Here's A Thought...

Here are some "THOUGHTS" that will hopefully answer some of the questions that you may have about what the Bible has to say about our everyday lives. These articles are here to provoke thought; provide answers, guidance and resources; all in an effort to bring you into a closer relationship with your Heavenly Father!


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Salvation: Grace vs Repentance

Salvation: Grace vs Repentance

            “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

This is the word of God and this is the Gospel as given by Paul to the church in Ephesus.  This is the same Gospel that is being preached today. That we are saved by the immeasurable love of God is the primary message of the Gospel. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ. This message, however, is incomplete.

            Salvation is defined as:
·         1. the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.
·         2. the state of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
·         3. a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
·         4. Theology . deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption.
·         in Christianity : the act of saving someone from sin or evil : the state of being saved from sin or evil
·         : something that saves someone or something from danger or a difficult situation

As those who believe that we all have been created by an almighty God, those who have been made in His image for the purpose of glorifying Him; we accept that our salvation comes through Jesus Christ. We acknowledge that we need saving from the consequences of our sin and are thankful that we serve a God that extends that salvation to us through Jesus Christ. The question that I am struggling with today is; “Does salvation exist without repentance?”

We hear regularly about the grace of God; but we have seemed to have shied away from the message of repentance. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think for one minute that there has been some malicious intent or plan to leave out or overlook the concept of repentance; but I do believe that it is not being put in its proper place or perspective.

If I may; please allow me to describe what I believe has happened to the gospel of repentance today.
As Christ following disciples of the Gospel of the living God; we have discovered a relationship with our creator and we truly desire to share that relationship with others. So we begin to share our story that through the recognition of our sin and acknowledgment of our need for a savior, we have repented of our sin and accepted our salvation by the grace of God through faith. We soon discover that in sharing our testimony, by pointing out the need for salvation, we have also pointed out sin. We begin to find that in pointing out sin, we begin to offend people and they no longer want to hear any more of our testimony of salvation. We even find ourselves being called judgmental or bigots, or are told that we are full of hate.
So here we are. We want others to receive the gift of salvation, but they are offended by the discussion of sin. In an effort to be less offensive and to be more inviting so that people will listen to our message; we begin to talk about the love and grace of God that offers salvation without the discussion of sin and repentance that had offended so many people before. Now, we discover that people are more likely to listen to the message of salvation by grace. We also soon discover that the less we talk about sin, the less offensive we are; and we’re finding that there are more people who are willing to listen to our message. It isn’t long before we have completely abandoned the message of sin and the need for repentance.
People will listen to the message of grace.

Allow me to tell a story that might better illustrate my point:
A certain man wanted to spend a day enjoying nature, so he went to a National Park. He picked up a map from the Ranger Station and was told of a trail that would bring him the most pleasure and enjoyment. He was told that most who visited the park preferred this wide and easy to navigate trail. He was told the trail led to the best sites and the best experiences of nature; so he headed out.
He discovered in walking through the woods that the trail that he was on lead to a dense thicket of brush. Immediately on the other side of the brush was a cliff that if one continued unaware, would result in a fall that would lead to certain death.
On discovering this, and not sure how he had been saved from the fall, he turned and started back the other direction. It was not long that he came across others who were headed down the same trail. Knowing that the trail lead to an almost certain death he would do his best to warn as many people as he could. Few would head the warning and turn back.
He became frustrated that most of the people that he would encounter felt that they were on the right trail and they trusted the map and the information they had been given. He found that most of the people he encountered were sure that they were on the right trail and were frankly offended that some stranger would tell them they were wrong and they would refuse to turn back. He was shocked that he was called a liar and was accused of attempting to rob them of the experience that they were sure to have on the trail ahead.  He couldn’t believe that in an attempt to save people from death, he was being accused of hate, intolerance, arrogance and deceit.
In an effort to save as many people as he could; he changed his approach to those he encountered in an effort to get more to listen. He would tell them how much he cared for them and how much he loved them. He would tell them how much he cared about their future and how much he didn’t want to see any harm come to them because of his love for them. He now found that more people were willing to listen to him. He found he was more popular with those he encountered. He found that more people were willing to listen to his message…just as long as he didn’t ask them to turn back. Many more were listening to his message, but almost no one was turning back.

In this story, the only way to avoid death was to change direction. In life, there are some who will be drawn by the love of Christ and repent, or change direction; however it will be necessary for all to acknowledge the cost of continuing down the wrong path bringing forth the need of salvation through repentance, or changing direction. It all comes through the acknowledgment of:
1.      I am a sinner and I have violated my relationship with my creator.
2.      I can never earn a place of righteousness with my creator.
3.      I need a savior to step in the gap and cover the due penalty for my sin.
4.      I must acknowledge the one who has sacrificed himself for me through faith.
5.      I must surrender to the one who has covered my sin and granted my salvation.
6.      In order to surrender to my savior; I must repent and turn from my sin.
7.      To refuse to repent is to deny the sacrifice that has covered my sin. (see Heb 10:26-27)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 ESV) Without the acknowledgment that our sin leads to death; there is no need for repentance towards our salvation through Jesus Christ.
In the ESV translation of the Bible, the word “repent” appears 35 times. Ten times alone in the book of Revelation. Every prophet from the time of David until the four hundred years of silence before the coming of Christ cried out to the people of the need to turn from their sin and seek to be righteous before God. Every book in the bible includes a story that involves a message that calls for the turning away from our sin and turning to - or returning to God.
Matthew records that Jesus Christ began his ministry in this way: “From that time [after being tempted in the desert and ministered to by angels] Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

Billy Graham has preached all of his life the offensiveness of the cross. To acknowledge the sacrifice of the cross is to acknowledge the cost. To acknowledge the cost is to acknowledge the offense. To acknowledge the offense is admit guilt. It is only through the confession of guilt that leads to the need for repentance. The only way to turn towards our savior (and obtain our salvation) is to turn from our self, which is to turn from our sin.

I fear that the message of salvation through grace without the message of salvation through repentance relieves us of our accountability. If we fall into the deception of sharing Gods love without sharing His truth; we become guilty of leaving those who have heard our message with a false sense of security in their lives and in their eternity.
We must never stop acknowledging our sin and our need for repentance. We must never stop acknowledging our need for a savior to establish our righteousness with our creator. And we must never stop sharing that message with others. There will always be those who are offended by the suggestion of repentance. They will go to great lengths to quiet our message and our voice. They will call us names and accuse us of intolerance and hate. They will go to great lengths to guilt, shame or force us into silence. We must remember that it is not our message that they are attempting to suppress; it is the acknowledgment of their own sin that they are so desperately fighting to keep covered.
Remember; God hates sin, but has never hated any one he has ever created. We are to speak truth in love and to never judge, for judgment is left to our Lord. We desire for all to see the love of Christ in us as we speak the truth of the one who first loved us.

And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace (love) and truth. (John 1:14 ESV)
John also wrote to us to remind us of the love of God:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.           
            We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)

I balance that with these words from Jesus to his disciples:
            There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 ESV)

I pray that as we all become more exposed to the unimaginable love that God has for us; that we are equally aware of how far short we all have fallen and our need to repent of ourselves as we turn towards our Lord and savior. I pray that we continue to seek the love and the presence of Christ in our lives to aid us in changing our hearts from that of rebellion to that of obedience. May the God of our savior, our creator and our Lord continue in his abounding patience and love to draw our hearts towards continued repentance and acceptance of His love, as we continue to turn from our sin and seek a desire to glorify Him through our service and obedience to the one who made us. -Amen

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What training? I'm a qualified servant!

For those of you that are not aware; my wife and I have recently (and may I say, finally) come to the decision to submit to the calling of God and start a church. This is a calling that, if I were being honest, I have been aware of since I was a young teenager; and have been rebelling against most of my life.

We launched our church, in that I mean we started formally meeting about 3 weeks ago. During that time, the devil has wasted not a minute reminding me of my lack of qualifications. I am not seminary trained; I have not been formally educated in theology or bible studies. What I have is a passion to grow in my personal relationship with my Heavenly Father and to help others to grow in their relationship as well. Certainly there is a little more to it than that; but I am, as I have stated many times before, a simple person.

With that in mind, I was sitting here debating with myself the very question of what qualifications do I have? And it was in that moment, as I was reading an article to church leaders about frustrating things pastors deal with, it occurred to me.

There have been many experiences in my life that have brought me to the place that I am and the person I have become. As I was reflecting, I realized that my entire life has been training. Specifically; I was reflecting on my last ten-plus years that I have been a registered nurse. More than three quarters of that time has been spent working in Emergency Rooms, some of the busier ones in the country. In the time I spent in the ER; there was nothing more frustrating than dealing with patients that demanded you improve the condition of their situation or “life”. Whether short or long term condition, but every patient demanded you make an improvement to their life or circumstances.

Now so far in itself, I have not stated anything that would cause much frustration. The frustration enters in where the people who are demanding the change or “fix” in their situation or “life”; comes with an attitude of entitlement and a total denial of any personal responsibility for the current condition, their situation…or their life.
I have been leading bible studies for several years; and for those that know me there is nothing that gets me more excited than someone who wants to engage in a spiritual conversation. As I sit here reflecting on what training I may have had in my life. There is nothing more similar than attempting to share the love, the grace and the truth of God with someone who only wants all the benefits of the relationship with God…without any of the sacrifice or submission that all relationships require. Simply put; it’s an attitude of “just fix me and send someone else the bill.”

As a nurse, you still continue to help those who are in need; without gratitude, without expectation, without help from the patient, and a lot of times…without seeing the fruit of your labor. Sometimes you are doing it while being punched, kicked, cussed at, urine thrown on you (true story), belittled, unsupported, unappreciated and underpaid.

As a pastor…I will continue to help those in need. I will seek out those in need of a savior, in need of a Father – in need of a relationship with God as given through Jesus Christ. I will continue to feed those who refuse to lift the spoon. I will guide those who refuse to walk. I will instruct those who refuse to listen. I will help and support those who refuse to help and support themselves.
I have been called to shepherd. The harvest is plenty and the workers are few. The harvest is also at times stubborn, resistant, foolish, lazy and uncooperative. In the face of that, I will continue to harvest and I will continue to shepherd. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Am I qualified? – No.
Through the Holy Spirit I have all the wisdom, strength, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control and peace that I need. I may not be “qualified”, but I’m pretty sure I’m covered.

I have not spoken to all the joys and triumphs that come with choosing a life of service; and there are many. I have enjoyed all of my time serving my country, serving my community and serving as a nurse. I have exponentially more enjoyed the time I have given to serving my Lord and Savior and I look forward to all the joy…and the challenges that are sure to come. I have just written to put just a little on to paper what has been on my heart. This week has been one of reconciling that obedience to God usually doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the natural world…but I’m going to do it anyway!

May God continue to guide you, bless you and keep you as we all continue to grow in our love and understanding of our Heavenly Father. May His peace rule your life and His hand guide your steps.