Atheists Made Alive By Grace – Two Stories of Salvation

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On Sunday I had the honor of baptizing Alvin Cao and Lucy Yin. Both these new believers grew up as atheists in China, but God has graciously made them His children through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

 

Alvin Testimony

By God’s grace, Alvin and Kelton have not only become good friends, but brothers in Christ.

Alvin Cao

“I grew up in China, where religion is a really sensitive thing. Before knowing the Gospel, my life was full of materialism, atheism and natural science.

Things began to change when I read a book non-religous book called Hyperspace. Through that book, I found our universe to be so incredibly perfect, with physical rules that cooperated together, it became hard for me to believe all of this is generated by chance. At that time, I thought there must be someone who designed all of these.

When I first came to America, I got a pick-up service for a Chinese bible class. When I went to the class and heard the Gospel, I found it to be very interesting. Then the class found me an English Partner whose name is Kelton. During this time I also attended an English conversation class at George Washington University, and I met a man named Michael Reeb there.

With their help, I realized the designer of the universe is the God of the Bible. I was also helped to understand the good news about Jesus by Garrett’s preaching and conversations with Stephen Yin. Two months later, I thought it was a time to start a new relationship with God. By God’s grace, I realized I deserve nothing because of my sin, but by faith in Christ, I could be forgiven of those sins.

Today, I stand here and I want to announce to the world that I am a Christian and I want to follow God and love him until the end of the age.”

Steven and Lucy

Steven and Lucy attended the same elementary school in China, but then moved away at different times to the United States. In God’s amazing providence, He saved them both, and then reunited them to become husband and wife.

Lucy Yin

“Hello everyone, my name is Lucy. I am Chinese and grew up in a small city near the capital. In China, the education told me there is definitely no God in the world.

However, my mother is a Buddhist and she always took me to temples when I was a kid. But I really didn’t like it because it was noisy and smoky.

Things began to change after I attended university in Tianjin, a big city near the capital. There was a catholic church near my university. It was so beautiful, that’s why I decided to walked-in and take a seat. At that time I knew nothing about God and the Bible, but I enjoyed the environment a lot. After several times visiting, an old lady there gave me my very first Bible. I began to study it myself until I met another Christian lady who brought me to their home church.

In the second term of my sophomore year, I suffered a hard time because I needed to go abroad to America and finish my studies there. I had to leave my homeland, my family, and my friends. People in the home church encouraged me a lot and taught me more about the Bible and Gospel. So I got baptized, but I didn’t really understand those things, and I just tried to find something that could calm me down and get me through the hard time. And I ignored them after arriving in America.

Then, during the winter break of my senior year in Miami I had done all my graduate school applications and everything went well, but I had difficulty with a class. Everything seemed ruined at that time. Then the dean of our school, who is also a Christian, not only helped me pass the class, but also helped me understand Gospel better.

At that time I suddenly realized I used to only treat God as someone who could help me with difficulty, but He is definitely more than that. From there I knew God was blessing me and was very patient trying to save me. At that time, I began to face my sin and understand the Gospel about our merciful and almighty God who sent His only son Jesus into the world to pay our sin and fix the relationship between us and the Lord.

After several times moving, I came to DC and met my husband Stephen (read his testimony), who is also a member of Del Ray. I’m so glad I can get a chance to know God and learn Gospel. He helps me get through so many hard times and give me a great life that I could never imagine. He prepared a great husband and marriage for me, and also brought me to this wonderful Christian church.

The marriage and many friends here have increased my faith a lot and showed me the importance to be involved in a church family. Now I stand before you as a broken, repentant sinner, saved only by the amazing grace of my perfect Father who will never leave me or forsake me. Today, I’d like to be baptized again as a truly believer and a public display of what God has done in my life!”

 

Praise God with me for the way He took Alvin and Lucy from the darkness of doubting His existence to the light of delighting in Him for eternity.  Pray for them to have grace to persevere in faith and for God to use them to proclaim the Gospel to many of their friends who are yet to believe. 

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When Grace and Evil Collide – A Reflection on Charleston

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On Wednesday, June 17, 2015 we witnessed something remarkable.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed a young white man to sit in their pews and pray with them.

Dylann Roof certainly wasn’t the first white person to visit this historically black church, but their well-documented history reminds us why an unwelcoming spirit might have been a reasonable response when he walked through their doors.

Every Reason Not To Love

Emanuel was born out of a group of freed slaves who began worshipping together in 1791 while many of their wives and children remained the “property” of free white owners.

One hundred and forty members from this church were arrested and whipped by white authorities in 1818.

After a planned revolt by some of the slaves in 1822, white people publicly hanged 37 black slaves, including Emanuel’s founder.

The congregation’s building, which was erected with their own hands, was burned by an angry white mob in that same year.

White people had outlawed its services and the church was forced to worship in secret beginning in 1834.

In 1868, one of their former pastors, Benjamin Randolph, was shot in broad daylight by three white men.

Their church is in a state that flies a Confederate flag and has roads named after white generals who fought to keep them from freely driving to church on those roads.

Over the years they worshipped in a city where whites told them to use “colored” toilets and eat at other tables because “your kind isn’t welcomed here.”

Those memories could have clouded the air when Dylann Roof walked through their storied doors.

But instead of cold shoulders, he was offered a warm seat on a pew to pray.

History would have screamed not to let him in that night. Don’t let him close. He doesn’t deserve your love. He’s only going to hurt you.

Evil In The Face Of Grace

During the hour they sat with their would be killer, the church members shared songs and prayers and words of welcome.

But then evil showed its fangs.

Murderous, racist, grace-hating evil made fresh blood flow from old wounds.

Grace had smiled and evil struck it down.

When their killer walked out their doors, Emanuel AME was left with nine new reasons to hate the people who have hurt them.

Nine more funerals.

Nine more empty seats at the dinner table.

Nine more names forever etched into this church’s grueling history.

Suzy Jackson.

Daniel Simmons.

Myra Thompson.

Cynthia Hurd.

De’Payne Doctor.

Sharonda Singleton.

Clementa Pinckney.

TyWanda Sanders.

Left behind are widows and orphans and weeping family members with new reasons to withhold grace.

But that is not what they have done.

Instead, they have once again extended grace in the face of evil.

Grace In The Face Of Evil

At Roof’s bond hearing family members showed Dylann the same grace he saw when he sat down to kill their loved ones.

From broken hearts they spoke words that have stunned many:

“I forgive you…you took something very precious away from me…I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…you hurt me and you hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.” – the daughter of Ethel Lee Nance

“I forgive you and our family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity and repent. Confess. And give your life to the One who matters most, Christ, so he can change it…He can change it.” – Anthony Thompson

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate…everyone’s plea for your soul…is proof that they lived in love and that their legacy will live in love…and so hate will not win…” – Alana Simmons (granddaughter of Daniel Simmons)

Those were not empty words from thoughtless lips.

The hymns they sang outside the courtroom afterwards were not the delirious songs of reeling family members.

What we witnessed is grace. The supernatural grace that flows from a spring that abides in the heart of God’s people.

The slain members of Emanuel AME welcomed Dylann Roof into their midst because Christ had first invited them (1 John 4:19-20).

They pressed past the temptation to say “your kind isn’t welcome here” and offered him a seat because Jesus had first given them a seat at His table.

And now, their family members have done the same. They have offered forgiveness because Christ has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32). 

Grace Wins

On Sunday, June 21, 2015 the wounded but resilient Emanuel AME church assembled once again. The pews were filled with members and visitors from every color. As they walked through those doors they carried the strange mix of being heavy yet hopeful; afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

The building that was filled with gun smoke on Wednesday was filled with joyful songs on Sunday.

The room that was stained with blood on Wednesday was saturated with praise on Sunday.

The place that was divided by hate on Wednesday was hand in hand in love on Sunday.

As they held each other up and sang hymns and proclaimed promises from God’s Word, the world witnessed the arresting reality that when evil and grace collide—grace wins. When hate strikes down love—it rises again. When Christians are separated from life through death—they are not separated from the love of God (Romans 8:28-39).

Why is this so? Because Emanuel’s strength finds its source in Jesus who was struck down by sinful hate, yet rose again to be the Savior and sustainer of God’s people (Psalm 54:4; Acts 2:22-24; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18).

What the world witnessed on Sunday was the resilience of a church who has not, will not, cannot, be killed.

Do they weep? Yes. Do they grieve? Yes. Will they ever be the same? No. But have they given up? No.

Why?

Because Emanuel AME has a Savior who lives forever to give them grace in the face of evil (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:24-25). Jesus has promised He would do this, and Jesus always keeps His promises.

The scene from that Sunday took my mind to a scene in the book of Revelation where we see people from every tribe tongue and nation, standing together to praise the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 7:9–17 “…I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!…they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Among those in that future heavenly scene are the members of Emanuel who have been beaten and mocked and lynched and gunned down, including the nine who fell on Wednesday. It is this heavenly picture that has sustained so many of God’s people over the years, and it is what sustains them even now.

Until Grace is All We Know

One day, grace is all we will know. There will be no more racism or evil or hate or murder or division. All those things will be cast in to the lake of fire with Satan and those who followed him. But that day is not yet.

Between now and then, we live here, in a world stained with sin. We walk through doors with stained histories of both evil and grace. Living in this tension is not easy for any of us, nor is it equal for all of us. Many in this life, including our black brothers and sisters from Emanuel and other communities like it, have unique challenges to face as they journey toward that heavenly day.

As a white man, I have so many questions for the people in Charleston. I want to know how the grace of God has sustained them for so long and through so much? I want to hear how are they helping each other avoid despair and revenge? I want to hear how they have leaned upon Jesus and how they have seen Him sustain them.

But I know I cannot just make it about what “I want” to hear. So I hope I can learn whatever it is my black brothers and sisters would want to share. I can’t do that in South Carolina, but I can strive to do that at home.

For people like me, it is easy to see events on the news, and become a spectator who says, “that man’s racist hate is so evil” and “their response is so gracious.”

But we can’t do that. Change in our church or our country or our hearts won’t happen by distant observing.

My prayer and cautious encouragement is for us to be intentional to lovingly and humbly learn from those God has placed around us. We grow when we follow the example of Christ and enter into each other’s worlds. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other.

Not all people will experience life in the same way, but Gospel-inspired conversations are the pathway to true change. Be slow to make assumptions about how others experience life, and even slower to assume no racism abides in your heart. I am still learning how to do this, and you can read about my journey here.

We can learn much about this by following the example we’ve seen from Emanuel AMC. The more we do what happened on Sunday, the more we’ll grow and avoid things like what happened on Wednesday. I don’t say that to be overly simplistic, but I do believe that racism dies when people come together at the feet of Jesus who died to “break down the dividing wall of hostility” that separates us (Ephesians 2:14).

I pray that we will follow the Christ-like path of grace. It is the way forward, because when grace and evil collide—grace wins.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

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How Christians Can Pray for Muslim Friends During Ramadan

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MALAYSIA-ISLAM-RAMADAN

As Muslims around the world observe Ramadan, Christians should cry out to the true God of heaven on their behalf.

Many of us have Muslim friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers we hope to see trust in Jesus. We know they consider Jesus a prophet, but we long to see them believe in Him as their Lord and Savior. As Ramadan approaches, we are provided with a fresh opportunity to pray for them and hopefully engage with them in spiritual conversation.

What is Ramadan?

On the evening of Thursday, June 18, 2015, billions of Muslims around the world will begin observing Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is considered the holiest month of the year for Muslims.

The observance of Ramadan is one of the 5 Pillars of the Islamic faith, which requires all Muslims who are physically able to fast each day of the month, from sunrise to sunset.

This time of fasting from food, drink, and other physical needs is intended to purify the soul, practice self-restraint, and refocus one’s devotion to their god, Allah. This is also a time when many Muslims increase their alms giving to the poor, which is another of the 5 Pillars of their faith.

The evenings are spent enjoying time with family and community meals, engaging in prayer and spiritual reflection, and reading from the Quran. The observance of Ramadan concludes, according to the western calendar, on the evening of Friday, July 17th.

How Can We Pray During Ramadan?

Father, we pray that as they set their hearts to worship their god Allah, that You might make them to “know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Help them see that Jesus is Your eternal Son through whom they can have eternal life.

Father, we pray that as their bodies hunger and their tongues thirst, that You would show them Jesus who promised “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Help them see the insufficiency of their works and lead them to hunger and thirst for the righteousness that only Jesus can give.

Father, we pray that as they practice self-restraint that You would show them Jesus who, before He was crucified for sinners, denied Himself and “prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39). Help them believe that He truly died on the cross and drank fully from the cup of Your wrath.

Father, we pray that as they give alms to the poor that You would show them Jesus who “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Help them see and treasure the eternal glory of Your Son Jesus.

Father, we pray that as they gather together to feast in the evening, that You would show them Jesus who invites sinners of all sorts to abandon their false gods and by faith join “those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 16:9). Show them the resurrected and ascended King of Glory who desires them to draw near to Him in faith.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church love for Muslims across the world. Make us like Jesus who “felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). Guard us from self-righteousness that would lead us to having hard hearts toward those who do not know You.

Father, we pray that you would give Your church opportunity and courage to proclaim the Gospel to Muslims throughout the world. Lift our eyes to Jesus who promised to empower us when He said “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Let us not fear any consequence of faithfully taking the Gospel to those who desperately need Your grace.

 

May this season of Ramadan be marked by the faithful intercession of God’s people who long to see many Muslims come to the saving knowledge of Jesus, the Son of God.

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How ISIS Helped Salmaa Become a Christian

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Egyptian Martyr

Due to the risk of her safety, Salmaa’s name has been changed and other identifying details have been left out. Her story, however, is true and wonderfully encouraging. Pray for many more like it.

 

Salmaa’s journey to knowing Jesus was spurred on by emptiness. She lacked peace and longed to know who God was and what purpose He might have for her life. She was raised in a Middle Eastern country where she and everyone around her believed that Allah was the one true god.

But as Salmaa read the Quran, she only found deeper emptiness as she was confronted with a god who was mean, unkind, and unpredictable. After much study, she closed the Quran. She was dissatisfied and left without answers, but the longing to be near to God remained.

By God’s grace and wonderful sovereignty, Salmaa was given a Bible and heard the good news about Jesus. She heard that He was not just a prophet, but was God in the flesh who mercifully died and rose to forgive anyone who would believe in Him.

As she read the Bible, she was drawn to the One who seemed to speak through its pages. As she read, she became convinced that the Bible was indeed the “word of Life” that pointed to the “Word of life.”

Seeking to know Him came with many obstacles and danger, but Salmaa continued to pursue Him. The longing to have peace, righteousness, and nearness to God could not be quenched. And in recent days, her longing to know Jesus has intensified by the most unlikely of circumstances.

As Salmaa watched the news and saw the murder of 21 Ethiopian Christians by the hands of ISIS, she was strangely drawn to the peace she found on the faces of the men who knelt in honor of Jesus.

How could they be at such peace with God?

How could they look so comforted in their final moments?

Salmaa knew there was a power in them that she did not understand, but knew it must have come from the God she had read of in the Bible—and she wanted to possess that same peace.

Days later, as the testimonies of the families of those martyred brothers emerged, she was once again left baffled. The families offered forgiveness for those whom murdered their sons, brothers, and fathers. One mother said she praised God that her son was in heaven now and that she would like to invite the ISIS soldiers into her home so she could tell them more about the Savior her son loved so much.

How could those family members forgive these murders of their sons and husbands and fathers?

This too, she knew, was not a response that could come from natural man, but from God.

She shared that ISIS thinks they are destroying and ending Christianity by killing Christians, but what they do not understand is that their evil acts are causing people to look not at them, but at these who are dying with the peace of Jesus. They are seeing faces of peace, comfort, and power and this is causing them to seek answers, and to come to know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Salmaa’s eyes are being opened by the graciousness and mercy of our Lord. And she is not the only one, this is the testimony of many Muslims whom God is drawing to see that Jesus is indeed more than a prophet.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a God who is able to take the most horrendous of evils and use them for His glory and the good of those He calls to Himself (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28; Colossians 2:13-15). 

Father, strengthen your church to suffer well and know Your peace as their blood is shed for the One who shed His blood for them (John 16:33). And we pray that you would open the eyes of many more Muslims like Salmaa. Show them that Jesus, Your Son, is the true God who can give them peace which Allah cannot (John 14:27), in the Name of Jesus—Amen. 

 

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His Way Was Through The Sea

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Red Sea Crossing

Psalm 77:19 “Your way was through the sea”

Very often the Lord’s way is not our way. His perfect path is not the same path we foresaw for ourselves. His way is higher and wiser and better.

After Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the Lord led His people toward the Promised Land. His pillar of cloud led them by day and His pillar of fire led them by night (Exodus 13:21). He was their guide and they made their steps with easy and comfort, because He was with them.

But then the Lord lovingly took His children on a detour to both test and teach them. He called them to camp on the beach in front of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:1-2). He ordained their curious campout because He knew that a hardened Pharaoh would see it as an opportunity to pounce on the people once again (Exodus 14:3). God called His people to camp there so that they would be pressed hard by uncertain circumstances.

What strange love this is, that God would put His people in a position of danger and distress—on purpose.

And as God predicted, Pharaoh rallied his army and pursued Israel as they camped in their most precarious position. As the chariot wheels bore down upon their resting place, their backs were pressed against the shore of the Red Sea.  What would God do? All they could imagine was that God had brought them out of Egypt to die on a barren beach like abandoned children (Exodus 14:10-12).

They had no way of escape; but the Lord had a way, He always does.

As Pharaoh and his blood-thristy army gained ground on Israel, “Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). Their campground of certain death was about to be transformed into a stage on which God would display His faithful love.

God had a plan to deliver His people.

What was His way? Psalm 77:19 “Your way was through the sea, Your path through the great waters.”

God’s way was the unforeseen way. It was the unimaginable path. They would not, in ten thousand years devised the plan God had known for all eternity. Moses could never have included the shortcut through the sea on the itinerary of the Canaan-bound children of God.

God’s way was through the sea.

God’s ways are not our ways. His ways are higher than ours. They are wiser than ours. They are better than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Remember this child of God, our Father often acts unconventionally. He regularly chooses the unseen path for His people to walk on. He always has a way to save His people, but very often it is through the sea. He will always provide, but it is often from sources they would not have suspected (1 Kings 17-7; Matthew 6:25-34).

God is faithful, but He is rarely predictable.

God is trustworthy, but He is marvelously creative in the way He cares for us. He seems to delight in bringing us home by the way of the sea so that once we have set our feet on the dry land of our destination we can say nothing except “God did this.” In the end, God ordains His way through the sea that “I will get glory” and so that all “shall know that I am the LORD” (Exodus 14:4).

What more clear example of this truth can we have than God’s provision of salvation through Christ. Who could have ever imagined that God would save rebels by becoming like them and dying for them and rising from the dead to provide salvation for them?

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Romans 11:33

I am not sure what provision or protection or direction you are seeking from God today, but rest in this truth: God’s way is very often through the sea.

He puts His children in precarious positions on purpose. He does not do this to destroy our faith, but to strengthen it. For once He has helped us to step across the threshold of our straining circumstances, we will see that God is the wise and trustworthy Savior of His people.

He ordains His way through the sea so that His children can forever look back on their lives and see that time and again His ways are good and His love is faithful.

Trust Him today child of God, wait upon His way—even if it is through the sea.

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Loving Christians Who Are Tough To Love

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“Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:21

After love for God, the most basic mark of the Christian is love for other Christians (Matthew 22:36-40). But love for our fellow blood-bought brothers and sisters isn’t always easy.

As a pastor friend of mine used to say:

To live above with saints we love; Ah that will be glory,

To live below with saints we know; Well, that’s another story.

Just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean they are easy to love. Sanctification is a slow process (sometimes really slow) that doesn’t transform our personality quirks, theological peculiarities, and sinful tendencies over night.

Love requires patience—and perspective.

Help from Heaven

Having an eye toward eternity helps our hearts to love even the most difficult of believers.

John Newton captures what I mean in a letter he wrote to another pastor who was about to write a letter to a fellow Christian he strongly disagreed with. Here’s a portion of his advice,

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him…you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.”

The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

Remembering Empowers Love

Let’s consider three reflections from this letter to help us love our “tough to love” brothers and sisters in Christ.

1. Remember how God has loved you.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

God serves fresh grace to our hearts when we recall the ways He has loved us. It would do you (and others) well if you take a moment to consider how Jesus has loved you.

Think of His persistence in pursuing you, even in spite of your resistance to His pursuit.

Reflect on how many transgressions He has blotted from your account with His own blood.

Consider specific ways He has shown you compassion despite of your defiance.

God has been kind to you. His heart has been tender toward you. If you are in Christ, He has forgiven your debt in full. Shouldn’t your love for others be affected by His love for you?

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11

2. Remember that we will soon be with them in eternity. 

There will be a day when all God’s children will stand together before His throne of grace. On that day, all disputes will be forgotten and all irritations will be abolished. Why allow those quarrels to steal love from your brother on this day?

I’m not in any way suggesting that all disputes are small or all disagreements are insignificant. There are weighty things in this life, some which are very difficult to endure. But what I am suggesting is that all of our relationships must be guided and guarded by the fact that one day we will stand alongside our fellow Christians before the Savior who died for them.

That kind of perspective helps us to extend love to those who are not so easy to love. Perspective grants us patience and compassion. Let the sourness of a relationship today be overcome by the sweetness of that everlasting day to which you are traveling together. Ask the Lord to help you see others in light of the love you will share together in the eternal dwelling Christ is preparing for you (John 14:1-2).

3. Remember that you aren’t so easy to love either. 

Spurgeon rightly reminds us “if you cannot bear with your imperfect brother, take it for certain that you are very imperfect yourself.” Our inability to love others perfectly is a faithful reminder that we don’t have it all together either.

Humility about our own lovability serves as a gracious help in extending love to others. What sinful patterns do you have a tough time fighting against? When have you said hurtful words? Where do you still have room to grow in spiritual maturity? How do you think those shortcomings affect those around you?

I’ve found that when I’m concerned with confessing my own sins before the Lord, I’m less irritated with the sins of others. Regularly confessing your sins to God keeps you downwind of yourself and helps you to remember that you’re probably just as as tough to love as the next person.

 

Though no relationship will be perfect on this side of eternity, I am convinced that the more our hearts are set on heaven, and the more that we are sobered by our own need for a Savior, the more our love for others will reflect the love of Christ—including those who are tough to love.

 

 

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Jesus is the Greater Aaron – John Newton on Leviticus 8:7-9

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This week I’m teaching through the book of Leviticus in a early morning “boot camp” format. As I came to Leviticus 8 and began considering how Jesus fulfills the role as our High Priest, my heart was warmed by this poem by John Newton in a collection called the Olney Hymns.

I encourage you to read it out loud and then give God praise for how Jesus is the greater Aaron.

The True Aaron

See Aaron, God’s anointed priest,
Within the veil appear,
In robes of mystic meaning dressed,
Presenting Israel’s prayer.
 
The plate of gold which crowns his brows,
His holiness describes;
His breast displays, in shining rows,
The names of all the tribes.
 
With the atoning blood he stands,
Before the mercy-seat;
And clouds of incense from his hands,
Arise with odour sweet.
 
Urim and Thummim near his heart,
In rich engravings worn,
The sacred light of truth impart,
To teach and to adorn.
 
Through him the eye of faith descries
A greater Priest than he;
Thus JESUS pleads above the skies,
For you, my friends, and me.
 
He bears the names of all his saints,
Deep on his heart engraved;
Attentive to the state and wants
Of all his love has saved.
 
In him a holiness complete,
Light and perfections shine;
And wisdom, grace, and glory meet;
A Saviour all divine.
 
The blood, which as a priest he bears
For sinners, is his own;
The incense of his prayers and tears
Perfume the holy throne.
 
In him my weary soul has rest,
Though I am weak and vile;
I read my name upon his breast,
And see the Father smile.

Newton

 

 

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14–16

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Till Death Do We Part – Keeping the Vow Till the End

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A member of our church named Julie recently shared the story of her Grandparent’s love with me and my wife so I thought I’d pass it on to you.Groom waiting on Bride

“My Grandparents truly had a lifetime love affair. Their marriage was imperfect of-course, but was marked by a consistent, devoted, and tender love for one another.

Their love remained steady in times of plenty and in times of need. In all the days and nights I spent at their house, I never heard an argument between them. And while I’m certain difficult days came and went, I never witnessed one disrespect the other.

Shortly before my Grandparent’s 54th wedding anniversary, my Grandma became gravely ill. Watching his beloved bride suffer made those days very difficult, but Grandpa stayed by her side until she safely reached her heavenly home.

As he grieved and planned for her funeral, he wanted to honor his wife one last time and fulfill his vow “until death do we part.” So on the day of her funeral, he stood at the altar one last time. As the doors opened and the pallbearers brought his bride down the aisle, he waited for her in the same spot he stood 54 years earlier when she walked down to become his bride.

That day he fulfilled his vow and committed her into the hand of the One who had given her to him. He was faithful, all the way to the end.”

 

“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church…” Ephesians 5:25

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Daddy, Are They Going To Kill The Christians?

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Haddon

“Daddy, are they going to kill the Christians?”

My four-year-old son’s question broke the silence during our trip to school.

Earlier that morning he heard me praying for the 90 Assyrian Christians ISIS soldiers kidnapped from their homes during morning raids on their villages. He could tell I was distraught and began to ask questions.

“What happened to the Christians, daddy?”

I told him there are bad people in another part of the world who hate Christians and are trying to hurt them.

“Why do they want to hurt them?” he asked.

I explained that some people don’t like Christians because they follow Jesus. Jesus is the King of the world and people don’t like having a King ruling over them, so they sin by turning away from Jesus. Jesus tells us that if we are going to follow Him, some people won’t like us either (John 15:20).

He asked a few more questions and then we went back to our morning routine. But, during the ride to school, he broke the silence with the question that couldn’t escape his little heart,

“Daddy, are they going to kill the Christians?”

I told him they might. Many other Christians have already died because they follow Jesus. This happens all over the world to Jesus’ people.

“Daddy, what is Jesus going to do about it?”

These are the moments Christian parents know are important. When a child’s heart is stirred and their mind searches for answers. It’s also times like these that parents are pressed to find simple words to explain complex realities.

I told him that Jesus is going to save some of the people who hurt the Christians and He is going to stop some of the others.

“Why would Jesus want to save them?”

His perception caught me off guard. I knew the right answer, but I felt the same tension my son felt in his heart.

Why would God do such a thing as save ISIS soldiers?

Why would God save people that slay His bride?

Why would God redeem sinners who rape His children?

Why would God give mercy to villains when they withhold mercy from His people?

I told him it is because God is not like us. God is a God who loves His enemies and does good to all people, even evil people (Matthew 5:43-48). God doesn’t delight in evil people perishing, but loves to see them be saved (Ezekiel 18:31-32, 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4). I told him that Jesus loved people in that way, including him and me. That is why Jesus died and rose—to rescue us from our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

In that moment I was sobered by my son’s child-like wonder. Trying to find clear and simple words to help his four-year-old mind process such mysterious love pressed me in a sweet and uncomfortable way.

What wonder it is to consider that Jesus left a world filled with voices crying “Holy! Holy! Holy!” to enter into our world filled with voices that cry out “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” for one reason—to glorify His name by saving sinners (Isaiah 6:4; Matthew 27:22-23; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 4:9-10).

On the cross God shows us that He is a God who loves His enemies and is willing to shed His blood for those who shed His (Romans 5:8). There He put on display His compassion for compassionless killers (Psalm 103:8). What kind of love is that? It is amazing love. Worthy of our trust. Worthy of our lives.

As my son hopped out of the car and scurried off to class, I was moved by praise and to prayer.

 

Praise and a Prayer

While I’m grieved that my son has to ask those kinds of questions, I praise God that He does. We live in a world of brokenness and pain, and to watch him enter in is difficult to observe. But while that is true, I am also grateful that my son has an opportunity to consider the cost of following Christ.

In God’s perfect plan, he is learning what it means to be a Christian in a sobering time in history. Christians have been laying down their lives for thousands of years, but the modern day assault by Islamic radicals feels unique—and shows no signs of slowing down.

I praise God that my son and his siblings face the call of Christ in a context that will help him to see the cost more clearly. I pray that He will see the immeasurable value of having a Savior who does not flee from us when we are in trouble or are in danger. In fact, if the incarnation teaches us anything, it teaches us that God moves toward our danger and toward our trouble.

I praise God that this is the Savior I can call my son to follow—no matter what it might cost him.

 

Father, we pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world. Give them strength to trust you as so many of them are being asked to surrender their lives for Your Name’s sake. Give them strength to endure to the end so they might be saved.

We also pray that we would be sobered and count the cost of what it means to follow Christ. We pray that our children and our churches would learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters who are teaching us what it means to take up the cross of Jesus.

 Might you give us courage and wisdom to follow their example of faith, trusting that You are the Rewarder of those who seek You (Hebrews 11:6). And Father, I ask for my son, that you might save his soul and make him a man, who like those captured Christians, the world is not worthy of (Hebrews 11:39-40). Spare us from suffering, but if not, give us grace to endure it in a way that brings you honor.

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

 

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A Pattern Among Fallen Pastors – Lessons for Us All

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normandy beach

 

During my time in seminary I took a leadership course taught by the late-great Dr. Howard Hendricks. As we studied the life of David, Prof shared a study he conducted with a group of men in full-time ministry who had fallen into a morally disqualifying sin.

At the time, I had only been a Christian for a few years, but unfortunately the subject was all too relevant. During my early days I had witnessed several men whom I loved and respected fall into serious sinful compromises. At one point in those days, the falls came so frequently I felt as if I was on the spiritual beach of Normandy watching buddies lives get blown apart all around me.

Prof’s study was of 246 men in full-time ministry who experienced moral failure within a two-year period of time. As far as he could discern, these full-time clergy were men who were born again followers of Jesus. Though they shared a common salvation, these men also shared a common feat of devastation; they had all, within 24 months of each other, been involved in an extra marital affair.

After interviewing each man, Dr. Hendricks compiled 4 common characteristics of their lives.

1. None of the men were involved in any kind of real personal accountability. 

2. Each of the men had all but ceased having a daily time of personal prayer, Bible reading, and worship. 

3. Over 80% of the men became sexually involved with the other woman after spending significant time with her, often in counseling situations.

4. Without exception, each of the 246 had been convinced that sort of fall “would never happen to me.”

As I reflect on this study, a few lessons come to mind. These are applicable for pastors, plumbers, stay at home moms, and anyone else who seeks to follow Christ.

  1.  Sin thrives in isolation.

Satan lives in the darkness and longs to keep us there as well. He does this because lies live best in the darkness. God knows this, which is why when He calls us to Himself, He calls us into the church.

God has created the church to be many things, one of which is to be a community of people who help each other fight sin and love Him. He calls us into relationships where we speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:15, 25), confess sins to one another (James 5:16), and love each other enough to chase after each other if we stray (Matthew 18:10-20; Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:19-20).

The question I want you to ponder is this: Who knows you? I mean who really knows you? Who not only has permission, but is currently acting upon the permission to ask you penetrating questions? Are you answering those questions honestly or are you hiding details and painting up your sin to guard your image?

Do not hide from God’s gracious aid of loving relationships.

  1. If you flirt with sin, you will fall into sin.

Sin’s slope is a slippery one. The longer you walk along the edge of the abyss, the more certain that your foot will slip. The men in the study put themselves in dangerous situations again and again. They ignored the words of Solomon who warned his sons to “keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).

These men did not guard their hearts, or the hearts of the people they were supposed to be protecting. Instead, they became blinded by the deceitfulness of sin (Ephesians 4:22; Hebrews 3:13) and were led into the ditch of destruction (Matthew 15:14).

What ways are you flirting with sin? What provisions are you making for the flesh in regards to its lust (Romans 13:14)? What guards have you stepped over? What details are you hiding? What emails are you deleting? What search histories are you erasing?

Sin is crouching at your door (Genesis 4:7) and the tempter is looking for an opportunity to pounce (1 Peter 5:8). How are you making his aim easier?

Flee from sin, don’t flirt with it (Genesis 39:6-12; Proverbs 5-7, Romans 6:12-13; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 2:11).

  1. Pride blinds us to our weakness.

Many of us think this sort of serious sin would not happen to us, just as those fallen pastors thought. But 1 Corinthians 10:12 warns us “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let us not forget that Samson—the strongest man in the Bible, Solomon—the wisest man in the Bible, and David—the man after God’s own heart, were all overcome by the temptations of sexual sin (Judges 14-16; 1 Kings 11:1-8; 2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51). No one is above the temptation to sin in grievous ways. If you doubt this, you are on your way to a great fall.

Brothers, beware. Proverbs 16:18 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

  1. Purity is cultivated by loving Jesus.

Somewhere along the line, each of the men in the study began to drift. Prayers became less passionate. The promises of God in His Word grew dusty. Love for Jesus became something spoken of in the past tense.

The seduction of sin and enticement to sacrifice all to satisfy inner longings became too strong to resist.

But Christ is stronger. Hear these words of promise afresh:

Hebrews 4:14–16 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Brothers and sisters, there is no sweeter assurance of help than Christ Jesus the Lord. He stands ready at God’s right hand to supply the grace and mercy we are in such need of.

Do not allow your hearts to grow cold toward the Lord who loves you so. Draw near to Him daily, moment by moment, in hopeful expectation that He is better than any fleeting pleasure that might entice your heart. Do not seek Him only in days of desperation, but seek Him daily. Walk with Him. Rekindle passion. Plead with Him to help you. He is able to do it, and He delights to do it.

Jude 24-25 “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

 

Come Lord Jesus, come.

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