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Part 1: A Time to Reflect

This article is the first in a short series I plan to write about how to process the issues of our day:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

            2       a time to be born, and a time to die; 
                     a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

            3       a time to kill, and a time to heal; 
                     a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

            4       a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
                     a time to mourn, and a time to dance…

I think we could rightly add: “a time to reflect” to the mix. That’s how I’ve been feeling, and based on many of the conversations I’ve had with you, that’s how many of you are feeling. There’s a lot to think about.

Christians welcome reflection. It’s an important part of growth and change. We are always eager to learn what it looks like to follow Jesus in this fallen world. In the midst of this uproar, we can be thankful for this challenging opportunity that causes us to ponder important issues.

When Tragedy Struck

When tragedy struck in Palestine and certain people asked Jesus about it, he used it as an opportunity to call his people to repentance (Lk. 13:1-5). The tragedies surrounding us ought to make us pause. God’s message to the world, given through Christ, is “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:14-15). Christians are people who live in the posture of repentance. We gladly receive this moment as an invitation to pause, reflect, and evaluate if there are areas, patterns, or attitudes in our lives that are sinful and require repentance. Like David, we can ask the Lord to search our hearts and expose our sins (Ps. 139:23-24) because we know that there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1).

Beware the Inner Lawyer; Beware False Guilt

Paul David Tripp likes to say that we all have an “inner lawyer” that rises up to our defense whenever we’re accused of something. In our study through Mark, we’ve seen that the Pharisees had an almost infinite capacity to delude themselves. We can be just like them. Our inner defense lawyer is highly skilled. He knows how to alleviate unwanted guilt by persuasively proving our innocence. We need to be aware of that. 

At the same time, false guilt is a bad thing. We should not feel guilty for sins we have not committed. We can grieve over the sins of others. This is right. We can mourn over tragedy and loss. This is natural and good. It’s important to remember, however, that we are not guilty of the sins of others. False guilt leads to false repentance, false repentance leads to false humility, and false humility leads us in the exact opposite direction we need to go. That road leads to a new definition for sin, and if you redefine sin, you redefine repentance, and if you redefine repentance, well, I think you’ve just redefined the gospel.

The biblical way of dealing with sin is confessing it (1 Jn. 1:8-9). To confess sin means to name it, call it out, and see it for what it is. It does no good to confess vague, unspecified sin. Growth happens when we, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, see our sin for what it is, confess it to God, and receive forgiveness (Prov. 28:13).

Let’s Talk about Racism 

So here’s my plea. The whole world is talking about racism. Let’s talk about it too. But let’s not talk about it like the world talks about it. And, before we start talking about it, let’s talk to God about it. Let’s ask him for the needed humility and Spirit-given clarity to see our own hearts. Let’s be willing to concede that there may be issues God wants to deal with.

Potential Sins of the Heart

Racism. Biblically, we’re all members of the same human race (Acts 17:28). The various colors we have are aspects of God’s wonderful, beautiful creation. Heaven will be filled with the beauty of people from every “nation, tribe, and tongue,” and we believe the church should be a preview to that. Racism is when one “race” believes it is superior to another “race.”  

It would be a violation of our belief in the nature of human sin to deny that racism is a possibility. No one denies the horrors that racist ideologies have enabled across the world and in America specifically. Racism has existed, exists today, and will exist until the Lord’s return. Let’s not act as if we’re immune to it. My friend and pastor “Gunner” Gundersen recently wrote this arresting paragraph: 

Have we forgotten that every heart is “desperately sick”? We know that pride is insidious, lust is corrosive, anger is consuming, and envy has a thousand faces, but we speak as though “racism” is a simple binary, a “pass/fail” diagnosis that ignores the layered, subtle, deceptive, enculturated ways sin works in our hearts and communities.

Let’s pause and go before the Lord and ask the question: Lord, do I have racist thoughts, attitudes, or actions? Do I think, feel, or act like I am superior to other people who have different skin tones than me? Do I think, feel, or act like those with a different skin-color are inferior to me and others like me?

Favoritism. Not all racial problems are rooted in racism. Some could be more accurately described as “favoritism” problems. James 2:1 says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” God doesn’t play favorites (Rom. 2:11), and because God is impartial, we should be too. 

James uses the example of a rich man and a poor man walking into the church. Which do we pay attention to? Which are we drawn to? He says if we show particular hospitality to the rich man while ignoring the poor man, we’ve sinned. “Have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (Jas 2:4). 

James uses a rich man/poor man contrast for his point, but his point has further implications for how we treat people who have different appearances. It is possible to be free from racism while still being partial to people who are like you. 

Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, am I partial to people who are like me? Do I prefer them simply because it’s comfortable? Am I more welcoming to them because it’s easier? Do I ignore those different from me because I don’t want to deal with their problems? Do I play favorites?

Fear. Racial strife isn’t always racism or favoritism. It could be something even more basic: fear. The most repeated command in Scripture is some variation of “Do not fear.” The implication is that often we’re like shivering little animals, afraid of all manner of things - especially the unknown. If a person hasn’t had much time spent with people of different skin colors, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that they might experience sinful fear and worry. 

Ask the Lord these questions: Lord, I am afraid of people who are not like me? Am I afraid of the discomfort of getting to know them? Am I afraid of the challenges they might bring to my life?

Insensitivity. As a church, we have agreed to “rejoice with those who are rejoicing, and with tenderness and sympathy, bear the burdens and sorrows of those who weep.” Whenever members in our church are grieving, we grieve with them, listen, and bear burdens - regardless of race, class, occupation, or issue.

It’s wrong and sinful for us to be completely insensitive to the struggles and trials of those around us, particularly our brothers and sisters in the church. Is there a possibility, that even if we’re not committing racism, playing favorites, or fearing those of a different race, that we’re insensitive to the unique struggles they’ve faced?

Not every black person’s experience is the same. Many, however, I’ve spoken to and learned from don’t have a “chip on their shoulder” or an “axe to grind” when they tell me about certain challenges they’ve had to face. Shai Linne recently wrote an article listing several of the varied difficulties of being black in America:

It’s about having to explain to my 4-year-old son at his mostly white Christian school that the kids who laughed at him for having brown skin were wrong, that God made him in his image, and that his skin is beautiful—after he told me, “Daddy, I don’t want brown skin. I want white skin.”

It’s easy for us to bear burdens we understand. It’s much more difficult to bear a burden utterly foreign to us; something we’ve never experienced. Let’s let this time help us think through whether we have been sensitive to the unique struggles of our black brothers and sisters. Have we sought to understand them? Have we demonstrated sympathy? Are we quick to write off their concerns? Are we willing to actually bear burdens?

Don’t Repent If...

Let’s seize this moment as a learning opportunity. Remember, we are not of this world, and do not respond to these issues as the world does. We pause. We pray. We think. We look at Scripture. We look at our hearts. We repent where necessary. We grow and change. 

But we don’t manufacture repentance. This is important. If we want real, substantial change, we must deal with the heart. Our hearts first. That’s why it’s imperative that we do not repent of sins we have not committed. That bypasses true growth.

However, if the Lord has exposed real sin, praise the Lord! Thank him for his rescuing, eye-opening grace! Ask for forgiveness, receive his abundant mercy, and turn from the sin you’ve identified. Enjoy the wonderful forgiveness we find in the gospel.

Posted by Eric Durso with

Some Good News

A few weeks ago, actor John Krasinski created and self-published a video he titled, “Some Good News,” where he shared some heart-warming videos that highlighted the more humane and uplifting things that have been happening these difficult days. The video went viral, and I take that to mean that people are particularly hungry for “Some Good News.” There are some great things happening amongst the people at Grace Rancho, and I want to stop for a moment and consider “Some Good News.” 

First of all, Jesus is alive. You know this. But don’t let familiarity breed contempt! Think of it: Jesus actually died, and now Jesus is actually alive. His resurrection proves that he conquered death. He is the first fruits of the New Creation. We can be sure that this death-riddled planet will not remain as it is forever. If the Lord tarries, we will all die. There is, however, a day coming that we will be raised from the dead. This gives new life and hope and purpose to our living and struggling and dying now.

Second, Jesus is saving people. In the last several months, some of the people we’ve been praying for have made professions of faith. Off the top of my head, I can think of five people in our church’s circle of influence who seem to have bowed the knee to the Savior and are demonstrating the fruits of repentance. I think we’re going to see some new converts baptized when we are finally able to regather.

Third, many lost souls are being prayed for by our church. In my growth group alone, we’re praying for 38 different friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers who need the Lord. We’re also praying for boldness, for open doors, and for their salvation. We’re also thinking about how we might move toward them with gospel-shaped love and Spirit-given boldness.

Fourth, there is ministry happening all around us. As the pastor, I have the joy of hearing about some of the ways our church continues to serve one another. In addition to our evangelistic growth groups (which have been well-attended), I am hearing of discipleship meetings continuing virtually, women memorizing large passages of Scripture, men who are calling around and checking in on people. Some have given generously to the benevolent fund, others have offered themselves to help clean up a garage.

Fifth, there is deep heart-work going on. I think many of us have faced some sort of discouragement and disappointment this season. Even this is a reason to rejoice. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” I am praying that this season, though painful, is productive - in that it yields the “peaceful fruit of righteousness” in our lives. 

Sixth, families are being encouraged to worship at home more than ever. This is reason to rejoice. Jonathan Edwards was convinced that no awakening would ever have lasting impact until parents began to disciple their children and see their homes as places of worship. More fathers and mothers are embracing this God-given responsibility.

I’m sure you have some good news too. God is working in and around you, and he is always good to his children. Let’s not forget this. Remember. Write it down. Take note. God is at work these days. My hope is that one day we will tell another generation of what amazing things he did during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord” (Ps. 102:18).

Posted by Eric Durso with

Redeeming the Doldrums

Sailors call a strip around the earth approximately five degrees north and south of the equator the doldrums. Because of all kinds of weather factors I don’t understand, this strip doesn’t get much wind. Sailors could be stuck weeks in the doldrums, with no wind to move them anywhere. 

Using that metaphor, a little over a month ago we set sail into the new adventure of the quarantined life. We didn’t choose this adventure, but we were thrust into it, and as we set sail, faced challenges, and struggled to adapt to the new life at sea, we felt optimistic that God was doing something great -- perhaps preparing us for a revival, perhaps teaching us a lesson, perhaps giving us needed time of rest and reflection. With the wind of these hopes in our faces, we embraced the journey, even with a measure of joy.

It’s now been over a month. From what I can tell, we’ve hit the doldrums. The winds of optimism have subsided. Progress has slowed to a discouraging pace. Some of us have had an adrenaline crash. No one seems to know what’s next, or how to proceed. Marriages are being tested. Parents are wondering if the kids are trying to stage a mutiny. We’re low on food. And what happens if the toilet paper runs out?

We’re in the doldrums. So what do we do when we’re in the doldrums? 

It’s a blessing to know that as unique as this season is, we ought to remember that our temptations are not entirely unique. Paul says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13). This season is highlighting the reality of common temptations - to irritability, impatience, anger, anxiety, fear, self-centeredness, lethargy - you name it. 

So when life feels mundane and we feel discouraged - by our circumstances and our sin - what do we do? 

I don’t think we should sit around and wait for things to get back to normal. Christians are redeemed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Postponing our good works until after the quarantine will only increase our vulnerability to sin’s temptations. What should we do?

I think we get to work. We pull out the oars. We row -- we row in the strength that God supplies.

We were made to live with a purpose, with goals to accomplish. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:27). While life has been disrupted, Paul’s injunction to run to win has not been made null and void. You may not be able to leave the house, but you must run. 

The Christian who isn’t running not only limits his own effectiveness, he is also making himself vulnerable to a thousand other sins, like David who stayed home when he was supposed to go to battle (2 Sam. 11:1).

We can’t gather, take communion, meet in homes, share meals. Okay, we’ve got that. But how can we move forward?

Double down on your intake of God’s Word. Now is the time to dive headlong into a study of Scripture. Some ladies are memorizing Philippians - what an amazing use of time!

Commitment to regular, systematic prayer for your church. Are you praying for your church family? Can I recommend that you pray regularly and systematically through the membership directory? In addition to that, would you write down names of non Christian friends and pray for them as well? 

Text, make phone calls, send emails, write letters. If you aren’t doing all of this, now is the time. Who are you caring for? Who are you walking with? Who are you moving toward? Are you bearing anyone’s burdens?

As you regularly pray through the membership, check in with people. Hear their prayer requests. Follow up in a week. This stuff seems small - even insignificant - but it provides immense benefit to the church.

Lastly, stay focused on the mission. Now is not the time to drift. This is a unique moment with unique opportunities for the gospel and we want to be zealous to pursue them, innovating as necessary. We’ll be starting our virtual growth groups studying, strategizing, and praying for evangelism. I often reflect on the reality that I need the mission more than the mission needs me. In other words, in God’s great plan of redemption, I am highly insignificant. God does not need Eric Durso to accomplish his purposes.

However, God has invited me into his plan of redemption not because he needs me, but because he loves me. It is for my own good that God allows me to serve him. I am helped in helping, I am encouraged by encouraging, I am blessed by blessing. Proverbs puts it this way “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered” (Prov. 11:25). If you’ve felt discouraged, fearful, anxious, bored, depressed, or on edge, those are probably good indications that you need to pull out the oars and start rowing. 

Every moment of meaningful meditation on Scripture, every moment of prayer for others, every love-driven contact with a friend, every faith-filled move to advance the mission -- are pushing and pulling the oars, redeeming our days in the doldrums.