Sunday, June 18, 2017

Salvation 101 (Part 4) - What does it mean to be saved?

What does it mean to be saved? 
It means to be justified. 

Not "just if I had" never sinned.
But justified as opposed to condemned.

Is it ever good enough that I behaved?
Let me look into Your Word,
And not depend on what I heard,
Then I'll understand how I was enslaved.

Salvation is not about behavior. 
Salvation is not even about personal sin.

Salvation is about going from condemnation to justification.
And by works of the law, no flesh shall be justified.

No one born of Adam escaped the sentence of condemnation.

No one does good. 
No one seeks after God. 
No one understands God.
No, not one.

That is what God decreed,
So we would see our need,
To depend on the love of a Savior,
And turn from self-righteous behavior.

We are absolutely saved by grace. It is a gift of God. 

There are no works involved; there can be no works, for works and grace cancel each other out.

We talk about a divine calling, but understanding that calling comes after salvation. 

Being born again is the starting point of understanding Spiritual things that pertain to us. God wants ALL people to be saved. 

Salvation is wonderful, don’t get me wrong.
It is also permanent and not dependent on any behavior, not even a lifestyle.

But salvation is not the end; it is the means. 
There’s more that God wants for us, much more!

To have the opportunity to discover how rich is this calling, be saved.

Do not resist the Holy Spirit, who is hard at work in your life to persuade you of God’s love. Christ has done all the work required to save your soul. 

Trust Him. 

Rely on Him for your soul salvation. 

Let Him do what we cannot do no matter how hard we work. 

So we can boast in Him.

Scripture References sprinkled throughout:
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)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 
(Romans 3:23-24)

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 
(Romans 3:28)

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 
(Romans 3:20)

as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
(Romans 3:10-12)

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 

(John 3:18)

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 

(Romans 4:4-5)

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 
(John 16:7-11)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wild Acres Retreat, Little Switzerland, NC

Yesterday, the warm sun bathed the mountaintops with smooth rays. The breeze playfully unable to make up its mind from which way to come and to where it shall go. Refreshing blue skies with dabs of white cotton, afloat and unburdened.

Today, rain drains from clouds so close you're in them. Heavy drops tapping their arrival. "I'm here! And here, and here, and here!" God orchestrating these gentle beats while shiny green leaves dance in delight, one with the music, choreographed yet free.

Note to reader: I went to this place for a writer's retreat hosted by The Sun Magazine on May 19-21, 2017. It was my first ever, filled with workshops from wonderful instructors. There was also relaxed time to read, write, and network. I met some wonderful people and learned valuable lessons. I hope it's not my last. I loved it. (Special thanks to Mark for making it happen!)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Kitchen Table of My Youth

I picture the kitchen table of my youth as mostly bare and vacant. Visions play back like a bad Super-8 home movie when color film first became popular: faded color washed in cloudy yellowish muck, magnified hairs floating on and off the screen, camera skips and shakes.

It's a small rectangle with a hard, flat surface of cool gray Formica, unmistakable 70's style.

If I try to picture someone seated at the table, it's usually my mother my mind's eye recalls. A Kool menthol cigarette propped between two stiffly extended digits show smoking is not enough to relax her. Neither is the Schlitz can of beer in the other hand, nor the two combined, nor the idle, unfocused stare.

One long side of the table, edged with dull silver metal and held up with skinny tubular legs, is against a wall. It only sits three unless we pull the table out from the wall. But we seldom ate together. We don't need the leaf. That's for when we have guests. The leaf remained like new.

On the other side of the kitchen, opposite the table is a wall-to-refrigerator counter top with an aged-white porcelain sink in the middle. There was a doorway with no door from the main hallway. The counter on the left, window straight ahead, kitchen table on the far right, stove on the immediate right.

Passing between the table and the stove, I could go through another door-less doorway into the dining room where we had holiday dinners with our small, extended family, usually my grandmother and sometimes my uncle, or we did homework during school months, until we started partying instead.

If I stood in the kitchen at that doorway, I'd be directly behind my mother, her back to me, with the wall oven on my right, next to the stove I'd pass. If I glanced downward to the left to the area in front of my mother, I could see the cigarette burning and drops of liquid at the lip of the beer can near its opening.

But, I didn't have to be directly behind her to see those things. I could see them anywhere, anytime. Those images of her as the numb central character of my youth, supposedly playing the role of my mother, smoking packs and drinking from cans, were already etched on the screen of my primary visual cortex. That's probably why I mostly remember the kitchen table as bare and vacant.

I don't know what she saw from glazed eyes when she looked out the window across the table from her seat. Probably not much. I don't know what she saw from glazed eyes when she looked at me.

Is Heaven Loud?

Is heaven loud? If not now, will it be when I get there?

Will the sound of 24 elders falling prostrate, casting crowns, offering You praise with harps and lutes- will that sound carry?

Do thousands of angels murmur in crowds near and far?

Are there 12 choirs of 12,000 led by four living creatures making loud melody and harmony like roaring thunders?

Will even You rejoice over me with loud singing?

"And the angels said with a loud voice..."

Then how will You respond when I tell You I've fallen in love?

It's true.

I've fallen in love with peace and quiet.

Please don't be mad at me.

Please don't yell.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hearty Trail Mix

... or "Trail Mix from the Heart."

Lately, I've been sharing serious lessons I've learned about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Christian doctrine from Scripture, that is, the Holy Bible. Such revelations have had profound impact on my identity as a Christian. Yet, they are not commonly taught. Nor are they commonly accepted.

As a result, I don't trust most churches to teach what they ought. In fact, many have made a blatantly profitable business out of organized religion. The raw gospel, however, has a different intention.

My desire in these lessons is to give you verifiable truth about Christ. There are more lessons to come. But, at this time, I wish to share other parts of who I am and what I've been through. I want to get real.

Here comes the Hearty Trail Mix...

I want to share so much of what is in my heart. I desire to be vulnerable and genuine. What my Christian beliefs are is just one aspect, albeit a critical one in my life. Beyond this, my life has other aspects as well, soulful ones, human ones, ugly and pretty, which connect us all.

I'd like to share stories from my life that reveal more of who I am. Occasionally, I'll sprinkle in some shorter pieces I hope you will enjoy. I'd like to share some major and minor events from my life that have helped shape my spiritual journey, contributed to life decisions, and brought me to this point: my life is meaningless unless I bring compassion and joy to someone else's. And then, we shall discover together what David meant in Psalm 23 when he said, "My cup overflows."

Sharing my stories is my gift to you. If there's to be any value in this gift, let it be connection. 

So, it's time to mix things up a bit. I have things I want to write and share, some of which I've wanted to write and share for a long time. I was too scared then, making excuses too easy to come by.

Now it's time for me to face my fear; to do the thing I'm afraid to do. To paraphrase Beethoven, "What I have in my heart must come out. That is reason why I write."

I hope you join me. I hope you find something thoughtful for yourself. And may some fruity or nutty trail mix nugget touch your heart.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Delight in Steadfast Love

Dear Father,

You delight in steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, and I delight in You. Give me the desires of my heart. Rejoice over me with gladness and loud singing.

I love You and diligently seek You, to know and understand Your deep thoughts and Your gracious ways, intimately, and to love the One whom You have sent, the firstborn of many brothers. For Jesus is my first love, and eagerly seeking You is my first work. Come, make Your home in my heart.

With all my love:
All my heart, mind, soul, and strength,

April 26, 2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Derailed, But Not Impaled

Can you be derailed and not be impaled? Absolutely! I was.

I've been derailed recently; over a month has lapsed since I last posted on this blog. Actually, there were a few derailments in this short period of time. A lot can happen that can keep us busy, or not happen which requires even more work. It hurts not being able to do what you'd love to do.

Most of all, worst of all, I was derailed and distracted from my first love: spending time with my Father. It was depressing. I was perplexed that so many worldly things were snatching my time away without asking my permission. Yes, it was underscored by a hope that would never fade. Joy was merely masked for a moment. But, unwanted company was at my side, clawing for attention.

If the subject is Bible doctrine, I love to write it, speak it, study it, teach it, and coach with it. I also love riding my Rocky Mountain mountain bike. Yet, for the past four weeks I didn't write, and barely studied. Nor have I rested easy, making it challenging to focus on anything. I didn't ride much either.

A few days ago, I was riding around the parking lot where I live and my mountain bike split in two. CRACK! BAM! The pavement kissed me hard, fast, dry and gritty on the cheek. I hate when that happens. I didn't kiss it back. Fortunately, I only got a couple small scrapes. Nothing broken, except my bike. I kept the sores moist and bandaged, and they've since healed, also fortunately. But, the lesson goes on...

I've fallen in life, too, and had to get back up. Financially. Career-wise. Relationships. I've also fallen away from God, when my faith was weak. Humbled, I drew near to Him again. My thoughts were scattered several times, not knowing who or what to believe.

But, now I'm refocused on His word and strive to understand His thoughts. Many lessons have been learned, the hard-as-pavement way. Now I know what and why I believe, and for that I'm grateful.

If only the bike had been maintained, the snap of the frame could've been predicted and avoided. I wouldn't have been smacked by the pavement. It could've been on a rugged trail somewhere, and much bloodier. No need to turn the other cheek, I got the message.

If only my walk by the Spirit was maintained, I could've predicted and resisted the distractions, and instead soaked in the comfort of my new identity in Christ. I wouldn't have had to be jolted awake and reminded of my highest priority, my deepest desire, and His love for me. It would've been ingrained. Not like the pavement crumbs in the skin of my cheek. But, like His love quickened in my transformed heart.

If I come out on the other side wiser and stronger, isn't falling good?

Hardly. The common theme in all these lessons is not the healing, which is a good thing. It's the loss of time, which is not good. I'm stubborn when it comes to learning that lesson: things profound but not screaming for attention should be my highest priority.

A sense of urgency is to be applied to what is truly most important to me. It is my reason why. Why does it matter? Why am I here? Why do I believe and do the things I do? I'm fooling myself if I think I can attend to important things later in life. How many chances will I get until I get it right? Later in life is now.

A dear friend reminded me of this process --the scraping and healing, proud falling and humble exaltation, coming to know the glory and love of Christ by sharing in His sufferings-- when he shared some verses about our suffering in this world. May I focus on Him all the more, now, and not wait for the next reminder.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)

So, why wait? Eternity starts now.

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 
(John 17:3)