn’t mean that we approve of homosexuality, but simply that we believe that every person, regardless of their behavior, has value and worth.  Sometimes people hearing this will ask, “So you believe in going easy on sin?”  My response is always the same, “No, I just believe God went hard on Jesus.”  Make no doubt about it, sin can kill you, but Jesus is greater than our sin.  The Bible teaches that Jesus became sin at the cross and received in himself the full payment and penalty for our sin through his death on the cross (Isaiah 53:11, 54:9-10).  This is what we call the “Great Exchange”; that he took our sin and exchanged it for his righteousness.  As a result, we now have peace with God and walk in his grace.  In this way, we extend this grace to others, regardless of their struggles, because we trust God’s grace to lead people into truth and godliness.

Bottom line, if someone is coming to Oasis to hear the message and to explore their faith – that person is always welcome.  If someone else, gay or not, is coming simply to cause problems, that’s a different story and a person like this, assuming they refused to stop whatever issue they were causing, would be asked to leave until their attitude or agenda changes.

Q:  Nature versus Nurture?  How does grace respond to this debate?

First off, the homosexual agenda needs for the answer to this question to be nature.  If the answer is nurture, then homosexuality becomes a result of abuse, pain, and distorted emotions and thus something that can and should be healed.  The temptation here is to make homosexuality about this debate, but it isn’t.  Personally, I do believe that the primary cause of homosexuality is nurture, or lack thereof, (i.e. abuse, emasculation, bullying, etc.) but because of how pervasive I believe sin to be, I have no issue conceding perhaps some causality to nature, with the understanding that science is finding, and I believe the Bible confirms this, that our genes pass down programming and emotions on levels that we are just beginning to realize.  (Please note – this is NOT generational curse teaching, which is unscriptural, and something altogether different.)  So, if the answer is nurture, then certainly there is restoration and freedom in Christ.  But if the answer is nature or both nature and nurture, what should this matter?  If Lady Gaga is right, and we were all “born this way”, this still should not be an obstacle, for in Christ we can all be born again into newness of life.  Our nature, that was once dead to God, can be made alive to God and filled with the fruit of righteousness (i.e. God’s kind of life – life as it should be).

As the church, we need to be aware that to many in the homosexual community, talk like this simply sounds like Christians are trying to change people.  In order to be truly effective in reaching people with the gospel, especially reaching a group like homosexuals that have been subjected to decades of hate speech by the religious, we need to demonstrate and carefully clarify that our intentions in preaching the message go far beyond trying to make converts, and that our main goal is to see people renewed, restored, and full of the life of God.  Grace and sincerity, not debate, are perhaps the greatest tools that we possess in reaching this community.

Q:  Is homosexuality worse than other sins?

The short answer here is, yes and no.  From God’s vantage point, sin is sin.  People mistakenly think that the Bible teaches in James 2:10 that all sins are equal, and although this is true in some ways, this is only part of the picture. What it actually states is that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  This doesn’t mean that all sin is equal exactly, but that to commit one sin is to be found guilty of all sin.  Obviously, without Christ, the consequencesof this are dreadful.  So in this sense,to commit any sin, makes even a heterosexual man guilty of homosexuality.  Because of this, homosexuality is no worse than any other sin.  This should hopefully wake up some of the legalists out there who see homosexuality as the worst sin imaginable, since in the absence of Christ, they themselves, according to the law, are guilty of the same offense.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to think that horizontally, that is on earth, all sins are equal or that the consequences are the same.  The consequences of lying are typically less than the consequences of sexual sin, but likewise, the ramifications of murder far outweigh those of both deceit and any sexual sin.  In this way, homosexuality does have detrimental effects to one’s emotions, sense of self-worth, and at times, health.

All considering, I think it’s important that we keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to manage sin, rather to lead people into true,unhindered relationship with God.  Sin management is shortsighted and stems from a performance driven view of sin that does little to actually restore and heal those who are hurting.  To truly restore people, at a heart level, regardless of the sin, we must focus on identity in Christ, grace as God’s power for change, and most importantly the love of God.

Q:  If all sins are equal, and we all sin, should homosexuality disqualify you for ministry?

In regards to homosexuality disqualifying a person for ministry, part of the problem here is that the question is flawed.  The question begins by isolating homosexuality as a special class of sin, and thus makes it nearly impossible to answer the question in such a way that doesn’t trap Christians into saying that homosexuality is worse than all other sins. With this in mind, the better question is, does sin disqualify a person for ministry?

To answer that, let me remind us that in the New Covenant we understand that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the entire world and removed the dividing wall of hostility between God and man.   As a result, when approaching God, sin is no longer our problem.  With this in mind, we see that it isn’t sin that disqualifies a person for ministry; rather it is his belief about his sin that does.  If sin disqualified us for ministry or Christian service, then we would all be disqualified, for all have sinned.  To make sense of this, let’s look at 1 John 1:8-10 where it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  This means that a man or woman who has homosexual thoughts or feelings, but acknowledges these tendencies as sin or desires of the flesh, chooses to honor the word of God and takes responsibility for their own heart.   This person, with time and grace, will find freedom and wholeness and I believe the church should model God’s grace towards them, by embracing them, as they would any other brother.  On the contrary, to deny homosexuality (or gluttony for that matter) as sin and to embrace it as part of one’s nature is rebellion and as John states, “makes him (God) out to be a liar.”  In this case, it is a man’s belief about his sin that disqualifies him, not sin itself.  Referring back to the previous passage, John illustrates this in verse 8, where he states, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

On the other hand, in verses 9 and 10, John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all righteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”  The Greek word used here for “confess” literally means “to say the same thing”.  Commonly, people think of the word confession as having to do with rehashing all of your secret sins to a priest or even to God, but biblical confession really has little to do with this. Biblical confession actually entails agreeing with God about our sin; saying the same thing about it that he does.  Yes, we do this when we acknowledge that our sins are in fact truly sins, but we only fulfill the true definition of confession when we agree with God that our sin has also been covered by God’s grace and is no longer counted against us.  One who either fails to acknowledge sin as sin or fails to confess their sin as forgiven in Christ, both fail to “say the same thing” as God and really have no business ministering to others, when they themselves are still not walking in God’s grace.

So to the person struggling with sin, but who desires to live for God, I would say:  Simply agree with God that your sin was covered and paid for on the cross and receive his grace in your life.  Jesus is your qualification, both now and forever.

Q:  If you could share one thing with the Homosexual or LGBT community, what would it be?

To those in the homosexual and LGBT communities, I want you to know that at Oasis, our message is simple – God loves you and he’s better than we think he is.  I also want you to know that God’s not mad at you, but crazy about you.  In the book of Genesis, God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow in the sky, as a testimony of his promise and faithfulness towards all of creation.  Isaiah, the prophet, takes this a step further in Isaiah 54:9-10, where God says, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.  Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”  In all of this hopefully it’s clear, God wants a relationship with you – with all of us.  He wants to fulfill your hopes and your dreams.  He wants to give you wisdom, truth, and his abundant grace.  He wants to show you the real you.  Not the person you see when you look in the mirror, but the real you; the deep reality and beauty that is in your spirit, beyond the sum of your sexuality and your outward behavior – the person you’ve been searching for all these years.  He wants to show you who you were created to be.  God is extending to you the greatest offer that there ever could be – to be made truly alive.  But understand this, he won’t force himself on you, he won’t make you receive him.  That is your choice – you must invite him into your life.

Let me close by leaving you with the words of John in John 3:16-21:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

If you are interested in ordering more life giving resources from the Oasis Network For Churches or to receive additional information about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ, please visit www.oasnet.org or call 574.247.9800.

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Flying Cockroaches

Who would have thought that you could learn something from a cockroach?

We arrived in Mexico last night after a long day of travel. Overall the trip was smooth, other than the usual Chicago traffic and a lost bag upon arrival; nothing we can’t do without for a day or two.

Our hosts were waiting for us at the airport, helped us load our baggage into their pickup truck, and drove us to their beautiful home in Madeiro, Mexico. After some wonderful refreshments and some even better conversation, we made our way to our rooms for the night.

But shortly after Krissy and I got settled in, we realized we weren’t alone. La cucarachas, aka a giant flying cockroach, had invaded our space uninvited. Now before I start, let me just say that I’ve traveled the world, I’ve seen big bugs before, handled wild snakes, but there is just something about a lightning fast cockroach that still makes my skin crawl. But tonight my fear would have to wait, because I’m a man, and duty called and my wife wasn’t going to be able to sleep until that nasty bug was dead, right? So to battle I went, moving furniture, throwing shoes, checking under rugs, and even swatting my arms a few times; I mean I tore that place apart, but you know what, no matter how hard I tried, I was just no match for that flying beast, that is,…until I finally turned on the light. Man, with just one flicker of incandescent glory that bug ran for the hills never to be scene again. Who would have thought that it was that easy?

That reminded me of something. Problems are a lot like cockroaches, they surprise us, scare us, and despite our best efforts often times leave us feeling defeated and uneasy, that is, until we flip on the light.

Psalm 18.28 says, “You light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.”. See problems, just like that pesky cockroach, have a way of fleeing at the first glimmer of God’s light. God’s light, his truth and opinion, lights up our darkness and causes our problems to flee.

I don’t know what you’re dealing with today, but keep this in mind, darkness doesn’t like light and can’t ever overcome it. Walk in God’s light today and begin to see your circumstances change.

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Introducing…..Living Grace!

I am very excited to introduce to you the brand new book, Living Grace, by New Nature Publications.  This book is a joint project put together by New Nature and 13 like minded authors, including, yours truly!  My chapter is titled, Unstoppable Grace, and parallel’s the lives of Jonah and Saul/Paul while looking at grace as a modern reformation/movement.  I really believe in the revelation that I shared in this book and I would highly recommend it for anyone who is part of the “Gospel Revolution”.

Here is a list of the authors and chapter titles:

Chapter   1 – Union by Benjamin Dunn.

Chapter   2 – Totally Forgiven, Totally United, Totally Filled by Ryan Rufus.

Chapter   3 – Guilt Free Living by Arther Meintjes.

Chapter   4 – The Grace Hating Spirit by RobRufus.

Chapter   5 – Grace and Leadership by Fini deGersigny.

Chapter   6 – Ministering in the Glory by Joshua Mills.

Chapter   7 – Dealing with the Demonic by Cornel Marais.

Chapter   8 – Grace and Finances by Andrew Wommack.

Chapter   9 – The Place of Grace in Balanced Preaching by Chad Mansbridge.

Chapter 10 – A Case for Divine Complacency by John Crowder.

Chapter 11 – The New Covenant in a Nutshell by Paul Hernandez.

Chapter 12 – New Covenant Motivation by Wayne Duncan.

Chapter 13 – Unstoppable Grace by Lucas Miles.

If you would like to order a copy, here is the link!  I would love to hear your thoughts.

http://www.oasnet.org/resources-store.cfm#ecwid:category=1466683&mode=product&product=10445086

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Church Planting 101: Recruiting a Team

Jesus makes recruiting a team look so easy, doesn’t he?  “Hey rugged fishermen over there!  Drop what you’re doing and come follow me,” he shouts.  And the amazing thing is that they follow.  For most planters I talk to, they seem to have difficulty recreating the same results.  The fact of the matter is that oftentimes recruiting a team, whether it be searching for initial staff members or courting prospective launch team members, can be extremely challenging.  But does it have to be, is the real question?

Before we look a bit closer at Christ’s recruitment model, let’s first identify the hindrances that seem to prevent greater recruitment success.  Church planters – here are the top 5 excuses we use when struggling to recruit the all-star team that we so desperately desire and need.

Top 5 Favorite Church Planter Excuses for Failing to Recruit Others (or the right people).

1.)     “I don’t know anybody.” – This is initially understandable since in many situations church planters relocate to launch their plant and obviously it takes time to meet new people.  With that being said, if you plan on pastoring a successful church – you’re going to have to meet new people – and a LOT of ‘em!  Focus on “watering holes”, you know like on those animal documentaries on the Discovery channel where all the animals come to together and intermingle around the pool of water.  What are the watering holes in your community?  If you live in suburban America, I’d suggest starting with the local Starbucks, Guitar Center, gym or YMCA, or a large bookstore like Barnes and Noble.  But remember, proximity to people probably isn’t enough…you’re going to have to actually say, “Hi”.

2.)    “I lack the finances to be able to hire the right team.” – Man, could I ever tell you about this one.  I hid behind statements like this for years.  Now I’ve realized, when it comes to recruiting the right people, money is nearly irrelevant.  If you believe in your vision, then so will others.  If you don’t, people will recognize that, and they’ll hesitate getting behind you.  We planted our church about 7 years ago and we continue to run with an extremely high percentage of volunteers on our team.  They aren’t doing it out of obligation or for the money, but because they love Jesus and they want to see the mission of our church accomplished.  Some church planters I meet are afraid to ask people to serve or come on staff without pay – let me remind you that unless you’re part of a large planting organization, my guess is that you have or are currently working and serving the ministry with little to no pay.  What made you do it?  Why do you think others won’t?

3.)    “No one I try to recruit is better at the task that I am, so it’s just easier to do it myself.”   Whoa there Lone Ranger!  This kind of attitude is certain to solidify the fact that your ministry will never be bigger than yourself.  I remind my teams and planters regularly, “The person who thinks that in order to get something done right you have to do it yourself, usually has to.”  In the beginning, this might be true, but long-term thinking dictates that we become master delegators.  When someone takes over a new task, understand that quality could decrease, but with the right leadership and training, you should expect this person to outperform you in the near future.  Delegating is a scary thing, but arrogance and shortsightedness are far worst.

4.)    “I don’t have the time to train people.”  A close cousin of #3, this excuse underestimates the value of duplication.  If Jesus did anything, he duplicated.  He went from 1, to 3, to 12, to 72, to 120, to 3,000, to the world.  In fact, the majority of what we read about Jesus doing in scripture was focused on training his disciples.  The reality is that you don’t have the time to NOT train people.  The best way to do this is to build regular training sessions throughout the month.  Do you have a weekly staff meeting?  Consider making the first 15 minutes a brief staff training or perhaps working in a longer training time into your next staff retreat.

5.)     “I’ve tried recruiting people, but no one wants to help.”  Asking someone to help or get involved is different than recruitment.  Asking someone to help all too often comes across as desperate and needy.  Recruitment is based not on need, but vision.  A good recruiter seeks to understand the person in front of them, discover their passions, creatively find meaningful opportunities for their involvement, and most importantly shows the value of the position or ministry.  Bottom line, the church is about building people and not people building the church.  Master this, and you’ll never lack people to help.

Understanding Jesus’ Approach to Team Buiding

In Luke 5:1-11, we read about Jesus calling his first disciples.  As the story goes, Jesus began teaching by the shore, and as the people began to crowd him, he eventually asked Simon to allow him to preach from his boat so more could see and hear him.  After he had finished teaching, Jesus blessed the fisherman by directing them to let down their nets for a catch.  They did so and as the scripture tells us they caught so many fish that they had to signal their partners to come help them bring in the fish and even then, both boats were “so full that they began to sink.”  At this, the fisherman was amazed and fell before Jesus.  He then said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  And the men left everything and followed him.

Here are the principles I see Jesus utilize.

1.)    Start Small – Jesus didn’t show up and just tell them to leave everything and follow him.  He first simply asked if he could use their boats as a stage.  Obviously, if they would have said no, this would have told Jesus something about them, but they didn’t so he continued pursuing them.  So what does this look like practically?  For me, most of the time I purposely don’t wear a watch, just so I have an excuse to talk to someone sitting next to me to inquire the time.  It might not seem like much, but I’ve had some pretty incredible conversations come from the simple request, “Could you tell me the time?”  Is one of your neighbors on your heart, ask to borrow one of their tools (and then make sure and return it.)  Is this person already part of your ministry, ask to serve for an hour without asking for any commitment beyond that.  How did they do?  Did they show up on time?  Did they serve with joy?  Did they complete the task with excellence?  The answers to these questions should tell you something and direct you with how to proceed.

2.)    Equip Them – Before Jesus ever asked for a commitment from his soon to be disciples, he first taught them the Word.  For me, in our ministry, we place a very high priority on understanding the gospel through the Word of God, so it’s important that before I ask for huge commitments that I know that the people I’m asking have been impacted by the Word in their life – that they have experienced grace first hand.  If prospective team members seem unaffected by the Word – I’d suggest looking for someone else.  When first meeting someone, it might not always be realistic to squeeze in an hour message, but you don’t have to.  I like to hand out books and teaching CD’s.  Do the people respond?  Do they ask questions?  Were they impacted?

3.)    Seek to Fulfill Their Dreams – Again, before Jesus ever asked for a commitment, he first filled their boat with more fish than they could count.  He showed that he wasn’t just interested in using them to fulfill his dreams, but that he was interested in fulfilling their dreams.  In his book, Leadership That Builds People, Dr. James B. Richards says this about the typical model of recruitment, “What is the first thing we say when someone comes into our church?  “Come on; catch the vision; become a part of it.”  That denies servanthood.  Our introductory statement says, “Give up your dreams; give up what you want to do and help me do what I want to do.”  Jesus model wasn’t about service, but wholeness.  A true leader says, “Come follow me and I’ll see that your dreams are fulfilled along the way.”  Get to know your people – what do they really want in life?  What are their goals?  How can these goals intersection with your ministry?  How can you use your organization to further their dreams?

In conclusion, my biggest encouragement regarding recruiting would be to envision yourself in a world of more than enough; more than enough people, more than enough resources.  When it comes down to it, essentially all of the excuses above come from a perspective of lack – from a place of questioning God’s provision and call for me.  Be encouraged.  God wants your church to succeed.  In fact, I would venture to say that (assuming you are preaching the gospel) that he wants your church to succeed even more than you do, because ultimately and in actuality – it’s His church.  So go out there and build that team.  You got this, not because you’re an awesome church planter (though I’m certain that you are), but because you have an awesome God.

For more information about planting a church or for other ministry resources, please visit www.oasnet.org

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Making Sense of Marriage and Divorce

Let me start by stating that in writing this I am not trying to create a law for our church, and neither am I trying to state an opposing argument to the teachings of others on the subject.  Instead, I’m responding to a need.  Divorce is epidemic.  I’ve heard statistics of anywhere between 35 to 50% of marriages end in divorce (though the exact figure is actually harder to calculate than one might think.)  In addition, this article is not intended to bring condemnation on you, regardless of your past decisions or the situation with which you are currently in.  Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:17 that “each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him.”  This means that you shouldn’t abandon your marriage or change your status simply because of new information.  Instead, keep seeking the Lord and make the best of your situation.  The grace of God is sufficient for your circumstance.  With that being said, my audience is specifically Christians considering divorce, Christians who have gone through a divorce in the past, and believers that are considering entering into a relationship with another believer who was divorced in the past.  I want to encourage you to read and stay with the article all the way through, I truly believe that the Word is good news for the hurting.

 TO THE DIVORCED AND THOSE CONSIDERING DIVORCE     

In Malachi 2:16, God clearly says, “I hate divorce.”  I think this is important to point out right from the beginning.  God is not for divorce.  It isn’t the best option.  If you are considering divorce, I believe that you should do whatever you can to reconcile your marriage.  Most at this point say, “I’ve tried that and it didn’t work!”  Perhaps you won’t like what I have to say next.  There are circumstances where scripture permits divorce, which we’ll discuss shortly, but never does scripture permit divorce for the following reasons.  

1.)                Because you aren’t happy.  It isn’t the job of your spouse to make you happy.  Happiness is a choice; even in prison, Paul was able to operate in the joy of the Lord.  Seek out pastoral help to gain insight and principles in order to positively affect your marriage and restore joy in your relationship.

2.)                Because you fell in love with someone else.  According to scripture, this is called adultery and it’s one of the greatest enemies to marriage.  Every single one of us has to confront evil desires that try to draw us away from our mate.  James admonishes us to “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7) Proverbs 27:20 states, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man.”  If you just allow yourself to follow every single feeling or attraction that you have, you’ll always be blown around like the wind.  If you leave this relationship, because you “fell out of love”, you’ll leave the next one the same way.  Love is a choice and marriage is a commitment to choose to love your spouse, even when it’s hard.

3.)                Because it’s challenging or difficult.  People seem to have this misconception that the problems in their marriage are the result of being with the wrong person.  This isn’t the case, regardless of God’s will, that person became the right person the moment you said, “I do”.  Our difficulties stem from our self centeredness.  Proverbs 13:10 in the KJV states that “only by pride cometh contention.”  This means that pride is the cause of the contention and strife in your relationship.  This shouldn’t condemn you; instead this understanding should encourage you and equip you with the power that you need to end strive forever in your marriage.  Get it at the root, partner with your spouse to end self centeredness in both of you.  (If this does offend you, it is probably a good indication of where the source of the pride is coming from.)

4.)                When your spouse wants to stay married to you.  This is assuming that your spouse isn’t or wasn’t unfaithful and that they aren’t potentially harmful to you physically.  1 Corinthians 7:12-13 says, “If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”  If your mate, even if they aren’t a believer, is willing to work with you and live with you, you shouldn’t leave them or divorce them.  Obviously there are cases when the situation is unsafe due to substance abuse or violent abusive tendencies.  In these situations, it might be necessary to separate for the sake of safety, but still I believe God’s best would be to pursue your mate’s emotional well-being and to seek reconciliation and healing.  Divorce in these situations should be an absolute last resort.

             Under the Old Covenant, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4, the law gives instructions on divorce and remarriage.  It says, “If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.”  Jesus added to this in Matthew 19:8, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.  But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 

            Jesus’ teaching was so strong on this topic that it caused his disciples to say (in verse 10), “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Jesus’ disciples thought if the rules are this tough, it’s better to never get married!  Regarding this, John MacArthur states, “The rabbis had taken these laws and broadened them to permit divorce for virtually any reason.  Under the rabbinical laws, if a wife displeased her husband in any way, he was entitled to divorce her.  Jesus stated that this was never the purpose of Moses’ Law.  In fact, Jesus teaching on divorce was given specifically to refute the rabbinical loopholes.” 

            Jesus strategically used the law to expose the sinfulness of the self-righteous Jews of his day.  As Paul says, in 1st Timothy 1:8-9, “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels…”  Jesus took the Law to the extreme and used it to expose those that were trying to use the Mosaic Law to promote their own selfishness and agenda.  The teaching of Jesus stopped them in their tracks. 

            Paul later clarifies the doctrine of the church regarding marriage and divorce in 1St Corinthians 7:10, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  Some might be surprised to find that the commands for marriage and divorce are actually stricter under the New Covenant, but at the same time, grace abounds.  Paul essentially states that divorce isn’t permissible (except for marital unfaithfulness), but that if you DO get a divorce, you should remain unmarried.  In this passage, God speaks against divorce and then in the same breathe speaks love and hope for those that find themselves caught in the wake of it.  But it’s only when combined with 7:8-9 that we see the full picture of this grace.  The King James Version puts it this way, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn.” 

            Paul says that if you’re unmarried or a widow, that it’s best to remain that way, but if you cannot, it is much better to marry than to be bogged down by feelings of lust, loneliness, and dissatisfaction.  The word for “unmarried” in the Greek, means simply that – unmarried.  It’s different than the word for a virgin, and doesn’t seem to take into account the person’s history or past.  Essentially, Paul is stating that regardless of your past, it is better to marry, than burn with lust and passion. 

            It is so hard to make blanket statements about this though, because situations do vary considerably.  Even in writing this, I’m well aware that someone might try to twist certain liberties or permissions to their favor to do what they want to do.  At the end of the day, I can’t be responsible for that.  My intention is to speak to those that are trying to do the right thing, to follow God’s word, and to break free from the guilt and condemnation associated with their past.  If you are married and considering divorce, seek solid biblical counsel.  Remember, it took time and effort to create the hurts in your relationship and in the same way, it’ll take time and effort to bring healing and to regain intimacy.  Don’t give up early, don’t rush the process.  Give it time and healing will come.  God is faithful!

 DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE

            First off, if you haven’t yet, read the section above, as I believe it will give some biblical insight into the nature of divorce and God’s perspective on the issue.  Beyond this, it’s important to note that divorce typically (almost always) is the result of two people’s shortcomings and failings and not just one party.  At times, when one party has an affair or files for divorce first, they typically are seen as the “bad guy” (or girl).  But in divorce, everyone loses, and no one leaves unscathed.  And really no one really knows what goes on inside of a relationship between two people and we need to be careful of making quick judgment calls as to fault, etc.  As the saying goes, it does take two to tango.  Often times one’s behavior is simply a response to the others behavior.  You treated me like this, therefore, I’ll do this, and so on it goes.  As marriage counselor Emerson Eggerich calls it, they enter the “crazy cycle”, spiraling downward until someone eventually can’t take it anymore and the relationship is inevitably dissolved. 

            We need to be honest with ourselves and with those that you are in relationship.  If you’re divorced, it’s okay to take ownership of your short comings and your mistakes in the relationships.  You’re human – and we all make mistakes.  Some mistakes have greater impact and consequences in our lives, but as Romans tells us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  Take ownership and learn from the mistakes of your past.  In fact, simply blaming the entirety of your divorce on your ex, does little to help your new husband or wife.  They would be much better off knowing realistically what caused the problems in the relationship.  If they really love you, they’ll want to understand and work with you through these struggles or past tendencies.  Except in extreme cases, there are most likely things that both parties could have done differently to salvage the relationship.  The exception would be in extremely abusive relationships, either physically or emotionally, where one party is being victimized.  As tragic as these situations are, many of them (note not all) could have been avoided all together, by not rushing into a relationship without taking time to really know the other person and their past.  In no way though does this excuse the abusive person from their behavior, but should serve as a warning as to the danger of rushing into relationships or just naively assuming that “once we get married they’ll change”.  In entering marriage, you should assume that the person will never change and in fact, their problems are likely to get worse.  After all, while dating we are on our best behavior. 

            Often times, I’m asked if as a Christian, it’s okay to marry someone who has been divorced, (Earlier I dealt with if it’s okay as a divorce Christian to get remarried which in some ways is the same answer.)  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:10 (NIV), “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled from her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For obvious reasons this teaching isn’t very popular. 

            Paul starts off in this passage and tells the church, as a charge from God, that husband and wives should not separate from each other.  This is God’s best.  Marriage is supposed to be a picture of God’s love towards us.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, many have ignored this charge or been unable to live under it.  But Paul (and the Lord) anticipates this, and states, “But if she does”.  And then he goes on to give instruction that if someone does divorce, that she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  I personally think that it’s important to point out that these instructions were given to Christians within the church.  Personally, I believe that if divorce or remarriage happened prior to a person coming to Christ, then Paul’s instruction aren’t applicable.  It is also important to note that Paul was not writing to the person whose spouse divorced them, but rather to the Christian person who filed for divorce and decided to leave.  If they are leaving for reasons other than physical abuse or marital unfaithfulness, then they should remain unmarried.  Marriage should be treated with the highest level of respect and not abandoned lightly.  This charge should make someone considering leaving their marriage for superficial reasons think twice and should be a motivation to try to make it work.  Unfortunately, many ignore this and leave anyway.            

            Throughout scripture, marriage is used as the closet analogy of Christ’s relationship with the church.  Scripture tells us that even when we are unfaithful, that He will remain faithful to us.  We would do well to learn from Christ as to how to love our spouse and have a successful marriage.

 God’s Grace in Marriage and Divorce

             Some of you might ask, so where is God’s grace in all of this?  Obviously, as with anything, it is ever present and is sufficient towards us in all ways!  First off, if this is the first time you’ve heard any of this teaching or you’ve recently became a Christian, or you’ve been divorced before and are now remarried, engaged to be married, or are wanting to get remarried someday, I don’t believe Paul’s words are meant to condemn you or to restrict you from enjoying your life as a Christian.  Beyond all of this, the Bible teaches that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Are you divorced and later became remarried?  Stay as you are, there is grace for you.  Did your spouse divorce you?  You are free to remarry.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:15, “A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstance.”  As a Christian, did you divorce your spouse for reasons other than abuse or their unfaithfulness?  Repent and realize your mistake, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  The best case scenario would be to restore your failed marriage (assuming they haven’t yet remarried).  If you divorced your spouse prior to becoming a Christian, you are not bound to your previous life, God’s grace is sufficient for you.  You are free to marry.  Are you considering marrying someone who is divorced?  If, as a Christian, they divorced their spouse for reasons other than what scripture provides, how do you know that they will not do the same to you?  This is not a situation to enter into lightly.  Seek the Lord for wisdom in what you should do.  As I think about this, really the only person who might be offended by this teaching is the believer who is currently thinking of divorcing their spouse for ungodly reasons.  And for that, should you not be offended?  If that is you, repent, change your heart and seek counsel on how to restore your marriage.  But if you do get divorced, I tell you the same as Paul states, you are not to get remarried; for you are making that choice now with full knowledge and with rebellion towards the truth.  As James reminds us in 4:6, “But he gives us more grace.  That is why scripture says:  “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

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A Clanging Bell: A Response to the Book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell

                I don’t like controversy.  I know that because of the radical grace message I teach, sometimes I do find myself in the middle of it, but honestly I really don’t like it.  You can imagine then how I felt when several people asked me if I would be willing to read Rob Bell’s controversial new book, Love Wins, and share my thoughts with them about it.  At first, I didn’t even want to touch it.  But after hearing the constant clanging of Bell by his critics and witnessing the tremendous impact and reach that this book has already achieved among his fans, I decided to take the plunge and grab a copy myself.  What follows is my response to the book, Love Wins. 

                To start with, let me dismiss from the beginning any claims that Bell is a Universalist.  This label has been thrown at him considerably by critics of the book, but I would have to assume that these are the same critics who still haven’t read it.  If Bell believes what he wrote, he is clearly not a Universalist.  A Universalist believes that all religions are essentially the same and that all paths lead to God.  This concept is not something that Bell promotes in the book at all.  In his defense, he clearly establishes that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.  Now, one may disagree with his liberal definitions of accepting Christ, but regardless, to brand Bell as a Universalist seems a bit harsh to me. 

                With that being said, the next question is whether Bell believes in Ultimate Reconciliation.  Let me begin that discussion by stating that essentially everyone who preaches grace will at some point be accused of teaching Ultimate Reconciliation.  Ultimate Reconciliation states that because of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, all men are saved.  Period.  Proponents of this belief fail to acknowledge any difference between Christ being the propitiation for the sins of the world and the idea of justification by grace through faith.  Simply put, the teaching of Ultimate Reconciliation believes in salvation by grace alone and would consider faith a work.  This leads Ultimate Reconcilists to falsely conclude that all men are saved and will inherit eternal life – apart from faith.  Extreme adherents to this teaching even go as far as to proclaim that Satan himself will be saved and reconciled back to God. 

               

So does Bell believe in Ultimate Reconciliation?  Many have assumed based upon the title of the book that he does, but I think it’s more complicated than that.  In Love Wins, Bell almost introduces a new argument, which is neither Universalism nor Ultimate Reconciliation.  In the book, Bell introduces an idea, which I will call, an “open heaven” theology where Bell paints a picture of a heaven, much like Motel 6, that proclaims, “We’ll leave the light on for you.”  His heaven is always open, always ready to receive those that might find their way home.  Clearly stated, one might wander around hell for awhile, and then decide to choose Christ after years of torment, and like the prodigal, return home.  With that being said, his perspective also implies an open hell, where one can come and go as he pleases – it’s his choice.

                I agree this picture is quite beautiful and enticing, but is it biblical?  Bell enthusiastically touts in the Book, that he will show us “every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual word hell.”  Though a far cry from a concordance listing, Bell does do a fair job summarizing the references of the word “hell” in scripture.  He also goes a step further and discusses several biblical words/passages that describe punishment and judgment, presenting alternate understandings of these words/passages which further strengthen his argument.  What Bell seemed to shy away from though was the book of Revelation.  In my reading, I wasn’t able to find a single explanation in Love Wins for passages such as, Revelation 20:14-15, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  This seems fairly straight forward to me.  Some fail to receive their inheritance in Christ.  For this we should all weep.  So how does Bell handle the finality of hell in such passages?  I don’t know, because he didn’t address it.  The closest he comes to it is on pages 91 and 92, where he shows differing uses for the Greek words “aion of kolazo” and the Hebrew word, “Olam”; both phrases which carry the implication of “forever” or “eternal punishment”.  From there, Bell closes the chapter by proposing that perhaps hell is only a period of time for some people.  That maybe forever according to Jesus, doesn’t really mean forever.

                So what do I think about all of this?  To start with, I think that the book is reactive theology.  Love Wins seems to be Bell’s response to countless personal experiences and frustrations with how salvation has been presented, how heaven has been talked about, and how hell has been thrown in people’s faces.   And I agree.  Religion has gotten it wrong.  The “turn or burn” theology of some has caused countless people to never want a thing to do with Jesus.  As Paul wrote, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”  To continue, Bell also shows his frustration towards Christians who seem to get excited that people are going to hell and I would again concur with his frustration.  This is not the time to cheer the destruction of the wicked, but rather it is time to proclaim the love of our God -as Paul also stated that “God’s kindness leads you toward repentance.”  And in 1 Timothy 2:4, Paul also reveals to us that God “wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”  This should be our mantra, not the ignorant shouts of “turn or burn”.  Bell is right on in addressing this. 

                Partially, I think the controversy of the book, is more about Bell’s presentation as a critic and a teacher than his theology as a pastor, though it might be correct to call both into question.  As a critic, Bell is a deconstructionist.  As a teacher, he is a whimsical romantic.  As a critic, he takes a wrecking ball to every belief with the assumption that what is true will be left standing.  As a teacher, he is a painter, filling our thoughts with his warm brush strokes and vibrant colors, allowing his audience to interpret what they see for themselves.  This style satisfies some and infuriates others, and it is quite possible that both groups misunderstood what Bell was saying. 

                From a theological standpoint, my biggest concern is what we are leading people to believe.  I’m personally not worried about Bell.  I think overall he is fairly grounded.  My concern is for those who read the book and come away with the conclusion that there is no hell.  This belief stems from the continued erosion of personal responsibility.  The thought is that God’s love is greater than my lack of faith or belief in him.  And in time, his love will win me over.  Again this sounds good and seems to jive with 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful”, but it fails to not only consider personal responsibility, that is that the gospel is “by grace through faith”, but also fails to understand the true nature of love.  “Through faith” means that I have a choice in the matter; that my belief or acceptance of God’s love is what determines whether or not I will receive my inheritance.  Salvation is for all, but not all are saved.  This is the reality of the gospel.

                Regarding love, I would like to point out that love, by nature gives freedom.  The love of the Ultimate Reconcilist is a love that gives no choice.  It’s forceful; domineering.  True love always gives a choice; always allows one to say no.  The doctrine of inclusion gives no choice – you’re coming to heaven whether you like it or not.  This love is little different than a man who drugs a woman in order to take her home with him.  It’s a distortion of love, not the real thing.  And if this is God’s kind of love, then why hasn’t love won over this world.  Why are we still fighting wars?  Why are babies still dying?  God’s love always generously gives us the freedom to choose, even if at times the choice we make is wrong. 

                In conclusion, let me say that I agree with Bell that “the good news is better than that”.  Isaiah 54:9-10 says, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.  So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.”  And in Hebrews 8:12 we are told that God “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  The New Covenant is the best news that most of the world has never heard.  There is peace with God.  There is forgiveness of sins.  There is life abundant.  There is eternal life.   There is no more condemnation.  There is love and it certainly does win.  And this love is so great and so good, that it respects us enough to give us a choice.  My prayer for you is that this love might win in your life. 

To listen to podcasts from Lucas Miles, visit www.oasnet.org

For more on The Error of Ultimate Reconciliation, make sure and check out this discussion between Dr Jim Richards and Allen Speegle at http://impact.rbm.tv/ .

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