Rules and Freedom

Freedom Requires Rules

On Monday, I wrote a bit about salvation, and this post continues along that theme. Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about the Christian faith is that the defining characteristic of Christians is “being good” (and following, salvation depends on how “good” one is). A common objection to following Jesus Christ involves an unwillingness to follow the “rules” (some of which are merely rules that people popularly associate with the faith, and not a commandment actually found in the Bible). God’s rules do serve a purpose, though, and we can see that if we can only manage to change our perception a little bit.

Think about it. Are there any among us who can truly say they’d be happy living in a world in which murder, theft, rape, infidelity, and lying were commonplace and accepted? Does any good ever come from dishonoring our parents? Do we get anywhere when we envy others, whether for their spouse or their possessions? Can anything but disaster come from cheating on one’s spouse? When we start to think about things in terms of their consequences—on both ourselves and others—we start to see that the rules establish an environment in which we are protected from certain things—being killed or having to constantly worry that someone will take our belongings, for example. Our happiness is protected in a marriage where fidelity is the rule. We can trust our friends when we know they won’t lie to us.

I once read an analogy that sticks with me to this day (though, unfortunately, the author does not—it may be Brennan Manning). The illustration involves a youth soccer game without a coach; the father of one of the players steps in to fill the absence but, unfortunately, he has no knowledge of the rules of the game. As you might imagine, things quickly deteriorate into utter chaos. No longer was there a fun game that the young players could enjoy, because the lack of organization opened the door to injury and made the game a pointless—and potentially dangerous—free-for-all. In the same way, the rules established by God, starting with the Ten Commandments, give us a framework within which we have an opportunity to experience joy.

In itself, though, the Law is unable to bring that joy to us. Freedom requires rules, but those rules don’t provide freedom.

The Law Does Not Justify Us; Christ Does

Following what the Law prescribes can not save us, because we can not follow the Law. No matter how hard we try, we will fail, because we are incapable of keeping the Law. That is why Paul taught the Galatians that, “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse” (Gal. 3:10): because “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20).

There is, however, one man who was able to follow the Law, though he was subject to all of the same temptations, frustrations, and emotions that any of us might experience. Because Jesus Christ kept the Law, because he was the spotless and innocent Lamb of God, he—and only he—could take away the sins of the world: my sins and yours. If ever we lose sight of this fact, we start down a slippery slope; we must always remember that our sanctification is dependent on what Christ has done, not anything that we can—or ever could—do.  Mars Hill’s Matt Johnson writes, “Rather than seeing sanctification as a linear progression from bad to better, the Christian life is more accurately described circularly; we return again and again to the cross.” (“Moralism’s Cruel Stick and Carrot”). This is the key: rather than relying on ourselves, we must be humble enough to repeatedly go back to the Cross (because we are in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus gives us there), in confession and repentance.

We are justified by Jesus Christ alone. It sounds so simple and easy, but it presents such a challenge…

Christ’s Commitment to Us

Something that I’ve been considering a lot lately is my understanding of sanctification and salvation through Jesus Christ. Dave Dorr, pastor of Passage Church recently wrote a short but insightful article regarding the difference between us accepting Christ and Christ accepting us.  In “The Gap Between Us Accepting Christ and Christ Accepting Us”, Dorr writes:

Commitment is a result of salvation. Devotion to Christ flows from belief, not from volition. It is an act of heart, not will. Is it no wonder then, so many question their salvation? They question because they think their justification with God is based on commitment, and when their commitment wanes, they sense they might not really be a Christian. They are counting on their commitment to save them, not Jesus… Do not put your hope in the fact that you have accepted Christ. Hope in the fact that Christ has accepted you.

John 4:13-14I think many of us struggle with this. It is so hard—for me, at least—to understand and accept a God who does all of the work for us. We’re taught that we have to work for what we want; we have to earn it. But Jesus Christ has accomplished all of the work necessary for us to have eternal life. We mustn’t fall into the trap of trying to earn or salvation, or thinking that we can somehow do something to lose it.

To be sure, our commitment to Jesus Christ is vitally important and should certainly be something with which we’re concerned. However, when we go through dark periods of doubt, or selfish periods when we neglect our relationship with Jesus, or hectic times when we don’t spend as much time in prayer and in the Word as we should, we are not in danger of losing Christ’s love for us. We are, though, missing a chance to live as fulfilled a life as possible, being near to—and abiding in—our Savior, and letting him nourish us with his living water. So, our commitment to Christ is important; but when it comes to our salvation, what matters more is his commitment to us.

Worship and Prayer: A Personal Relationship

Whenever I have the opportunity to give my testimony, I talk about how God was working in my life for months before I happened to attend a concert marking the last Maryland appearance of the band Five Iron Frenzy. A Christian ska band known for silly songs and crazy antics, FIF also wrote some of the greatest worship songs I’ve ever heard, and I still have their albums in frequent rotation to this day. I mark that night as the night that I truly accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Five Iron Frenzy - The End is HereThis particular concert took place on Sept. 20, 2003, a few months after the first time I had finally attended a Hope For The Rejected Bible study, after much encouragement and harassment from friends. I was learning about the character of God and learning about Jesus Christ in a way that I never had, even growing up in a family that went to church every Sunday. Five Iron Frenzy put on their usual high-energy show that night, but closed with a very serious time of worship. As I remember it, Reese, the band’s lead singer, played the tune “I Love You Lord” acoustically. He has a truly striking voice, and hearing him lead hundreds (thousands?) of people, our hands and voices raised, through such an honest and emotional song had a profound impact on me. That night, after the concert, I went home and knelt by my bed, as I hadn’t done since I was a kid, and fervently prayed an apology to God. “I’m sorry, Lord,” I prayed, “for spitting in Your face and turning my back on You for so many years.”  I thanked Jesus for never turning his back on me, and told him that night that my life now belonged to him.

I started thinking about that night again after giving my testimony to a group of high school kids this past weekend at MMYfC’s Avalanche retreat, and wondering what made that concert so special. What was it that made that night so different from any other? What exactly was it about that worship experience that changed things, and finally allowed me to take a step in my relationship with Jesus from merely “knowing about him” to actually “knowing him”? After reflecting on things quite a bit, I’ve finally realized that I think what made that particular worship experience so special was that it marked the first time that I genuinely raised my voice and offered praise to God. It was the first time that I was honest with God, the first time I cried out and simply told Him that I finally realized how much I needed Him in my life. It was when that barrier was broken, when I tore down the veil I had created, when I was able to connect with God in a personal way, that I was able to allow Him to be what He had always wanted to be: my personal savior.

Since that day, God—with a lot of help from Starr along the way—has engendered and nurtured in me a love of praise and worship music (along with a host of other changes, of course). Although I still don’t exactly love the style of much of the current worship music, I always look forward to and cherish the opportunity that these songs afford to lift my voice in praising God. I remember singing along in church one particular Sunday morning a couple of years ago, and suddenly receiving the revelation that my simple act of worship was bringing unbridled joy to the God of the universe, and to the Son who had given his life to save mine. What a profound and joyous realization that was…

I Love You, Lord
(Laurie Klein)

I love You, Lord,
and I lift my voice
to worship You.
Oh, my soul rejoice!
Take joy, my King,
in what You hear.
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.


Though I’m not yet the official Senior High Youth Leader at my church until next week, my wife and I will be leading JCrew (our church’s senior high youth group) tonight for the first time, and meeting some of the teens who we haven’t come in contact with as we’ve volunteered with the group over the past several months.

We’re extremely grateful for the opportunity that God and the church community have given us by entrusting us with the responsibility of discipling and teaching their sons and daughters. This is a duty that we take very seriously, but we are also extremely excited about having fun with the kids and enjoying their company while we build genuine friendships and help them grow in their relationships with Jesus Christ. We are blessed with a great team of staff and volunteers who are already in place, and have a passion to see the youth of the church and the community connect with God.

Though we have many goals and plans for how we want to reach them, this is sure to be a learning experience in so many ways. Ultimately, we realize that we must entrust this ministry to the Lord, and let him guide us, give us wisdom, work through us, and bless our meager efforts. We know that he has a vision for our ministry that is far greater than anything we can imagine, so the best course of action will be to always to remain open to his leading. Please be sure to keep me and my wife, and the youth with whom we’ll be working, in your prayers.

“Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3, NIV)

BioLogos: Disingenuous Objectivity

Evolution vs. Creation (artist unknown)

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a rebuttal of sorts (“No Buzzing Little Fly“) to the BioLogos Foundation’s year-end summary (“The Dawning of a New Day”, written by its current president Darrel Falk). This article specifically singled out Mohler for attempting to “squish” BioLogos like “a buzzing little fly.”

For those not familiar with The BioLogos Foundation, they are a group of Christian scientists, scholars, philosophers, theologians, pastors, educators, and others “who are concerned about the long history of disharmony between the findings of science and large sectors of the Christian faith” and “believe that evolution, properly understood, best describes God’s work of creation.”

While claiming to be objective themselves, and simultaneously chastising many evangelical Christians for their “blind” commitment to supernatural presuppositions, Falk makes it clear that his beliefs require a devotion to science that is nothing short of worship: as Dr. Mohler adeptly points out, science—in Falk’s eyes—must be held as infallible. This seems quite hypocritical for a group that seeks to undermine evangelical thought by attacking the acceptance of its common tenets.

It’s nothing short of ironic that one of the greatest arguments against Intelligent Design and Creationist thought is the alleged requirement of “blind faith” on the part of its proponents. If we are to have an honest debate about the issue, we must honestly admit that we all bring presuppositions and biases to the table. The “dirty little secret” of Evolution is that most of the evidence that ostensibly proves the theory is based on the presupposition that Evolution is the mechanism by which life on earth has reached the point we’re at today, not simply a theory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: science often relies on hypotheses and building on previous empirical findings. We run into a problem, though, when we accept those hypotheses without actually proving them, and then blindly accept them as fact while ignoring all evidence to the contrary. In other words, findings and theories based on a flawed precedent are houses built on sand.

There are plenty of scientists on the opposite side of the debate (among them, some of the most interesting evidence, theories and arguments come from The Institute for Creation Research, Reasons to Believe and Answers in Genesis), yet rather than confront the findings of these scientists—who are discovering many flaws in neo-Darwinist and Evolutionist theory—head-on in an open and honest debate, Dr. Falk and many others simply dismiss them out of hand as people who are leading us “down a dead end road.” Far from being in danger of being “squished” as a “little fly,” Evolutionists have monopolized the debate and very successfully crushed much of the intellectual competition. Evolution is not a foregone conclusion, and it’s time that we stopped treating it that way and let the evidence speak for itself.

For any who are interested and local, my church (Trinity Lutheran in Joppa, MD) will be hosting a Bible study tomorrow, Tuesday, January 11, on the subject “Evolution and Creationism,” which should prove to be very informative and worth your time. The study will be led by our senior pastor, Pr. Paul Austin.

Avalanche/Balancing Family & Ministry

Later today, Starr and I are headed to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for Metro Maryland Youth For Christ’s Avalanche retreat. This is a weekend of snowboarding, skiing, snow-tubing and other activities for high-school students, as well as a lot of opportunity for spiritual growth and small group discussions, held at the Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center.  This will be our first time going to this particular event, and we’re helping out as chaperones for youth who we don’t know, but we’re excited to be a part of it and let God use us.

This will also be the first time since Starr and I were married that we aren’t able to sleep in the same room, since we’ll both be responsible for three teens who will be in our respective rooms. This has raised the issue of how to divide time (and attention) between ministry and each other—and in the future, our children as well—and we have been thinking about and discussing that topic a lot this week. This is honestly more of a sacrifice for Starr, I think—not because I don’t enjoy spending time with her just as much as she with I, but because as a man I’m different than her. Starr feels most loved when I express it by spending quality time with her, so I constantly have to make sure that I’m giving her what she needs in terms of that time and attention. I don’t do this just to keep her from whining or nagging, but because it’s my responsibility as her husband to love her in the way that she needs to be loved. So it’s not that I require any less love from her than she requires from me; it’s just that I need to be loved in a different way. Dr. Gary Chapman sheds much light on approaching marriage this way in his universally popular The Five Love Languages (and several subsequent books expanding on that idea). This is something that we talked about a lot before we were married, and something that has helped us learn to live with each other and be good spouses who meet each others’ needs.

Starr has been reading the late Ruth Bell Graham’s It’s My Turn, a book of “life lessons from the wife of Billy Graham.” Ruth’s examples of being a strong wife and supporting her husband through his many years of being a world-renowned minister and traveling all over the globe to do God’s work, have helped Starr quite a bit. Ruth was a partner in Billy’s ministry and often traveled with him—and even had a productive ministry of her own—but a major part of being his “help-mate” meant that she took care of the home and their children so that Billy could focus on ministering to others. Ruth Bell Graham’s example also calls Starr to ultimately trust my judgment about major decisions affecting our ministry, and our life together in general. I don’t expect my wife to be silent, and indeed I appreciate her input involving those decisions, but ultimately she trusts me to make the right choice.

Christians and Culture: “Receive, Reject, or Redeem”

All Christians are called to be missionaries—to engage in evangelism (the communication of the Gospel of Jesus Christ) and acts of service—regardless of whether their mission field is their home, their workplace, their community, another country or another continent.  Though traveling to other areas for missions is important, we often forget how great an impact we can have right in our own backyard, in our everyday lives.

Wise missionaries understand that they must learn the culture of those whom they seek to reach, not only because it is important to know what others believe before we expect them to learn what we believe, but also because it affords a wonderful opportunity to meet people where they are, and communicate with them in an understandable way. In the same way that Jesus taught using parables, missionaries who know the history, customs and legends of a group of people can use this knowledge to analogize the story of the Gospel, presenting it in a meaningful way (St. Patrick, for example, left parts of Ireland’s culture intact, while turning them toward Christ as the object of their worship).

But this lesson holds true not only for those who seek to evangelize in foreign lands; when we minister to people anywhere, we can provide a clearer presentation of the Gospel if we understand their culture.  In the U.S., that means understanding many aspects of pop culture:  music, movies, books, television, celebrities, fashion, etc.  As obnoxious as we may find Stephanie Meyer’s wildly popular Twilight books, for example, we can use themes presented in those stories, such as sacrificial love, to communicate the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ—who willingly died that we might be saved—to a teenage girl in a way that is perhaps more approachable than any presentation of the Gospel narrative that she has previously heard.  Even the Insane Clown Posse, a revolting rap duo with arguably no redeeming social value, recognize the awe and wonder of the Creation (though in much less intelligent and more offensive language) in their song “Miracles,” the lyrics of which could be the starting point of a discussion about the inadequacy of naturalistic explanations to explain the universe in which we live.

As Christians, we needn’t fear culture, but we must exercise discernment in which parts of culture can stay, and which must go.  Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, recently wrote in his blog concerning this topic (“Why Christians Go Postal Over Facebook, Jay-Z, Yoga, Avatar, and Culture in General”).  Driscoll argues that culture should not be viewed passively (“merely as entertainment”); rather, he writes, we should “engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.” He goes on to point out the dangers of going to either extreme:  Syncretists dilute the Gospel too much in favor of staying “relevant” (something all too common in the Emergent Church movement), while sectarians legalistically believe that being involved in culture at all is analogous to living in sin. To avoid going “too far” or “not far enough,” Driscoll offers this wise advice:

One helpful taxonomy I have used for years to help teach on missiology is as follows:

· Receive – There are things in culture that are part of God’s common grace to all people that a Christian can simply receive. This is why, for example, I am typing on a Mac and am going to post this blog on the Internet without searching for an expressly Christian computer or communication format.

· Reject – There are things in culture that are sinful and not beneficial. One example is pornography, which has no redeeming value and must be rejected by a Christian.

· Redeem – There are things in culture that are not bad in and of themselves, but can be used in a sinful manner and therefore need to be redeemed by God’s people. An example that has resulted in a great deal of media attention is sexual pleasure. God made our bodies for, among other purposes, sexual pleasure. And, although many have sinned sexually, as Christians we should redeem this great gift and all its joys in the context of marriage.

The key, then, is to use our discernment to decide which parts of culture we should receive, what we must reject, and those which can be redeemed.  Perhaps the reason that many Christians are hesitant to follow this taxonomy is that we don’t trust others—or ourselves, for that matter—to make sound judgments regarding these things.  Surely, life as a Christian would be easier in some ways if we had more of a clear-cut set of rules to guide our behavior. Following Christ, though, is not about following rules; it’s about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and about freely deciding to live our lives in a Christ-centered way—one which glorifies Him in all that we do.  If we replace that relationship with an attempt to follow a code of conduct—an effort that is doomed to fail—we miss the point completely.  God granted us the free will to decide for ourselves; we honor His gift when we use discernment—consulting the Word and with prayerful consideration—to make the right choice:  the choice that brings glory to God.

All aspects of culture offer us opportunities to reach a world that is desperately in need of Jesus.  We should graciously and gladly accept—and take advantage of—these occasions.

Family: Our Top Priority

How I Pastor My Family | Justin HydeThis weekend, The Resurgence posted a recap of their Top 6 posts of 2010, and I deemed one to be especially worth sharing: Justin Hyde’s “How I Pastor My Family”.  Hyde, lead pastor of Christ Church in Brenham, Texas, lists ten guidelines for being a pastor to his family, which he accurately describes as “the most important part of [his] vocation.”

As I prepare to enter into a career in ministry, I’ve thought and prayed quite a bit for the discipline and wisdom to make sure that I follow the Biblical imperative to be able to “manage [my] own family well” (1 Tim. 3:4-5), which I interpret to include being a teacher and spiritual leader, as well as a source of support, leadership, and discipline. Hyde offers a lot of helpful and practical advice for being the kind of a Christ-like spiritual leader for one’s family that we are called to be (Eph. 5:23). An overarching “theme” of most of his advice is an attitude of selflessness, which is—not surprisingly—the single most defining characteristic of the way that Christ cares for the Church. The temptation to put myself first after a hard day of work is extremely strong, even though I have no children to worry about, only my wife.  But as a husband, Scripture simply doesn’t grant me the luxury of putting my needs and desires above those of my wife. At the present time, I need to nurture good habits and increase my focus on being intentional about doing away with distractions, and making sure that I am the kind of husband—and father, at some point—who is managing my family well: being the kind of leader, teacher, shepherd, encourager, and exemplar who steers us—as a family unit—toward a life centered on Christ.

Hyde concludes by pointing out that this kind of family leadership can’t exist as a set of discrete planned events, but that these intentional elements must be part of an overall attitude of willingness—or perhaps I should say eagerness—to make Jesus a part of each and every aspect of our lives, no matter how mundane. As the leader of the family, a husband must take this responsibility very seriously; it is our charge to see that our family grows every day closer to Jesus Christ.

A New Season

Luke 10:2This new year begins a new chapter of my life.

Over seven years ago, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. A couple of years later, I came to understand that God had, through all of the experiences that had led me to a saving relationship with Him, prepared me for ministry; I realized, too, that this—at some point—would become the main focus of my life: a “full-time” occupation. I began my career with my current employer five years ago this week, a few months before graduating from Towson University in Maryland. Nine months ago, I married my longtime friend and partner in ministry, Starr. As most of us have a habit of doing, I became comfortable and complacent with my life. Several months ago, though, I came to a point in my life where I realized that I couldn’t ignore my “calling” any longer: It was time for me to start transitioning into a career as a full-time missionary and minister. After much prayer and discussion, Starr and I agreed that this was where God was leading us, and it was where we would go. This decision was not made quickly, or without doubt, but—when it came down to it—there was really no other option than to do what we felt Jesus calling us to do.

So, though we’re not exactly sure how this will work in practical terms, we’ve begun the transition. After several months of volunteering with the youth group at our church, I will officially become their part-time Senior High Youth Leader later this month. I am also working on transferring to a part-time position with my current employer and becoming a staff member with Youth For Christ, a national parachurch ministry group with whom my wife and I have volunteered for many years.  John 4:35Additionally, I have done freelance photography and graphic design for the past ten years or so, and Starr recently began “learning the trade” as well.  We plan on using these skills to supplement our financial support, but ultimately know that we have to place our faith in the Lord to provide for us as we follow the path He’s set before us.

And while I know full well that it may not seem exactly rational—in a “worldly” sense, at least—to leave a reliable and lucrative career doing a job that I love to do, I know that I can no longer waste my skills, time, knowledge, experiences… my very life.  There is no good reason—indeed, no acceptable excuse—to delay any longer.  Please understand that I don’t intend to pass judgment on any of my readers, because I heartily believe that you can make a monumental impact and do great things for the Kingdom regardless of the role you play.  The behind-the-scenes supporters—the organizers, mentors, and financiers—are just as important as the front-line missionaries, ministers and evangelists (in truth, I think the Lord gives us opportunities to be involved in both ways, no matter where we are).  What I am discussing here is a step of faith that my wife and I are compelled so strongly to take that we simply can’t refuse to do so.

This blog will chronicle each small step of faith in a lifelong journey upon which we are about to embark.  Herein, I hope to give you a window into our life and ministry, to inspire you and make you think, to share my joys and pains, and successes and challenges. My prayer is that I can give encouragement to you, share what we learn with each new passing day of this journey, and ultimately give glory to God for the work He is doing in us and through us, as Starr and I enter a new season of our life—one in which we are more passionate than ever before about a life focused on our relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.

– John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Preface)

Lucas W.
Jan. 1, 2011