What’s in a Name

About four years ago as we were going through the 501c3 process to register our ministry as a non-profit, we needed to come up with a name. We ultimately chose Galatians 5:1 Ministries. I remember I was studying Galatians at the time and was struck how Paul clearly lays out a Gospel of grace alone through faith alone in chapters 2-4 then exhorts the church in Galatia not to forget that they are not only saved by grace, but that we also now live in grace as sons of God through Christ Jesus. Galatians 5:1 seems to be the crux of the argument Paul is making. It’s the “so what” that Paul uses to transition from the theological to the practical.

Galatians 5:1
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Then, as a Christian living in ultra progressive Portland, Oregon the significance of this verse seemed a bit more ethereal. Sure, I have known those who put unbiblical rules on what it means to be a believer, rules that are not found anywhere on the pages of Holy Scripture, I even would have admitted to having some religious legalism in my past–I remember being dumbfounded as a high school student that my pastor called a friend of his “one of the most generous Christians he knows” even though the friend smoked cigarettes. That example of my legalism notwithstanding, I hadn’t ever seen anything that was so blatantly similar to the Scribes or Pharisees of Jesus’ time.

In our current context, the wonderful island that we are so lucky to call home is also home to more religious sects, cults, false teachers, and diabolic Pied Pipers than can be counted or retold by Wikipedia. One group of wolves in sheep’s clothing was in our neighborhood just yesterday, proclaiming their wretched gospel to anyone who would listen, actually everyone within half a mile was listening as only those whom God has blessed with deafness couldn’t hear the speakers stacked in the back of the screaming “prophet’s” pickup truck. Emilie just so happen to be at her friend’s house who she has been faithfully sharing Jesus with for the past year or so, when two women approached them warning them to cry out to God for repentance. Emilie humbly told them that she was a Christian and began to share with them what we do here in the neighborhood, when the supposed leader of the group told my precious wife that she has a demon inside of here and could not possibly be a Christian wearing what she was (see picture). What more, Emilie’s friend was told that she will never be allowed into God’s holy heaven until she rids herself of the red hair dye in her hair.

20160504_074934

It’s either really good luck on the part of the women or God’s providence that had me at home working on a lesson for my next English class (I’m betting the later rather than the former), because had I been there, there’s not a rebuke or damnation strong enough that I wouldn’t have used on these two blind guides. But Emilie, be it due to humility or that she was shell shocked, began to quietly tell these two whitewashed tombs what the Bible says about works based religion and how we are saved by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, but her words fell on ears that are ever hearing and never understanding. As they symbolically stomped the dust off their hypocritical feet (are you getting an sense of what I think about them?), Emilie began to share all the more with her friends that these people neither know the scriptures nor the God of said holy writ.

Through all this, both my personal progression in the depth of freedoms in Christ and being smack dab in the middle of a repeat of 16th century Catholic politics/religion that needs ‘a reforming, I think about Paul’s words to the church in Galatia in Galatians chapter 4:8-11
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”
We are saved from absolute slavery to sin, that’s true but that doesn’t tell the whole tale. Even worse, we created the gods in which we then gave ourselves over to as slaves. But now that we are known by God we are no longer enslaved, neither to those so called gods, nor to sin–What a good Gospel we have the privilege to preach!–This slavery language can be a bit harsh, but the Bible pulls no punches and goes even further. While it is true that we have been freed from our former master of sin, we have been freed only to become slaves to righteousness and to God. This does not mean we are free to do what we please without concern, absolutely the opposite. This freedom means we have a new master. Our loving Heavenly Father (Romans 6).

This then brings me full circle back to Galatians 5:1 and how this verse shatters the idols I make for myself.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

How can Paul, who wrote both Romans and Galatians, say that we are saved to freedom and saved to slavery albeit with a new master, doesn’t that seem to be contradictory? This, the heart of the Gospel, is what is most veiled to those who have yet to believe. That is, if we want to be truly free we need to submit to being slaves to God. The world cannot understand this. In their search for self-fulfillment they go from one vice to another, bowing down to the god of their own imagination. But Paul’s point in Galatians 5 is not made to non-believers but to believers who, much like Israel in the wilderness, have been set free to follow our God and yet still desire the cakes and figs of slavery in Egypt. No, he says. NO! We must stand firm. Not submitting to a yoke of slavery, but submitting nonetheless.

The practical application of scripture is always less painful when you’re doing it to someone else; It’s so easy for me to denounce those false teachers from yesterday, and while that is needed, I am called to kill my flesh though the help of the Holy Spirit and to follow Jesus. I must search my eyes for logs, specks, dust, or even nanoparticles of sin by asking these hard questions first to myself and continuously of myself until He comes to save me from this world. How am I not standing firm? Am I really living in the freedom Christ has for me? Am I living in the works of the flesh as Paul goes on to describe in Galatians 5, or am I living according to the fruit of the Spirit listed in the same chapter? Am I crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires like those do who belong to Jesus (vs 24), or am simply becoming conceited (vs 25) in my own piety?

Where else can I end this but in the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 6:15-16:
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

We are new creations. The old has gone the new has come. We must stand firm, fighting to put of the old man. When we live by this rule, peace and mercy will be upon us and we can and will be truly free!

Come Lord Jesus, come!

 

Advertisements

Marriage and 3 Ounces of Coffee

20160303_095232

About 14 years ago a young Randy was sitting in the library of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary pretending to study while a young Emilie was walking through the same library looking to find someone she knew. Awkward compliments were paid, inexperienced flirting issued, and a “get together” was set to see a movie with a third friend so as to not call it a date, but this fake date turned into a real date to see a movie the next day. The movie: M Night Shyamalan’s Signs.

The plot of this movie is unimportant; however, almost prophetic was that a little girl in the movie always left nearly empty glasses of water all over the house. What began as a minor nuisance rose to an annoyance, only to be (SPOILER ALERT) the thing that saved the day in the end.  After watching this movie and spending the subsequent hours sitting in his 1985 Toyota Corola talking about this and that, Randy told Emilie he was going to marry her someday.

If this story were a movie from the 1980s, this would be the end. Two young fools look into each other’s eyes as a soft rock ballad starts to play, one of them says a memorable line and the ballad starts to crescendo, the other responds to the line with a humorous line of their own, the two share a kiss while the music blasts and the credits roll. This, though, is not how life works. Life is full of mugs with 3 ounces of coffee.

I suppose I should explain.

Just like the movie, Emilie often (awf-tuhn, noun: kind word that basically means EVERY SINGLE DAY!) leaves her coffee mug with about 3 ounces of coffee leftover. When Randy asks about the coffee or dumps it out, Emilie swears she was just about to drink it. When the milk in the coffee curdles because it’s been there for 8 days, Emilie smiles and delightfully washes it out saying how happy she is to have her favorite mug back. Again, just like the movie, this was a minor idiosyncrasy that grew into an irritation but has in recent years become a reality check in our marriage.

Does the daily…I mean often left 3 ounces of coffee bother me and do I wish it didn’t happen? You betcha. But I have realized that a marriage is comprised of two specifically flawed people. Two selfish, covetous, prideful sinners who when left on their own would end up hating each other for the sin they see in the other. Biblically speaking, a marriage is made up of two sinners who have decided to come together as a physical example of Christ and the Church. Is Emilie sinning in leaving her coffee out? Of course not, but it is certainly is a good reminder that unlike the sappy 80s movies, a biblical Christian is to, as JI Packer put it:
“Look not for a partner whom you do love passionately at this moment but rather for one whom you can love steadily as your best friend for life, then to proceed with God’s help to do just that”
In other words, a biblical marriage is not based on how your partner makes you feel, but rather your spouse is a physical reminder to maturity and an aid in your sanctification to be slowly transformed into the image of Christ.

All of us who are married are distinctly aware of our spouse’s 3 ounces of spoiled coffee that is left to rot on a table somewhere, but we must not forget our biblical mandate to be imitators of God, as beloved children and to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2). I don’t know what’s going to happen with the 3 ounces of coffee. I’m fairly sure it’s not going to be the secret to stop a race of invading aliens, but it might just help me to be more like Jesus. And in the end, this is the goal of a biblical marriage. 

 

 

 

Our God, the Faithful and Just One

st-john-the-apostle-and-evangelist-2

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

~1 John 1:9

Our family tries to do nightly family bible time. It doesn’t happen every night and we often get out of the habit of doing it, but our goal is to gather as a family and spend some time in God’s word at the end of each day. The way we do it is pretty simple. We chose a book of the Bible and read a chapter each night, dad asks questions to the kids about that chapter, then the kids ask mom and dad questions about the same chapter trying to stump us. These are wonderful times, but we as parents know that the children are getting different things out of family bible time. Autry (10) can remember yesterday’s chapter, can follow not only the flow of the chapter, but also the author’s argument thought the book. This is vastly different to Gibson (5) who is simply trying to sit still long enough so he can throw out a list of people, “Jesus!? God!? Man!?” or bible words “Sin!? Love!? Grace!?” I think he probably knows the difference between God and Man or Sin and Love, but in the moment his mouth is going faster than his brain.

I wonder if we don’t do similar things when we read the Bible. When we read that we should present our bodies as living sacrifices in Romans 12 and Paul writes we should present them “holy and acceptable,” do we make distinction between those words or do we just read them quickly and mentally toss them into a general category of “good things?” Are there distinctions between Holy and Acceptable? Is there a reason Paul didn’t say Good and Acceptable or Holy and Sufficient?

If we believe the biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit (by God himself), that in the bible we can find the very Words of God, and if these Words have proved to be reliable, we probably should pay much closer attention lest we drift (Hebrews 2) from the meaning of the words God intended.

In John’s first epistle, John writes:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
This is an “If, Then” format which the bible is full of. The second part, our sins being forgiven and our unrighteousness being cleansed, is dependent on the first part, if we confess our sins. Or in other words, there is no forgiveness without repentance.

This then is a very basic gospel presentation: Repent and be forgiven. Both liberal and conservative Christians believe this. The breaking point comes in why God will forgive our sins if we repent. John says God forgives when we repent because he is Faithful and Just. Don’t steamroll past these two precious terms. These words are jammed with meaning and significance that, when understood, can give joy, confidence, and hope to a believer and can bring even the most harden sinner to his knees.

Faithful

The fact that God is faithful isn’t terribly difficult for us to understand. If God is good than he would not lie and if he does not lie he will be faithful to do what he has said he will do. But in what way is God faithful? The problem with our understanding of God’s faithfulness seems to be in the extent or duration of the faithfulness. I would hope most people know that God will accept the long lost sinner, but what about a normal sinner sinning for the umpteenth time? How many of us wrestle with an unbiblical lie that God is somehow surprised with our sin? How many of us have been sold a bill of goods that God rewards us for our good works or how much faith we have or how much money we give, only to punish us when we sin? This is not the God of the bible. The God of the bible allows the sacrifice of his son to pay for the sins of humans so that we can be adopted as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). Once sons, that same God is not looking to find reasons why he made a bad choice. He is a faithful father who will always be so.

Just

Justness and fairness are closely tied together when properly understood, though the word Fair has been hijacked by children. In grade school the rule was, if you want to bring something to share with kids in the class you have to bring enough for everyone. This is not the fairness or justness that John the Apostle is ascribing to God. John is saying that God is Just in a legal sense. God is just (think justice) in that he will always render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury (Romans 2:6-8). This is very, very bad news.
The good news though is that Jesus was made to be sin though he knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:25). God’s wrath has been satisfied against those who believe and follow Jesus. God’s justness comes into play here in that, since his wrath has been satisfied through Christ’s sacrifice, he will never again bring those crimes agains us. Our sin is paid for. Our account is void of the debt we owe and that debt has been replaced with the credit Jesus earned with his perfect life.

What else could we do but to respond to these two gloriously rich words that the Holy Spirit penned through the direct will of Himself and the Apostle John, but to praise our Just and Faithful God, in whose presence we have access to by Jesus Christ our Lord?

“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, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Jude 24-25

 

 

 

 

 

A Call for Mercy

To begin, I’m assuming of the people who read this blog, there are some that are quite liberal, some who are conservative, and some that fall in that vast space that we so trivially call “in the middle.” To add to this, I don’t frankly care about your politics as it relates to extra-biblical maters, but that being said, I think this post may rattle a few of your preverbal cages and to that I am sorry.

I (Randy) am three months into living in a new culture and trying to learn a new language. Some days are better than others and I certainly know more Spanish after 10 AM or three cups of coffee, whichever comes later. To put a single word on this experience, it is infuriating. Gone are the days I can strike up a conversation with a stranger and skillfully direct the chat through the ebbs and flows of human discourse from talking about the weather to discussing more meaningful topics such as the existence of a good Creator to how to raise a wild 6 year old. 

I think I know what you’re thinking, “boohoo, poor Randy, how about you get over yourself and stop whining.” And while this is a much needed rebuke, the end result of my missing the opportunity to use my gift of gab leads me to think of the thousands, if not millions of non-English speakers currently living in the United States. You see here in the Dominican Republic, and I’m assuming probably most everywhere else in the world, people long to learn the language of unheard of wealth, namely English. In their mind English is a golden key that unlocks a hidden fortune, that all they need do is master this foreign tongue and start living the lush life of luxury. But for those living in America who can’t eloquintly speak the language that brings the touch of Midas to their lives, they are often seen as leaches on a government that “should be looking out for it’s own.”

When I go to the store, people smile at me, stroke my kids’ blonde hair, wonder what I must be doing outside of my homeland, and sheepishly try out the handful of English words they’ve learned over the years. They believe me to be rich simply because I am from a country completely devoid of the cats Fievel spoke of. I’m betting this experience isn’t shared by a Columbian dishwasher living in East Oakland, or a Equatorian physics teacher who now works as a janitor at a public school in Phoenix,  or a Mexican migrant worker going to yet another town in what is yet another springtime so he can pick some more apples all with the hope that the money he sends back to his family in the Yucatan is enough to pay for his 18 year old college freshman’s books this semester. What hits me over and over as I sing my despondencies into the cup of my sweet sweet mango nectar, is how awful it must be for these non-English speakers in the US. 

So please, please try not to hate people or insert them into the fictionally derived narrative that states that all illegal immigrants are somehow involved in selling or manufacturing narcotics. Try not to suppose they’re bad people or good people, as if there were such a thing apart from God’s grace, but try to remember that they’re are simply: people. I’m not calling you to change your politics in anyway, I’m simply asking you to have some common decency and try to be helpful to someone who is feels generally lost most of their day. Think about it. Think if you were born into a place where it was nearly impossible for you to provide for your family. Think about if you were raised in a country where you can’t go out at night, not in the bad areas, but in any area. Think about if you moved to a new place with a new culture and had to learn a new language, but the locals in this new place treated you as second class.

This blog post is simply about me extending a call for mercy. Please give it a try.

17 Pesos

If you talk to 10 missionary kids you’ll probably get 10 different views on life growing up. Some are jaded towards their parents and the people they do ministry to/with, some are happy they were able to get a larger perspective due to growing up outside of the US, some are fired up to be like their parents, some grow up to be believers, some to be atheists. I’m sure there isn’t a “best way” to parent missionary kids, but what we’re trying to do is to allow our children to be part of our ministry and not a casualty of it. We want them to work hard with us to help others. To be as much involved with what we’re doing as we are. It’s not easy, but we feel it’s needed. Taking this as an intro, today one of our kids made me one happy daddy and I want to share the story with the hope that it will inspire you to adopt our ministry/parenting aspirations.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, Emilie and the two younger kids go out to the Haitian school we work with so Emilie can teach the Haitian children English. Today, she took all four kids because Autry and Claire didn’t have school; it was the older two’s first time seeing the school filled with kids. They had a blast. 

Autry and Claire don’t get to be the experts very often when it comes to school these days. They both are completely immersed in Spanish while at school and neither speak a like of it, donde esta el bano notwithstanding. Math is in Spanish, art is in Spanish, even English is in Spanish. Today was different. Today they were the only white kids in the class, but that’s no different. Today they didn’t speak the language, though this time it was Creol they didn’t know rather than Spanish. Today was different because this time they were able to help teach the class instead of be learners in one. For our oldest, this was much welcomed. 

Today, my sweet and formerly little boy did something that made his daddy so very proud. As Emilie and the kids were at the store after teaching at the school, he told her that he didn’t have anymore of his colmado money. (A colmado is sort of like a mini-market, but they’re much smaller and are on every corner. Our kids will find spare change around the house and go buy cookies and candy from time to time.) Autry then told Emilie how, when they were leaving, he went up to the pastor of our little Haitian school/church and gave him all of his monetary wealth, all of his 17 pesos (around 40 cents). When asked why he gave away the money, Autry simply said, “I thought he could use it more than I can.” 

What a stud! Now, as a dad, I work really hard teaching my oldest how to be leader, how to take care of and protect his younger siblings, how to blindly follow my commands, and that how, because he’s the oldest, things aren’t always going to be fair. He often ends up having to work harder, he has to help his younger siblings, and he often incurs more of dad’s wrath than the others do because he’s often put in charge of the bunch. It’ll be the same when Gibson gets a little older. All this to say, hearing about what my boy did today makes all the hard work so worth it. Seeing that my boy, who’s had to leave all his friends and normal surroundings to follow his parents to a new country with a different culture and a different language, seeing him start to gain an empathy for other people makes me happier than I can express.

The point of me writing this isn’t to brag about my boy, though I am enjoying that, but I want to beg all you parents who claim Christ as savior to be involved with ministry in some capacity and to allow your children to help you in some way with that ministry. I admit that it might be hard to figure out how they can be involved. I don’t exactly know how a 4 year old can help a dad who disciples young men at work, but I know for that 4 year old, seeing his daddy willing to open his bible and teach will make this Christian life much more real than a stupid Vegetails movie ever could. Not everyone can do what we’ve decided to do, but we all are called to preach the Gospel and to defend the widow and care for the orphans. I urge you to take this calling seriously and to allow your children to walk alongside you. And I promise, getting a text from your wife that your son gave away 17 pesos, will be well worth the trouble of taking him with you!