Cheap Grace and Gratitude

Cheap Grace and Gratitude 00Cheap Grace and Gratitude
by Jordan Ballor

We celebrate the “Thanksgiving” holiday this week in the United States, and it’s therefore an appropriate time to ponder the gifts we have been given and the “gratitude” we ought to have for them. It’s easy to do these things at this time of year, but it is also appropriate to note that we ought to think about the gifts of God’s grace throughout the year. That is, even as we acknowledge and are thankful for things this week, we should also come to a greater recognition of the divine origin of all good gifts all the time.

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Fallen (and perhaps particularly fallen and redeemed) human beings have a way of cheapening grace. The German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer opened his classic work on Christian discipleship with an incisive analysis of what he called “cheap grace,” the idea that God’s saving work could simply be assumed and that it required no substantive response from or transformation of human beings. If Christ’s atoning work was infinitely sufficient to cover all of our sins, such thinking goes, why not go on sinning that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1)? Or at least, why worry so much about doing any good works, since they aren’t all that “good” in the first place, and aren’t the basis for our salvation in any case? As Bonhoeffer puts it, “Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs.”

Bonhoeffer had in mind what is often called special or saving grace in his indictment of cheap grace, and he had in mind the costliness of Christ’s sacrifice and the call to follow him. But there’s an analogous error when it comes to the gifts of common grace. If special grace involves the application of the atoning work of Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners, common grace involves the recognition of the gifts that are given to everyone regardless of righteousness or piety. In Matthew 5:45 we read that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Natural goods like sun and rain are examples of common grace, but as the Reformed theologian Abraham Kuyper describes the idea, common grace also involves social and cultural realities, like the love of familial relationships, the goods and services provided by businesses, and justice and order protected and preserved by governments.

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For Bonhoeffer, Christians tend to view special “grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry.” Cheap common grace would likewise view these general gifts of God to humanity as the world’s “inexhaustible pantry.” Where do we find this view of common grace as cheap? There are some basic underlying assumptions that can help us to recognize cheap common grace.

For instance, when we simply assume that whatever goods and services we need will always be there, as if by magic rather than by the work of divine providence, we take God’s grace for granted. When we do not recognize that God provides the food we eat, the drinks we drink, the houses we live in, and the cars we drive through the service of other people, we take for granted the stunning graciousness of our entire existence. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” the psalmist declares (Ps. 24:1), and thus everything we have comes from him. He has deigned to include human beings in his general plan for provision, and this too is gracious. God could provide for our material needs directly through miraculous and mighty works. But instead he has set up a world in which we depend upon one another for meeting our material, emotional, and spiritual needs.

We see a posture toward common grace as cheap when we gratefully receive the gifts of today but cease to be thankful tomorrow. So often today’s privileges become tomorrow’s rights, and the gratuitous offerings we receive today become the entitlements of tomorrow. We also cheapen common grace when we unduly concern ourselves with these goods; when we worry about how we will be provided for, we detach the provision of these things we need from their divine source.

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How then, having recognized the natural human tendency to cheapen grace, can we combat it? There are at least three basic ways of addressing the cheapening of grace, whether special or common: “prayer, priorities, and thanksgiving.”First, as the Lord taught us to pray “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), we recognize that the bread we receive comes to us, by God’s gracious ordination, through the work and service of our neighbors. Second, as we are tempted to worry whether God will continue to provide for us in these ways, Christ instructs us to seek first of God “his kingdom and his righteousness” and then assures us that all these temporal things we need “will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). And finally, through prayer and the proper ordering of our priorities, we can truly be thankful for all that God has done for us, from creation and preservation to redemption and consummation.

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We can thus recognize that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (Jas. 1:17) and gratefully proclaim: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 107:1).

The Price of Costly Grace
The Cost of Discipleship
Radical Integrity

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Year End Update 2015

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“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12

Another year of mission work is coming to a close. Providing God’s Word to the curious and eager to listen and learn people in China has been the cornerstone of our ministry since we started in 2002. We still remember how nervous Rolf felt the very first time he approached the X-ray scanner at the Beijing airport with four heavy boxes full of Bibles labeled “teaching material.” God graciously allowed us to get all the Bibles through that day, and on dozens subsequent occasions.

For the last two years Rolf has been able to teach in an affluent coastal city in the north of China. Even though the Chinese government keeps a close watch on churches, Christianity is flourishing and growing exponentially. We are so excited to be a part of that! Being blessed with a Christian school owner he has been able to use a classroom with video capabilities for his very powerful “Faith or Fiction” curriculum which has resulted in fifteen students coming to a personal relationship with Christ.

Since returning early October he has been able to reconnect with most of his disciples, joining them going to Church and resuming his ongoing fellowship. He also has started a new 12-week “Faith or Fiction” class with five new students. One is Bob the student Rolf started mentoring and one is a friend of Bob’s that Bob wanted to join with him. The class will be interrupted with Rolf’s return home the end of December when he needs to have his visa renewed. Pray there will be no red tape to get this new visa.

The desire for the lost in China to know Christ and His love for them has never left us, although over the years the methods for us achieving that goal have changed dramatically thanks to the Internet and social media. Today Rolf can communicate through various social apps with his students and the people he comes daily in contact with. It allows him to send God’s words and scripture in both, English and Chinese, thereby easing the language barrier.

Please consider prayerfully how you can help us to spread the love of Christ in China in this coming year. This is a team effort and we can’t do it without God’s provision through the prayers and support of many. At the end of the year, like many other ministries, the “provisions” are low and need to be replenished and we are trusting God will meet our needs.

Thank you for coming along side us. We praise God for you and are grateful beyond words.

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Underground Church

Underground Church 01

Last weekend was the “International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church,” an annual day to put special emphasis on “praying” for the persecuted Church.

Remembering the “persecuted” church around the globe should be a “continual” effort for all Christians. We need to continually “remind” ourselves that our brothers and sisters are “beaten, jailed, or even killed” for their faith.

One “group” in particular that we need to remember to pray for is the “underground church” in China.

In this brief video by Deidox Films, Li Yang provides a “glimpse” into an underground home church.

In this short addendum, Li Yang answers the question, “Is Christianity legal or illegal in China?”

He explains why the question is “difficult” to answer and how the Chinese government “protects” its Communist ideology from the perceived “threat” of Christianity.

Comment by Todd Johnson:

We as Americans have NO sense of what persecution truly is. We view it from afar, in videos and on the nightly news as something others endure as we live in our religious oasis. While we fight to retain the gift of religious freedoms granted in our constitutional republic, we can never forget that our ‘plight’ pales compared to those across the globe. How many of us would endure torture for Christ and not give up our fellow Christians?

Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.”
I only pray that this crucible of persecution, which the Church and Christians are experiencing in China, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, is strengthening His disciples as the foundation for the growth there yet to come.

Each of us, safe in our church communities, must view minor challenges against faith as gifts, for our prideful demonstrations in our strength of faith, simply mask the weakness within and He knows we cannot endure more.

Meaningful Work and Enterprise Culture in China
China’s Growing Pains in the Free Market
Gregg: ‘Rome vs. Beijing: China’s Catch-22’
Is Christianity Driving China’s Economic Growth?

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October 2015 Update

Rolf made it safely back to China. Before going on to Dalian he spent 4 days in Beijing visiting friends and 2 of his former students. He is now finding his way around his new location in Dalian which he says is beautiful and he is getting acclimated to the new school.

He found an apartment online. The conversation telling Sherri about it went like this – Rolf: I have a room in an office. Sherri: What do you mean in an office? Rolf: It is a room in an office. There is a kitchen and a bathroom and 6 cubicles. Sherri: You have a kitchen and bathroom in your room? Rolf: No, I have a room in an office with a kitchen and a bathroom. Sherri: You mean the kitchen and the bathroom are in the office? Are they just for you? Rolf: No. Sherri: ????? So you are sharing the kitchen and the bathroom with the office? Rolf: Yes! Sherri: So you have to go through the office to get to the kitchen and bathroom? Rolf: Yes! Sherri: That’s awkward!! Rolf: I’m looking for a new apartment!

When he moved in to this place it was on a weekend when no one was working. A few days later Sherri got an email from him that said “No joking, it is pretty awkward to stomp through the office every time I come and go.” Shortly after that he found a new apartment through a former student. Now he has his privacy but unfortunately there is a frustratingly slow and weak Internet connection in this building. Video Skyping for us has been a “nightmare” as we are spending most of our time with constantly getting cut off and trying to reconnect again.

Also, the Chinese government blocks most all foreign websites. Rolf had a program to be able to circumvent “The Great Firewall of China” which now the government has blocked. PRAY he can find another program where he can get access to what he needs and not worry about being monitored.

But now moving on to the exciting news – Rolf is already mentoring one of his new students! Bob likes to dominate classroom discussions and Rolf thought he might find out what’s up with this guy and maybe get to know him better. So he invited him to breakfast. Rolf turned the conversation to spiritual matters and Bob said he knew his grandmother was a Christian but he didn’t know anything about what that meant. Rolf asked him if he would like to know more and Bob said “yes”. He gave him the book “An Anchor for the Soul” and suggested they meet to discuss it further to which Bob agreed. Now after a couple of meetings Bob comes with questions and interest to know more. Through this book and the discussions that follow PRAY Bob will understand and make a decision to follow Jesus.

Rolf went back to his old church and had a great reunion with 7 of the 9 students from his discipleship class from the old school. One of the students has since moved to Shanghai and is attending church there; the other was out of town. After they enjoyed catching up over lunch, happy to be together again!

We are so grateful that God protected us and has allowed Rolf to return to China to tell of Jesus’ love for them. And we are so grateful for YOU who make it possible to be there through your love, prayers and support. Thank you team!!

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September 2015 Update

“Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.” Psalm 16:1
The date is set – September 28th Rolf returns to China. He will now be working at the Tiger Beach Academy in Dalian, about an hour away from where he was before. This is another school owned by the same owner of the school he worked at previously. Even though this will be in a different location he is somewhat nervous having Rolf return and has cautioned him to be “careful!”

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3
We thank God that there was nothing serious that came from what happened when Rolf handed out the VCD’s of the Jesus film last December. Although Rolf was not able to return until now, he was not expelled from China and the school did not get in any trouble. And we know God can make good out of any situation. We had a wonderful summer traveling, being with family and friends and just being able to spend time together. Even though it wasn’t pleasant Rolf ended up needing to have shoulder surgery and time to recover and rehab from it. And the last doctor report was very good. Rolf is recovering ahead of schedule and he said he could even (carefully) play golf again! He will need to continue doing exercises until the end of the year for a complete recovery. We are grateful.

And while he has been gone his students continue to go to church. In fact one boldly put a picture on a social network site of a group of his students leading worship at their church and wrote the following: “Without divine guidance in life, flourishing in the world, and following Jesus in this life will wash away my sins and cleanse my soul. You are my Lord, who took up the cross, and lead me for the rest of my life, my beloved. I don’t deviate from your side.” Praise God for changed lives and the privilege to be able to be a part of what He is doing in China! We are thankful for YOU being on this team with us!

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:7,8
This would be our prayer that we always seek His guidance and counsel in all we do.

Please PRAY
For safe travel and good health
For boldness with caution – always seeking God’s direction first
Rolf become acclimated quickly to the new location and school
To establish good relationships with his new students
Open hearts to hear the Good News
Wisdom on when and where to start his discipleship class and which students to ask to join
For Sherri taking care of things at home
God’s provision for our dwindling finances

Please also continue to pray for Sherri’s brother, Art and his wife Debbie. He is doing a pretty aggressive chemo and it has been pretty rough. Pray for his strength to endure and healing.

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Secretive Detention

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In this photo taken July 15, 2014, Pastor Tao Chongyin, left, speaks with church member Fan Liang’an in front of the Wuxi Christian Church with the words “Church of Jesus” in red, in Longwan, Wenzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province.

Christian Lawyer Who Fought China’s Government Faces Secretive Detention
by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.

China’s most prominent Christian lawyer, Zhang Kai, who defended and gave legal counsel to a number of Christian churches throughout the country, especially against the government’s cross-removal campaign, was carried off by police on August 25 and now faces up to six months of “secretive detention.”

Knowing full well that it could cost him his legal career and even his freedom, the Chinese attorney battled the Communist Party and successfully defended numerous Christian churches that wished to keep visible “crosses” on top of their buildings.

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Christian Human rights lawyer Zhang Kai.

Organizing an impressive legal team of more than 30 lawyers to deal with religious freedom cases of the Zhejiang Province, Zhang was convinced that he had the law—and God—in his corner.

“It’s all in the books, I just read them. And I have God on my side,” he said.

But Zhang knew that opposing China’s Communist party was risky business. Two weeks before his arrest in Wenzhou on August 25, Zhang shared his thoughts with friends on WeChat: “The most they can do is imprison me. But if I remain silent, I will regret it for the rest of my life.”

Not long after, he and his assistant Liu Peng were taken away.

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Zhang Kai is a 37-year-old lawyer of the Xinqiao law firm in Beijing. In the midst of the campaign for the demolition of crosses in Zhejiang, Zhang was the most active of all the human rights lawyers in China.

Starting in August of 2014, he joined together with the pastor of the Salvation church of Wenzhou, the Reverend Huang Yizi, moving to Wenzhou and serving as a consultant in many cases related to the destruction of churches and crosses.

On July 10, 2015, when Zhang was going to start a series of lectures entitled “Laws and Decrees,” he was arrested by police as part of a violent national crackdown on lawyers and interrogated all night long.

Later, in an interview with a reporter from Initium Media, Zhang said that officials had ordered him “not to hold illegal seminars in Wenzhou and to stay out of religious liberty cases in Zhejiang.”

But Zhang kept his residence at the Xialing church, meeting every day with the pastors and faithful of the whole Zhejiang province, exhausting every possible legal path to safeguard their rights.

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Human rights lawyer Zhang Kai visits Tibetan children adopted by Christians during his work for the Tibetan house church.

A year ago, the Communist authorities had met with fierce resistance from the faithful of the Salvation church, who fought to prevent the removal of their cross. Many people were beaten badly during this conflict.

Pastor Huang Yizi was eventually referred to as “the leader” of the resistance and sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “having convened a crowd to disrupt public order.” Zhang Kai acted as his defense counsel.

Scrupulously applying Chinese legal principles, Zhang mobilized 11 lawyers to help him, and repeatedly discovered instances where the authorities had broken the law.

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Authorities removing cross from church steeple.

For example, state policy says that the suspects in criminal cases have the right to see a lawyer within 48 hours, but in the case of Huan Yizi this right was denied for more than 70 hours. Zhang demanded compensation.

Prison guards also prevented the pastor from receiving a copy of the Bible while in detention, so Zhang once again brought a case against them, the first case ever in China involving the reading of Scripture during police custody.

Zhang Peihong, a lawyer who has worked with Zhang on religious liberty cases in Zhejiang, said that Zhang has “created a new approach” in his method of dealing with religious liberty cases: “Do not leave a single legal stone unturned.”

Peihong said that all Chinese citizens have the right to access official information that authorities have gathered on them, a provision meant to temper the state’s power.

If the government is involved in “illegal” activities, it is natural to ask for an explanation and to open an administrative case, he said.

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Chinese human rights lawyers Zhang Kai (left) and Jiang Tianyong (right).

According to reports, Zhang’s aggressive legal pressure provoked anger and a sense of helplessness in the authorities, who were used to acting according to their own will without having their decisions questioned.

Zhang said that three months after he began with this strategy, the authorities of Wenzhou proposed a deal: “if Pastor Huang Yizi would relinquish representation by Zhang as his lawyer, he would be released within a month.”

Zhang withdrew his patronage, but the authorities reneged and in March 2015 sentenced the pastor to a year in jail.

Now it is Zhang himself who has been imprisoned, under the charge of threatening state security, highlighting two elements of President Xi Jinping’s efforts to tighten control over church activities: “a systematic campaign to harass and silence human rights lawyers and restrictions on the free exercise of religion.”

Since July, more than 230 lawyers have been detained and questioned by the police, according to estimates by Amnesty International.

Yang Xingquan, a colleague Zhang’s from the Xinqiao Law Firm, said he had spoken to a police officer involved in the case who told him that Zhang was being held under a form of imprisonment known as “residential confinement.”

This method has been traditionally employed by the Communist Party to detain dissidents in “secret” without trial or access to lawyers or family.

Local Christians said at least 11 pastors and church members had also been taken away by police in late August, in an effort to stifle Christian resistance to the cross removal.

The Work of Lawyer Zhang Kai
Lawyers predict ‘major wave of persecution’ in wake of detentions, interrogations of human rights lawyers
US calls for China to release Christian lawyer ahead of President’s Xi Jinping’s state visit
The War On Christians

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August 2015 Update

We were hoping and praying for healing for Rolf’s shoulder issues but it was determined that surgery was necessary for the healing he needed. So on June 24th he was admitted for rotator cuff surgery and some other clean up and repairs on his shoulder. The doctor was very optimistic with the results and says there shouldn’t be any more problems. But meanwhile the full recovery is long and the 3 times a week physical therapy is pretty painful and leaves him very sore after!

But surgery wasn’t going to stop us from attending our grandson’s wedding in Utah! Two weeks after surgery we were in the car with our 15 year old granddaughter, Brittany heading west. It was a fabulous trip. We made a vacation out of it, stopping in Nebraska, Wyoming (where we even fed bison) and then to Estes Park Colorado to spend the night with friends. We had a wonderful but short visit with them before continuing on to the other side of Colorado to stay with friends in their cabin. We hiked in the mountains and admired beautiful wildflowers and scenery – and all this with Rolf’s arm in a sling! We sat at their kitchen table and watched out the picture window a big moose, a lot of elk and deer as they grazed.

Then it was time to make our way to Utah for the wedding. It was fun to have all our grandkids together in one place and to meet some of the bride’s family – and to meet the bride for the first time!!

After that we continued on to Montana for 3 days and enjoyed, of course the beautiful scenery, Yellowstone National Park (arrived at Old Faithful just in time for it to erupt!), some gentle white river rafting and a cowboy cookout. Brittany got to do some zip lining and horseback riding while we rested! Now it was time to start home but not without visiting Mt. Rushmore, Custer Park, a conservancy where they breed Spanish mustangs for breed preservation and the Badlands on the way.

Forty three hundred miles and two weeks later we are back home tired, glad to be home but the trip of a lifetime, especially for Brittany. We all got to see and do things we hadn’t done before. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good…..Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” Genesis 1:31, 2:1. And it was very good, we were blessed by our friends and all we saw and did and to be able to enjoy some special times together while Rolf is home on his extended stay before he goes back to China.

Unfortunately not all was good while we were away. While traveling in Europe Sherri’s brother, Art was hospitalized. He was air ambulanced to Madrid for surgery to remove 3 tumors and part of his small intestine. He has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma which has been in remission as of tests just last February. However biopsy results showed that it has returned. Please PRAY for healing and that he can get strong enough so he and his wife, Debbie can come home.

We are so thankful for you.

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