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Archive | Salvation

May Your Christmas Be Merry and Light!

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The coming of God to mankind. We needed a Savior. We were stumbling around in the dark and could not save ourselves. We needed a Light.

Then two thousand years ago, the Creator set His rescue plan in motion. The King left His throne in heaven and entered the world as a humble babe in a stable in Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Anyone who believes in Jesus will cross from death to life. From darkness to light.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

May the Light of the world fill your heart with His joy this Christmas.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:2,6

From my family to yours, Have yourself a Merry and Light Christmas!

family

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Are You Dead or Alive?

Dead or AliveA couple of years ago, my car battery died and left me stranded in a doctor’s office parking lot. I didn’t get a warning. I had no trouble starting the car to drive to the appointment, but when I came out to go home, the motor didn’t even try to start.

I intercepted a cowboy headed out to his pickup truck and asked for his help. He agreed to do what he could and managed to finagle his vehicle into a position to connect our batteries. But still my car wouldn’t start.

I decided it must be something other than the battery. Maybe the starter. So I called Triple A and my father-in-law. The tow truck took my car to the dealership and my father-in-law took me home.

Later that day the service department called with the diagnosis. It was the battery. What? I asked why the “jump” didn’t get it going? According to the man who understands cars far more than I do, a battery has to have at least some life left in it to respond to a jump. My battery, on the other hand, didn’t have a single spark of life remaining. The only hope left for my car was a brand new battery. One that contained life. So, dead battery out and live battery in. Car started. Amazing.

Before Christ saves us, we’re like my car sitting in the doctor’s parking lot. We might look fine from the outside, but because we’re all sinners, we are all dead in our sin.

All have sinned (Romans 3:23); The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins (Ephesians 2:1).

Sin brings spiritual death, cutting us off completely from the Source of spiritual life. We have no power to save ourselves, and no access to the One who does. Sounds like a hopeless state, doesn’t it? Oh, but the grace of God…

 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

I am so overwhelmed by what God has done for us in Christ! Because of His love, and mercy, and grace, God replaces our death with His Life. And His Life is Jesus Himself. Eternal life is The Life in us.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hear my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Are you dead or alive? Has there ever been a time in your life when you received God’s unbounded grace and crossed over from death to life? If so, then rejoice over that life today. If not, then why not receive His life today?

Are you dead or alive? Have you received God’s saving grace?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.”

The winner of last week’s Coloring Sheet Drawing is:

Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

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God’s Grace Doesn’t Make Sense

Grace Doesn't Make SenseGod’s grace simply doesn’t make sense to me. It is radical. Extreme. Counterintuitive. Free and boundless. It goes against human logic. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you either. So, why do we have so much trouble wrapping our minds around God’s lavish grace?

For starters, the world we live in operates with different rules. Normally, we reap what we sow. We work hard in order to earn a paycheck. When drive faster than the speed limit, we get an expensive ticket.

And, we know we don’t deserve grace. We don’t deserve a saving relationship with Jesus. Yet, He pours it out on those who don’t deserve it. God lavishes His grace on those not seeking it. And after our conversion, through times of rebellion, complacency, grief, and struggle, God gently draws us back to Himself with cords of love.

And still, the grace keeps coming! Through times of trial and suffering, it overflows our lives to provide comfort, encouragement, and strength. God extends His lavish grace to us every moment of every day.

What is Grace?

The best, condensed definition of grace I can give you is this: “Grace” is God’s divine favor and merciful, loving-kindness.

The Greek word usually translated as “grace” in the New Testament is charis. The definition of charis in The Complete Word Study New Testament includes these facets:

  • Closely related to the Greek word we translate as “joy”
  • Divine favor, kindness, acceptance
  • Favor bestowed on the undeserving without expectation of return
  • Absolute freeness of God’s loving-kindness to men
  • Motivated by the bounty and heart of the Giver
  • Unearned and unmerited favor
  • Forgives sin and affects a person’s sinful nature, shaping her to be used for God’s good purposes
  • Results in joy and gratitude in the one who receives it

Grace flows constantlyGod’s grace flows from His heart. It’s based on His bounty, His character. We do not merit His grace. We cannot earn it. Yet in His loving-kindness He freely pours it out.

Grace begins and ends with our gracious God. It’s all about Him, yet you and I benefit. Isn’t that amazing?

I still don’t understand God’s grace. But I will forever rely on its lavish abundance.

How have you experienced God’s lavish grace this week?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.” Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

 

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My Southern-Fried Faith

In the south, we fry anything and everything. If it walks, runs, jumps, swims, or flies we will roll it in flour or cornmeal and drop it in a skillet or Fry Daddy. In addition to the commonly known fare, I’ve also eaten fried alligator, squirrel, dove, rabbit, and crawfish.

Side note for context: I was born and raised in northern Louisiana. And yes, watching Duck Dynasty is like attending a family reunion.

FaithIn many places in the south, “fry” is the default method of cooking. Unless otherwise requested, your meat or vegetable and sometimes even your bread and dessert get baptized in boiling oil. It’s simply assumed. After all, everything is better when it’s fried.

When I was growing up, I internalized the “fry principle” and a host of other southern assumptions. For instance, tea is always iced, right hands go over hearts when a flag passes by, pick-up trucks are perfectly acceptable prom night transportation, and good people go to church.

From infancy my parents faithfully took me to Sunday School, worship service, Vacation Bible School, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. I memorized Bible verses, earned high attendance pins, and wore wire hanger angel wings covered with gold garland in the Christmas pageant.

Church service and attendance wove through the fabric of our family. The question of whether or not we would go on any given Sunday was never raised because we were a “church family.” This faithful commitment to church hindered my faith.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. The family my husband and I raised could be described as a “church family.” And I would not want it any other way. But while both might look the same on the surface, a drastic difference exists between my childhood church attendance and my adult faith.

Inside-Out Christianity

During the first half of my life, I attended church because I was what a “good Christian girl.” To me, Christianity meant saying the right things and doing what everyone expected. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, my brother sarcastically dubbed me “Sister Mary Kathryn.” And although Mary Kathryn is indeed my given name, I’m sure my parents never meant it to be used as a synonym for Miss Goody Two-shoes.

Although I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was eight, I experienced little to no spiritual growth. The rich relationship I wanted with Christ eluded me. Something vital was missing. Connected to church, I still felt disconnected from God. I had no real sense of God’s presence. I could see the kind of passionate, dynamic faith I longed to have in other’s lives.

But despite many weak attempts to pump up my own faith, it remained dry and flat. Even though I had been taught differently, I had internalized that faith was what you do. I missed the part about it being all about Who you know.

Relationship of Faith Over Religion

“Doing” is a human’s default setting. We like to make lists and check off the items, proving to ourselves that we have accomplished something. We can perform the outward motions of faith without actively pursuing the object of our faith.

Religion cannot satisfy. Unless our works of faith flow naturally out of a vital relationship with our Maker it is merely religious ritual. We were created for relationship, not outward trappings of religion. Faith that does not produce these kinds of works is dead and useless (James 1:20). But religious works performed from a sense of duty or habit only sap our spiritual strength, leaving our faith dry, weak, and flat.

Setting Assumptions Aside

 Over the years, I’ve learned that some southern assumptions of my childhood were accurate and some needed a bit of adjustment. For instance, while a few things are indeed glorious fried, the flavor of most food is best appreciated when it is grilled, sautéed, or baked, and a mug of hot herbal tea soothes a sore throat on a cold day. But, I still cover my heart in respect for the flag and my son took his date to the prom in his pick-up.

Although the Bible Belt culture of my north Louisiana childhood is less influential today, religiosity can still hinder true relationship with Jesus. I had to set religion aside and embrace relationship with the One who died to save me. Religion alone is as dry as yesterday’s toast. But relationship with the living Savior is exciting, satisfying, and yes, passionate.

Have you ever struggled to move past religion into a real relationship with Jesus? If so, how did that go??

This post is an excerpt from Kathy’s book “Fed Up with Flat Faith: 10 Attitudes and Actions to Pump Up Your Faith.”

 

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We Are Not “All God’s Children”

All God's ChildrenI hear it all the time: “We are all God’s children!” Sounds good, doesn’t it? That would be great! All humanity united in one family. With one Father.

Just one problem with that. That’s not what the Bible teaches.

Yes, all humans are creatures of God. We all belong to Him because He formed and fashioned us. We were made by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). Made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).

And yes, God loves all people (John 3:16). He longs to be in right relationship with each and every individual (2 Peter 3:9). He desires that all people come to eternal salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-6). In fact, He desires this so much that while everyone was still in utter rebellion against Him, God sent His Son to die to save us (Romans 5:8). That’s how much He loves us. That’s how much He loves you.

But not all people are children of God.

The Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are “God’s children” and those who are not. Only those born by God’s Spirit through faith in Jesus are children of God (1 John 3:1-10, Galatians 3:26, John 8:34-41).

“To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13, NIV

The Bible also tells us what a child of God looks like. How they will behave. Here is a short list of some of what God’s Word says.

5 Characteristics of a “child of God”

  1. They love Jesus (John 8:42).
  2. They believe that Jesus is the Savior (1 John 5:1).
  3. They love God’s children (1 John 3:10, 5:1).
  4. They are controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9, 14).
  5. They obey God (1 John 2:29, 3:7-9).

Are you a child of God? You don’t have to wonder. God longs for you to receive His gift of salvation and be assured of eternity (Find out more here.) And there are so many benefits in being a child of God!

8 Benefits of being a “Child of God”

  1. God’s children have been “redeemed,” set free from sin and eternal death by Jesus’ sacrificial death (Galatians 4:4-5).
  2. God’s children are His heirs, inheriting spiritual rights and privileges and eternal life (Romans 8:17).
  3. God’s children have direct access to their Father (Galatians 4:5-7)..
  4. God’s children have a special intimacy with their Father (Galatians 4:6).
  5. God’s children will grow to become like Jesus (1 John 3:2).
  6. God’s children have peace, unity, and equal status with each other (Galatians 3:26-29).
  7. God’s children will experience a future resurrection (Romans 8:11).
  8. God’s children have the presence and confirmation of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16).

Have you every heard the incorrect statement “We are all God’s children?” Maybe you’ve said it. Why is it important that we understand the truth?

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Where is Peace?

peaceOur country is in turmoil. Peace alludes us. One group pitted against another. Hatred, violence, and fear feed an ongoing stream of tragedies.

Thursday night, snipers fired on police officers during a protest in downtown Dallas. Twelve were shot, five of them died. Two more police officers were ambushed Friday in two separate incidents in Georgia. Philando Castile killed by police in Minnesota. Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge under questionable circumstances. And these things happened just last week.

One sinful act fosters another. Grief, pain, and loss overwhelm us. We seem to be caught in a downward cycle with no escape. What is the answer? Where can we find peace?

In America today, tension and even open hostility exists between races, political parties, economic groups, and faiths. But this is nothing new. Divisions and hatred like this have existed since creation in every generation.

When Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, there was no stronger example than the hostility between Jew and Gentile. But even with them peace was possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:13-18, NIV

Lasting peace is not possible outside of a saving relationship with Jesus. Our sinful humanity keeps getting in the way.

Plus, peace is not simply a state of being. It is a Person. No matter how vast our differences or great our hatred, all people can find commonality and peace in Christ Jesus. When individuals are reconciled to Jesus, they are also reconciled to each other.

When we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus, His Spirit begins to transform our hearts and minds. He begins to chisel away the hatred, fear, and pride and fills us with His love, security, and selflessness. Walls break down. Relationships form.

Yes, let us both preach and practice peace. Let us reach across the aisle with hands extended. But let us also share the Gospel message of Jesus. Because without Him there will be no lasting peace.

 

 

 

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This isn’t Real Life

Real LifeMy favorite soda is Coca-Cola. Don’t try to give me some substitute cola. Some generic thing. Or Pepsi. Definitely not Pepsi. I will not settle. Only the “real thing” will do.

But how often do I – do you – settle for substitutes for life? This physical life we’re living is not real life. It’s merely a shadow. Yet we often live like this physical world is the end all, be all. We focus on things that are temporary. We invest our energy and resources and time on things that don’t last.

In the book of Colossians, the apostle Paul encourages us to immerse ourselves fully and completely in our real life:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” Colossians 3:1-4, NIV

Our real life is our relationship with Jesus and our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Everything else is a poor substitute. Yet so often I act like this shadow life is the real thing. What about you?

7 Signs you may be missing out on Real Life:

  • Trying to “follow all the rules” (Colossians 2:20-23).
  • Struggle constantly with the old sin nature and its desires (Colossians 3:5-7).
  • Relationships with other Christians are superficial and/or tumultuous (Colossians 3:8-11).
  • Fulfillment and contentment seem just out of reach (Colossians 3:15).
  • You worry excessively about your physical needs.
  • Your calendar rules the day.
  • You rarely have time to linger over God’s Word.

We don’t have to miss the real thing! Paul Doesn’t just give us the characteristics of living a shadow life, he also gives us practical tips for living our “real life” now.

5 Tips for Embracing Real Life:

  • Purposefully “put on” the character and attitude of Jesus (Colossians 3:12).
  • Form and keep a vital connection with a local church (Colossians 3:13-15).
  • Practice gratitude (Colossians 3:15).
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word (Colossians 3:16).
  • Commit everything you do to the glory of Christ (Colossians 3:17).

Are you living the real life God has for you? If not, what can you do today to step into His real life?!

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Rusty Mailboxes, Aching Bones, and the Overcomer

OvercomeMy parents still live in the house where they raised my brother and me. When we moved onto Dianne Street, I was eight and my brother was just five. That was 46 years ago.

Every time I make the four-hour drive to visit mom and dad – particularly these last few years – I am keenly aware of the passage of time and the toll this physical life takes on physical things.

For instance, just a few days ago, when I was there for a visit, I noticed the mailbox. I mean really took note of it. It’s the same mailbox they’ve had for decades. The same one I mowed down with my mother’s Lincoln when I was a young driver. Even then, Dad didn’t replace the box; he just replaced the narrow iron post with something a bit sturdier.

Today, that mailbox bears the wounds of standing unprotected for decades at the end of the driveway in all kinds of weather. Although the numbers, 6-4-1-3, still bravely cling to the side, rust dominates the exterior and the lid doesn’t quite close all the way.

Of course my parents have aged as well. Combined, they bear the marks of more than 150 years of living. Joy and grief. Success and failure. Fullness and loss. Just like anyone who lives in this world for very long. And today, they both struggle with physical ailments that only new bodies can fix.

Every visit home is bittersweet. I love spending time with my parents, but I wish I could really make things better. Or turn back the clock.

Today God reminds me that none of this takes Him by surprise. He well knows the effects this broken world has on His children. Sin has subjected this physical world and all that live on it to decay. We all groan inwardly while we eagerly wait for the fulfillment of God’s promises to His children (Romans 8:20-25).

We could replace the rusty mailbox with a new one, but it would rust again. The world would still get the last word.

But, praise God, the world does not get the last word in my parents’ lives. Or my life. The world does not have to have the last word in your life.

God gets the last word. The victory will be and is His. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, everyone born of God (1 John 5:4-5)! We are overcomers!

Are you an overcomer? Have you been born again by the Spirit of God? If not, why not today?

Want to be an overcomer? Find out more about a saving relationship with Jesus?

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6 Ways to Impact Children with the Message of Easter

6 ways EasterRich memories of childhood Easters keep popping up in my mind. I can still feel the cold metal of the folding chair as I sat with my family in the church parking lot waiting for the first rays of the sun to make their appearance. And with the sun, the somber notes of “low in the grave He lay…” became the joyous thunder of “up from the grave He arose (He arose), with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.” After prayer and singing, everyone escaped the chilly air and enjoyed pancakes and sausage in the church fellowship hall.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the impact Easter had on me as a child. I also have wonderful memories of Christmas, but Easter took root in my soul from an early age. Even then, I must have sensed the eternal significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. As parents and grandparents, we have a great opportunity – and God-given responsibility – to make sure our children understand the great truth and power of Easter.

Below are six easy, but memorable, ways to help your children understand the Easter story. Make sure you check out the links for details and more information:

  1. Make a set of Resurrection Eggs – This is a fun way to “concretely” share the Easter story with your kids. You can purchase a ready-made set, but putting them together with your kids is part of the fun. Here are the instructions for making your own Resurrection Eggs.

2. Watch a movie together – One great way to start a conversation with your children about the Easter is by watching a movie that portrays the Easter story or illustrates its truths. Several great ones are available. Just choose one that is age-appropriate for the kids in your life. Here are a few suggestions:

3. Attend a Good Friday service or event – Many churches have services on Good Friday to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. This is a great opportunity to talk about Jesus’ death and what it accomplished for us. Cochrane, the small town where we lived in Canada, had a “Cross Walk.” Members from all areas of the community met downtown and prayerfully followed the cross as a volunteer carried it through the streets.

4. Make Resurrection Cookies – Use this tasty object lesson to teach your kids about the empty tomb. Make them on Saturday night and enjoy them first thing Sunday. Here’s the recipe and how-to’s for Resurrection Cookies.

5. Share the Gospel from Scripture – Your kids are never to young to hear that “Jesus died to save us.” Of course, the way you share this truth needs to be age appropriate. For instance, tell the biblical Easter story using tangible objects such as 30 coins, a large nail, and a small wooden cross as visuals to keep their attention. See this article on Crosswalk.com by Sandy Coughlin. And here are five Easter Mini-lessons for your family from Focus on the Family.

6. Experience the Easter Sunrise – Like the women who went to the tomb, be up and ready to greet the first light of Sunday morning. You can do this at an official sunrise service or in your own backyard. Friday was somber. Sunday is a celebration! (And don’t forget the pancake breakfast!)

I’d love to hear about your childhood Easter memories! Also, please share ways you celebrate Easter with your kids, grandkids, and other children in your life.

 

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The Roman Road to Salvation

Roman Road

Are you comfortable in sharing the Gospel, the Good News of salvation through Jesus? Every Christian should be equipped and always prepared to share the reason for the eternal hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).

It doesn’t take a seminary degree or a weekend course or a special “calling.” All you need to share the truth is a handful of Scripture verses and a desire to see the lost come to know Jesus.

Of course the salvation message is all over the Bible. We could spend eternity talking about all Jesus has done for us and never reach the end of His mercy and grace. However, when God gives us the opportunity to tell someone about Jesus, we often only have a moment, a small window of time.

I love how the Apostle Paul summarized the Gospel in his first letter to the Corinthian believers:

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it.  It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NLT

That’s it! That’s the Gospel! Christ died for our sins and rose again. Just like God said He would!

But how do we share that in a way that people will recognize their need and respond to Jesus? One very simple way is what Christians call the “Roman Road.” It’s a short list of verses from the book of Romans that show our need for salvation and how Jesus fills that need. I have seen variations of this list that includes 4 to 8 verses. My list below includes 5, very easy to memorize verses.

  1. Romans 3:23 – Every person has sinned, has done things contrary to God’s holy perfection.
  2. Romans 6:23 – Our sin has a cost. That cost is spiritual death or eternal separation from God.
  3. Romans 5:8 – Because God loves us, He paid our sin debt Himself. Sinless, perfect Jesus died in our place.
  4. Romans 10:13 – Anyone and everyone who accepts Jesus’ gift, or “calls on His name,” will receive God’s salvation.
  5. Romans 10:9-10 – Anyone who believes and confesses that Jesus died for us and rose from the dead will be saved!

You can use the Roman Road anytime or anywhere. Here are 3 ways you can use and share:

  1. Mark the verses in your Bible.
  2. Print this “printable” version of the verses and put in your purse or wallet.
  3. Memorize the verses so you are always prepared!

Do you feel ready to share the Good News of Jesus anytime, anywhere? If not, why not?

Here are a few other resources you may find helpful:

How to Know Jesus

Scripture Memory Tips

Salvation Basics Scripture Verses

 

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