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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Prince of Peace

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Peace is defined as "freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility; stillness."  Is it just me, or does that seem like a foreign concept these days?  As I type this post, it is less than a week before Christmas, the time of peace on earth, good will toward men.  Yet, I can only shake my head as I read horror after horror of just how mean, hateful and selfish mankind has become.

I read the story of a woman who pepper-sprayed over twenty people on Black Friday because she wanted to "beat the line" to get to the great deal on an X-box.  A few days later, I heard the tale of a woman who was stabbed to death at a local Wal-mart.  News footage shows evidence of the sad state of men's hearts as people fight one another with a "me first" attitude.  Good grief!  No deal is worth hurting another individual.  What is wrong with people?

The world, as a whole, is missing peace.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Without Him, peace does not exist.  I can have peace in my heart because Jesus resides within me, but as I mingle out and about in the world, I find it more and more difficult to remember that the peace is there.  Additionally, in the hustle and bustle of everyday activities, I struggle to find time to seek peace.

It's no accident that the words "be still" are in the Bible.  We are commanded to "be still" and know that God is God.  The only way we can do that is to step away from the chaos and determine in our hearts that we will be still and quiet for a period of time.  We all need that time, and I believe it would be much easier to find peace the rest of the time if we would set aside some time to become reacquainted with the Prince of Peace.  The One who spoke peace to the storm can speak peace into our lives as well.  We need only to allow Him to perform His work.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Everlasting Father

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

Okay, you may want to grab some Tylenol before we try to tackle this one.  This verse in Isaiah is obviously foretelling the birth of Jesus Christ.  The baby in a manger.  The son of Mary.  The Son of God.  The everlasting Father?  How can one Person be both the Son and the Father.

The Trinity is a concept that always gives me a headache if I try too hard to wrap my brain around it.  It's simply impossible for my poor brain to comprehend.  Three in One.  The fact that the Father can also be the Son.  How God the Father could forsake God the Son on Calvary.  The entire thing just baffles me.  I believe it is so, but I certainly don't understand it.

And if the title "Father" isn't baffling enough in this passage, Isaiah throws in the adjective "everlasting."  You talk about something that will get your brain turning!  Everlasting means without beginning or end.  I can't fathom that.  I get confused watching movies and shows dealing with time travel, so you can imagine my dilemma in trying to understand God who lives outside of time.  There are no watches, clocks or calendars in Heaven.  God doesn't need them.  He's a big God and is not contained within the limits of time.

In fact, He is currently everywhere at all points in time.  He is with me as I type this post, but He's also witnessing the very first Christmas while simultaneously watching the death of His Son on Calvary.  It's all one big picture to Him, and that truly boggles the mind.  I guess, though, it serves as an excellent reminder that Jesus is Wonderful and the mighty God.

The everlasting Father -- what a concept!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Names of the Lord - The Mighty God

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

The word mighty is defined as "powerful, strong, very large, vast, very great in extent or importance."  Not the thoughts that come to mind when we picture baby Jesus in the manger.  Powerful?  Not likely.  Strong?  Impossible.  Very large or vast?  Laughable.  Very great in extent or importance?  Now we're getting somewhere.  Yet, while many of the definitions just don't seem to fit, they do, in fact, describe Jesus, the mighty God.

Do you ever find it difficult to remember that the tiny Baby in the manger is the same One who spoke the world into existence?  It's just so remarkable and difficult to wrap our finite brains around.  Jesus is the mighty God, the One who created Mary, of whom He would be born.  Mind-boggling, isn't it?  But it shouldn't be.  

Follow His story.  Witness His miracles.  Turning water into wine.  Healing sickness and disease.  Calming storms with the power of His voice, the same voice that called Lazarus up from the dead.  Yes, in fact, Jesus is so mighty that death itself could not hold Him.  When He gave up His spirit on the cross, He cried, "It is finished", not as a cry of defeat, but as one of victory.  It was a shout of "I've won!!!"  And so He has.  Despite his thoughts to the contrary, Satan cannot and will not defeat Him.  Jesus is the Mighty God, and nothing can stand in His way!

And just think, He's on our side!  Isn't it great to have a Friend in high places?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Names of the Lord - Counselor

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

A counselor is someone who offers advice or counsel.  The best counselors are those who have not only been trained to deal with various circumstances, but have also lived through the circumstances themselves.  No one can relate to us better than someone who has faced the same situation we're facing.  And that, my friend, is what makes Jesus the best counselor of all.

He left the splendor of Heaven to come to this earth so that He could walk in our shoes.  Weary?  Jesus understands.  Feeling betrayed?  Jesus has been there.  Wonder if you have a friend left in the world?  Jesus can relate.  Lonely?  Overwhelmed?  Brokenhearted?  No matter what we may face on this earth, we can rest in the knowledge that Jesus understands.  He's walked the same paths before.  He's faced the same trials and temptations.  He's borne the very same burdens.  He knows.  He understands.  He can relate.

And with that knowledge and understanding, He offers us counsel.  He listens wholeheartedly to our every plea.  He allows us to cry on His shoulder.  He understands our tears.  Then, He guides us with His love.  He directs our paths and encourages our hearts.  He leads us out of our depression and discouragement and into a place where we can hear His voice more clearly.

His counsel is wise and never in error.  We needn't fear following bad advice if we are heeding the voice of the Savior.  Oh, what a blessed Counselor!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Names of the Lord - Wonderful

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. - Isaiah 9:6

This is a very popular verse that is most often quoted around Christmastime.  But what does it really mean?  I'd like to take the next few posts to pick apart this verse and define each of the names of the Lord listed here.

The word "wonderful" is defined as "marvelous, astonishing, unusually good."  Wow!  Doesn't that describe Jesus?  From His angel-announced birth to His bodily resurrection, everything about Him is good and astonishing.  His sinless nature and state of being make Him unusually good, not to mention His unending patience in the face of worldly opposition, faithless disciples and fickle followers.  Yes, Jesus is truly Wonderful!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Charlie Brown Christmas - Jingle Bells

Being a pianist myself, I can so relate to Schroeder's frustration.  I absolutely love this scene, and it just wouldn't seem like Christmas without sharing it with some of my closest friends.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

God's Presence Amidst Chaos

This is the time of year for joy, love, and peace. But it seems that the feelings provoked in me are not those of peace, but those of stress. Between shopping and parties, cantatas and cards, banquets and business, I find myself turning in circles wondering which direction I'm supposed to be headed in.

Having two dogs in the house certainly makes the experience a little more "interesting." Mitch keeps carrying off my firewood so he can chew it into mulch. Tippy refuses to get off the Christmas tree skirt so that I can actually put presents under the tree. And I have to be very careful about what I put under the tree. If the dogs think it's food, I'll find the package unwrapped and usually out in the back yard. So, I keep food gifts in a safe place, although that didn't help the banana nut muffins that I made yesterday. There were eleven when I left for the Christmas banquet, but only five when I returned. Since Mitch is the only one who can reach the kitchen counter, and Tippy has been nursing a hurt leg (courtesy of Mitch landing on her when he jumped off the bed), I'm pretty sure I know who the culprit is. No, there's never a dull moment around my house.

Amidst the chaos, however, I am reminded that God is with me. I see Him in every sunrise. Feel His breath with every breeze. Sense His love in every smile. And cherish His joy in every unusual circumstance that happens around my house (from hijacked firewood to stolen muffins). Yes, through it all, God is with me, and better yet, He understands. He can relate to every tear and every chuckle.

So, as you rush about today from task to task, take time to notice the many ways God has made His presence known in your life. And don't just notice, but rejoice in it. Let it wash over you and bring you peace. From what I can see, that's the only way you'll find it this time of year.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

Monday, December 9, 2013

Taking On Burdens We Weren't Intended to Bear

I read a story about a man who met with God one day and was given a very special task to complete.

"I need someone to take this wagon with these three stones in it up to the top of the hill," God said to the man. "Are you up to it?"

"Of course," answered the man. "I'd do anything for you, Lord."

And so the man set off, pulling the wagon behind him and whistling a merry tune. His heart was so full of joy at the opportunity to do something for the Lord. Before long, he came upon a village. At the last house, a man stopped him and asked what he was doing. After explaining his mission to the man, the wagon bearer smiled and thanked the Lord for such a beautiful day in which to serve Him. The villager quickly spoke up, "What about that? You're going to the hill, and I was just praying this morning that someone would come along to take this rock of mine to the hill. Would you mind?"

"Of course not," the wagon bearer answered. "I'm sure God wouldn't mind if I help out a neighbor." He took the rock and added it to the three stones in the wagon, which was noticeably heavier, but the man didn't mind. With each village he passed, however, his load became heavier and heavier. Many people had burdens to bear, but they just didn't have the time or the means to take them to the hill themselves.

As the wagon grew heavier and harder to maneuver, the man's attitude grew bitter. He was hot and tired. His shoulders ached. He song had turned to grumbling, and his thanksgiving had turned to accusation. "This is too hard!" he shouted at God. "How am I suppose to make it up this hill? The burden is too great. I just can't do it!"

Immediately, God was there beside him. "What's the matter, my friend?"

"What's the matter?" the man complained. "You gave me a job that was too hard. I can't possibly make it up this hill. The load is far too heavy."

God walked over to the wagon and held up a small bag of pebbles. "What is this?"

"Oh," said the man, "that's from my friend, John. "He asked me to carry it for him since I was heading this way."

"What about this?" God asked as He pulled a large rock from the pile. "And this, and this, and this?" He continued as He dumped rocks of all shapes and sizes onto the hard ground.

"You said we should bear one another's burdens," the man replied defensively.

"Yes," God replied, "But I never asked you to do what others weren't willing to do for themselves. You've become so weighed down that you can't complete the job I called you to do."

The man was stunned. "You mean I only need to take these three stones?"

God smiled. "Yes, my child. That's what I asked you to do."

Happily, the man picked up his lighter load and headed up the hill, once again singing a happy song. In a short amount of time, he reached the top of the hill where he praised God for the opportunity to serve Him and to complete the task he had started.

God did tell us to bear one another's burdens, but there are some burdens He never intended for us to bear. It's easy to get weighed down and become an ineffective servant of the Lord. Have you looked at your wagon lately? Is it full of burdens that would be better off left on the roadside? Is your sense of duty and obligation weighing you down? There are needs to be met, but we can't possibly meet them all, and we become of little use to God when we try. We might better examine our lives today and make sure we're not making our work here on earth harder than it's suppose to be.

 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. - Galatians 6:4-5

Friday, December 6, 2013

To Be Continued. . .

Jason and I don't watch a lot of television, but we do enjoy pulling up some of the older shows and
watching via internet. The great thing about this is that there are no commercials and no reruns. We can watch each episode when we want and as many times as we want. This is especially important when we come across episodes like the one we watched last night.

Things were looking very bad for the heroes of the show. Their new enemy was already greater than any enemy they had faced before, but now, the enemy had grown stronger. They had found a way to counteract the heroes' weapons, rendering them useless. They were swiftly overtaking the entire galaxy. And just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, they did. The heroes found out about the ultimate weapon that not only had the power to destroy the enemy, but all life. To be continued. . .

Normally, this would not be a problem. Jason and I would look at each other with wide eyes, and one of us would reach forward and tap the "Play Next Episode" button. But I had to go to work last night, and fifteen minutes after I got home, Jason had to go to work. So we weren't able to see the second part to see how the heroes will win the day. Instead, we'll have to wait until he gets home later tonight. Oh, the suspense!

Writers know how to make good use of "the hook." They know how to leave their readers (or watchers, in this case) in suspense. This ensures that the reader won't put the book down and the watcher will make it back for the next episode. It's a good tool, really, but while I enjoy it in a book or show, I don't enjoy it so much in real life.

Flip through the pages of the Bible, and you'll see suspense. You'll see dire circumstances that seem impossible. You'll see heroes who don't know what to do or how to defeat the enemy. You'll see problems that seem to have no answers.

Abraham, following the Lord's command, holds the knife above young Isaac. . .To be continued
Moses and the children of Israel stare at the expanse of the Red Sea in front of them and peek over their shoulders to find Pharaoh's army behind them. . .To be continued
Joseph looks up from the dark pit and peers out from the prison cell. . .To be continued
Daniel snuggles up between the hungry lions. . .To be continued
The three Hebrew children stand boldly in the midst of the fiery furnace. . .To be continued
The violent storm rages on the Sea of Galilee, tossing about the disciples' boat. . .To be continued
The thousands are gathered, and there's not enough food to go around. . . To be continued
The tomb is sealed, and the Messiah is dead. . .To be continued

Page-turners, huh? Time and time again, God sets up the perfect story. And time and time again, God shows how He will always come through. No matter how strong the enemy. No matter how dire the circumstances. No matter how big the problem. God will come through in the end.

Perhaps you are facing "a hook" in your life. Right now, troubles and heartaches are staring you in the face, and it looks like there's no way out. I have good news for you. The story isn't over yet. God is simply setting the scene for the grand finale. How's that for suspense?

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ain't That a Shame! - Part Two

The Saturday after Thanksgiving is the day set aside for our family gathering.  This means a day
filled with food, laughter, food, conversation, more food and talk of the upcoming Christmas events.  It also, unfortunately, means a day of football games on the television.  I hate football!  What is the point?  I mean, seriously.  It's a bunch of guys throwing around a pigskin and jumping on each other like a bunch of wild animals.  I just don't get it, but I also don't begrudge those who do.  To each his own, right?

What got my attention this year, however, was the distinction between what I saw on the television on Saturday evening and what I saw in the church house on Sunday morning:

At the various games we viewed, there wasn't an empty seat in the stadium.  Unfortunately, there were far too many empty seats in God's house on Sunday morning.  It seems many were too tired or had other plans and couldn't spare a couple of hours to meet with the Lord of the universe.

The fans at the games were excited and spent more time on their feet cheering their team than they did sitting in the seat for which they'd paid a good amount of money.  On Sunday morning, churches across the country were occupied by those who checked their watches, counting down the minutes until lunch time or their much-needed afternoon nap.  Not only were people not on their feet, but excitement and encouragement were lacking as well.  There may have been an occasional holy grunt, or perhaps that was just a bit of indigestion left over from Thanksgiving dinner. 

My social media pages were slammed full for several days before and after the long-awaited games with information on who won and by how much.  Stats, bragging rights, taunts and even bets.  It seemed like that was all anyone could talk about.  I didn't, however, see one post about church.  What was planned?  What happened?  How was the sermon?  Did the spirit move in on the service?  No, it seems most were too busy talking about football to mention the happenings at God's house.

What is wrong with this picture?  Why is it we can find the time and energy and motivation to go to sporting events, cheer on the team, clog up our social media with talk of the latest and greatest sports events or figures, yet we can't seem to gather enough initiative to make it to church?  And if we do go, we sit there with our arms folded, our lips pursed and our hearts closed to the working of God.  We're distracted.  We're unmoved by God's presence.  We're bored.  We have no voice left to praise God on Sunday because we used it up shouting at the television on Saturday.

Just as with Black Friday, I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with sports or with following sporting events.  But there is definitely a problem when we spend more time and energy talking about sports than we do in spreading the gospel.  What would our churches be like if people were as excited to be there as they are to be at a football game?  How powerful would the preaching of the pastor be if the people cheered him on like they do the players on the field?  How much would God be lifted up if we spent as much time preparing for Sunday services as we did getting ready for game day?  How much would our churches grow spiritually if the members knew their Bibles as well as they knew the game stats and various players?  I think it would blow our minds!  I can only hope and pray that one day we'll find out.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ain't That a Shame! - Part One

I saw a quote on Pinterest the other day that literally made me shake my head.  It read, "Black Friday:  Because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have."  So sad, yet so true.  Unfortunately, I have to wonder how many people even notice Thanksgiving in the midst of their cooking elaborate meals and planning for Black Friday.  Please don't get me wrong.  I'm not against shopping or Black Friday.  I used to be among the many nuts--I mean, people--who rose before the sun and stood in line for hours in hopes of getting the best deals.  I'm a deal-shopper, so I get it. . . to a point.

But I can't help but wonder if, at some point, Americans crossed the line between looking for a good deal and doing whatever it takes to fulfill the shopping "needs."  Meanwhile, in parts of the world, children are rummaging through garbage dumps to find food.  The homeless are freezing and starving.  We Americans are so blessed that we've forgotten how to distinguish between wants and needs, and it shows.  It shows by the lack of respect shown during the holiday rush.  It manifests itself in the form of road rage.  What happened to good will toward men?  Isn't that supposed to be part of the holidays too?

Even though I didn't partake of the Black Friday madness, God still convicted my heart about taking for granted the many blessings I have.  I have my health, a wonderful husband, two rotten dogs, a loving family, a caring church, precious friends, a roof over my head, food to eat and clothes to keep me warm.  Above all that, I have salvation and an eternal home in Heaven.  So what would be the best use of my time:  fighting for items that I don't really need or thanking God for what I already have?

Shopping is fine.  Even Black Friday shopping.  But let's do our best to keep things in perspective.  We are blessed beyond measure, and many of those blessings are things that money can't buy.  Let's not lose sight of that during the Christmas season. . . or any time during the year, for that matter.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Morning Wish

The sun is just rising on the morning of another day. What can I wish that this day may bring me? Nothing that shall make the world or others poorer, nothing at the expense of other men; but just those few things which in their coming do not stop with me but touch me rather, as they pass and gather strength:

A few friends, who understand me, and yet remain my friends.

A work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel the poorer.

A return for such work small enough not to tax anyone who pays.

A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed.

An understanding heart.

A sight of the eternal hills, and the unresting sea, and of something beautiful which the hand of man has made.

A sense of humor, and the power to laugh. A little leisure with nothing to do.

A few moments of quiet, silent meditation. The sense of the presence of God.

And the patience to wait for the coming of these things, with the wisdom to know them when they come, and the wit not to change this morning wish of mine.

-- Walter Reid Hunt

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When Life Gives You Hard Bread

A few weeks ago, the Lord provided us with some free food.  The food had just passed or was very near its expiration date, meaning it could no longer be sold, so it was donated to a local church (the very church at whose college I teach).  Coincidence?  What do you think?  We were able to bring home some nice produce in the way of squash, asparagus and spinach, as well as three loaves of wholesome bread.  Knowing we couldn't eat all the bread before it went bad, I did what I usually do when I buy an excess of discounted bread--I put it in the freezer.

Yesterday morning, I removed the loaf of pumpernickel from the freezer and set it on the counter to defrost so we could have it along with the pot of chili I had cooking in the crock pot.  Unfortunately, many hours later, the bread felt just as hard as it did when I had first removed it from the freezer.  It was thawed, but it was far from soft.  I've held baseball bats that had more give than this loaf of bread.  I have no idea what happened.  I don't know if the bread was already stale when I froze it, or if pumpernickel is not an ideal bread for freezing.  I just don't know.  All I know is that we had tortilla chips and crackers with our chili for fear of breaking our teeth on the pumpernickel.  (FYI, the dogs love it, so we're saving it as dog treats.)

As I lamented over my brick-like bread, a couple of thoughts passed through my mind.  First off, being the week of Thanksgiving, I was reminded that unthankful people become just like that loaf of bread--hard, brittle and unmoving.  Gratitude ought not be an obligation but a delight.  No matter who we are and what circumstances we may find ourselves in, we all have so much to be thankful for.  But when we're overcome with discontentment, we lose sight of what we have and focus only on what we don't have.  In the process, our gratitude disappears.  And before long, we find that our hearts have become bitter, our spirits brittle and our minds unmoving.  What a sad fate!  I, for one, do not want to be like that loaf of pumpernickel.  I want to remain thankful, tender-hearted and moved with compassion for others.

The second thought came from something Jason said.  As we tried to saw through the bread to see if the inside was as tough as the outside (no, we didn't need the chainsaw), Jason commented, "It'd make great croutons."  What a wonderful outlook!  Where I saw a flaw, Jason saw an opportunity.  Hard bread?  No big deal.  Make croutons.  Whether life is handing us lemons or hard bread, it's up to us what we do with them.  We can fuss and complain about the unfairness of life.  We can pout and give up, arguing that nothing ever works out the way we want it to.  Or we can figure out how to turn the trial into a triumph.  (In case you're wondering, option #3 is the correct answer.)

Is life always fair?  Absolutely not.  Do we sometimes have to face situations that we'd rather run from?  Definitely.  But in the midst of it all, is God still good?  Unmistakably.  Is Romans 8:28 still true?  No doubt.  Then what's the problem?

By the way, last night we finalized plans for our Thanksgiving dinner with my in-laws.  Guess who's bringing the salad!  And won't those croutons add the nicest touch. . .if the dogs don't eat it all before Thursday.

Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. - Ephesians 5:20

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hello, Kettle! My Name Is Pot!

Have you ever heard or used the phrase, "talk about the pot calling the kettle black"?  Where do such phrases originate and more importantly, how do they catch on?  I really have no idea.  What I do know is that sometimes I feel like that pot.  Those of you in the ministry (whether it be preaching, teaching, singing, writing, blogging, and so on) know how difficult it is to spread messages of encouragement when you're discouraged yourself.  Or to teach about the recipe for peace when that very same peace seems elusive in your own life.  Or to assure a brother or sister in Christ that God is working all things for their good when you're struggling to believe that's the case in your own life, even though you know it's true.

I feel like I've been in a valley for far longer than I'd like to admit, but recently, it seems that the valley has grown deeper and darker.  This may be in part to a medicine mixup that has wreaked havoc on my emotions.  I hope that's the case and that things will steady out soon now that the medicine has been replaced.  I honestly don't know.  All I know is that my current state is an ideal battleground for spiritual warfare.  And the battle is raging!

Yesterday, as I read through some of my older blog posts, I realized just how much I've been discouraged.  I was able to see how God used my painful circumstances to give me the words to encourage others and remind them of God's care and control.  But as I read the posts, I wasn't encouraged by my words or God's ability to use them.  Instead, a single word raced through my mind over and over again:  hypocrite!  On the heels of that accusation were questions like the following:

How do you expect to help others when you can't even help yourself?
Why don't you take your own advice and follow the plan you set forth in your blog?
If you really believe what you've written, why are you feeling this way now?
What gives you the right to try to encourage anyone?  Just look at you, weeping away at nothing!

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!  I wish I could say that I was able to set the voices straight and tune into the only voice that matters, the Voice of Truth.  Unfortunately, the voices continued to haunt me all evening.  They even had the gall to follow me to church, and they brought along their friends disappointment, discouragement, frustration, cynicism, bitterness and discontentment.  As you can imagine, I found it difficult to focus on much else during the service.  Even now, the voices are still there, though thankfully, they are quieter than they were yesterday.  But as I sat down to write today's post, I found that I couldn't write a typical post without feeling like the world's biggest hypocrite.  How can I tell people to trust God when I'm obviously not doing that myself?  How can I assure people that things will turn out okay, when I'm not certain I believe that's true of my own life?  What could I possible say that wouldn't make me feel even worse than I do now?  Then, it hit me.  I could tell the truth.

Honestly, it's a bit embarrassing to admit that I'm not the perfect little Christian.  It's humbling to pour out my heart to you and bare my many faults.  And as I type this post, I can't help but wonder how many of you are rolling your eyes and saying, "What's her problem this time?  Does this girl ever have a good day?"  I admit that I have such a dark cloud hanging over me right now that I'm trying to figure out how to get away from myself for a little while.  I can only imagine what my poor husband is going through trying to put up with my foul mood and cantankerous words.

All that being said, consider today's post a request.  You know I don't ask you for much.  But today, I am pleading with you to lift me up in prayer.  There is something wrong in my spirit, and I don't even know where to begin in getting it fixed.  I don't ask this lightly, but I believe there are some real prayer warriors out there.  My prayers, when I can actually think of words to mutter, seem to be bouncing off the ceiling, even though I know they're not. Still, the Bible says that the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  I need your help!  Will you pray for me?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Series on Salvation -- Now What?

"Okay," you say, "I've done it.  I've accepted Christ's sacrifice on the cross of Calvary, and I'm trusting in His death, burial and resurrection.  I've surrendered my life to God and made Him Lord of my life.  I understand now that I am saved for good, and that even though I will still sin, God is faithful to His Word and will forgive me of that sin if I confess it.  I have been baptized, not as part of my salvation, but as a testimony of my changed life.  So now what?  What does God expect of me now that I'm saved?"

To answer those questions, I want to take a moment to differentiate between a few terms that are often used interchangeably.  By understanding the difference, it will help you to better understand what God desires of you now that you've accepted His offer of salvation.

Religion versus Relationship
Christianity is a religion (according to the most basic definition of the term, religion), but it is so much more than that.  Christianity is a relationship between you and the Lord.  By accepting Christ's payment for sin, you've opened the door to a relationship like no other.  You now have limitless access to God.  You can talk to Him at any time, and He can talk to you.  You are now part of His family:  a child of God and the bride of Christ.  Now that you've entered into this relationship, you should do just as you would with any relationship--nurture it.  How?  By spending time together and doing things to please one another.  Learn more about God by studying His Word and joining a local church where you can be taught to better study and understand the Bible.  The word "religion" often carries with it the implication of rules and regulations, dos and don'ts and a life devoid of fun or happiness.  That's not what God wants.  He desires a relationship with you.  He desires to draw closer to you as you draw closer to Him.  He longs for you to know Him more.  He wants a relationship, not a mere religion.

Christian versus Believer
These terms are often used to distinguish those who have accepted Christ as their Savior, but in actuality, the terms are not synonymous. You can be a believer and not be a Christian.  A believer is just that--someone who believes.  A believer has accepted God's gift of salvation and is satisfied with that.  The word "Christian," on the other hand, means "Christ-like."  It was first used in Bible times as a derogatory term to point out the Jesus followers.  The Christians of that time did not call themselves Christians; it was a term that others used to label them.  In other words, the people of that time acted so much like Jesus that others could tell they were saved without having to be told (Acts 4:13).  If we have to go around shouting, "I'm a Christian," chances are we are not.  Saved, yes.  Christ-like, obviously not.  If we're living like Christ, people will notice on their own.  We won't have to tell them. 

Allow me to give you a couple of examples.  Here's a man who was raised in a Christian home.  He has made a proclamation of faith and seems to honestly believe that he's saved (this is between him and God, for I cannot know his heart).  This same man, however, does not attend church.  He uses foul language and partakes in ungodly events.  He drinks and lives a life that is all about pleasing himself.  He lives to make his own dreams and desires come true and seems to have little care or concern for others.  It is possible that this man is saved, but he is not a Christian.  He is not behaving like Christ.

How about the girl who made a bold defensive claim that she was a Christian after I cautioned her about using God's name flippantly and speaking jokingly about going to hell?  Her following posts contained words that I cannot repeat and her life seems to be void of any service for the Lord (going to church, reading the Bible, witnessing, etc.)  Is she saved?  It's very possible.  Again, only the Lord knows the heart.  But is she a Christian?  No.  Salvation can only be judged from the inside, but Christianity is often judged from the outside.  And from the outside, I'm sorry to say that this girl looks and acts no differently than the world.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. - John 15:5

An apple tree is difficult to identify when it doesn't bear any apples.  Jesus said that those who abide in Him and He in them (that's Christians) bring forth fruit.  In other words, people can identify them as Christians without any labels.  It's obvious by the way they look, the way they speak, the joy on their faces and the love in their words.  Christians allow the love of God to pour out through them.  They allow others to see God in their lives by surrendering everything to God and allowing God to use them.  They bear the fruit of the Spirit, just as an apple tree bears apples.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

What does God expect from you now that you're saved?  First of all, He longs for that tender relationship.  Second, He longs for you to bring honor to His name, not shame.  If we're going to call ourselves Christians, we better have some fruit to back it up.  We can't act like the world, talk like the world and think like the world and still expect people to see Christ in us.  It simply doesn't work that way.

Allow me to simplify it.  Christ died for you.  Now He wants you to live for Him.  The Bible refers to this as a living sacrifice, which simply means that you die to your own selfish desires and seek to do what the Lord asks you do.  How do you know what that is?  Simple.  You read the instruction book:  the Bible.  It will lead you and guide you.  It will bless you and inspire you.  It will encourage and uplift you.  But more than all, it will help you understand just how much God gave when He sent His only begotten Son to die on that old rugged tree.  He has given so much, yet He asks for so little.

So now what?  Well, if you've accepted Christ as your Savior, you're a new creature.  It's time to act like it!  God's Word will show you how.  And if you still have questions, I'd be happy to help you anyway I can.  I don't claim to be an expert on the Bible (I don't think anyone is), but if I don't know the answer, I have other sources I can contact to find out.  Don't wander around in confusion.  If you need help, please let me know.  You can comment below or send me a private message by clicking on the "Contact" button in the menu bar.

Living a Christian life is not a burden or a duty.  It is a privilege and a joy!  Yes, there will be tough times, but you can now face them with God on your side.  And it just doesn't get any better than that!

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. - Romans 12:1

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Can I Lose My Salvation?

Often, once people become aware that they can still sin after they are saved, they become anxious about losing the precious gift of salvation.  Let me assure you, it's not possible.  Once we're saved, we're saved for good.  Salvation doesn't wear off.  It's not something you need to do over and over again, neither is it something that is considered null and void when we mess up.  No matter what we do or how bad we sin, we cannot lose our salvation.

Now, that is not to say that we have a license to sin or that because we can't lose our salvation, we can live however we want (See Romans 6). In fact, if that is your desire or thought pattern, you may want to examine your life and make sure that you're truly understanding salvation.  Remember, salvation places us in a relationship with Jesus Christ, and we should cherish that relationship and long to please Him in all that we do.  But that doesn't mean that we'll never fail, as we discussed yesterday.

There are those who teach that salvation is lost every time we sin.  If that's the case, most of us lose our salvation daily, if not several times a day.  These individuals believe that we must be saved over and over again because of our continual sin, but this is not taught anywhere in the Bible.  There is no Scriptural evidence to back up this standing, while there is ample evidence to support one-time salvation.  For example, all the many verses we've already looked at in this series that state salvation leads to eternal life make it very clear.  Eternal life.  Everlasting life.  That's forever, not until we sin again.

We must also take into consideration that Jesus only died once for our sins.  It was not necessary for Him to die over and over again, neither is it necessary for us to accept His gift of salvation over and over again.  Once was enough.  His blood is sufficient for eternal life.  And speaking of the gift, do you remember the phrase "Indian giver"?  I have no idea about the origin of that particular phrase, but I know my brother and sister and I used it often as children when we would "give" something to someone and then want it back.  That's an Indian giver--someone who gives a gift at one moment and then decides to take it back soon after.  God is not an Indian giver.  He doesn't give us the gift of salvation and then take it away.  Once we accept it, it's ours forever.  No one can take it away!

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. - John 10:27-29 

I know of people who claim to be saved yet live every day in fear that if Christ comes, they might not be found worthy at that point in time.  Perhaps they said a bad word or had an evil thought and didn't have the opportunity to get saved again.  So they live their lives trying to be sinless, not out of love for Christ, but out of fear that they might not make it into Heaven after all because of a slip up.  That's not at all what salvation is about.  In fact, II Timothy 1:7 tells us,  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  A sound mind is not one that worries every minute that he/she may not be saved or that he/she may need to get saved again after a recent failure.  A sound mind is one that is at peace, trusting in the Lord, not only for eternal salvation, but also for daily guidance and protection from the fiery darts of the devil.

"But I've messed up really bad," you may be saying.  "You have no idea how far I've gone astray.  Can God forgive me and still welcome me into Heaven when I've betrayed His trust?"  Yes, He can.  Just ask the heroes of faith in the Bible.  Moses disobeyed God.  David committed adultery, then murdered a man to cover it up.  Noah got drunk.  Peter denied.  John the Baptist doubted.  And we saw yesterday Paul's admission of sin.  Yet, each of these received forgiveness for their sins, and I firmly believe they are all in Heaven today.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9

In conclusion, it is impossible to lose your salvation.  Once saved, always saved.  That being said, it is a good idea to keep short accounts with God.  What I mean by that is that we should strive not to sin, but when we do sin, we should ask God for forgiveness.  When we do, He will cast those sins into the sea of forgetfulness where they will never be seen or thought of again.  He forgives and forgets.  This keeps our relationship with Him in good standing by not having sin and guilt piled between us.  This confession of sin is not for a renewal of salvation but rather to "clear the air" between you and God.  It makes the relationship deeper and the communion with one another sweeter.

When Satan or someone in this world tries to make you believe that you can lose your salvation, remember this:  God loved you enough to die for you.  Do you really think He's going to let you go that easily?

 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. - Micah 7:18-19

As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. - Psalm 103:12

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Will I Still Sin After I'm Saved?

Most people are elated when they get saved, but many are filled with questions.  They don't truly understand what just happened to them, and they're not sure what to expect from that point forward.  One of the most popular questions is this:  "Will I still sin after I get saved?"  Sadly, yes.  Though it is often preached, there is no such thing as sinless perfection, except that of Jesus Christ Himself.  Getting saved does not make us perfect or sinless; it makes us forgiven.  Unfortunately, we still do things we know we shouldn't do, and while it saddens our Heavenly Father, it certainly does not surprise Him.  He knows our nature.

You see, when we get saved, we are immediately saved from the penalty of sin.  Remember, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).  Christ paid that price on the cross, and when we accept Him as our Savior, we no longer owe that sin debt.

As we live our lives each day, we are being saved from the power of sin.  In other words, because the Holy Spirit lives inside of us, we are different than we once were and therefore long for different things.  When we do things we shouldn't do, the Holy Spirit reminds us that it's wrong and convicts our hearts about our actions.  As we grow closer to the Lord and learn more through His Word, we find that our longing for sin lessens more and more.  Because we love the Lord and desire to please Him, our pull towards sin is decreased.

We are, however, still living in the nasty now and now, and that means sin is present in this world and therefore in our lives.  Though we do not want to disobey God, we often fail and fall into temptation.  Even the apostle Paul said, For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. (Romans 7:18-20)  Our fleshly nature is sinful, and because of that, until God calls us Home, we will continue to sin.  However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that one day, when we are called up to live with Him, we will be saved from the presence of sin, for there is no sin in Heaven.

In the meantime, we must do what we can to control our flesh, and the best way to do that is to surrender our lives to God.  Give Him control.  Go where He leads.  Heed His voice.  Study His Word.  Learn His ways.  And most of all, learn how to say, "I'm sorry, God.  I've failed you again."  He'll forgive you, pick up the pieces of your shattered life and set you back on the right path.  He's a loving God, and even our sin can't separate us from that love.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 8:38-39

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Who Can Be Saved?

For the last several posts, we've discussed what it means to be saved and how one gets saved.  Today I want to look at a question that confuses many:  who can be saved?  In short, the answer is anyone.  Yes, anyone.  Anyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and accepts Him as their Savior is saved.  It doesn't matter their gender, their race, their denomination, their net worth or their popularity.  The Bible says, "whosoever will," and the Bible means exactly what it says.  Here are just a few verses that support this stand:

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. - Revelation 22:17

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. - Romans 10:13

 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 10:32

And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. - Mark 8:34

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? - John 11:26

Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. - I John 5:1

You will not find any exceptions in the Scriptures.  There are no verses that state "whosoever except. . ."  John 3:16 doesn't say that God so loved part of the world.  It says He loved the world.  God is a loving God, and as such, He doesn't want anyone to go to hell (II Peter 3:9).  That being said, we must also realize that God is a holy God, and there is no place for unholiness in His kingdom.  That is why He sacrificed His only begotten Son.  Only through that sacrifice could both His love and His holiness be satisfied.  He has offered everyone the opportunity to trade in their filthy rags of sin in exchange for His holy robe of righteousness.  Everyone has a choice.  The invitation is extended to all, without exception.

"But what about the elect?" you may be asking.  "Doesn't the Bible say that some are predestined to go to Heaven?"

Yes and no.  The mention of the elect and those predestined only serves as proof of God's omniscience (all-knowing characteristic).  It doesn't mean that God picks and chooses who can get saved.  It simply shows that God already knows who will get saved.  He sees the beginning from the end.  He abides outside of time.  With Him, there is no past or future.  I know that's a lot to take in, but it's not necessary for us to understand it.  We need only believe it.  That being the case, God knows right now who will be saved tomorrow and the next day and the next day.  And in that sense, all those who are saved or will be saved are the elect or the predestined.  It's still man's choice.  It has been since the beginning, and it will continue to be so until the end of time as we know it (and maybe even after that, who knows?)

Once again, we must be careful not to take a few confusing passages and turn them into our own belief system that clearly undermines other clear passages in the Bible.  The message of "whosoever will" is sprinkled all throughout the Bible (in the New Testament especially).  And as we've already seen, the Bible does not contradict itself.  So we can take comfort that when God says "whosoever will," that's exactly what he means.

Who can be saved?  Anyone who puts their trust in Christ.  And that includes you! 

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. - II Peter 3:9

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Series on Salvation - What About Baptism?

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9

Yesterday, we saw very clearly that salvation is not of works.  Simply put, the deeds we do are a result of salvation, not a requirement for salvation.  But what about baptism?  It is a work, yet there seem to be many verses in the Bible supporting the stand that baptism is a requirement for salvation.  The following are a few such verses:

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. - Acts 2:38

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. - Acts 22:16

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. - Mark 16:16

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. - John 3:5

I will be the first to admit that I do not know or understand everything in the Bible.  I also admit that there are verses or passages that I can't quite figure out and seem contradictory to other parts of the Bible.  What I do know, however, is that when studying the Bible, we must keep a few things in mind:

1) The Word of God is perfect and does not contradict itself.

2) If a passage seems contradictory, it is not the Bible that is in error but rather our interpretation.

3) We must always study the context surrounding the seemingly contradictory passages.

4) We must remember that language has changed throughout the years and that the Bible is translated from both Greek and Hebrew, meaning there may be different or more complex meanings than what appears in the English.

5) When faced with an issue of controversy, always choose a clear verse or passage over an unclear one. 

I can see how someone might read one or more of the verses above and conclude that baptism is a requirement for salvation; however, if that person would go beyond those verses and study the Bible in its entirety, they may come to a different conclusion.  Yes, there are a few verses in the Bible that seemingly declare baptism to be a requirement for salvation, but there are over sixty passages that speak of salvation through faith alone, and these passages never even mention baptism.  These verses include John 3:16, Acts 16:31, Ephesians 2:8-9, John 3:36, John 5:24, John 6:40, John 8:24, John 11:26, Galatians 3:22, Hebrews 11:6 and I John 5:13, among many others.  If baptism were a requirement for salvation, why would God have left it out of these many verses?  Wouldn't that be confusing or even misleading?  Yes, it would be, but the Bible declares boldly that God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33), so that, in and of itself, seems to indicate that salvation is through faith and faith alone, just as these many passages declare.

For further proof, we can examine Jesus' personal soul-winning session with Nicodemus.  For 21 full verses, the two go back and forth about the requirement of salvation, but nowhere in that passage does Jesus mention anything about baptism. There are some, however, that state that verse 5 affirms their baptismal regeneration standpoint:  Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  Unfortunately, these confused individuals believe that "born of the water" signifies baptism.  But if they would only read the very next verse, they would realize that isn't the case at all:  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Born of the water and born of flesh is referring to our physical birth.  Born of the Spirit is the reference to salvation.  Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, but if "born of water" is baptism, Jesus would have told Nicodemus he must be born twice more:  once of water (baptism) and once of Spirit (faith).  Do you see the error?  Nicodemus had been born once--his physical birth in the flesh.  Jesus told him he now needed to be born again--his spiritual birth in faith.  In conclusion, Jesus goes on to use the phrase, He that believeth, a number of times in regards to salvation and eternal life.  No baptism is ever mentioned, yet Nicodemus' presence and aid at the crucifixion of Christ seems to indicate a very real change in his life--a change that could have only occurred through salvation.

Speaking of the crucifixion, remember the thieves hanging on the crosses on either side of Jesus?  The one mocked the Son of God, but the other saw something different about this man who hung beside him.  And when Jesus cried to Heaven for God to forgive His tormentors, this thief realized the truth.  And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:42-43)  And then Jesus and thief got down off their crosses, went to find a river or pool, and Jesus baptized the thief so that his proclamation could come to pass, right?  Of course not!  How ridiculous!  The thief wasn't given water to drink, let alone enough water in which to be baptized.  He had neither the means nor the opportunity to be baptized, yet Jesus said he would be in Paradise.  There's simply no getting around this passage.  If baptism is a requirement for salvation, then Jesus either lied to the thief or made an exception for him, neither of which lines up with the rest of the Bible.

Baptism is an act of obedience that follows (or should follow) salvation.  It is an outward statement of an inward change.  It is the bold proclamation that you are now a follower of Christ.  It is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.  And while it is an important step for every believer, it is by no means a requirement for salvation.  To make baptism a necessity is a slap in God's face.  It is a declaration that Christ's blood is not sufficient to cleanse us of our sins and that mere water will "finish the job."  Why would Christ suffer such agony if a dip in the baptismal pool would do the trick?

Baptism doesn't save.  Faith in Christ does.  Which are you trusting in?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Not of Works

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9
Our key phrase today is "not of works."  We've already discussed this a bit when we talked about grace, which means unmerited favor.  Just as grace cannot be obtained through works, the same can be said of salvation itself.  Remember it is a gift, and we're not supposed to work for gifts.  If we worked for it, it wouldn't really be a gift, would it?  But for some reason, this is where many seem to lose track.  They say they understand and believe by grace through faith, yet they spend every waking moment trying to earn their passage to Heaven.  May I be blunt?  If you're trying to earn passage, you'll never obtain it!  It simply doesn't work that way.  Remember what Jesus said in John 14:6:   Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me?  Accepting Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary is the only way to Heaven, no matter how good you are or how hard you work.

There is not a single verse in the Bible that indicates salvation through works, yet so many are still trying to earn favor with God through good deeds and vain rituals.  Someway, somehow, they have it in their minds that if they follow all the rules just right, they'll make it in.  That simply isn't so.  It's right there is Ephesians, and it couldn't be any more plain:  "not of works."  Nothing you can do outside of accepting Christ as your Savior can get you to Heaven.  Nothing!

So where do works come in?  What is the answer to the question, "Well, I've asked Jesus to save me.  Now what do I have to do?" It's not what we have to do.  It's what we get to do.  You see, when we get saved, the Holy Spirit indwells us (i.e. He comes to live inside us).  With that indwelling comes a change.  The Bible puts it this way:  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (II Corinthians 5:17)  With God in our lives, we're not the same people we once were.  We feel different.  We think different.  We act different.  Not to gain favor or a place in Heaven, but because His love spreads through us and changes us from the inside out.  

Out of the abundance of love and thanksgiving we feel towards our Lord, we strive to serve Him simply because we want to and because we are now aware just how much He has done for us.  It's not a partial payment for our entrance into Heaven nor a repayment for His death on Calvary.  It's an act of love, just as we would show a friend or family member.  For example, even though I work from home and set my own hours, I get up every morning to fix my husband's lunch before he has to leave for work.  I don't have to do it.  I could sleep in.  He's never asked me to do it.  He's quite capable of doing it.  I don't really get anything in return specifically for performing that task.  So why do I do it?  Simple, because I love him, and packing his lunch is one way I can show that love.

I've heard people say that they're living their lives in such a way that they hope to be found worthy when the Lord comes back.  Sadly, if they're counting on their worthiness, they're going to be left behind.  None of us are worthy to go to Heaven outside of the blood of Christ.  When He returns for His bride, He will call up those who have believed on Him and accepted Him as payment for their sin, not those who are trying to live right and hoping that will be enough.  It's not!  Jesus is the way, not a way.  And if you've accepted that WAY, you'll desire to live right, not because you have to pay your way, but because you want to show your love and appreciation for the One who loved you enough to die for you.

"Not of works."  There's really no other way to interpret it.  Salvation is by grace through faith, plus nothing, minus nothing.

 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. - Galatians 2:16

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Focusing on Faith

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8

In yesterday's post, we discussed grace.  If you missed that post, you can view it here.  Today, we'll go a little further into our key verse, Ephesians 2:8, and talk about faith.  As with grace, I could give you a multitude of definitions from various sources, but fortunately, the Bible does an excellent job of defining it.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. - Hebrews 11:1

I'm sure you've heard the saying, "Seeing is believing."  Well, with faith, it's the exact opposite:  believing is seeing.  Faith is belief in what cannot be seen or explained.  Things such as God or His infinite love.  We can't see them.  We certainly don't understand them.  But we can believe them.  We can have faith, but God has made it a choice.  We are allowed to choose whether or not we'll believe.

Without sounding too confusing, it is important that I point out there are two types of belief:  head belief and heart belief.  It is the latter of these that qualifies as saving faith.  How do I know that?  Because the Bible tells us in James 2:19, Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  Did you catch that?  The devils believe.  Does that mean they're saved?  Absolutely not--because they only believe with their heads, not with their hearts.  They have the knowledge, but they do not trust in that knowledge.  Christian author, speaker and comedian, Ken Davis, tells this compelling story to illustrate this principle:

In college I was asked to deliver a persuasive speech that would convince people to believe a propositional truth… The title of my talk was "The Law of the Pendulum." I spent twenty minutes carefully teaching the physical principles that govern a swinging pendulum. I taught that the pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, a swinging pendulum will fall short of its original position. Each time it swings it creates a shorter arc, until finally it is at rest…

I asked how many people in the room believed the law of the pendulum was true. All of my classmates raised their hands, and so did the professor…

Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large crude but functional pendulum: 250 pounds of metal weights taped together and tied to four strands of 500-pound-test parachute cord. Sitting against the wall on one end of the room was a table with a chair on top of it. I invited the instructor to climb up on the table and sit in the chair with the back of his head against the cement wall. Then I brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face, I once again explained the law of the pendulum he had applauded only moments before.

"If the law of the pendulum is true," I said, "then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose and face will be in no danger." After that final restatement of this law, I looked him in the eye and asked, "Sir, do you believe this law is true?"

There was a long pause. Beads of sweat formed on his upper lip, and then weakly he nodded and whispered, "Yes."

I released the pendulum. It made a soft swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back. I never saw a man move so fast in my life. The professor literally dived from the table. Deftly stepping around the still-swinging pendulum, I asked the class, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?"

The students unanimously answered, "No!"

He believed it intellectually, but he was unwilling to trust his nose to it.

There are many around the world who believe in a higher being of some form or another.  There are many who claim to believe in the one and only God.  But what kind of belief is it?  Is it real faith, a faith that makes them willing to place their lives in God's hands, or is it the kind of faith that has them diving off the table whenever things look a little iffy?  There is a difference, and that difference is what separates the saved from the unsaved.

By this point, you may be wondering what exactly you're supposed to have faith in.  After all, you believe there is a God, so that's enough, right?  To answer your question, let's see what the Bible has to say on this topic.

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. - Acts 16:31

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. - Romans 10:9

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. - John 3:16

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. - John 5:24

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. - John 3:36

He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. - I John 5:12-13

Believing there is a God is great, but committing to make that God your God is what salvation is all about.  It is about believing and accepting the gospel of Christ.  What is the gospel?  Let the apostle Paul tell you:  Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: (I Corinthians 15:1-4)

Salvation is believing that you're a sinner (Romans 3:23) and therefore deserve to face the penalty for your sins (Romans 6:23).  It is also the belief that God loved you enough to send His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die on an old, rugged cross to pay that sin debt and then to be raised again. By doing so, He offered you free passage into an eternal life with Him.  You only have to accept it.  You don't have to be in a church or on your knees to be saved.  You only need to surrender your heart and life to the Lord.  The God can become your God if you'll only accept the sacrifice He gave and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to Heaven (John 14:6).  He's waiting for you with outstretched arms.  He's eager for you to run to His embrace.  He has so much to offer and asks for so little in return.  He gave His life for you.  Will you give your life to Him?

If you have any questions on this topic, please feel free to leave a comment below, or if you would rather have your questions be less public, you can click the "Contact" button at the top of the page and e-mail me directly.  I'd be thrilled to help you in any way I can.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Glimpsing Grace

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. - Ephesians 2:8

Plain and simple, one cannot discuss salvation without first discussing grace, for it is by grace that we are saved.  Here are just a few of the definitions I found for the word "grace":

The free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.

 Approval, favor, mercy or pardon.

A virtue coming from God.

A divinely given talent or blessing.


The love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.

I could go on, but for sake of time, I'll stop there.  I think we all get the picture, or at least I hope we do.  Just FYI, my personal favorites are the first and the last because I feel they best explain the role of grace, particularly in salvation.  So, let's take a minute to look at those.

Unmerited favor.  Not to sound like a dictionary, but the word "unmerited" means unearned.  In short, grace is getting something we don't deserve, something we are unworthy of, something we didn't pay for.  Grace is not something we work for.  Grace is freely given.  It cannot be earned, for we will never be worthy of such a great gift.  It cannot be obtained through any other means.  It is a gift.

I once had the opportunity (or chore, as it seemed at the moment) of defining grace to a kindergartner.  What stumped me was not that I didn't understand grace myself but rather that I realized this little boy was not going to understand "unmerited favor."  I struggled to find a way to explain it in terms he would understand.  Thankfully, the Lord reminded me of our class reward system.
The details were simple.  At the beginning of the day, every student's name was on the board under the happy face.  However, poor behavior earned the students a place under the sad face instead.  At the end of the day, those who still had their name under the happy face were rewarded with a piece of candy.  Those under the sad face went home empty handed.   

Sadly, the boy standing before me was one of the few whose name frequented the sad face side of the board.  This being the case, however, it made my example that much more effective.

"Suppose your name was under the sad face at the end of the day, but I gave you a piece of candy anyway," I said to him.

"That would be great!"  he replied.

"No," I commented, "that would be grace.  You see, you didn't earn that piece of candy, did you?  You didn't do what was required to get that candy, did you?  In fact, you didn't do anything to get that piece of candy, did you?  But, I decided that you could have it anyway.  I was showing you grace by giving you something you really didn't deserve."

I don't know if he truly understood or not, but I know it helped me to see grace a little more clearly, and to this day, I've not forgotten that moment. 

Now, let's look at the last definition.  Why was grace bestowed upon us?  Because we worked so hard?  Because we lived so righteously?  Because we looked so nice or dressed so modestly?  No, no and no.  Grace was bestowed upon us because God desired for us to have it.  It is His gift to us.  He wants us to have it.  He doesn't want us to buy it, earn it or try to work for it.  He only wants us to accept it.  He loves us with a love greater than we'll ever understand, and because of that, He desires to give us the best.  Matthew 7:11 speaks the truth of this:  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

I'm one of those odd people who enjoys giving gifts far more than I do getting them.  I love shopping for the perfect gift to complement the lifestyle or taste of the one for whom I am shopping.  I make every effort to discover their likes and dislikes and use that knowledge to seek out the perfect gift.  Why?  Because I love them, and I'm eager to see the joy on their face when they open the gift.  In my mind, the gift goes beyond the item itself and includes the time, effort and thought that went into the gift.  Seeing the happiness of others increases my own happiness.

God, too, loves to give good gifts.  That's why He has extended grace to all (Titus 2:11).  Now it's up to us to decide what to do with that grace--accept it or reject it.  That's where faith enters the picture, and we'll discuss this in tomorrow's post, Lord willing.

For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. - Romans 5:17-21