A Challenge to Parents, Part 2

Ah, the confusion of parenting! People angst about a lot of things in life – career, relationships, identity. But I think parenting is the one we angst over the most.

Why? Because we feel that the way our kids “turn out” reflects on us. There is an unspoken consensus that our kids are just an extension of us. How they behave and perform feels like a window into what goes on in our home. And that is scary! Really, how many of us would want a reality television show about our family broadcast around the world?

There are expectations coming at us from all over the place.

Grandparents always seem to have something to say to us about our parenting. It doesn’t seem to matter how good (or bad) they were at it, they always seem to want to give their 2 cents worth. “I never let YOU get away with stuff like that!” “Kids these days!” “If he were MY kid, I’d….”

Family members, whether close relations or not, also have an opinion. The most commonly used statement seems to be, “In our family, we do it this way. You ought to try it.” Not to mention the unspoken but clearly understood judgments that come your way when the kids are misbehaving at the family reunion.

Schools, too, inflict their value system on us. There is a lot of pressure on kids and parents. There’s a very specific mold that kids are supposed to fit into. Most kids never seem to make the grade unless they are top students or athletes or just really good at blowing smoke at the teachers. (I was one of those kids.) I recently spent a day at my youngest son’s junior high school and was struck by the amount of pressure that is put on these kids. Their day is packed full from the first bell, each teacher piling on expectations. And it seems that a student’s performance on the standardized tests is a reflection not just on the student but on the teacher, too.  And they pass that pressure onto the parents.

We have a very flawed if not completely wrong view of identity. We draw our identity from all the wrong places. For example, we view ourselves from the lens of the culture which comes mostly from the media. Are we thin enough, smart enough, pretty or handsome enough? Do we have a degree from the right university? Is our house nice enough? Is it decorated with the right colors, the right furniture? Are our clothes from Macy’s or Walmart or the thrift store? Are our lawns weedless enough? Are our kids in the right extracurricular activities? Man, the list is endless.

We also frequently draw our identities from our families. Are we the good son/daughter or the bad one?  How are we doing following the “rules”, often unspoken, of our family? We’ll form our identities based on a negative or a positive reaction to our upbringing. We either struggle our entire lives to break free of our families or try to live up to them.

Here’s a scary thought. Our identities can also, falsely, be taken from our church communities. Are we spiritual enough, good enough, faithful enough to “hit the mark”?

All of these places are the wrong places to look. Just when we feel we’ve measured up to some standard, someone better comes along and  ruins it.

It’s one thing to live our lives based on the wrong identity but it’s even more tragic when we pass this along to our children. They are going to have a hard enough time figuring out their own identity let alone when they become responsible for bolstering ours.

We need to get our identities from the right source; otherwise the whole parenting adventure is one huge, selfish and frustrating endeavor. As a parent for 21 years, I always get a kick out of people who want to have children because they think children will love them back or fix their floundering marriage, or make life better for them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Children, by their very nature, are powerless to give us anything. They are dependent, selfish creatures. They are demanding, self-absorbed, and as rawly sinful as they can be. They’ll run your “love bank” completely dry in no time. And that’s just as babies or young children. Just wait until they are teenagers! If our identities are based on the performance of our children, we are doomed. They are bound to disappoint.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE being a parent. It has truly been one of the greatest adventures of my life. But it has also been God’s most effective wine press for me. Being a parent means there is no escape for our flesh. God can and does use parenting as a tool to bring us to brokenness and therefore to great joy. However, we can also choose to become more selfish and carnal. It does come down to the question of where the source of identity is.

For us Christians, our identities should be soundly locked on what God says about us.

We are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26, 27) No other created being has this identity.

We are not animals, and contrary to a popular belief among parents, our kids aren’t either.

  • We are free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Therefore, even when we mess up, God does not condemn or reject us.
  • God’s love for us provides eternal security and real permanence. (Romans 8:39) Our kids do not. They will leave us someday and that is the way it should be.
  • We have been given the Body of Christ. (Romans 12:5) When we are struggling and feel hopeless about our kids, our brothers and sisters in Christ are there to encourage and come alongside us. I can’t imagine being parent without all the incredible support I have had from my Body of Christ.
  • God provides wisdom for parenting and all other things and gives His goodness to us. We do not have to strive to BE good. (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 2:16) So even if our kids say they hate us, it shouldn’t shake our confidence or turn us into evil reactors. (If you are a parent of adolescents, you understand this already.)
  • In the midst of spiritual warfare over our kids’ lives, God provides victory. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
  • We actually are new creatures in Christ. (2Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6) The barriers of a dysfunctional family and/or personal sin no longer enslave us.
  • Our new family IS God’s family. God is also the Father of our children. We are adopted sons and daughters, eternally secure with God, have received forgiveness for all our sin, have every spiritual blessing, are holy and blameless, have knowledge of His plan and get the joy of being a participant in it. (Ephesians 1)

So before we look further at the Parenting Challenge, it would be good to get our identities straight!

A Challenge to Parents, Part 3 coming soon.

A Challenge to Parents, Part 2

Ah, the confusion of parenting! People angst about a lot of things in life – career, relationships, identity. But I think parenting is the one we angst over the most.

Why? Because we feel that the way our kids “turn out” reflects on us. There is an unspoken consensus that our kids are just an extension of us. How they behave and perform feels like a window into what goes on in our home. And that is scary! Really, how many of us would want a reality television show about our family broadcast around the world?

There are expectations coming at us from all over the place.

Grandparents always seem to have something to say to us about our parenting. It doesn’t seem to matter how good (or bad) they were at it, they always seem to want to give their 2 cents worth. “I never let YOU get away with stuff like that!” “Kids these days!” “If he were MY kid, I’d….”

Family members, whether close relations or not, also have an opinion. The most commonly used statement seems to be, “In our family, we do it this way. You ought to try it.” Not to mention the unspoken but clearly understood judgments that come your way when the kids are misbehaving at the family reunion.

Schools, too, inflict their value system on us. There is a lot of pressure on kids and parents. There’s a very specific mold that kids are supposed to fit into. Most kids never seem to make the grade unless they are top students or athletes or just really good at blowing smoke at the teachers. (I was one of those kids.) I recently spent a day at my youngest son’s junior high school and was struck by the amount of pressure that is put on these kids. Their day is packed full from the first bell, each teacher piling on expectations. And it seems that a student’s performance on the standardized tests is a reflection not just on the student but on the teacher, too.  And they pass that pressure onto the parents.

We have a very flawed if not completely wrong view of identity. We draw our identity from all the wrong places. For example, we view ourselves from the lens of the culture which comes mostly from the media. Are we thin enough, smart enough, pretty or handsome enough? Do we have a degree from the right university? Is our house nice enough? Is it decorated with the right colors, the right furniture? Are our clothes from Macy’s or Walmart or the thrift store? Are our lawns weedless enough? Are our kids in the right extracurricular activities? Man, the list is endless.

We also frequently draw our identities from our families. Are we the good son/daughter or the bad one?  How are we doing following the “rules”, often unspoken, of our family? We’ll form our identities based on a negative or a positive reaction to our upbringing. We either struggle our entire lives to break free of our families or try to live up to them.

Here’s a scary thought. Our identities can also, falsely, be taken from our church communities. Are we spiritual enough, good enough, faithful enough to “hit the mark”?

All of these places are the wrong places to look. Just when we feel we’ve measured up to some standard, someone better comes along and  ruins it.

It’s one thing to live our lives based on the wrong identity but it’s even more tragic when we pass this along to our children. They are going to have a hard enough time figuring out their own identity let alone when they become responsible for bolstering ours.

We need to get our identities from the right source; otherwise the whole parenting adventure is one huge, selfish and frustrating endeavor. As a parent for 21 years, I always get a kick out of people who want to have children because they think children will love them back or fix their floundering marriage, or make life better for them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Children, by their very nature, are powerless to give us anything. They are dependent, selfish creatures. They are demanding, self-absorbed, and as rawly sinful as they can be. They’ll run your “love bank” completely dry in no time. And that’s just as babies or young children. Just wait until they are teenagers! If our identities are based on the performance of our children, we are doomed. They are bound to disappoint.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE being a parent. It has truly been one of the greatest adventures of my life. But it has also been God’s most effective wine press for me. Being a parent means there is no escape for our flesh. God can and does use parenting as a tool to bring us to brokenness and therefore to great joy. However, we can also choose to become more selfish and carnal. It does come down to the question of where the source of identity is.

For us Christians, our identities should be soundly locked on what God says about us.

We are created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26, 27) No other created being has this identity.

We are not animals, and contrary to a popular belief among parents, our kids aren’t either.

  • We are free from condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Therefore, even when we mess up, God does not condemn or reject us.
  • God’s love for us provides eternal security and real permanence. (Romans 8:39) Our kids do not. They will leave us someday and that is the way it should be.
  • We have been given the Body of Christ. (Romans 12:5) When we are struggling and feel hopeless about our kids, our brothers and sisters in Christ are there to encourage and come alongside us. I can’t imagine being parent without all the incredible support I have had from my Body of Christ.
  • God provides wisdom for parenting and all other things and gives His goodness to us. We do not have to strive to BE good. (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Corinthians 2:16) So even if our kids say they hate us, it shouldn’t shake our confidence or turn us into evil reactors. (If you are a parent of adolescents, you understand this already.)
  • In the midst of spiritual warfare over our kids’ lives, God provides victory. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
  • We actually are new creatures in Christ. (2Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6) The barriers of a dysfunctional family and/or personal sin no longer enslave us.
  • Our new family IS God’s family. God is also the Father of our children. We are adopted sons and daughters, eternally secure with God, have received forgiveness for all our sin, have every spiritual blessing, are holy and blameless, have knowledge of His plan and get the joy of being a participant in it. (Ephesians 1)

So before we look further at the Parenting Challenge, it would be good to get our identities straight!

A Challenge to Parents, Part 3 coming soon.

A Challenge to Parents, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog about parenting for quite awhile. Funny thing is, the longer I think about it, the harder writing it becomes. After all, it’s a complicated issue – and a touchy one. Frankly, there’s a lot of Christian and secular books out there–so many it’s overwhelming. I mean, how do you decide who’s right and who’s wrong?‘ I mentioned to Elaine Stedman that I was trying to do this, and she suggested that since I was 50 now, I just “might” be able to start doing it. But “be careful,” she said. Very wise counsel.

I don’t know about you, but I find that even the Christian parenting books don’t seem to quite scratch the itch. There’s stuff on how to keep your child from being sexually active before marriage,  whether to schedule your baby or not, how to discipline, courtship vs. dating, how to disciple your child, and on and on. Most of these books have something good to say, a few have something great to say, and quite a few actually suck.

There are a few books out there that discuss how to lead your child to Christ. And recently, a few have come out about how to get your child to make the Christian faith their own and not leave the church. Good questions that need answers. But even here, it is mostly hand-wringing. Few seem to have any answers.

Don’t get me wrong. Reading those books is a good thing. There are a lot of good ideas, ones that will help in the everyday life of parenting. However, for me, there was something missing.

It seems that most Christian parenting books focus “How to raise good kids.” And what they mean by “good” is kids that don’t do drugs, have sex before marriage, are respectful, get good grades, keep their rooms clean, learn responsibility, and so on. All of this is pretty good stuff, but…as far as I can tell, none of the authors are writing about how to raise kids that are radical Christ-followers or kids that can love sacrificially or kids who know how to have real Body Life. Honestly? Remove their emphasis on daily family devotions and what you have left is how to raise a good American kid. The scary thing about that is that America is part of the kosmos, the counterfeit kingdom Satan has set up to distract us from God’s Kingdom.

Parents are rightfully concerned with where their children end up. And statistics say we are losing the war. The Barna Group reports that 61 percent of young adults who attended church as teenagers are now spiritually disengaged. LifeWay Research states that 7 out of 10 Protestants ages 18-30 who had attended church in high school stopped attending by age 23. Scary stuff!!

The topic of parenting is on the front cover of the January 2010 issue of Christianity Today. The title of the article is “The Myth of the Perfect Parent.” The article comments that, as Christian parents, “Our most consuming concern is that our children ‘turn out’.” What this means is “that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this slightly lacking. Do we really want our kids to grow to just be churchgoers? We definitely want them to be God-honoring adults, but what does that mean exactly?

There’s a lot I don’t know—about parenting and an infinite amount of other things. However, one thing I do know, there is no formula for raising radical Christian kids. Radical Christ-following parents raise rebels and apathetic kids, too. The author of the Christianity Today article, Leslie Leyland Fields, discusses spiritual determinism. This is the belief that if we just do the right things in the right way, we can ensure godly kids. I agree with her assessment that this is a faulty belief. There are plenty examples of radical believers in Scripture who raised unbelievers and even kids who ended up hating God. We often forget—our children have free wills of their own. Often, despite having the best home with an amazing Body of Christ, they use their free will to choose against God. There is that annoying fallen nature that ruins everything.

But this does not mean we just throw in the towel on parenting. There are some foundational principles we need to “hang our hat on.” If even “doing it right” fails at times, “doing it wrong” brings even more peril.

My premise is that the American church has gotten it wrong more than it’s gotten it right. It has fallen into Satan’s trap of settling for the acceptable outward behavior of our kids without ever dealing with their heart. This is what God sees when he says in Isaiah, “Then the Lord said, ’Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me  with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote…’” We do this with our children because this is what we are doing with ourselves.

Often we parents are the ones who are deceived. If we don’t understand God’s perspective on grace, the Body of Christ, the Mystery of godliness, then how can we possibly expect our children to understand? I do know this. If our kids don’t see in us, in our relationships, in our priorities, that the Kingdom of God is the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most stimulating thing in the universe, they’ll go somewhere else to find it.

In my next blog, discussing the foundation.

A Challenge to Parents, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog about parenting for quite awhile. Funny thing is, the longer I think about it, the harder writing it becomes. After all, it’s a complicated issue – and a touchy one. Frankly, there’s a lot of Christian and secular books out there–so many it’s overwhelming. I mean, how do you decide who’s right and who’s wrong?‘ I mentioned to Elaine Stedman that I was trying to do this, and she suggested that since I was 50 now, I just “might” be able to start doing it. But “be careful,” she said. Very wise counsel.

I don’t know about you, but I find that even the Christian parenting books don’t seem to quite scratch the itch. There’s stuff on how to keep your child from being sexually active before marriage,  whether to schedule your baby or not, how to discipline, courtship vs. dating, how to disciple your child, and on and on. Most of these books have something good to say, a few have something great to say, and quite a few actually suck.

There are a few books out there that discuss how to lead your child to Christ. And recently, a few have come out about how to get your child to make the Christian faith their own and not leave the church. Good questions that need answers. But even here, it is mostly hand-wringing. Few seem to have any answers.

Don’t get me wrong. Reading those books is a good thing. There are a lot of good ideas, ones that will help in the everyday life of parenting. However, for me, there was something missing.

It seems that most Christian parenting books focus “How to raise good kids.” And what they mean by “good” is kids that don’t do drugs, have sex before marriage, are respectful, get good grades, keep their rooms clean, learn responsibility, and so on. All of this is pretty good stuff, but…as far as I can tell, none of the authors are writing about how to raise kids that are radical Christ-followers or kids that can love sacrificially or kids who know how to have real Body Life. Honestly? Remove their emphasis on daily family devotions and what you have left is how to raise a good American kid. The scary thing about that is that America is part of the kosmos, the counterfeit kingdom Satan has set up to distract us from God’s Kingdom.

Parents are rightfully concerned with where their children end up. And statistics say we are losing the war. The Barna Group reports that 61 percent of young adults who attended church as teenagers are now spiritually disengaged. LifeWay Research states that 7 out of 10 Protestants ages 18-30 who had attended church in high school stopped attending by age 23. Scary stuff!!

The topic of parenting is on the front cover of the January 2010 issue of Christianity Today. The title of the article is “The Myth of the Perfect Parent.” The article comments that, as Christian parents, “Our most consuming concern is that our children ‘turn out’.” What this means is “that our Christian faith and values are successfully transmitted, and that our children grow up to be churchgoing, God-honoring adults.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this slightly lacking. Do we really want our kids to grow to just be churchgoers? We definitely want them to be God-honoring adults, but what does that mean exactly?

There’s a lot I don’t know—about parenting and an infinite amount of other things. However, one thing I do know, there is no formula for raising radical Christian kids. Radical Christ-following parents raise rebels and apathetic kids, too. The author of the Christianity Today article, Leslie Leyland Fields, discusses spiritual determinism. This is the belief that if we just do the right things in the right way, we can ensure godly kids. I agree with her assessment that this is a faulty belief. There are plenty examples of radical believers in Scripture who raised unbelievers and even kids who ended up hating God. We often forget—our children have free wills of their own. Often, despite having the best home with an amazing Body of Christ, they use their free will to choose against God. There is that annoying fallen nature that ruins everything.

But this does not mean we just throw in the towel on parenting. There are some foundational principles we need to “hang our hat on.” If even “doing it right” fails at times, “doing it wrong” brings even more peril.

My premise is that the American church has gotten it wrong more than it’s gotten it right. It has fallen into Satan’s trap of settling for the acceptable outward behavior of our kids without ever dealing with their heart. This is what God sees when he says in Isaiah, “Then the Lord said, ’Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me  with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote…’” We do this with our children because this is what we are doing with ourselves.

Often we parents are the ones who are deceived. If we don’t understand God’s perspective on grace, the Body of Christ, the Mystery of godliness, then how can we possibly expect our children to understand? I do know this. If our kids don’t see in us, in our relationships, in our priorities, that the Kingdom of God is the most exciting, the most rewarding, the most stimulating thing in the universe, they’ll go somewhere else to find it.

In my next blog, discussing the foundation.

NeoXenos DMT Retreat 2009

The NeoXenos DMT Retreat of 2009 was the most edifying leaders’ retreat to date. We gathered in Marblehead, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie at the Rock of Ages Retreat Center. This year the number of leaders exceeded the capacity for the house. We had 44 leaders attend (with sleeping for only 36.) Our college guys graciously volunteered to sleep on couches and floors.
In the past year, we’ve undergone quite a few changes. Persecution and its resultant publicity, love ethics, new college ministry, a hopping high school group, and an emphasis on our freedom in Christ, revolution, and disestablishment.  Religion kills, but relationship kicks butt.
I can’t wait to see what this coming year is going to bring. We don’t know what it will be, but…we know we’re gonna follow the Spirit on this.

NeoXenos DMT Retreat 2009

The NeoXenos DMT Retreat of 2009 was the most edifying leaders’ retreat to date. We gathered in Marblehead, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie at the Rock of Ages Retreat Center. This year the number of leaders exceeded the capacity for the house. We had 44 leaders attend (with sleeping for only 36.) Our college guys graciously volunteered to sleep on couches and floors.
In the past year, we’ve undergone quite a few changes. Persecution and its resultant publicity, love ethics, new college ministry, a hopping high school group, and an emphasis on our freedom in Christ, revolution, and disestablishment.  Religion kills, but relationship kicks butt.
I can’t wait to see what this coming year is going to bring. We don’t know what it will be, but…we know we’re gonna follow the Spirit on this.

What’s the Big Deal About Justification by Faith?

I have always been fascinated by Romans 5-8. If ever I doubt the inspiration of Scripture, I think of these four chapters. Only God could be so brilliant! So often, however, we take the theology there for granted. I believe we don’t really understand the ramifications of what God has done for us through Jesus. In Xenos, these four chapters have been taught and retaught. And yet, I often wonder if that, for many of us, they have become merely words on a page or knowledge in our heads. As one of those who feels that this may be true for me, I have started studying them again. While doing my own study using that wonderfully stupendous tool, Wordsearch, I have also been listening to Ray Stedman teach on them. I decided the best way to think this through was to think them through out loud, so to speak, and to share some of what Ray teaches on this.

Paul spends the first four chapters of Romans making the case that “none are righteous, not even one.” He begins with the rank, nonbelieving group of people who know of God’s existence, but deny Him to go their own way. He moves on to talk about the so-called “righteous,” those who believe they are already righteous in God’s eyes and view all others as the “heathen.” Paul is clear that no one can stand before God on the basis of their own goodness or righteousness. However, God loves us so much, He gave us Jesus to die in our place, and on the basis of our faith in what He has done, we are then DECLARED righteous. As you may remember, Paul uses Abraham’s faith as an example of how we, too, can be declared righteous.

Romans 4:20-25 (NASB)

20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore It was also credited to him as righteousness.23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Justification, as a review for those who may have forgotten, simply means to have been declared by God to be His friend, to be acceptable to Him, to be loved by Him. Just as Abraham was not declared a friend of God because of any righteousness of his own, we, too, merely receive it by faith. This faith is in a God who sent His only and perfect Son to die in our place to make a payment for our sin. God has promised that if we come before Him humbly, offering no good works of our own but accepting Jesus’ work on the cross, and ask that this payment apply to us, we then become justified by Him.

In chapter 5 Paul moves on, then, to trace the results that justification by faith brings. This struck me as profound not  because I’ve never heard it before but because it is not often the mode in which I operate. Therefore, I wanted to share it.

Romans 5:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

The word “exult” (also often translated “rejoice”) is the key to this whole chapter. See also verses 3 and 11.

Romans 5:3 (NASB)
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;

Romans 5:11 (NASB)
11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Exultation is a product of justification, and it is what we learn to exult in that matters. Paul states that we can exult even in our tribulations!

Many Christians never seem to rejoice. To my detriment, this often applies to myself. But true Christian doctrine and an understanding of the facts produces a spirit that can’t help but rejoice! Not pretend rejoicing, either, but real rejoicing. Since this word “exult” or “rejoice” is repeated, we should come to the conclusion that this is important. As is often true in Scripture, the more something is repeated, the more important it is.

Ray Stedman states that we should learn to rejoice in three areas – our spiritual position, our present troubles, and in God Himself, our powerful friend. In this blog, I just want to deal with the first one found in the first two verses of Romans 5.

Romans 5:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

There are three ways in which we can test whether we believe that we have been justified.

The first is that we now have peace with God. This is an important result as we remember that previous to our justification, we were at war with God. This war is now over. The conflict has ended and peace reigns supreme.

From what I understand from history books and classes and from talking to those who lived during World War II, fear dominated our country. The Japanese had actually attacked the United States. Germany and her allies had defeated most of Europe. The enemy seemed all-powerful and unstoppable. The loss of life on both sides of the war was incredible, not to mention the innocents that were murdered. This threat hung over the world for years and for some, it brought horrible death. I can only imagine what it was like at the end of World War II. After almost six years of the most horrific war ever seen by man, the joy on VE (victory in Europe) Day and VJ (victory in Japan) day was overwhelming. The Nazi threat had been eliminated. The Japanese suffered an ignominious defeat. The celebrating lasted for days and the following years brought an incredible increase in the quality of life for those in the West. Freedom! Peace! Security!

Now imagine being at war with the Creator God of the universe who not only has the power to destroy His creation but has every right to do so! But then suddenly, through no act of your own, there is suddenly peace with God. Freedom! Peace! Security! We lost our fear of God. He is no longer our judge, but our Father – loving, tenderhearted, compassionate. Although He still disciplines (for this is part of love,) He no longer has to act as our judge.

And because we are now at peace with God, there no longer remains any fear of death! Death is the shadow that looms over all of us from the moment of our birth.

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NASB)
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

The devil has access to our thoughts in the sense that he can insert fear into our minds without our being aware of it. If our peace goes away, we need to review our justification because justification means we no longer need to fear death.

Peace with God also provides us with an answer to the accusations of our own conscience when we sin. Justification by faith reminds us that our standing and acceptance before God NEVER depended on us. My own sin doesn’t even cancel out my justification. God has found a way to set aside my sin. What a wonderful balm to the guilty soul! We need to remember that it doesn’t matter how long we have walked with the Lord or how much we have served, we can still only stand on the ground of the merits of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

The second result of our justification is that we now have access to continued grace that enables us to stand amidst trials and difficulties. Imagine that for a moment. We have CONSTANT access to the God of the universe.

This may not be a concept that we often contemplate. In our western democracy, we take pride in the equality of all people. Each vote counts. But imagine a country where the king has the only vote that counts, where only his opinion and decrees have any power. This is the God who exists. He cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. He must judge sin and the sentence is death. However, this God is a loving God, unlike fallen and capricious, earthly rulers. Our God provided a free way out. Jesus has made payment for sin, and now we can boldly walk into God’s presence.

Hebrews 4:16 (NASB)
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The last result of our justification is that we rejoice in the glory of God. We have an anticipation of something beyond this present life. Jesus says,

John 14:19 (NASB)
19 “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.

Regardless of the conditions we live under here, we have the promise of God that we will live forever with Him in a new heaven and earth where sin and its consequences are forever gone. Even as we all live under a death sentence here, whether the prospect of an imminent demise or the surety that we will all die at some point, we are under the authority of a higher power. We can be killed in this life for our faith or we can die a more common death; but nevertheless, another country has our loyalty and it is waiting for us to arrive.

John 14:2-3 (NASB)
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

I can’t wait. Thank you, Lord, for my justification!

What’s the Big Deal About Justification by Faith?

I have always been fascinated by Romans 5-8. If ever I doubt the inspiration of Scripture, I think of these four chapters. Only God could be so brilliant! So often, however, we take the theology there for granted. I believe we don’t really understand the ramifications of what God has done for us through Jesus. In Xenos, these four chapters have been taught and retaught. And yet, I often wonder if that, for many of us, they have become merely words on a page or knowledge in our heads. As one of those who feels that this may be true for me, I have started studying them again. While doing my own study using that wonderfully stupendous tool, Wordsearch, I have also been listening to Ray Stedman teach on them. I decided the best way to think this through was to think them through out loud, so to speak, and to share some of what Ray teaches on this.

Paul spends the first four chapters of Romans making the case that “none are righteous, not even one.” He begins with the rank, nonbelieving group of people who know of God’s existence, but deny Him to go their own way. He moves on to talk about the so-called “righteous,” those who believe they are already righteous in God’s eyes and view all others as the “heathen.” Paul is clear that no one can stand before God on the basis of their own goodness or righteousness. However, God loves us so much, He gave us Jesus to die in our place, and on the basis of our faith in what He has done, we are then DECLARED righteous. As you may remember, Paul uses Abraham’s faith as an example of how we, too, can be declared righteous.

Romans 4:20-25 (NASB)

20 yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. 22 Therefore It was also credited to him as righteousness.23 Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, 24 but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Justification, as a review for those who may have forgotten, simply means to have been declared by God to be His friend, to be acceptable to Him, to be loved by Him. Just as Abraham was not declared a friend of God because of any righteousness of his own, we, too, merely receive it by faith. This faith is in a God who sent His only and perfect Son to die in our place to make a payment for our sin. God has promised that if we come before Him humbly, offering no good works of our own but accepting Jesus’ work on the cross, and ask that this payment apply to us, we then become justified by Him.

In chapter 5 Paul moves on, then, to trace the results that justification by faith brings. This struck me as profound not  because I’ve never heard it before but because it is not often the mode in which I operate. Therefore, I wanted to share it.

Romans 5:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

The word “exult” (also often translated “rejoice”) is the key to this whole chapter. See also verses 3 and 11.

Romans 5:3 (NASB)
3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;

Romans 5:11 (NASB)
11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Exultation is a product of justification, and it is what we learn to exult in that matters. Paul states that we can exult even in our tribulations!

Many Christians never seem to rejoice. To my detriment, this often applies to myself. But true Christian doctrine and an understanding of the facts produces a spirit that can’t help but rejoice! Not pretend rejoicing, either, but real rejoicing. Since this word “exult” or “rejoice” is repeated, we should come to the conclusion that this is important. As is often true in Scripture, the more something is repeated, the more important it is.

Ray Stedman states that we should learn to rejoice in three areas – our spiritual position, our present troubles, and in God Himself, our powerful friend. In this blog, I just want to deal with the first one found in the first two verses of Romans 5.

Romans 5:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

There are three ways in which we can test whether we believe that we have been justified.

The first is that we now have peace with God. This is an important result as we remember that previous to our justification, we were at war with God. This war is now over. The conflict has ended and peace reigns supreme.

From what I understand from history books and classes and from talking to those who lived during World War II, fear dominated our country. The Japanese had actually attacked the United States. Germany and her allies had defeated most of Europe. The enemy seemed all-powerful and unstoppable. The loss of life on both sides of the war was incredible, not to mention the innocents that were murdered. This threat hung over the world for years and for some, it brought horrible death. I can only imagine what it was like at the end of World War II. After almost six years of the most horrific war ever seen by man, the joy on VE (victory in Europe) Day and VJ (victory in Japan) day was overwhelming. The Nazi threat had been eliminated. The Japanese suffered an ignominious defeat. The celebrating lasted for days and the following years brought an incredible increase in the quality of life for those in the West. Freedom! Peace! Security!

Now imagine being at war with the Creator God of the universe who not only has the power to destroy His creation but has every right to do so! But then suddenly, through no act of your own, there is suddenly peace with God. Freedom! Peace! Security! We lost our fear of God. He is no longer our judge, but our Father – loving, tenderhearted, compassionate. Although He still disciplines (for this is part of love,) He no longer has to act as our judge.

And because we are now at peace with God, there no longer remains any fear of death! Death is the shadow that looms over all of us from the moment of our birth.

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NASB)
14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

The devil has access to our thoughts in the sense that he can insert fear into our minds without our being aware of it. If our peace goes away, we need to review our justification because justification means we no longer need to fear death.

Peace with God also provides us with an answer to the accusations of our own conscience when we sin. Justification by faith reminds us that our standing and acceptance before God NEVER depended on us. My own sin doesn’t even cancel out my justification. God has found a way to set aside my sin. What a wonderful balm to the guilty soul! We need to remember that it doesn’t matter how long we have walked with the Lord or how much we have served, we can still only stand on the ground of the merits of Jesus Christ on our behalf.

The second result of our justification is that we now have access to continued grace that enables us to stand amidst trials and difficulties. Imagine that for a moment. We have CONSTANT access to the God of the universe.

This may not be a concept that we often contemplate. In our western democracy, we take pride in the equality of all people. Each vote counts. But imagine a country where the king has the only vote that counts, where only his opinion and decrees have any power. This is the God who exists. He cannot stand to be in the presence of sin. He must judge sin and the sentence is death. However, this God is a loving God, unlike fallen and capricious, earthly rulers. Our God provided a free way out. Jesus has made payment for sin, and now we can boldly walk into God’s presence.

Hebrews 4:16 (NASB)
16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The last result of our justification is that we rejoice in the glory of God. We have an anticipation of something beyond this present life. Jesus says,

John 14:19 (NASB)
19 “After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also.

Regardless of the conditions we live under here, we have the promise of God that we will live forever with Him in a new heaven and earth where sin and its consequences are forever gone. Even as we all live under a death sentence here, whether the prospect of an imminent demise or the surety that we will all die at some point, we are under the authority of a higher power. We can be killed in this life for our faith or we can die a more common death; but nevertheless, another country has our loyalty and it is waiting for us to arrive.

John 14:2-3 (NASB)
2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.

I can’t wait. Thank you, Lord, for my justification!

What’s the Message?

With this persecution occurring at this time, I have spent some time meditating on The Message. 1 Peter 3:15 says:

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)

I’d like to claim Peter’s words here as our fellowship’s motto. We need to be clear on what our message is. We need to know how to respond and what to say.

It is a natural reaction, when wronged or lied about, to want to leap to our own, personal defense. We know we are wrongly accused. We know that all we are about is sharing the love Jesus gave to us with others. We lead a lifestyle that is consistent with Christ’s love but with humbleness because we know we often fail. We repent when we know we have been wrong. We love each other fervently, encourage each other to want for themselves what God wants for them, teach about what real, godly love is and exhort each other to practice this kind of love. We give the Gospel message to all we meet, when possible, and definitely introduce others to Jesus when they walk through our doors into one of our meetings. We are a close family. We love together, live out our lives together, suffer together, and rejoice together. But even more importantly, we are not a closed, tribal group. As Clive Calver said at the 2006 Xenos Summer Institute, we (Christians) are the only community who exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.

But we are now in a position to live this commitment and belief out in the real world. The very people we are trying to love and persuade that Jesus is the savior of the world are turning on our community and attempting to get us to shut up. This is where it gets difficult. How do we love them when they won’t let us?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Here’s what’s in my mind and heart. I can’t love them. It’s impossible for me. It’s impossible because I am a fallen, sinful, selfish, self-righteous woman. And frankly, even when I WANT to love, I am unable. But, and here’s the good news, Jesus CAN love them, and He has said He can love them through me. He can change my heart. In fact, He has changed my heart. Paul said,

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

And one day, when all we who believed by faith in Jesus Christ, are together with Him, we will ALL be there by His grace and forgiveness. No longer will we look at each other and see each other’s sin. No longer will we be annoyed and bothered by the sin we see. Rather, we will be rejoicing that God was so loving and good that He paid the price for MY sin and now we can be together unhindered by out sin natures, glorifying God and loving each other perfectly. Wouldn’t it be just like God that we when we get to Heaven, we look across the room and see sitting there the very people who persecuted us? Would that not be the ultimate glorification of God? That we persevered through our trials here to love without condition so well, that the very people who hated us came into a relationship with the very Savior they hated seeing in us?

So here’s the message I want to communicate.

There is not one person now or ever that has been good enough to make it into God’s favor. We all decide to go our own way with our own ideas and do our own thing. And I am the foremost of sinners because in my self-righteousness, I don’t even see how sinful I am.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 3:23 (NASB)

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)

as it is written, “There is none righteous , not even one;
There is none who understands , There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside , together they have become useless ; There is none who does good , There is not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12 (NASB)

And yet this holy, righteous, perfect, Creator God loves me so much that instead of making me work really hard to TRY and make the grade, he sent His Son to die in my place and then God raised Him from the dead. Because of this I can now live for all eternity with Him.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
John 3:16-17 (NASB)

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 (NASB)

Now that I am His child, He heals me, gives me significance and real purpose, shows me where I can invest in something that lasts forever. I can love now, and am not limited to loving only those who love me. I can love all people. No longer am I a slave to my own sin or the sin in other’s lives. I am truly free. Even better, He gives me the power to live in this way.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Galatians 2:20 (NASB)

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (NASB)

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
1 Peter 1:22 (NASB)

Last, but certainly not least, I have a new family – an all inclusive family that loves all and even loves me when I’m sinful.

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NASB)

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB)

That’s the message, unadorned, and beautiful without measure.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to transform me into the kind of woman who loves. The kind of woman who doesn’t take the credit but constantly points all in the direction of Jesus. The kind of woman who is in the kind of Body of Christ that is a beacon on a hill, light to the world, and salt that seasons.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16 (NASB)

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Colossians 4:5-6 (NASB)

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12 (NASB)

What’s the Message?

With this persecution occurring at this time, I have spent some time meditating on The Message. 1 Peter 3:15 says:

but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)

I’d like to claim Peter’s words here as our fellowship’s motto. We need to be clear on what our message is. We need to know how to respond and what to say.

It is a natural reaction, when wronged or lied about, to want to leap to our own, personal defense. We know we are wrongly accused. We know that all we are about is sharing the love Jesus gave to us with others. We lead a lifestyle that is consistent with Christ’s love but with humbleness because we know we often fail. We repent when we know we have been wrong. We love each other fervently, encourage each other to want for themselves what God wants for them, teach about what real, godly love is and exhort each other to practice this kind of love. We give the Gospel message to all we meet, when possible, and definitely introduce others to Jesus when they walk through our doors into one of our meetings. We are a close family. We love together, live out our lives together, suffer together, and rejoice together. But even more importantly, we are not a closed, tribal group. As Clive Calver said at the 2006 Xenos Summer Institute, we (Christians) are the only community who exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.

But we are now in a position to live this commitment and belief out in the real world. The very people we are trying to love and persuade that Jesus is the savior of the world are turning on our community and attempting to get us to shut up. This is where it gets difficult. How do we love them when they won’t let us?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Here’s what’s in my mind and heart. I can’t love them. It’s impossible for me. It’s impossible because I am a fallen, sinful, selfish, self-righteous woman. And frankly, even when I WANT to love, I am unable. But, and here’s the good news, Jesus CAN love them, and He has said He can love them through me. He can change my heart. In fact, He has changed my heart. Paul said,

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

And one day, when all we who believed by faith in Jesus Christ, are together with Him, we will ALL be there by His grace and forgiveness. No longer will we look at each other and see each other’s sin. No longer will we be annoyed and bothered by the sin we see. Rather, we will be rejoicing that God was so loving and good that He paid the price for MY sin and now we can be together unhindered by out sin natures, glorifying God and loving each other perfectly. Wouldn’t it be just like God that we when we get to Heaven, we look across the room and see sitting there the very people who persecuted us? Would that not be the ultimate glorification of God? That we persevered through our trials here to love without condition so well, that the very people who hated us came into a relationship with the very Savior they hated seeing in us?

So here’s the message I want to communicate.

There is not one person now or ever that has been good enough to make it into God’s favor. We all decide to go our own way with our own ideas and do our own thing. And I am the foremost of sinners because in my self-righteousness, I don’t even see how sinful I am.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 3:23 (NASB)

All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:6 (NASB)

as it is written, “There is none righteous , not even one;
There is none who understands , There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside , together they have become useless ; There is none who does good , There is not even one.”
Romans 3:10-12 (NASB)

And yet this holy, righteous, perfect, Creator God loves me so much that instead of making me work really hard to TRY and make the grade, he sent His Son to die in my place and then God raised Him from the dead. Because of this I can now live for all eternity with Him.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
John 3:16-17 (NASB)

and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1 Peter 2:24 (NASB)

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14 (NASB)

Now that I am His child, He heals me, gives me significance and real purpose, shows me where I can invest in something that lasts forever. I can love now, and am not limited to loving only those who love me. I can love all people. No longer am I a slave to my own sin or the sin in other’s lives. I am truly free. Even better, He gives me the power to live in this way.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Galatians 2:20 (NASB)

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-19 (NASB)

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,
1 Peter 1:22 (NASB)

Last, but certainly not least, I have a new family – an all inclusive family that loves all and even loves me when I’m sinful.

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NASB)

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;
but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Ephesians 4:14-16 (NASB)

That’s the message, unadorned, and beautiful without measure.

My prayer is that the Holy Spirit continues to transform me into the kind of woman who loves. The kind of woman who doesn’t take the credit but constantly points all in the direction of Jesus. The kind of woman who is in the kind of Body of Christ that is a beacon on a hill, light to the world, and salt that seasons.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;
nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16 (NASB)

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Colossians 4:5-6 (NASB)

“And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12 (NASB)