Friday, December 19, 2014

Sobering Space

Even when we cooperate with law enforcement, police, and prisons, getting folks to admit their alcohol or other problem through their shyness/denial is the main battle.  No amount of time behind bars or shame can bring about the change if the person denies the problem exists.  But if anyone were to hit bottom, jail might be a good place to do it.

We are grateful for recent opportunities to partner with area prisons, jails, even the local drunk tank, where people wake up and dry out after being apprehended by police.  

Every Tuesday morning we get to share the possibility of sobriety and healing with a literally captive audience of Mongolians who have been jailed for drunkenness.  What they really want is out of jail, but some people's relatives won't get them out.  We want to see them freed from their addictions and freed eternally.  

Our hope is that the invitations we pass out will lead people to discover the steps and possibilities of overcoming alcohol and sin addiction through Celebrate Recovery.

Celebrating the Small Steps

So when your neighbor drops in to talk about neighborhood issues and offers you to share a basement storage unit, I guess he must trust you.  Our neighbor did this the other night.

He is a man around 60 years old named Eternity.  An older man coming to visit a younger one is quite a step, and he has work so it wasn't about the money.  He offered it as a neighborly gesture and let us store the kids' bikes and sleds in there before for free.

Eternity has read the Bible quite a bit.  I've seen the Bible he has read and it is quite worn. I being the missionary usually bring up the subject of Jesus and spiritual things.  But the other night when we were done talking about locks, doors, and storage and stuff, he brought up the spiritual subject...

"One day this winter when we're free let's plan some times to talk for about the Bible", and then he really surprised me saying, "Then one Sunday I'd like to visit your church"!

You could take this as if I'm a bad missionary because I didn't offer and get him to church before.  But relationships in Mongolia are funny.  If you're too forward, people shy away easily.  Plus then they are compelled by politeness and everyone ends up feeling like the visitor did everyone a favor by coming to church.

But praying for God to draw people is the sure way that the favor rests with God.  He alone can draw sinners to himself, and then the responsibility is on the sinner to come to Jesus.  We are the debtors and he is the Forgiver.  Grateful that God is answering prayer.

If you want to join us in praying for our neighbor, pray that the conversations and church visits happen, and that Eternity understands what is required to experience eternal life.  Pray for him and his whole family to come to find forgiveness and full life in Christ.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What is Grace?

The Heresy of Grace
Grace is unmerited favor.  It’s getting something you don’t deserve.  Acting as if you deserve it, is abuse of grace.  Grace is not a means to satiate the desires of the flesh, mocking God in willful sins that assume He is ‘bound’ to forgive.  He is not.  Grace does not negate or deny the truth.  It freely admits wrong behaviors, words, thoughts as a path to forgiveness and freedom from sin.
Today’s understanding of grace seems to have overshadowed truth.  Saying something ‘is not wrong' is untrue.  In our culture and even churches at times seems to me closer to politeness or the all-allusive ‘appropriateness’ or even prudence. 
Certainly it is not wrong to be polite, mind your own business and avoid being rude.  The Love chapter 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us, “love is not rude”.  Note it also doesn’t mention love being polite. But too much politeness can lead to avoidance of the truth; a kind of polite paralysis if you like.  
Similarly, “appropriateness” may have its place, but it makes a miserable life-goal or god in itself.  “That’s inappropriate” you hear even children say these days.  Certainly there have to be rules about behaviors, and some are unacceptable.  But to make being appropriate or politically correct the main goal is to be bound to culture, human opinion, or conventional society.  We can avoid doing anything hard or true or right because of a fear of being labeled “inappropriate”.  Such can be a kind of neo-law that actually holds back grace.
Prudence is important to remember, especially in eternal matters and may help us avoid rash or careless words or acts.  But to continually say or think “wouldn’t be prudent…at this juncture” is to put off acting altogether.  This is not grace. It is a coward’s excuse to disobey.
To use politeness, appropriate, or prudence as an excuse to do no true grace.  Rather, admitting our own wrongs, remembering all we’ve been forgiven of, we become free to act with grace toward others.  Accepting the truth of our own sin is essential to a correct understanding and life lived in grace.  If you or I are obviously judgmental, legalistically religious, who would dare to show us their vulnerabilities?  How much less would they show them to God?
Grace is unmerited favor.  We abuse it if we get too used to it, believe the lie that we deserve it, or lose sight of the truth altogether.  Speaking the Truth in Love, we demonstrate God’s own love for us.  “That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  This is true grace, and delivers us from the Law and the lies of the evil one.
What about a fall from grace?  Is this like your luck running out?  Or being down on your luck?  If you think about grace as unmerited favor, but then you start to act as if God loves you because of how great you are, then it is very possible for that favor to turn to displeasure.
Think about a child/parent relationship.  The kid is making mud pies and presenting them with love to the parent.  The favor and pleasure of the parent is not for the performance of the great tasting pie, but for the intent and love in the service.  
Imagine the child grows up to be a baker of world renowned pies, becomes rich and famous in Paris and New York.  Pride causes him to begin pushing people around.  The favor of ‘God and man’ is removed and people begin to resent and despise him.  Soon he is exposed for some proud sin like tax evasion or abuse of employees and experiences a “fall from grace”.
Is this the same thing as your luck running out?  I don’t know, but 2 Peter 3:17,18 implores God’s people: “Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 
        Grace is favor granted by God to those who don’t deserve it.  Did God have to come to earth and suffer death for us in Jesus Christ?  How many parents do you know who go to prison for their children’s crimes, even submit to the death penalty for them?  Certainly there may be some who have wanted to.  What if our justice system allowed it?  How many little old ladies would have been hung from gallows in the old west.  That would have been gruesome enough, but then what if the criminal then came and trampled on her grave, or worse, all the while demanding he deserved more?  Most anyone would say the criminal was undeserving and the punishment unjust. Any reasonable person would long for the spoiled, abusive criminal to bear his own punishment.
The truth is “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6 and Proverbs 3:4)  Let us humbly remember we don’t deserve grace, lest we fall.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Big Families Gather

Hi Folks, In this season of Thanksgiving, it is good to see God's bounty.  We are not the only American missionary family in Darhan with five kids.  Our friends live and minister in Mongolia on a farm just outside of town.  Here are their kids and ours, all 10, around our table this fall.  God is good.  It's fun to get together and gather to celebrate.