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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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Series on Salvation - Introduction

A family member who claims to be a Christian, yet speaks of God, heaven and hell in flippant, blasphemous terms.

A friend who claims to be saved but makes comments that cause me to wonder exactly what she's trusting in for salvation.

A fellow author who claims to be saved, yet shouts from the housetops that salvation is a four-step process and has even used the comment section of my own blog to preach his beliefs.

What is wrong with this picture?

For years now, I've been posting daily posts on this blog.  For the most part, these posts have been of an encouraging and inspirational nature.  There have been some instructional posts where I've shared insights I've had in my Bible reading.  But one thing that has recently come to my attention is that I've not written many posts about salvation--some but not many.  And the reason might surprise you.  It wasn't because I felt the topic wasn't important or because I feared it was too controversial.  Naively, I assumed that if someone was taking the time to read my blog, they were probably saved.  But in the light of recent events, I'm beginning to wonder if that's really the case.

First off, it is entirely possible for someone to stumble upon my blog and begin reading because they're looking for answers to some of life's toughest questions.  Saved or unsaved, we all have questions and will sometimes step outside of our comfort zones to find answers.  Secondly, these recent events have me wondering how many definitions of "saved" and "Christian" there are in this world.  What does it mean to be saved?  How does one get saved?  What's with the phrase "born again"?  What does the word "Christian" mean, and is it the same thing as "believer"?

Sadly, the gospel of Christ has been added to, taken away from, mixed up, beefed up and twisted to the point where people don't know what to believe.  Many believe a certain way because that's the way they've been taught, yet they've never taken the time to dig into God's Word and discover the truth for themselves.  Some call themselves believers or Christians because it sounds good and makes them feel as if they're in good standing with "the man upstairs" (a term I personally despise).  And it makes you wonder, when Christ calls the church home, how many people who claim to be Christians are going to be left behind?

For this reason, the Lord has laid it on my heart to do a series on salvation including what it entails and what it doesn't.  We'll discuss grace, faith, baptism and some other topics that may be a bit controversial, but for that reason, I hope to let the Bible speak for itself.  God's Word is powerful, and it has all the answers we seek.  My prayer is that through this study, salvation's message will become clear and understandable.

My request to you is that you read each post with an open heart and mind.  Even if you know the truth or think you know the truth, I beg of you not to skip these posts.  Read them.  Read the Scriptures contained within each post, and allow those verses to speak to you.  If your view/belief is in agreement with the Scriptures, praise the Lord!  If not, pray and ask God to reveal the error to you, and keep in mind, the error will always be in our own thinking and not in the Word of God.

One last thing, you are invited and encouraged to comment on any posts; however, this is not a battleground, and I do not wish for my blog to become a hosting site for mud slinging or name calling.  If you have an opinion, please state it, but be sure to back it up with Scripture.  If you don't like someone else's opinion (including mine), that's fine, but please speak the truth in love, as the Bible commands.  I assure you this series is not intended to stir up strife or discord, but rather to state the truth and clear up confusion.  And by God's grace, it will make a difference in someone's heart!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Facing the Seas of Life

Yesterday I took my dogs out to Lake Wattacoo. At one point, I stood at the edge of the water and looked across to the other side. Even though the lake is rather small, the distance across the water was rather intimidating. I began to wonder what the Israelites must have felt as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea.

Knowing me, my first thought would have been, Okay, whose idea was it to come this way? On the heels of that thought would come feelings of fear and panic, not to mention total uncertainty. Before long, I would be reaching for the closest chocolate bar or caffeinated beverage (both essential items of any First Aid kit).

In my mind's eye, I can see the multitude with hands on hips and questioning glances. "Now what?" they ask in unison. And Moses, without a pause or a stutter gives them a faith-filled answer:

Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. - Exodus 14:13-14

You know, there are a lot of "Red Sea" times in life. Many times we stumble down our paths only to find an obstacle in front of us and an army of fear and failure behind us. During those times, what is our initial response? Do we blame, fear, complain, or trust? Do we allow our fear to take charge, or do we stand firm in our foundation of faith?

Because of Moses' faith, all the Israelites were able to cross on dry land and the armies of Pharaoh perished. What could God do with our faith? I don't know about you, but I'd like to find out!

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Poem From a Friend, Liana Howarth

Today I would like to share with you a poem from a friend who recently shared it with me.  I pray it will be as much a blessing to you as it was to me.


Lay me down in pastures green
Over clouds to sights unseen
Raise to Thee my thoughts, my words
Do with my life whatever Thou please

Help is but a prayer away
Everlasting wings will always stay
Lord, plant within me child-like faith
Pass through this dark valley by my side

May flowers and spring rain
Evening primrose covers my pain

There beside the waters still
Only Thee can be my fill

Time marches past so quickly I know
And all of my sorrows soon will go
Keep me and guard me all of my days
Ever to bring praises, heavenly rain

The season of summer, it looms
Here and there roses and buttercup blooms
Everywhere gladness and children of joy

Time it shows us what we do lack
It shows us also that we cannot go back
May we though, be given, that first love again
Ever to remember that spiritual milk we were given

Then it is autumn and cooler we become
Over our heads, knowledge loses some

Stay with me and quicken my faith
Take my trembling hand, I’ll do what Thou saith
Only a child accepts and believes
Please Oh! Lord, take me back to that time

And may Thy staff never cease to be
Near me and steady me and help me to see
Dear Lord Jesus, clear my path, my vision

Suddenly winter covers the land
Marigolds fade with the cold, blustery, white sand
Ever please Lord, You have washed me for this
Longing and praying Your mercy Your grace
Likens me to Your precious Son and His ways

The seasons have passed and they start once again
Here is new growth, flowers planted again
Earnestly the Son draws them out of the darkness of night

Rain down Oh! Lord. Reign down Oh! Lord
Only You have control of my life
Sadly I am past all my child-like responses
Even my words have grown all the stranger
Shine Heavenly Father, Thy will shall be done

- By Liana Howarth

For more of her beautiful poems and songs, visit her sites, and, or purchase her book below.