Can All Religions Be True?

One of the great barriers to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is that Christianity is too exclusive. How can Christians really claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven? How can they say Christianity is the one true faith? And what about the millions of people all around the world who follow other religions?

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Adopting and Adapting

I love being part of a local church that places an emphasis on adoption and caring for families journeying through the adoption process. My wife, Sarah, and I always knew that we would adopt someday. Adoption and care for the young has been a legacy of the Church since the time of the apostles, and we hoped to follow that tradition. We were aware of Jesus’ command for us to care for orphans and we intended to respond to that call through adoption ourselves.

The opportunity came sooner than we expected.

Four days after Sarah and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, we took in two young sisters who needed a place to live. Eventually, we made the decision, along with the girls, to make our situation formal and legal by going through the adoption process.

My wife and I always envisioned how adopting a child would go. In our minds’ eyes we would bring in a kid who would integrate perfectly into our lives. We would never be worn out or struggle to show them the love and grace that we have experienced in Christ. Sure, we knew that there would be difficulties — we would be bringing a young person with trauma into our home after all. But, we were built for it… right?

Looking back, I might have romanticized the idea of adoption a little too much.

 

Reality Strikes Back

The process of adoption has been full of mental, legal, emotional, and spiritual battles. It’s often said that parenting is a full-time job. This is even more true for parenting an adopted child. The adopted child is not a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, they already have their own pains, beliefs, and opinions, and in some instances, trauma.

I want to say that our adoption experience has been an abnormal one, but I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a normal adoption. While books, counseling, and community have helped us adapt to new situations, every adoption is its own unique case with its own unique challenges. Resources can be a survival guide, but the family still has to make the journey.

But, despite the difficulty of the process, adoption has been an incredible gift from the Lord as it is one of the greatest possible illustrations of his love for us.

At times our adopted children have felt unworthy, as if they were not good enough or deserving of our love. It is simply not true. We love them, and they could never do anything to undo that love.

I realized after months of these conversations with my daughters, that for much of my life I actually had the same approach to God.

 

Our Father’s Love

Adoption into God’s family always felt difficult for me. Sure, I could see God loving me enough to send Jesus to take my punishment to give me new life and right standing before God, but bringing me into his family? That was different because it was so personal. If I were to be one of God’s sons, it would mean that I would be intimately, closely known. Justification could be a one-time gift; I am given new life and righteousness and off I go! But adoption would mean a new, never-ending relationship.

This didn’t seem possible. So instead, I strove to be good enough or worthy enough or to work hard enough to show that Jesus’ sacrifice was worth it. I would constantly fight this feeling of not belonging to the family that I have been brought into. Eventually, I knew, it would be found out that I was too imperfect, too unloving, too calloused, too fake to truly be a son of God.

But, being on the other side of the earthly version of the spiritual reality has taught me so much about God and his heart to grow his family through the beauty of adoption.

One of the greatest gifts that the Lord could give us is assurance—the ability for us to know that God loves us enough to restore relationship with us. For followers of Jesus, assurance of our salvation comes with understanding our new relationship with God. He has adopted us into his family. Through the eternal Son, we are now sons and daughters of God! He is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in Christ! What a great gift of assurance!

 

Adoption has been the most difficult thing my wife and I have ever faced. Marriage, financial difficulties, chronic illness – none of them were nearly as difficult as bringing new family members into the home.

Should you consider adoption you must know this: it is difficult and at times painful, but I would make the same decision every time. There have been growing pains along the way, but also moments of incredible joy as we see two young women who used to be distant strangers to us become part of our family.

I am so incredibly thankful that God is the perfect version of what a parent should be.

We fail as parents and fail to love one another as brothers and sisters, but God will never fail. Unlike my wife and I as new parents, God will always be perfectly merciful, forgiving, present, and loving. We can rest in his unfailing love while we continue to demonstrate his love to the world.


 

084: Good & Angry

The last year has been filled with many emotions, but there is one that seems to be everywhere — anger. As we begin a new message series called Good & Angry we look back on a previous podcast episode where Ryan Lehtinen talks with Bruce Wesley to discuss what anger is, where it comes from, and how to overcome it before it destroys us all.

Resources: 

A Small Book about a Big Problem by Edward Welch

Good and Angry by David Powlison

A Gentle Answer by Scott Sauls

 

Are We Really #Blessed?

A quick search of #blessed on social media will reveal thousands of posts and images. Take a closer look, however, and you might notice that #blessed is almost always connected to a material good, a fun date night, or a job promotion—a success in some form or another. But is this the biblical view of blessing? Are we #blessed by God when we experience happiness, wealth, or health?

The simple answer is yes, because every good gift is a blessing from God.

God created a good world, and it is a gift of grace to be alive, to experience creation, to eat good food, and to enjoy a happy marriage. These are glimpses of the world as it should be, and when we experience these good things, we are indeed blessed. When we celebrate delicious food, beautiful gardens, unique architecture, healthy children, medicine received, we rightly thank God for these blessings. All good gifts are from God, including health, wealth, beauty, and everything else he created.

But while this is a correct view of blessing, it is also incomplete.

What happens when we experience pain, suffering, and setback? Has God turned away?

This idea of being #blessed is really about the kingdom of me, not the kingdom of God. When this is the extent of how we expect to be blessed, we are missing out on the foundational aspect of God’s creation and our redemption in Christ—the abiding presence of God in our life. The biblical depiction of blessedness reveals that it is not ultimately about possessions, comfort, or even happiness, but rather about the transformative power and gift of God’s presence in our lives.

In fact, the entirety of the gospel story is an outworking of God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him. This doesn’t mean that through Abraham, all the nations would get new cars, cute kids, or fun vacations. God was instead promising to restore what was lost in Eden: relationship with him reconciled, and the consequences of the fall defeated.

This promise was fulfilled in Jesus – God made flesh – who took our consequences of sin in his death and was raised to new life. His resurrected reign is the first fruit of God’s redemption of all things. Jesus is the culmination of God’s promise of blessing to the world.

But, confusion about what it means to be blessed isn’t a new phenomenon. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus upends what people in his culture, and people still today, regard as being blessed. He says,

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 6:3-10

This description doesn’t seem to include the types of things we see associated with #blessed on social media. Jesus describes being blessed as a life crucified, a life fixed on the hope of righteousness, a life of mourning and mercy and meekness—all found in him.

In fact, this is often what being blessed looks like, right now, for disciples of Jesus. Sometimes it might be a job promotion that reminds of us God’s provision and enables us to care for others. But often, it is our friend weeping beside us as we experience the depth of the brokenness in this world. It is understanding that the world is not as it should be, but that God has made things right in Jesus.

Either way, in the celebrations and in the suffering, all should lead us to the cross where all of God’s blessings are found.

One day, the full extent of blessing will be experienced by God’s people. His people will live in a new and restored world and walk continually in his presence. Being blessed will not be just a moment of happiness or an exciting gift, but the kingdom of God made manifest. The poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom, fully; everyone who mourns will be comforted, finally; the pure in heart shall see God, truly!

But we don’t have to wait for perfection to experience blessing right now.

Through Jesus, we are restored into relationship with God, we experience the power of his presence, and we have a glimpse of the kingdom that is coming.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be or more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.”

– Revelation 21:4-5

We should celebrate the good gifts in our lives. But, when we post a picture and say #blessed, we should also remember that we are presently, ultimately, and perfectly blessed through Christ alone.


 

083: Searching for Wisdom

Technology can be good, but can also result in echo-chambers and disconnection. Where else can we turn for information as we navigate this world? On this episode, Rachel sits down with Brett McCracken, author of The Wisdom Pyramid, to discuss how we can engage with nature, beauty, books, and more, as we seek wisdom from God.

Resources:

The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken

Exit the Echo Chamber. It’s Time to Persuade by Brett McCracken

The Distraction of Technology

 

 

082: Teens and Social Media

It’s no secret that students are firmly entrenched in the world of social media. But what does that really look like for teenagers today? What are the implications? And is it all bad? On this episode, Jon Coffey talks to Egret Bay Campus Students Director Daniel Palacios, and Students Associate Kate Mendoza about the current culture of teens, their relationship with social media, and how they can leverage their skills and technology for the kingdom of God.

Resources

Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation from the Barna Group

We’re Missing It

One Tuesday afternoon, when I had finished a long day of teaching, my daughter asked me to play Barbies with her. I responded with “I will be there in a few minutes!” And then proceeded to continue scrolling my Facebook feed. She yelled from the front room a few minutes later “Mom! You’re missing it!”

She was right. I was missing so much.

Psychologists tell us the primary source of love is attention and compassionate listening. There is something deeply moving when someone stops and looks you in the eyes – when they actually pay attention.

The little moments that feel ridiculously mundane are the moments that are the most impactful.

Our kids learn a lot about God in the simple daily rhythms of snuggling before bed and eating dinner as a family. They are learning that God is consistent and reliable.

Be Present   

Our kids look to us as their parents to be stewards of healthy habits. If we’re overusing technology, we are setting them up for the same struggle. A survey conducted in 2019 showed that adults spend an average of 50 days a year on smartphones.

The research being done about the effects of technology on our kids is staggering. It says that children ages eight-to-10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, and kids ages 11-to-14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen.

Childhood mental illnesses are at an all-time high.

We, as parents, are doing equal amounts of damage to our kids when all they see is the glow of the phone screen reflecting on the face of their mom.

We have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our children. Our family started using what we call the “be present box.” Our girls know they are able to respectfully ask us to put our screens into the “be present box” if they feel we are spending too much time on our phones.

Build Relationships

Our children will be under our roof for 18 years. There are 940 Saturdays in those 18 years.

If I’m not intentional with my time it just floats away. It disappears into wasted minutes on my phone, or mindlessly watching Stranger Things while working on my laptop.

What I do with my time is what I am doing with my life. I’m learning to exchange online distractions for real live interactions. My children shouldn’t have to compete with a screen for my attention.

Additionally, I see a direct correlation to my kids’ attitude with the amount of screen time they have. Our daughters will create the most amazing games, play dress up, and build friendships when the TV is off – a stark contrast to their mindless zombie stares and silence when the TV is on.

I pray daily that my kids will grow into a deep friendship with each other and with us. My job is to foster that friendship, and a simple first step is to limit the amount of time they have in front of a screen and encourage more face-to-face interactions.

Disciple Your Kids

When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus tells his listeners to “love the Lord,” referencing Deuteronomy 6. But, right next to this famous verse is another which admonishes parents to diligently teach their children the law of God.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

– Deuteronomy 6:4-7

We don’t control our sons’ and daughters’ faith journeys. But we absolutely have a role in them. We must disciple them face to face. We can’t leave it to children’s ministry volunteers once a week at church. It takes diligence and intention and it’s my God given role as their mother.

And I believe it starts with me putting down my phone and looking them in the eyes.

 

Here’s the thing, I want my kids to remember my eyes – my eyes watching them grow, my eyes reading with them, my eyes as I tell them I’m proud of them and that I love them, my eyes as I discipline them and disciple them, and my eyes looking towards Jesus.

I don’t want them to remember my eyes constantly occupied with a screen.

When I put down my phone, it’s easier to look up and live the life that’s right in front of me.

I don’t want to miss it.

 

Why Doesn’t God Answer My Prayers?

Have you ever reached out to God with a prayer, but God didn’t answer it and it leaves you asking the question “Why doesn’t God answer my prayers?”

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081: Eating, Body Image, and the Gospel

Our relationship with food is complicated. We love it, but it also causes so many problems. We are unhappy with our bodies, diet options abound, and many are struggling with eating disorders. Why is God’s good gift of food so fraught with anxiety and pain? How can we find peace with food and also walk alongside others who are struggling? Rachel sits down with Bekah Madrid, Susan Wesley, and Amy Carlson to discuss their journey with food and how they found peace and truth together.

Resources: 

Peace with Food

 

Care for the Immigrant

Immigration. It’s a word that will get your attention if mentioned at the dinner table, and probably, depending on your political convictions, will elicit some sort of response. Its complexity is something that might tempt us to think about this issue apart from our faith for the sake of keeping “peace” in our circles. In fact, only 12 percent of evangelicals would agree that their faith in Christ shapes their view of this particular topic, while the rest admit to not knowing how to reconcile the two.

But, this is the reality of our world:

  • Nationally, approximately 44.8 million immigrants are currently living in the U.S.
  • The state of Texas is ranked second in the U.S. in overall immigrant population and first in being the preferred settlement for refugees.
  • 70 percent of immigrants in Texas live in one of the four metro areas (Houston, Ft. Worth, Austin, and San Antonio).
  • One out of every four people in Harris county are foreign born.

Many of these families are fleeing abhorrent violence and poverty in their home countries and are leaving loved ones behind. This is why this issue cannot be an invisible topic within our church communities.

Because talking about immigration can immediately put us into defensive political stances, we sometimes overlook opportunities to boldly love our neighbors. There are wide-ranging opinions on immigration policies, but it is possible to hold to different politics and still love one another. And not only one another. As ambassadors of Jesus, it is especially important to also love those who are different and vulnerable.

We often tell our student small group leaders that our role in discipleship as we approach these topics is not to help students think politically, but to think about politics biblically. In order to find harmony we must be willing to step into some uncomfortable spaces. God’s word should give us unity, even when we disagree on much.

 

Dignity and Value of All People   

The Bible begins and consistently calls us to value all people because mankind is created in God’s image. While sin has defaced God’s image in people, it has not been destroyed. Because of this fact alone, every human being, saved or unsaved, must be valued and treated with inherent dignity. This is foundational to God’s consistent command throughout Scripture to care for the vulnerable.

As God’s redeemed people, we must always seek to bring love and service to all who bear his image: everyone.

 

Learning from Jesus  

Further, loving those who are foreign but within our reach, is not merely a current political issue, but an issue that Jesus spoke clearly about. In Luke 10, as a lawyer tries to sidestep Jesus’ command to love our neighbors, he tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In the story, a Jewish man finds himself wounded on the side of the road. Who comes to his rescue is not the religious respected figures, but an unlikely hero: a Samaritan – a foreigner. He shows extreme generosity in helping the wounded man and paying for his care.

This kind of illustration cut at the heart of the ethnic tensions and preferences of the Jewish audience because of their deep suspicion of the Samaritans. While we often lack in love for those who we think “least deserve it,” Jesus is the Samaritan in our own story. He finds us broken and dying and then pays the ultimate price for our redemption. He rescues his enemies.

This is what we are called to reflect as we love those around us.

 

Learning from Our Immigrant Neighbors 

A biblical reality that we often don’t consider is how the immigrant experience parallels our Christian identity. In fact, the Bible describes followers of Jesus as sojourners, exiles, strangers, and foreigners.

While Christ has redeemed us into his kingdom, it is yet to be fully established. Until his return we live as exiles in a world that is misaligned with our ultimate place of citizenship.

You might be surprised by how much you can learn from listening to immigrants talk about their suffering in a country that is not their home and their perseverance and trust in Jesus in a place that sometimes labels them as enemies.

 

The Bible isn’t silent about God’s heart for the immigrant. His love for the vulnerable is clear, and his followers’ love should be as well. We all desire to be a part of a country that has coherent borders and an effective immigration policy. We may not agree on what that looks like, but we all should agree on loving the vulnerable.

Love for our neighbor should be a direct result of God’s love for us. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, outside the kingdom of God with no hope of acceptance, Christ died for us. We are now citizens of God’s kingdom, one of many nations, united under Christ and known by our love for one another.

God’s tangible mercies should always be on display through the church, especially when it is extended despite background, ethnicity, and nationality. Regardless of our political differences and policy opinions, we can all remain united by the grace of Jesus and our love for all people.

May we be a church that offers the world a glimpse of the fruit that Jesus bears as God unites all peoples to himself.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

– Luke 10:25-28