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

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Royal Baby Brings “good news of great joy”

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I awoke to breaking news this morning that the Duchess of Cambridge is officially in the early stages of labor. My first thought was not “why is this news?”.  I know very well why this is news.  The Duchess is married to the very well known Prince William.  The son of the late and much loved Princess Diana. Her soon to be born baby will be apart of the royal family. The child will be third in line to the British throne.  This is big news.

I know it’s only July, but my mind is already wandering to December. The breaking news this morning triggered for me thoughts of the announcement of the Messiah.  The angels sitting near their sheep were amongst the first to hear the breaking news of their promised King. If Jesus had been born today…would there be such public fanfare? I doubt it. Jesus came humbly and his announcement was to a very few selected individuals. He was born in a very unlikely place and amongst unlikely people.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” – Luke 2:8-14 (ESV)

This is way better than waking up to a news alert on my iPhone. Could you even begin to imagine this scene? Israel had been waiting for a very long time to have this promise come to fulfillment.  The arrival of any new baby brings joy. However, the shepherds were told that this was “good news of great joy”!  This baby was to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. God promised Abraham that…

“and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” Genesis 22:18 (ESV)

What did the shepherds do with this news? Did they keep it to themselves? No! They went and obeyed the message given to them from God. They went and spread the message that the King had arrived.  I remember my excitement when all three of my children were born!    I made many phone calls to family & friends! I remember sharing the news with some and getting choked up with tears of joy! God’s promise to David was also being fulfilled that his throne would last forever!  Bethlehem that night did not welcome a new member of the royal family….but the King who is Eternal. Some may pass this story off as our world’s sensationalism with the rich and famous.  That may be true. I’m not going to look at it that way. I’m going to pause and think of a greater birth announcement that brings “great joy”.  Don’t let this opportunity pass by forgetting to celebrate a greater birth announcement!

Can we really “live the gospel”…or is the gospel lived in us?

The following is an excerpt from my book Gospel Confusion: Confessions of a Pastor. It is from chapter 7 (Gospel Glory)

Gospel-Confusion-CoverThe gospel cannot be told apart from the wrath-absorbing death of Jesus on the cross, and history-altering resurrection. The early disciples reported this as the Good News!  This is the gospel. If you remove the cross and the empty tomb you have lost the gospel. Was I denying the gospel?  No, I was simply just confusing it. I still believed in the cross.  I believed in the resurrection. The gospel instead became what I did for God instead of what God has done for me. The gospel is not feeding the hungry. We feed the hungry because of what the gospel has done to us.  Digging wells around the world for the one billion people who have no access to clean drinking water is not the gospel.  We dig wells because of what the gospel has done to us.  Taking care of the widows and orphans is not the gospel.  We take care of them because of what the gospel has done to us. I saw a huge segment of believers who did not even care about these issues. So I began to question, are people living the gospel? Is the gospel fulfilled because it is lived by its people?

Here is the problem that I didn’t realize. We don’t “do the gospel.” We do gospel things because the gospel has first taken root within our hearts. I don’t live the gospel to fulfill it, I live the gospel because it has first fulfilled me. We don’t care for orphans for the gospel, we care for orphans because of the gospel. We care for orphans because people who have been changed by the gospel live the good news, because of the gospel. We don’t do good news because it’s good. The good that we do is an overflow of the gospel bearing fruit in our life.

Paul explains the gospel this way:

“Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” (Colossians 1:5b – 6).

Paul says that the gospel is “bearing fruit.” I love that. I believe that this not only refers to the multiplication of believers, but also to the multiplication of good works by believers, because of the gospel. The fruit is not the gospel. The gospel is bearing fruit!  Fruit is evidence of life and of health.  We can know an orange tree because oranges grow on its branches!  We know an apple tree because of the apples that it produces.  Our good works are not the gospel, but the fruit of the gospel that has taken root already in our hearts.

Matt Chandler also says this about this subject:

“If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it.”(The Explicit Gospel, 18)

It is so easy to become enamored with good works.  Good works are tangible.  They can be planned, executed and organized.  We can even rally unbelievers to some of these causes, which raises another huge question. If what I do for God (social causes) is the gospel, then how can someone without the gospel, do the gospel?  It can’t be done. The gospel is God’s work not mine. The gospel is God’s idea not mine. God is changing the world through the good works of His people. There is nothing wrong with supporting or cheering on these causes. They are good!  Who wouldn’t want more people to have clean drinking water? Who wouldn’t want to see every orphan and homeless person fed, housed and loved? This mentality of “living the gospel” from a moralistic, legalistic perspective puts you in charge of the restoration of the world.  That’s not what the gospel is all about.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV)

What is the gospel? It is God’s idea, work and initiative.  Paul reminds the Ephesians that they are saved by grace through faith. It is not their own doing. It is not of works unless anyone should boast about doing it.  Furthermore, he declares why we are saved in verse 10.  We are His “workmanship” created in Christ Jesus.  This Greek word “poiema,” translated “workmanship” is also where we get our English word “poem.”  It is also translated in some Bible translations as “masterpiece.”  We are God’s skillfully crafted poem. He crafted us on purpose specifically for the purpose of good works!  Whose good works?  His good works!  We are saved to serve the eternal purposes of God and His gospel!  We are saved by the gospel to do gospel things.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 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. 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 5:14-16, ESV)

Our good works are not for our benefit. God has called us to do good works.  Don’t confuse good works with the gospel. The gospel is not about being saved by good works. The gospel is also not about doing good works. The gospel is and will always be the redemption of the universe through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. This gospel is for God’s Glory.

 

Real Men In A Really Loud World

I recently wrote an article for The Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. The article is written for men and their search for identity in a really loud world. The article focuses on our daily need for the gospel and the importance of it as the center of our lives. Although it is written for men…the truths in the article are applicable for all. I pray it will be a blessing for you to read. You should also subscribe to CBMW.org feed as they provide biblical and practical articles for Christians today.

Click here to read article….Real Men In A Really Loud World

The Idolatry of Innocence and the Boston Marathon Bombings

ImageOnce again, the depravity of the human heart has been placed on display for the world to see. With around the clock news footage and the popularity of social media the news spreads very quickly. We have all been saddened, angered and concerned over the events that happened in Boston on Monday. It is now known that two brothers conspired to inflict terror upon the spectators who were watching the Boston Marathon. There were fatalities and many, many bystanders seriously injured. An eight year old boy was murdered. Eight. I have a son who is the same age and this really hits home with me. The anger is justified. Evil men have acted wickedly from the depths of their depraved soul.

There are also have been amazing acts of heroism. It is the amazing acts by first responders, ordinary citizens and medical personnel that have made us all proud. As some were running from…others were running toward. These men and women are to be applauded and commended for their courage. These acts of heroism are not new. They happen everyday. I have family members and friends who have served our country locally in law enforcement and in war in the Middle East.  On 9-11-01 we saw similar acts of bravery. While people were going down the towers before they collapsed…others were going up.  It is these moments of human valor that make these horrific events a tiny bit more bearable.

This morning, the father of Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev (aka, White Hat or suspect #2) told the media that his son was an “angel”. Many people are being interviewed and many are saying that he was a “nice boy”. There is nobody, that knew him, that would have thought he could of done something so heinous. The other brother has been described by his uncle as a “loser”. This raises an interesting question….is anyone really good?

Paul very eloquently declares the sinfulness of man in his letter to the Romans. (Romans 3:9-12, ESV)

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

And then Paul drops the hammer down in case anyone thought they were innocent.

“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19, ESV)

Jesus was never shy to point out this fact. While the Pharisees were arguing with him for healing a paralyzed man, he pointed out their condition.

“But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?” – Matthew 9:4 (ESV)

and again…

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” – John 2:24 (ESV)

Because of the severity of the attacks it is easy to compare yourself with the terrorists. It may be very easy to feel superior or to claim some level of righteousness. Don’t be fooled, you may not have bombed the Boston Marathon, but you heart is just as depraved. You may not have shot up a movie theater, but you are as much lost in your sin as the shooter. We can not compare ourselves to them and claim any kind of righteousness. This is just another form of idolatry. It is the idolization of your morality and your self claimed innocence.  This news may be very offensive to you, but it is the truth you need to hear.

Jesus tells another parable about a religious person idolizing their morality. (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)

“9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

What is the point of this article? It is to warn you about declaring your innocence, in comparison with other evil men. There is only one comparison you need to make. It is a comparison with a Holy God & His perfect law. Any pride in your morality is nothing more than the idolatry of innocence.  Don’t be deceived. God is not mocked. Trust only in the finished work of Jesus to save and believe the Gospel. It is only through the justification that ONLY GOD can give that we can be made righteous and innocent before him. No one is good.

Now available in paperback! – “Gospel Confusion: Confessions of a Pastor”

I am proud to announce the arrival of my book Gospel Confusion: Confessions of a Pastor in paperback form! You can order here. Help me spread the word! You can also order the book via Amazon or Apple for your Kindle or iPad.

Click here to order a copy!