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Tyler Morning Telegraph - Galdámez brings church planting, education experience to Grace Español

Here are two articles written by Emily Guevara ( Twitter: @TMTEmily)  on our background and on  Grace Español .   Tyler Morning Telegraph...

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Grace and Legalism




When Christ saves us, he saves us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10).  Christians acknowledge and believe this without a doubt. It’s how we live in this world that becomes problematic for many Christians.  On one side there are those who believe they are now free to do anything and thus abuse the grace of God (Romans 6:1). Many have the idea that once saved always saved (which I do believe) and thus if you sin, then you just have to ask forgiveness and move on. It becomes their pattern and continue to use it as an excuse to justify their behavior which they know is wrong (e.g. similar to the statement: “I’m not perfect just forgiven.”). Others do it, not with the intent of doing it, but due to the lack of discernment.  They just continue to follow the cultural trends without much thinking which often leads them to unwise and even sinful choices.

On the other side is legalism. Legalism as it appears in most churches today is not what the New Testament often speaks about (e.g. book of Galatians) and yet it is applicable to us today.  In the New Testament legalism was related to salvation. Many believed that in order to be saved you had to have faith but there were additions to it such circumcision and keeping the Law (Old Testament).  All of these related to commands given to the Jewish people. In essence, they were black and white issues. Once those Jewish and Gentiles (non-Jewish) became believers, they were faced with questions as to how to live (see Acts 15). Some Jewish believers commanded others to live by the Old Testament Laws or else they were considered “not saved.”   They were turning the grace of God into a system of faith+works.  The Apostle Paul wrote letters to clarify these issues (see Galatians, Colossians 2).  This was mostly a Jewish-Christian problem.

Nowadays, the issue of legalism is that many have created rules by which Christians ought to live by (faith+man-made rules).  These are mainly what we call “gray “ areas.  Areas where there is no clear teaching in the Bible. I have a lot of experience here. I have been part of these churches in my early days as a Christian.

Here are a few examples of legalism:
  •          Dancing is wrong
  •        Going to the movies (especially rated R movies) is wrong.
  •        Being friends with non-believers is wrong (you can have contact to evangelize them but they can’t be part of your “friends”)
  •        Celebrating Halloween is wrong (It’s Satan’s day and it started  back to the time of the Druids).
  •        Rock and Roll (and any music except Classic) is of the devil and contains backward messages from him.
  •        Smoking or drinking beer is wrong.
  •       Skipping church on Sunday for any reason is wrong.

Here are some “must do’s” that were also part of the “system”:

  •        You have to come to church every Sunday, Wednesday nights and all special events.
  •        You have to be involved in the church, passive attendance is not allowed.
  •        If you a young person and desire to “court” a young lady you must ask permission to the youth pastor and follow the “Philosophy of Courtship” (a list of do’s and do not’s). If pastor said no, you were out of luck! If you were “approved” then you were asked to seek for the full blessing of the believing parents (non-believer parents were not considered!) if you did not have their “blessing” then you were out of luck.
  •        You must never question what your pastor teaches, says or does. If he asks anything even if it’s money, give it to him. Don’t expect to be paid back.

I can go on an on but you get the point. So what is the point of all of this? As Christians we are called to live by grace. Living by grace does not mean living by a “new” set of rules derived from out of context passages in the Old or New Testament.  The Apostle Paul said it quite clearly: “After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1). Living by grace means living guided by the Holy Spirit. Living by grace is not living for yourself either. Living by grace is living for and in Christ every single moment of your life (Philippians 1:21).

Reading the biography of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) has helped me understand what it means to live a life of grace, dependent on the Father. When I have a question about something not clear I ask myself what He said or what He would have done (WWJD?). I want to imitate Him. I want to honor Him. I want to live for Him. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Theological Reflection on The Scarlet Letter

My wife and I just finished listening to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I have to admit I knew a very basic plot but never read it until this past weekend.  It is very probable that there is much discussion, information and analysis, especially relating to literary qualities about this novel.  I won't try say much about it in this regard, but just a simple observation.  Hawthorne's description of characters is very thorough and deep. It appears he was very keen in studying human nature and took his time describing it through the characters he created.  Quite the opposite exists in popular novels nowadays.  Current novels are written for mass consumption and entertainment and not for the exploration of human nature. Many find classics like Hawthorne's unappealing and unreadable because they do not fit the modern paradigm of a good novel. How much we are missing!

But the most impressive for me, in this novel, was the rich theological presuppositions layered throughout.  I will try to be brief, though much can be said. First, Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter shows us the sinfulness of man and the effects it has on us.  All of his major characters demonstrate this point.  Hester Prynne the adulteress is the most obvious.  Not only has she committed the sin of adultery but she is the one who pays the most for it.  She spared of the death penalty but her punishment is just as good as being dead.  She would carry the letter "A" engraved on her and forever be ostracised for her sinful act.  The Reverend Dimmesdale is also guilty of immorality and even though he hides it, his sin finds him out. He is tortured by it for seven years.  Roger Chillingworth,  Hester's husband is guilty of the sin of revenge.  It dominates his life completely. Not only are the major characters sinful, but the whole Puritan community is as well.  Their pride, lack of compassion and judgmental spirit makes them just as sinful as the rest.

I find it interesting the Hawthorne never minimizes sin and its consequences. I didn't find the novel a treatise condemning hypocrisy or making sin be less than what it is.  For us readers in these modern times it may a bit "antiquated" because the idea of sin is almost foreign.  Adultery and immorality is commonly accepted in our society.  The threat of being punishable by death, as it was during Colonial Times, not only sounds antiquated but absurd, especially those with no religious background. It could easily be said that we are just as bad. We have thrown out all of our morals for the sake of being tolerant. But Hawthorne does not minimize sin. He writes: "After exhausting life in his efforts for mankind's spiritual good, he had made the manner of his death a parable, in order to impress on his admirers the mighty and mournful lesson, that, in the view of Infinite Purity, we are sinners all alike."

The Scarlet Letter also deals with the concept of mercy, both human mercy and God's mercy.  Hester life is spared as an act of mercy. More evident is God's mercy.  God's mercy is evident by the fact that even as sinful as we are, God does not judge us accordingly.  No one understood this more than the Reverend Dimmesdale who said, "God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast!"  He saw all of his inner guilt and persecution by Roger Chillingworth as an act of God's mercy.

Another concept is the idea of living our life according to what we believe. For us Christians, it is to live for Christ each day.  In Hawthorne's words, "Be true! Be true! Be true!" Don't pretend to be something you are not. Live what you believe.

Much more can be said about his novel, especially about the dear seven year old child Pearl.  No one shows the hideousness effects of sin that this child who suffers the consequences of everyone's wrong doing.  She pays a hefty price and yet her innocence shows us what we have lost; what we need: Faith, love, virtue, and compassion!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Running Saved My Life

Running is the means by which God has changed my life. Let me explain. I started running over 2 years ago. It all started by when I wanted to get in shape and started to bike (I was 25 lbs. heavier). One day I decided that running was easier. I could just put shorts, tennis shoes and go! So I did. After that I thought I should do it everyday. That's how the running started. God has used running to change me.

I have been a Christian since I was 13. After serving for over 15 years, in various ways including, a church-planter pastor I came to the decision that it was enough. My life was at a crossroads. The experiences and the suffering my wife and I experienced during this time (it would take a long time to explain, but if you know us you probably know a lot already) led me to a state of questioning everything I had believed. I stopped praying (I know some Christians don't pray but this isn't normal). I stopped reading my Bible (I know some Christians don't read their Bible but this isn't normal). I stopped teaching the Bible (this isn't for everyone!). My life went on the decline. I even wondered whether God existed. I didn't do all this in rebellion but due to disillusionment.  I was disillusioned with God and the Church and yet I did not stop going to church.  I knew that God wasn't surprised on my behavior nor did I expect Him to punish me as some would think.  Yet, deep in my heart I couldn't let go of everything I knew about Him.  I concluded He was real but I struggled and wrestled with many questions. The hardest was praying. How could I pray if I wasn't sure He answered any prayers. Here is where running comes in the picture.

It was during my beginning runs when my son decided to go on a mission trip to Ecuador for a couple of weeks.  For the first few days they were disconnected from us with no means of communication. I started to worry a lot and think the worst of thoughts (i.e. death). In my desperation I started to offer gruntings to God. It was so hard to do this. It was so unnatural but I continued doing it. Slowly I started to say complete sentences. I told him I asked only for a few things: to protect my family, to help me be a blessing to others and to know Him.  All this happened while running. My running became my time of prayer. Slowly God became to change me. He started teaching me, slowly, each time I prayed to Him. Then I began reading the Bible again but this time with "new" eyes.  God's Word became alive and I saw it as if I was reading it for the first time.  God showed me that if I was to live, it would be all for Him or nothing at all. I told Him, "This is the last time I am going to try..." Hard to believe I said this but God had much to teach me.  A year ago, I taught the Bible to the youth where I serve now,  after 9 years of not stepping to a podium.

So that's how running was used by God to change me and continues to do so.  My running time is my prayer and worship time. I can't run without doing this. Never will running be only running for me. It will always be worship time for me. It will keep me in shape (get it?).
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Update: 12/8/2016 - Seven years have passed and I still run 6 days a week. I still use this time to commune with God. It is during this time that I also get some of my best instruction from Him. I am often working on a sermon and God brings forth the ideas that I need to put in my sermon. I am thankful for how God has used running to save me from myself.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Characteristics of A True Christian - 1 John

The last study on 1 John which also summarizes all ten characteristics of a true Christian shared at our youth meeting.