Walking Through the Flames

When we were taking care of my mother-in-law in our home, our caregiver would stay with her on Sunday mornings while we went to church. I offered to trade off with my husband for Sunday evening services, but he always chose to stay home with her. I think he wanted to give me a break since I was with her so much while he was at work.

Jesse, our youngest son, was still home at that time. So he and I had about a twenty minute drive to church. I usually plugged my phone into the car speakers with the music on shuffle. Sometimes I turned the music down and we talked. Sometimes he’d fall asleep or play a game on one of his devices. Sometimes one or both of us would sing along softly.

But when “Walking Through the Flames” came on, we sang along together at full voice.

I’m not sure what about this song inspired our outburst. It’s based on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3 who would not bow down to the king’s idol, even when their lives were threatened. Their faith and their words have inspired believers for centuries:

“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).

If you know the story, “Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury” (verse 19), ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than normal, and had the three Hebrew men tied up and thrown in.

The furnace was so hot, the men who threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in died. But the three Hebrew men, instead of immediately succumbing to flames, were walking around untied. And what was more, someone else was with them, and “the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (verse 25).

Nebuchadnezzar called them out and saw that they were not only unhurt, but they were not even singed. They didn’t even smell like smoke. Then “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God'” (verse 28). He decreed that no one in the land could speak against the God of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego without dire consequences. Although Nebuchadnezzar was not a believer yet, the next chapter in Daniel tells how he became one. No doubt this incident had a part in establishing his faith in the one true God.

In “Walking Through the Flames” (words are here), Jeanine Drylie retells the story in song and then applies it to us.

But when the hour of trial comes and fire is all around
We’ll find the place we’re walking on is really holy ground.

And praise be to God that the flames will set us free
And praise be to God, we shall gain the victory.

The version in my playlist is sung by Mac Lynch on a CD by the Wilds Christian Camp titled Praise the Everlasting King. Unfortunately, I can’t find that CD or that version of the song online anywhere. But here’s the song by the Northland Baptist Bible College:

I wrote a couple of posts based on truths from this passage of Scripture: “But If Not,” when our pastor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and From “What If” to “Even If.”

These truths and this song will always minister to me. But my heart will also be warmed by the memory of singing this song along with my son in the car on Sunday evenings.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

 

Lamb of God

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:5-6

Years ago I heard a story about a guest preacher who was just getting ready to board his train after speaking at a church. A man hurried to him, saying he had been in the meeting and was anxious about his spiritual state. Could the preacher take time to talk to him?

The preacher’s train was the last of the night, and it was about to leave. All he had time to tell the man was to read Isaiah 53:6, and then to go in and the first “all” and come out at the last “all.”

The man was puzzled, but when he went home. he looked up Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” As the man read the passage several times, understanding dawned. He was a sheep gone astray, stubbornly following his own way. But Jesus took his iniquity. If he trusted in Jesus, he would be saved and forgiven.

I don’t know if this is a true story, but the point it makes is true.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,
that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
see him dying on the tree!
‘Tis the Christ, by man rejected;
yes, my soul, ’tis he, ’tis he.
‘Tis the long-expected Prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
proofs I see sufficient of it:
’tis the true and faithful Word.

Tell me, as you hear him groaning,
was there ever grief like his,
friends through fear his cause disowning,
foes insulting his distress?
Many hands were raised to wound him,
none would intervene to save;
but the deepest stroke that pierced him
was the stroke that justice gave.

If you think of sin but lightly
nor suppose the evil great,
here you see its nature rightly,
here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the sacrifice appointed,
see who bears the awful load;
’tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
here the refuge of the lost:
Christ, the Rock of our salvation,
is the name of which we boast;
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
who on him their hope have built.

Thomas Kelly, 1804

Isaiah 53:6

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Another Gospel? A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity

Alisa Childers’ faith wasn’t shaken by an atheist professor or a New Age neighbor.

Her beliefs were dismantled by her pastor.

She knew and trusted him. He had invited a select group of “out of the box thinkers” to a special class, a “safe zone to process our doubts and questions.” Alisa was surprised when he began to question and then to take apart the doctrines she had always believed.

“I wouldn’t hear the term progressive Christianity until years later. But it was clear that this group of people wanted to ‘progress’ beyond the Christianity they had known. They were going through what would practically become a rite of passage in this new and flourishing movement: deconstruction. In the context of faith, deconstruction is the process of systematically dissecting and often rejecting the beliefs you grew up with” (p. 24).

There were things that bothered Alisa about Christianity as it had always been presented, things like massive altar calls where people streamed forward. Did those people know what they were doing? Did their decision “stick?”

But those things didn’t cause her to question her foundational beliefs. Her pastor’s class did. She realized she knew what she believed, but not why. She had grown up in a Christian family who actively ministered to others. But her faith was “intellectually weak and untested” (p. 5).

“When progressive Christianity first entered the scene, its proponents raised some valid critiques of evangelical culture that the church needed to examine and reevaluate. But those progressives who reject essential teachings—like the physical resurrection of Jesus—can confuse unsuspecting Christians and kick the foundation out from under them” (p. 8).

This class led her into a dark pit, “a spiritual blackout—a foray into darkness like I’d never known” (p. 8). What if everything she had ever believed was false? Another girl in the class stood next to her in choir practice one day and said, “It’s funny that we’re all singing these songs and none of us have any idea what we believe!” (p. 28).

That wasn’t good enough for Alisa. “When I have doubts about my faith, or deep nagging questions that keep me up at night, I don’t have the luxury of finding ‘my truth’ because I am committed to the truth. I want to know what is real. I want my worldview (the lens through which I see the world) to line up with reality. God either exists, or he doesn’t. The Bible is his Word, or it’s not. Jesus was raised from the dead, or he wasn’t. Christianity is true, or it isn’t. There is no ‘my truth’ when it comes to God” (p. 10).

“I wanted to progress in my faith . . . in my understanding of God’s Word, my ability to live it out, and m relationship with Jesus. But I didn’t want to progress beyond truth” (p. 25).

Alisa prayed for God to send her a lifeboat. And He did, sending more than one. Alisa took time to study in detail the claims of the foundational doctrines of Christianity. It was a long process. Sometimes her study brought up more questions.

“Slowly and steadily, God began to rebuild my faith. The questions that had knocked the foundation out from under my beliefs—the ones I had never thought to ask, the ones I didn’t know existed—were not simply being answered. They were being dwarfed by substantial evidence and impenetrable logic so robust that I felt like a kid in a candy store—who had just found out that candy exists” (p. 227).

Her faith didn’t look exactly as it had before. She corrected some beliefs and determined some, while important, weren’t essential. But her beliefs in the fundamental truths of historic Christianity were now on a firm foundation.

Another Gospel: A Lifelong Christian Seeks Truth in Response to Progressive Christianity is Alisa’s testimony and the result of her study. She takes a great deal of information and distills it to its essentials in an understandable way.

She quotes from progressive Christianity’s authors to show what they believe and how it differs from historic Christianity. Then she draws from her extensive research to share why she believes the evidence supports historic Christianity.

There’s so much I wish I could tell you and quote from this book. But I’ll touch on just a few issues.

One big difference between historic and progressive Christianity is their views of Scripture. Alisa spends three chapters on the different threads of thought in regard to the Bible and the abundant proof that it is accurate and reliable and authoritative.

Other major differences involve who Jesus is and why He came. Some call the idea of Jesus dying for our sins “cosmic child abuse.” But Jesus said He willingly gave His life. Atonement wasn’t an idea borrowed from primitive religions. It was worked into the fabric of the OT sacrifices and symbols and came into fruition in Jesus’ death for our sins. Many NT books expound on it.

If more churches would welcome the honest questions of doubters and engage with the intellectual side of their faith, they would become safe places for those who experience doubt. If people don’t feel understood, they are likely to find sympathy from those in the progressive camp who thrive on reveling in doubt. In progressive Christianity, doubt has become a badge of honor to bask in, rather than an obstacle to face and overcome (pp. 51-52).

As I navigated through my faith crisis, I realized that it’s not enough to simply know the facts anymore . . . we have to learn how to think them through—to assess information and come to reasonable conclusions after engaging religious ideas logically and intellectually. We can’t allow truth to be sacrificed on the altar of our feelings. We can’t allow our fear of offending others to prevent us from warning them that they’re about to step in front of a bus (p. 11).

The progressive wave that slammed me against the Rock of Ages had broken apart my deeply ingrained assumptions about Jesus, God, and the Bible. But that same Rock of Ages slowly but surely began to rearrange the pieces, discarding a few and putting the right ones back where they belonged (p. 9).

Those of you who have read here for a while know that I am not given to gushy superlative statements. But this is one of the most important books I have ever read. I had seen some of the things Alisa described mentioned here and there, and her book helped those pieces click into the bigger picture.

These doctrines matter. There are many areas where we can differ from other Christians and give each other grace. But it’s not enough to have a nebulous belief in a generic Jesus. It’s vital that we know Who and what we believe in and why.

I strongly encourage you to read this book. It will help you discern the threads of progressive Christianity. It will strengthen your own faith and its foundations. It will help you minister to others.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Don’t Reject God Because of His People

There are a number of reasons people walk away from Christianity, or at least from church. Some have faced disdain or hurt from those who were supposed to model and minister Christ to them. Some groups or ministry leaders were found to have shocking hidden pasts or current sins. Some movements displayed racist thought in their pasts.

Sometimes leaving a particular group or church or dissociating from an individual is the right thing to do.

But we shouldn’t reject the whole body of God’s truth because some of His people, or those who professed to be His people, fell so far from His ideal. They’re accountable for their sins and failures, but what they do doesn’t void the truth they taught. We’re accountable for the truth we’ve heard despite the vessels it sometimes came through.

Someone once said if you look for the fatal flaw, you’ll find it. And you don’t have to look very far in some cases. That’s because we all have one—or more than one. Some seem worse, or more obvious, than others.

When you look through the Bible, you find people who loved and followed God, yet they failed in spectacular ways. Though we grieve over their falls, we don’t dismiss the truth they taught. We don’t throw out Proverbs because Solomon failed to keep his own admonitions. We lament David’s sins, but we don’t reject the psalms because of them. The disciples fought over who was greatest and fled when Jesus was arrested. Yet God transformed and used each of them in mighty ways.

Instead of throwing out “the baby with the bath water,” we can learn from the failures of others.

We’re all at risk of falling. Proverbs 16:18 warns that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Verse 13 goes on to say that we’re not tempted beyond our ability, but God will provide a way of escape. But we need to look to Him: we can’t take pride that we would never do certain things.

Most have or will experience failure of others. Joseph’s own brothers wanted to kill him and sold him into slavery. Abigail’s husband, who should have been her leader and protector, nearly caused their household to be attacked by the king. Saul, who should have been David’s mentor, instead was jealous and tried to kill David. At some point, we will fail others and they will fail us.

Learn from people who failed what not to do, what precautions could have been taken, etc.

For all the bad ones, there are many good ones. When I worked with the general public, the rude and obnoxious customers and comments hurt and stayed with me a long time. Yet there were many more kind and thoughtful customers than bad ones. Though none is perfect, there are many within Christendom who love God and others well. Don’t let the bad ones obscure the good ones.

Compare what we see and hear with Scripture. Those noble Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They took what they were told even of Paul and Silas and checked it against Scripture.

Others’ failures don’t nullify truth. In Romans 3:, Paul writes, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:3-4). Does that mean faithfulness doesn’t matter, or people get away with being unfaithful? No. God will deal with them. But their unfaithfulness doesn’t make God unfaithful or disprove His truth.

Hold fast. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Then verse 35-36 says, “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Stir up others to love and good works. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which, interestingly, takes place in the context of church: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25). Perhaps some would have been prevented from a fall by a loving friend’s kind rebuke.

Forgive. Most have found that when they refuse to forgive others, the one they end up hurting the most is themselves. Unforgiveness can lead to bitterness and unanswered prayer or keep us from being forgiven. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). He taught that we’ve been forgiven so much, we should not withhold forgiveness for lesser sins than the ones we’ve committed against Him (Matthew 18:21-35).

Overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). This sentence comes at the end of a section about loving enemies and not avenging ourselves, but leaving vengeance to God. That’s not to say we don’t report or deal with wrong-doing. Sometimes we need to allow consequences to catch up to someone for their own good and for protection of ourselves and others. But we don’t seek to “get them back.” Instead, we go the extra mile and do them good.

Jesus knows what we’re going through. No one has been failed by others as much as Jesus. His family didn’t understand Him. His disciples missed the point of His teaching much of the time. They fled when He was arrested. The people He came to save rejected Him. But He didn’t walk away from them. He loved even when they didn’t love Him. He patiently kept working with them. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14-15).

Keep our eyes on Christ. Others will fail us, even those who mean well. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” (Hebrews 12:2b-3a).

In Psalm 55, David tells of his fear, trembling, horror, and anguish due to the oppression of an enemy. Then he reveals in verses 12-14:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng.

Instead of letting a friend’s betrayal drive him away from the God he professed, David let the situation drive him to God.

But I call to God, and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety  from the battle that I wage (verses 16-18).

Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved (verse 22).

When others fail you, betray you, ignore you, or hurt you, they are accountable to God. But don’t walk away from Him because of them. Run to His arms and let Him heal, soothe, encourage, and strengthen you.

“The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
(Psalm 147:2-3)

Man may trouble and distress me;
Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me.
Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, tis not in grief to harm me
While Thy love is left to me.
Oh, twere not in joy to charm me
Were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Henry Francis Lyte, “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken”

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

When the World Weighs Heavy

I don’t watch the evening news, but I’m still flooded with the sometimes unspeakable suffering across our globe.

Haiti is suffering the aftereffects of a major earthquake. Japan has experienced an earthquake, floods, landslides. Potentially devastating storms from tropical depressions and hurricanes hit our coasts. Horrible stories are coming out of Afghanistan, with more to come as the Taliban takes over.

And these are all on top of the long-term worldwide pandemic we’re still dealing with, made worse by the division over how to respond to it. Several friends have had COVID, some severely. A nurse friend tells of staff exhaustion and patient suffering in the COVID ward of her hospital.

As Christians, we’re concerned that our country and world are ebbing ever further away from biblical truth. We wonder what kind of world our children and grandchildren will face.

Plus we have personal concerns. A friend is taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s alone. A dear older lady is in the hospital with severe pain from an old hip replacement. Others have varying issues to deal with.

All these things weigh heavily. How are we supposed to go about everyday life with so much suffering and wrong in the world?

Well, maybe we aren’t.

There are times in life to stop everything, pray, fast, mourn. The 9/11 attacks here were like that. Everything stopped as we watched the news coverage, grieved, and prayed for those affected and those helping.

But at some point, the needs of life intrude. Laundry must be done, the family must be fed, family members must go to work.

Perhaps our concerns can guide how we do our tasks and how we think while we do them.

The world’s news can:

Inform our perspective. Disappointment over an activity canceled due to weather pales when I learn that Afghani Christians are being killed if a Bible app is found on their cell phones.

Remind us how small we are and how much we need God.

Remind us to pray. We can’t save the world. The sheer magnitude of suffering and sorrow in the world is overwhelming to us, but not to God. Some years ago I received this prayer guide from Voice of the Martyrs:

Remind us to weep with those who weep. Particularly concerning those believers undergoing persecution, Hebrews 13:3 says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”

Remind us this life is not the end. The world isn’t getting better and better until we reach utopia. Jesus said there would be wars, earthquakes, famine, pestilence, persecution. Heaven will be a place of no tears, pain, or sorrows, but on earth we’ll have plenty of each.

Remind us God cares for our sorrows. He “doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33, KJV). Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3) and wept with those who grieved.

Remind us to cast our cares on Him. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). I love Octavius Winslow’s phrasing in his poem: “Nor fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds.”

We need to remind ourselves as well that though it sometimes looks like the world is in chaos, God is still in control. As the old hymn says, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet.” Olympic runner Eric Liddell became a missionary in China. As the Japanese army committed atrocities leading up to WWII, Liddell wrote, “Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love” (Eric Liddell, The Disciplines of the Christian Life [London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1985], 121–122).

Why does God allow these things then? That would be a question for another post. He has many reasons for allowing suffering, and we can trust that He has a purpose. As Joni Eareckson Tada has often said, “God permits what he hates to accomplish what He loves.” Sometimes God is not as concerned about removing calamity or persecution as He is about accomplishing His will in people’s hearts through them.

While we wait for His purposes, timing, and help, everyday life can be wonderfully grounding. Elisabeth Elliot wrote that in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she would sometimes feel overwhelmed not only with grief, but with new decisions and tasks she had to take on as a jungle missionary without her partner. She was helped by an old English poem which said, “Do the next thing.”

The poem says, “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.” That is a wonderfully saving truth. Just do the next thing.

There may be tangible ways we can help those suffering. James reminds us not to just wish people well, but to give what they need. (I would caution great care, however, about the charities that seem to spring up overnight to help the most recent calamity victims. Research organizations or ask for recommendations from people you trust.) Sometimes even our small everyday tasks help towards meeting someone’s need.

But sometimes there’s nothing we can physically do to help someone. We can pray along with Jehoshaphat, “We are powerless . . . We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Remembering How God Has Led

I don’t know what triggered my trip down memory lane. I sat with my Daily Light open but unread, and began to pray for God to open my understanding and speak to my heart from His Word.

I thought back with wonder of the many different paths my life could have taken. Several events led to my salvation. What if one of them hadn’t happened?

There were different temptations, some of which I regret failing. I could have been done in by any of them.

My life could have followed any number of paths, not just theoretically, but due to influences at the time. I could have become an alcoholic. I had planned to get married right out of high school, not realizing I would be marrying the wrong person. I not only would have missed meeting my wonderful husband, but I would not have experienced all I learned both intellectually and spiritually at a Christian college.

I could have fallen for a television evangelist’s false doctrine (I actually called the number on the screen once). People are so vulnerable just before and after salvation, when their interest in the Lord is aroused but they have no discernment yet.

In 8th or 9th grade, we moved to a new town. The school I attended was the most cliquish place I had ever been. Well-defined groups didn’t allow for new members. My mom had to plead and almost push me out of the car at school in the mornings. I spent many lunch breaks walking around the grounds by myself in tears. Finally I became friends with another girl who was also, for some unknown reason, outside the school’s social circles. I discovered years later that it was the Lord’s mercy that kept me from getting involved with the popular crowd, as they were into a lot of unhealthy activities. What if I had gotten in with them? I probably would have gotten into some kind of trouble and possibly would have become proud and condescending.

Between my sophomore and junior year, my mother left my father and took my siblings and me to Houston. The break had been coming for years, but it still hurt when it finally happened. We moved from a very small town of less than 200 to the teeming metropolis of Houston. The culture shock was very real. In those days before the Internet, I had little contact with my friends from school. I had no opportunity to make new friends since school wouldn’t start for months yet. It was the loneliest time in my life. I remember lying on my bed clinging desperately to Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Looking back, I didn’t know fully what that verse meant. But I knew that, to the degree I knew how, I loved God, and I trusted Him to work things out for good. Though that was one of the lowest points in my life, it was also pivotal. It was through this move that God provided miraculously for me to go to a Christian school for two years, led me to a good church, helped me make sure of my salvation, and let me know about a Christian college.

Somehow God led me all the way.

My heart was tender thinking back over God’s working in my life. As I opened my Bible reading for the day, I came to Deuteronomy 8:2: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” It’s amazing how God prepares me for what I am going to encounter in His Word. I thought my mental wanderings about my past were just daydreams and rabbit trails, but here He had led me to do just what the Scripture said.

Several times in Deuteronomy 8, Moses urged the Israelites to remember the Lord and not forget Him. Peter wanted “to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:13; 3:1). Jesus told the Ephesian church, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Revelation 2:4). As God called Israel, back to Himself, He said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2).

This is what I most want my children, grandchildren, readers, and anyone with whom I have any influence to know, to remember: that Christianity is not just a culture, not just a set of doctrines, not just what we do and don’t do. It is the basis of all of those. But first of all it’s that personal relationship with the Lord.

Do you have that? Have there been times in your life you knew God was at work in you, drawing you to Himself? Do you have warm and tender moments where He met with you personally?

If you professed faith as a young child, you may not remember a definite “before” and “after” to your life of faith. But you can be grateful for God’s preventative work in your life and the scars and bad memories He kept you from. As you’ve walked with the Lord, I am sure you’ve found that the “big sins” are not always the dramatic ones that everyone sees. Inner wrestlings with pride and self-will are just as deadly. You’ve discovered that it takes as much of God’s grace to battle those as it does to defeat addiction. You’ve probably experienced times when God answered prayer or something in His Word met your need of the moment. It’s not the drama of one’s initial testimony that determines what kind of Christian life we have: it’s simple faith, not in our faith, but in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Nothing stirs up our love and gratitude towards the Lord like remembering how He saved us and led us. It’s a blessing to sometimes review the “Ebenezers,” those special times of help that we’ve experienced along the way. Then we can say along with the psalmist:

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Psalm 63:5-8

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Easter Teaches Us of New and Better Life

Several years ago, we got word that a lady in our former church had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She had been one of the merriest people I’d ever known. When we went back to that town for a visit, it was hard to see her in the church lobby looking confused and suspicious.

When our former pastor announced he had pancreatic cancer a few years ago, I was stunned that God would take someone in his prime with an active ministry and love for people who was doing so much good. Our pastor admitted he was going to have to take by faith that what God had for him in heaven was going to be so much better, because what he had on earth up til that time was pretty good.

I wondered why God would let one of His beloved children end up in pain or confusion.

But then I remembered this was not their end. Alzheimer’s and cancer were just stopping places in their long journey home. God promised that their sufferings would produce and eternal weight of glory.

 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

We get so caught up in the things we have to and want to do, our families, our ambitions, that we forget this world isn’t all there is.

We look forward to heaven . . . some day. But when we get there, we’ll probably wish we could have come sooner.

C. S. Lewis wrote to a friend of the unpleasant effects of aging: “the growing realisation that there were a great many things one wd. never have time to do,” studies one could never take up, facing retirement and “the infernal nuisance (to put it no higher) of patching up some sort of new life somewhere,” and so on. “I am therefore (with some help from the weather and rheumatism!) trying to profit by this new realisation of my mortality. To begin to die, to loosen a few of the tentacles which the octopus world has fastened on one.” He acknowledged that a good night’s sleep or a pleasant day would likely dispel his gloomy mood. But, he went on to say:

One ought not to need gloomy moments of life for beginning detachment, nor be reentangled by the bright ones. One ought to be able to enjoy the bright ones to the full and at that very moment have the perfect readiness to leave them, confident that what calls one away is better. . . (Letters of C. S. Lewis, October 15, 1949).

It was said of those in the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 that they desired “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (verse 16).

I admit I am too caught up in the bright moments of this life. God kindly breaks in and turns my attention up and away to that world to come. “Eternal glories gleam afar . . .”

I’ve found a Friend, O such a friend! All pow’r to Him is given,
To guard me on my onward course, and bring me safe to heaven.
The eternal glories gleam afar, to nerve my faint endeavor;
So now to watch, to work, to war, and then to rest forever.

James G. Small, “I’ve Found a Friend, O Such a Friend

Easter speaks to me of many things—redemption, forgiveness, new life, and more. But this year it reminds me that this world and its pleasures and problems are temporary. We’re going to spend a lot more time in eternity than we did here. Are we ready?

Jesus came to earth as the Son of God, God in flesh. He lived a perfect life in our place because we never could. He died to take on the punishment for our sin so we wouldn’t have to. When we repent of our sin and believe on Him as Lord and Savior, His righteousness goes on our account: God sees Him instead of us.

Forgiveness of sin, His presence, His peace, his help, His grace—and heaven too!

Do you know Him? Are you ready for eternity?

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Come, let us return to the Lord

IMG_2191?ver2God pictures His relationship to His wayward people in the prophet Hosea’s relationship to his adulterous wife, Gomer. Gomer didn’t just drift away, nor was she seduced unaware. Chapter 2:5-7 says she pursued other lovers. She had children by men other than her husband. She thought they would give her “my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink” (2:5).

However, God declared, “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal” (2:8). She not only didn’t acknowledge God, didn’t even thank Him for His gifts, but she used His gifts to worship a false god.

Later God likened Israel as a child whom He loved and taught to walk, yet “they did not know that I healed them” (11:3).

The Bible says God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17). “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything…In him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:24-28).

God gives us everything we have, even our very breath. Do we acknowledge Him? Thank Him? Or use His gifts in wrong pursuits?

Warren Wiersbe says, “The essence of idolatry is enjoying the gifts but not honoring the Giver” (Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship).

Romans tells us:

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:20-21).

The chapter goes on to say that since people persisted in living without acknowledging God,

  • “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (1:24).
  • “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (1:26).
  • “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (1:28).

Wiersbe says, “One of the greatest judgments God can inflict on any people is to let them have their own way.”

Fortunately, God doesn’t give people up easily. Further in the Acts passage that we looked at earlier, Paul says God  “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

Back in Hosea, God disciplines His people and then shares these “I will” promises:

  • I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (2:14).
  • I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope” (2:15).
  • For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more” (2:17).
  • I will make for them a covenant on that day” (2:18a)
  • I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety” (2:18b).
  • I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord” (2:19-20).
  • I will answer” (2:21).
  • I will sow her for myself in the land” (2:22).
  • I will have mercy” (2:23).

God draws us with “cords of kindness, with the bands of love” (Hosea 11:4). He seeks out the lost sheep.

From Wiersbe’s book one more time:

The key word is return (Hos. 3: 5), a word that’s used twenty-two times in Hosea’s prophecy. When Israel repents and returns to the Lord, then the Lord will return to bless Israel (2:7–8). God has returned to His place and left Israel to herself (5:15) until she seeks Him and says, “Come, and let us return to the Lord” (6:1 NKJV).

Sometimes the return we need to make is a simple confession of loss of focus, lack of acknowledgement, thankfulness, or love. Sometimes it’s a full-blown 180-degree change of direction.

That’s the essence of repentance: turning from our way to God’s way (for more on repentance, see here). That happens at salvation, but it also needs to happen throughout our Christian walk. As we learn more of His will and Word, we continually adjust ourselves to them as we walk with Him.

May we return to His gracious love quickly and wholeheartedly.

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Songs to Celebrate the Resurrection

songs to celebrate the resurrectionI wrote a post a few years ago about “The Perfect Christmas” and how disappointed we are when our celebration doesn’t meet whatever criteria makes it perfect in our estimation. I compared that to the first Christmas, which was so different from ours: a tired couple, a crowded city, no decorations, no Christmas cookies, unexpected unusual visitors. Yet that first Christmas produced our Savior.

I feel the same about Easter this year. For most of us, this Easter is a stripped-down version of our usual celebrations. What’s usually one of the most special services of the year will be on Zoom or YouTube. We probably won’t wear new clothes for it. We’ll have a good dinner and Easter baskets, but without extended family.

Yet, as As Gretchen Ronnevik tweeted, “Maybe huddling together as a small group of disciples in a home, wondering what God is doing, and what will happen next, and where do we go from here… is the most Easter-y of all Easter things to do.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the way we celebrate Easter now, but they didn’t have all those things the first Easter. Yet that Easter changed the world and the ones who first heard and told of it. Maybe our circumstances this year will help us refocus our attention on the reality, the miracle, the joy of it all.

Music is one my my main ways of feeding my soul truth. I shared some of my favorite songs about Christ’s death for us a few days ago, and I wanted to share some of my favorite Easter songs today.

For decades now, The Majesty and Glory of the Resurrection CD by Tom Fettke and Billy Ray Hearn has been has been my Easter morning breakfast-making companion. I love using that time to think about what the day means and to prepare my heart for the service. I like the mix of old and new and the majestic way they handle the music. The songs cover the death of Christ as well the big picture of Who God is. I think if you click here, the whole album automatically plays. But the individual tracks are on YouTube, and the album is available on iTunes.

This is one of my favorites from that album, especially “The Strife Is Over” and the second “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”

This is a medley of four different hymns:

I never heard “The Easter Song” by Annie Herring until I found it on the end of the above medley, and I was struck by the pure joy of it. I’m glad the Eversons recorded the whole thing:

“Weep No More,” to the tune of the folk song, “Down By the Sally Gardens,” is on the Pettit’s CD Higher Ground:

“The One Who Lives Again is a new one by Matt Collier and Matt Taylor of the Wilds Christian Camp (words here):

He Is Risen is also on the Wilds Camp’s “Risen” CD, but I can’t find who wrote it.

“Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed” by Keith & Kristyn Getty:

Many songs cover both the crucifixion and resurrection. “Mercy Tree,” mentioned last time, is one.

And, of course, there are multitudes more.

I hope you can celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and all it means whether alone in your kitchen, with your family, and/or virtually with your church.

Happy Easter! He is risen!

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“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith”

Several days ago, many American Christians reeled with the news that a prominent pastor and author announced that he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Speculation and commentary abounds concerning what led to this declaration. Some have traced his history and pointed out problems with the movements he has been associated with. But no one really knows his heart.

When a person becomes a Christian, he is “born again” (John 3:3-21, I John 3:4-10). That’s one of many reasons that a Christian can’t lose his salvation. He can’t become unborn spiritually.

Christians can sometimes fall away from what they’ve been taught to varying degrees. That may be influenced by listening to false teaching, failing to grow in the Lord, neglecting His Word, bitterness, or any number of things.

But that’s a different thing from repudiating their profession of faith alltogether. When that happens, all we can conclude is that they were never genuine believers in the first place.

I hold out hope, as do others, that the man I mentioned has not truly walked away from God and his core beliefs but is instead just confused and out of fellowship. Hopefully with prayer, contemplation, and counsel, he can get things straightened out.

But I shared all of that to say this:

Whenever this kind of thing occurs, I can’t help but ask myself, “How did that happen?

Jesus said one day people will stand before Him who called Him Lord, prophesied, cast out demons, and did mighty works in His name, and yet He’ll have to tell them, “I never knew you; depart from me” (Matthew 7:21-23).

I can’t imagine a more tragic or frightening prospect. For years I feared every time I heard or read this passage. How did I know I won’t end up like these poor people?

When I asked this of a former pastor, he said that these folks all pointed to what they did. None of them said, “I came to Christ confessing my sin, repenting of it, and asking Him to be my Savior and Lord.”

That helped me a lot. But, since then, I have known people who made professions of having done this, yet fell away in later years. How does that happen?

I think perhaps for people who have grown up in a Christian culture, it’s easy to just go with the flow. They’ve heard it all their lives. It’s part of their thinking. Isobel Kuhn was like this. She says in her autobiography, By Searching: My Journey Through Doubt Into Faith, that when she went off to a secular college, she could have held a debate with anybody defending doctrines of the faith. But all it took was one professor saying, “Oh, you just believe that because your parents told you it was so” for her to realize he was right. She went off to gleefully live for herself, free from the restrictions she had grown up with. But God, in His mercy and grace, brought her to Himself.

Perhaps others did not grow up in a Christian culture, but weren’t adequately taught. Some I know responded to “positive peer pressure”–when all their friends were making professions, they figured they needed to get in on it, too. Or the person witnessing to them was so aggressive, they felt they dare not refuse to pray with the person. I’ve heard of many people who raised their hands in a church service, walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, yet did not consider themselves truly saved until later in life. Perhaps they weren’t taught well; perhaps they placed their trust in those acts rather than in Christ. But however it happened, they realized some time later that they were not believers and needed to be. Some had been professing Christians for years and were even pastors or pastor’s wives.

The Bible tells us to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

The last thing I want to do is disturb the peace of genuine Christians. I lived nearly half my life unsure of my salvation, and that’s a miserable way to live. Just about the time I thought I had it settled, some new angle of doubt would creep in. I told more about that situation here.

But I’d dearly love to spare even one person from being told by Jesus, “I never knew you; depart from me.

For more information on how to become a Christian, see How to Know God.

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 1 John 5:12

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 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 3:16-18

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23

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