Chosen & Adopted – A Display of God’s Grace

He beat her in a violent rage.  In his anger, he decided to take fate in his own hands. This was not the first time that he beat her, but it would be his last.  At eighteen years of age, she was to become a mother for the first time.  She had met him in utter desperation while she was a runaway.  Far from home, she had nowhere to turn, and he was like a sinking ship to her. He was to become a father and that responsibility was not a load he was willing to bear.  He would rather let the baby die by miscarriage, than face the responsibility that was due to him.  Thankfully, this last act of violence was with her parents nearby.  She had just returned home with the news of her pregnancy. Upon seeing this abuse, her father kicked him out, and he was never seen or heard from again. Every moment of our lives is left with an undeniable imprint of the grace of God.  I know this, for, I survived my biological father’s murderous rage.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 3.33.20 PMThis was not a story I knew about until I was fourteen years old.  The revelation came when I found my birth certificate providentially.  On the back, my parents were listed, and something stood out like a sore thumb.  My biological father’s name was blacked out with a permanent marker.  In place of his name was handwritten the name of the man I had always known to be my dad. My gut instantly felt like it was the home of a million butterflies. I took the certificate and brought it quickly to my mother’s attention.  I startled her by my discovery. My dad was at work at the time,  so my mother asked me to be patient until he returned.   I don’t remember how long I waited, but it seemed like an eternity.

When my dad came home my mother reported to him what I had discovered.  He began to tell me the real story.  It was the story that I had feared was true when I first saw the birth certificate.  He was not my biological father.  I cried as I heard this news.  I was saddened to hear that I did not have his blood flowing through me.   For the first time in my life, it occurred to me that I looked much different than him. My dad has a darker complexion, dark curly hair and was born in Havana, Cuba.  I was born with blonde hair and blue eyes and totally look like a gringo. My Spanish was horrible and it still is to this day.  I was saddened for my mom, because I did not know of the abuse she had endured at the hands of the man who made her pregnant. I loved my parents more after hearing the truth and grew a bitterness for my biological father.  A man I had never met. I had many emotions flowing through me and it was not possible to process them all. Through the truth of the gospel, I was able to release my bitterness and forgive my biological father.  He is an individual I still know nothing about, and I’m fine with that, because he is not my true father.

By God’s grace my mom and I were fine.  God had decided that I would live in spite of what someone else had planned. The news quickly reached my dad that my mom was back.  My dad and mom knew each other quite well.  In fact, they were old sweethearts.  They had met when my dad and his family came from Cuba when he was 15 years old.  It was my mom’s father that arranged for my dad’s father to have his first  job in the United States. Through that family connection…the two love birds met.  They spent a lot of time together and grew fond of one another. However, my dad’s family moved out of town and she lost contact with him.  My dad came to her rescue, and they reconnected their love for each other and soon decided to get married. Scan

My dad knew, going in, that my mother was pregnant with me and that it was not his baby.  He told my mother that they would raise the baby together and that he would consider the baby like it was his very own.  They were very young. He was just turning twenty and she would turn nineteen six days after my birth.  My mother needed a knight in shining armor, and my dad fulfilled that role quite well.  I was born, and they were soon married.   There has never been a day where he ever made me feel like I didn’t belong. He kept his word.

The state of New Jersey knew me by my birth name, Daniel Brown.  My dad and mom knew me by another, even before it was official.  I have a very vague memory of the legal adoption.  Of course, I was oblivious at the time, but I do remember being before a judge, in order to make it official.  My dad didn’t just want me to be his son, but he wanted me to have his own name.   That day the judge made it official.  My name was changed from Daniel Brown to Daniel Agustin Sardinas.  The name change not only signaled what people called me, but it also symbolized who I belonged to.  I now belonged to Agustin Sardinas.

My dad gave me a plaque shortly after the legal adoption.  I had no idea really what it meant at the time, or why he gave it.  Now, however, every time I read it, it really gets to me. every time.  It reads:

IMG_2356Sardinas – You got it from your father, it was all he had to give. So it’s yours to use and cherish, for as long as you may live. If you lose the watch he gave you, it can always be replaced.  But a black mark on your name, Son, can never be erased. It was clean the day you took it, and a worthy name to bear. When he got it from his father, there was no dishonor there.  So make sure you guard it wisely, after all is said and done. You’ll be glad the name is spotless, when you give it to your son.

Knowing this truth made me love my dad even more.  Knowing what he did for my mother and I still confounds me today.  It will be a truth that will forever grip me.  It grips me because I see a picture of God’s grace through my dad.  God worked in the life of a runaway girl, who met a man who made her pregnant.  God protected me while my biological father wanted my mother to miscarry.  God used Agustin Sardinas to be my dad. It was this man that prepared me to be the person I am today.  My dad is my hero.

What happened to me happens to all those who have been sovereignly saved by the grace of God.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 the following.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6 ESV)

Before time began, God sovereignly and graciously chose us, Paul says.  Before we were born and before we could even choose right from wrong.  Before we could even return any kind of love to the Father; He decided that we would be His children.   The language that Paul uses here is that “He predestined us for adoption as sons”.  Every born again believer in Christ is adopted.  We are born apart from him because of our sin.  I am born with a nature in opposition to Him.  So God did something about it.   He took the initiative.  This is what the gospel is all about.  The gospel is the good news of God’s sovereign grace in my life completed in the finished work of Jesus.  God chose, predestined, loved and adopted me.  He doesn’t consider us as “adopted sons”  but as sons.   As a  believer I have been graciously given all spiritual blessings because I’m in the family.  God calls us by His name and we inherit all Scan 223that He possesses. I am not considered a step child.  I’m not considered an outsider.  I have been given the full rights and privileges of sonship because of Jesus.    All of this was “according to the purpose of his will”  to the “praise of his glorious grace”.  This is all God’s doing.  I am a part of a giant family of many brothers and sisters, who He has been calling from every tribe, tongue, nation and age, according to His will and for His Glory.  It is a wonderful thing to be adopted.  It is a beautiful, glorious and gracious event that radically changes one’s life.  I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for God’s grace orchestrating every detail of my life.  You are no different.

It is through this gospel example that I see what happened in my adoption to become a Sardinas. My dad chose to be my  dad before I was born.  He is 100% Spanish and I’m 50% Spanish and 50% white boy.  I don’t look like him or even share his genes. In spite of all that, He loved me before I was born and took the responsibility to nurture and provide for my mother and me.  He legally adopted me and gave me his own name.  Because of my adoption I have been given a brother and a sister.  My brother Alex and Cindy mean the world to me.  I am forever their big brother and life would not be the same without them in my life. The similarities between my physical adoption and my spiritual adoption are not 1236708_10202141228674935_1936336351_ncoincidental.  It is all a beautiful picture of grace on display through the gospel.

God knew what He was doing when He put Agustin Sardinas in my life to adopt me as his son.  It was because of him I found love, truth, acceptance, provision and a future.  He taught me how to be a man and trust in God.  He taught me that the difficult things in life are worth working for.  He showed how a man is to handle responsibility.  He showed me how to lead. He showed me how to treat a woman.  He taught me how to love my children.  He showed me what it means to chase my dreams.  He showed me how to stick it out when the going gets tough.  He displayed what God’s love looks like through the care and provision of an earthly father.  Even though I speak highly of my father and what He’s done for me, it’s really because of the Father’s plan. It’s not just my dad that I celebrate in this article.  It’s also my mother.  It was because of her influence that I became a Christian.  It was through her that God drew my heart towards Himself that I might call out in faith and repentance in Christ.  It was her  constant encouragement that kept me pointing me towards Christ.  My parents are a blessing and a gift from God.

My parents and I don’t really speak of this story too often.  In fact, I can probably count on one hand the times we Scan 235have spoken about it together since that day I found out. It’s not because it’s a white elephant or an inconvenient truth.  I think because mostly we forget. I actually have to remind myself, at times, of the facts. I can attribute this confidence to my father.  It was his acceptance and unconditional love that has given me peace.

He is my father and I am his son. He said that I would be his from before birth and there never has been a day when I have ever felt differently. As I reflect on the incredible man I have for a dad, and his sacrificial love for me, may it always point me to Christ!

Thank you, Mom & Dad.  I love you

Day 19 – The Compassion of the Kingdom

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36

We need new eyes. It is possible to have grown so accustomed to our surroundings, that we miss the obvious. A few years ago, on the TV show “Deal or No Deal” there was an episode that really brought the truth of this point home. Deal or No Deal is a game show in which contestants can make more money by selecting the correct briefcases. The models hold up the selected briefcases and show the contestants what they have won or didn’t win. On one show…there was a contestant whose family had arranged for her sister to appear on the show as one of these models. During the show the contestant did not realize that her sister was on stage. She kept playing the game and had no idea. Finally, after some time, the host of the show decided to point out the model in hopes of the contestant realizing that it was her sister. After being shown the model and asked specifically if she noticed anything different about her…. she was still clueless. Suddenly it dawned on her…this was her sister! She hadn’t seen her in about a year.

Many of us are like this contestant. We are not looking for ways to reach out to people, and we miss the obvious God-given appointments that play out in front of us. In order to see things differently, we need to ask God to awaken us. We need to see people the way God does. God does not see people as prospects or as potential people which He could love. Jesus looked out over the crowds that had been following and listening to each and every word. He saw them as harassed and helpless. They needed Him, and He knew it. He could easily have dismissed them. He could have just let them wallow in the messes that they created by their own sin. He could have wished somebody else to minister to them. He didn’t. Matthew tells us that He was moved with compassion.

Compassion is a very interesting word. In the Greek the word is σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai). The literal definition of this word is “to be moved in the bowels”. In the 1st century the bowels were considered to be the seat of the emotions. In our modern culture we use the word “heart”. I love my wife with all of my “heart”. Jesus, as He was looking on the crowds, was moved in His gut because He loved these people. Biblical compassion results in action. Jesus did not feel sorry for them and then forget about them the next day. Jesus was moved with compassion, and then He saved them. To feel sorry for somebody is not compassionate. To help them from our empathy is!

It is not enough to feel sorry for people. We must be moved to action to do something to make a difference. Who is it that comes across your mind today? For whom have you felt pity, but not real biblical compassion? Whether you are moved in your bowels or heart…do something about it today! Jesus did, and we serve in His strength!

Day 18 – The Gospel of the Kingdom

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. – Matthew 9:35

 

We do not need to look to another example of being a missionary, other than the person and work of Christ. Jesus’ ministry did not begin when He went public at age 30. It began before time began, as the Father purposed to redeem His people through His Son. God became a man. That is where the missionary story of Jesus begins. God took on flesh and blood and experienced what we experienced, yet without sin. God lived on earth amongst humanity and breathed the same air that we breathe. Jesus grew up, had brothers and sisters, parents and responsibilities. He had to learn, study, experience puberty and young adulthood. He had friends, enemies, stalkers and backstabbers. He knew how it was to be mistreated, mocked, lied about, accused falsely and betrayed. When Jesus saw people – He knew what they were experiencing. He ministered to them from an understanding of who they were and what they had been through.

God’s missionary work is not detached from names and faces. God’s missionary work is not about numbers, lists or prospects. Jesus knew peoples names (Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), their past (woman at the well, John 4), and their present need. Matthew tells us here that Jesus went “throughout all the cities and villages”. Jesus went to where the people were. What did he do in these cities and villages? He taught and healed whomever He encountered. Jesus compassionately and lovingly met the needs of the people to whom He was sent. Sadly though, I believe that many believers are detached from the same kind of passionate connection with a dying and lost world. We have become contented as a culture to watch from afar and let the world spin as if Jesus never came.

Jesus modeled for us a radical lifestyle of loving, serving and showing truth to everyone. This lifestyle of sacrificial ministry was not comfortable. Jesus traveled around oftentimes hungry, thirsty and tired. How can we engage the needs of our city? How can we expose the darkness in our city? If we are not fully engaging our cities with a heartfelt need and likewise compassion – we will miss the boat on what God is doing to build His Kingdom. I want us to think through what this means for us to live in our cities as missionaries. What will consume us? Will we be solely focused on having the crowds come to us? Or will we lovingly go to where the crowds are and give them the only hope that will transform their broken hearts? What changes do we need to make as a church to have this become a reality? What changes do you need to make personally? Let us change our rally cry from a “come to us”…. to a “we are going to you”.

Day 17 – The Light of Good Works

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16

Not everyone who does a good work does it with good intentions. The Bible has commanded us to obey God and keep His commandments. I know that this is only possible because the gospel has transformed my heart to obey. Our hearts are easily swayed by the praise of men. In this verse Jesus explains to us that the purpose of doing “good works” is not for our benefit. The express purpose of every good work is for the world to see and glorify God. That sounds very elementary, doesn’t it? But yet, so many Christians do not act as if they believe this to be true.

This may surprise you, but the purpose of sharing our faith is not for our church to grow numerically larger. Of course, that is what we all want to happen. We want our church to grow larger and have more people under the influence of the gospel. The purpose of doing good works is so that people will glorify God.

Much evangelism today is done as shady marketing. When a typical person says that they “shared their faith” it usually means they invited someone to their church. Evangelism is not bringing more people to your church – it is bringing people to Jesus. I was caught in this mentality early in my ministry. I thought that doing good works in the community would make our church look good to the lost. I was doing a good work but with bad intentions. I did it for the glory of the church and me as its pastor. God has not commanded us to do good works so others can applaud. He has commanded us to do good works so that others may see Him. This is a radical shift for all our hearts and minds. It is also humbling to think that God can use the “good” I do for Him to save those who believe. This doesn’t mean we don’t do works, but we must check our motives.

A few years ago I let my neighbor borrow my lawn tractor to cut his lawn. I had seen him struggle in the hot Florida sun and decided that I could help him. I offered him the tractor to use at any time that he so needed it. He eventually took me up on the offer and started to use the tractor on his lawn, making his job much easier. I didn’t think much of it, and honestly didn’t have any hidden agenda. I saw a need, and knew that I could help meet it. A few months later, this neighbor was at my doorstep distraught over personal relationship struggles. I was able to speak with him and share the gospel. He believed and was saved. It was an event that forever changed the way I saw good works being played out for God’s glory. The lawn tractor gave me an opportunity to build a bridge. God softened his heart and called him unto salvation. God was glorified through my good works that pointed someone to Christ. How can you have the same impact in your neighborhood? Can God use your generosity to serve as a light to point people to Himself?

Day 16 – A Light on a Stand

“Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” – Matthew 5:15

Light has a unique purpose:  to show what lies underneath the cover of darkness. In this verse, Jesus is teaching the necessity of making the light he has given visible. I love the fact that Jesus did not shy away from using a practical illustration to transform hearts to truth. Jesus’ point is simple. If you are going to have a light in your home make it visible so that all can see it. Jesus says that nobody lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket. The lamp is placed on a stand. It is placed in close proximity so that all can see it. It is strategically placed where the light can have the most impact on darkness.

I think this begs us to transform our thinking regarding missional activity. For many, missionary work is just about sending money away so that others can do the hard work. Jesus never taught that. Jesus engaged and trained his disciples to always be near those who were apart from God. In fact, Jesus often ate and spent time with the most unlikely of peoples.

This is not a program that Jesus had as a part of His ministry. This was Jesus’ ministry. Jesus said that He came to “seek and save the lost”. His mission was focused and strategic. Jesus went where people lived. He spent much of His time in towns, synagogues and the town market. He attracted crowds, but then took the time to minister to them. They were tired, hungry and thirsty. Jesus met their spiritual need and ministered to them physically as well. Jesus was present with them. Jesus did not hide Himself from the world, but came and loved on it. Sadly this is not how many of His followers act today.

Many Christians are satisfied to be locked down in their holy huddles. They are content with isolating themselves from those who need God. It is safe, easy and comfortable to just be with other believers. There is a place and time for fellowship with other believers (more on that next week), but God has given us a command that we cannot disobey. The command is to GO!

The church has done a great job when she gathers. Most churches know how to worship really well. They may have a great music program, hear a good sermon and have nice facilities. The power of the church, I believe, is seen the most not when she is gathered but when she is scattered. It is when we put the light on the stand and make it visible that we will have power to impact the world with God’s light. What is the “stand” that you can place your lamp upon? Is it visible to those around you? Have you ever considered that you are a missionary?

Day 15 – A City on a Hill

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14

There is a question that haunts me. I find myself asking it again and again at various stages of my life and ministry. Sometimes this question is fueled by a selfish ambition and other times it’s a genuine desire to glorify God. I’m not embarrassed to confess this, because I believe you may struggle with this as well. The question is one of impact. The question I ask is … “Am I making a difference?” Can people see God shining through me? Are people noticing me? Or are they noticing the God who is working through me?

Have you ever been blinded by a light turned on in a dark room? You have no problem noticing the light. Correct? The interesting thing about light is that it doesn’t really have to “work” for it to be noticed. The photons that gather to form light are just being what they were made to be. They are noticed because their identity is light. They don’t have to work harder to be light – they already are. Light has one unmistakable property – it repels darkness. The same is true for the Christian. Understanding our identity is crucial to fulfilling our mission.

The difference we make comes from a proper understanding of identity. If I focus on “shining for God,” then it becomes a self centered quest. If the question develops into God “shining through me” then it’s a God centered vision. Because of the gospel I have been declared to be the “light of the world.” This light does not originate from me, but it comes from God. My life is evidence to a dark world that there is hope. When I understand my role in reaching my community, people are pointed toward God. The difference that I make to those around me is an overflow of the impact of the gospel within my heart. The only light that shines from my heart is the light that emanates from the glory God receives from a transformed heart. He called me, saved me and changed me! The difference in me is noticeable because the power of the gospel is creating me to become more like Jesus everyday.

Let’s go back to that room in which we found ourselves temporarily blinded. The light has been turned off and our eyes are being forced to adjust to the new darkness. The absence of light quickly becomes obvious to all. I began to think through this concept in regard to our church. Do the people in our city know that there is a light shining? If our church ceased to exist today would anyone notice? It is only natural to notice that light is missing.

Day 14 – The Peace of the Word in Me

“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.”

Psalm 119:161-168

I don’t remember where I was, or exactly who was with me at the time. However, I do remember some details very well. An unidentifiable object caught my eye about 75-100 feet in front of me. My eight-year-old eyes were good, but not that good. I remember the white floor and an empty hallway. It may have been in a mall or an airport. I do not remember. As I came closer to the object, my heart began to beat with excitement. I began to wish that this is really what I had hoped it was. As I approached closer I was beginning to realize that my wish was coming true. I stooped over and picked up a twenty-dollar bill off of the floor. Twenty dollars?!?! I’m rich! Do you know what I can buy with this? I acted like I had just inherited millions of dollars. I don’t even remember what I bought with that money. But, I do remember the joy of finding that treasure. Everyone values different kinds of treasure in different kinds of way.

The Psalmist continues to express his love for the word in this very long chapter. “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” What an amazing attitude to behold the Word of God. For the Psalmist, finding truth in the Word was like an eight year old finding a twenty-dollar bill. At 8 years old I had no idea about the value of money. But I believed that what I found was about to reveal much happiness. I found myself to be extremely wealthy. What if we approached the Bible with as much excitement? Do you just read the Bible to “get it done”? Are you going through the motions? Are you finding what you read to be of no value? It may stem from a wrong understanding of the beauty, majesty and power of the Word.

I am a lover of technology. Ok…I will admit it here in this book. I am a geek. I love to immerse myself in the latest news of the tech world. I actually enjoy seeing how fast a computer can process information. I love to see the vital stats on how a computer actually operates. I read about 10-12 tech blogs everyday. Yes, everyday. I pride myself in being not only a lover but also a user of the latest and greatest technology. No matter how fast and efficient computers can become they can never match the power of the Word. Why?

Our God speaks. He spoke the worlds into existence. He speaks to us through His written word. Do you fully comprehend that? I forget. You might forget as well. We hold the greatest treasure in our hands. Why don’t you celebrate that you are rich today?