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Archive | Salvation

Following Jesus is either the BEST Decision or the WORST

Yesterday, while visiting another church in our new area, one of the ministers said something that bothered me the rest of the service and into lunch. The children’s minister introduced a ten-year-old girl who had recently decided to follow Jesus. Right before he baptized her he said, “It’s one of the best decisions she will make in her life.”

As soon as we got in the car, we began our after-church, church search routine. We shared our thoughts about the church, the service, and whether we think this might be the church God has for us.

“I was really bothered by the minister’s statement about that girl’s decision to give her life to Jesus,” I said.

“Yeah. That struck me too.”

“It’s not the first time I’ve heard a Christian say that. He probably didn’t even realize what he said. But it puts a decision to follow Jesus right up there with who to marry, what career path to follow, and how to invest your money.”

Maybe you think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Getting on a soapbox over a slip of the tongue. But I don’t think so.

There are other vitally important decisions in our lives, ones that impact our health, relationships, and livelihood. There are even decisions with eternal consequences like whether to tell others about the salvation found only in Jesus or to keep it to ourselves.

But the decision to follow Jesus – or not follow Jesus – is the only decision a person can ever make that determines her or his eternal destiny.

If there is life after death… If we need a Savior because of our sin… If trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus is the only way to be made right with a holy God… Then choosing Jesus is the BEST decision you’ll ever make.

But if this life is all there is… Or if your soul gets absorbed into the universal cosmos (or some other silly nonsense)… Or if you can choose your own path to God… Then choosing Jesus is the most ridiculous, time-wasting, WORST decision you’ll ever make.

Choosing to give your life to Jesus in exchange for the eternal life He offers is either the BEST decision you’ll ever make or it’s the worst decision you’ll ever make. Period.

Have you made the BEST decision in your life? If you want to know more about eternal life found only in Jesus, click here.

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5 Signs of Authentic Faith

Are we living out true, authentic faith in Jesus or simply fooling ourselves? It’s easy to tell, if we take an honest look. The apostle John challenged first century believers – and believers today – to do just that. In his first letter, John clearly laid out signs of authentic faith. And he clearly stated his purpose in writing:

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

John wanted his readers to be sure they were saved. He longed for them to stand firm in God’s truth and not be swayed by false teachers. And he wanted “false believers” to wake up.

He did not tip toe around the truth. That would not do them, nor us, any good. In the first two chapters of First John, the apostle gave us 5 signs to test our faith. His “If we…, then…, but…” style describes what a true relationship with Jesus will – and won’t – look like.

5 Signs of Authentic Faith

  1. If we walk in darkness, then we do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light we have fellowship with God.
  2. If we claim to have no sin, then we are deceived and we call God a liar. But if we admit and confess our sin, God will forgive us and give us Jesus’ righteousness.
  3. If we do not obey God’s commands, then the truth is not in us. But if we obey God, it reveals we truly know Him and His love is made complete in us.
  4. If we do not love fellow believers, then we still live in darkness and prone to fall. But if we love other believers, we live in the light.
  5. If we love the world, then it proves we do not have God’s love. But if we do not love the things of the world it shows we truly have eternal life.

So, how are we doing? Are we walking in the light or in the darkness?

You may also be interested in: How to have a relationship with Jesus

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6 Ways to Connect with Others for Jesus

evangelism We don’t have to travel to a foreign country to encounter a different culture. Not only has the world come to America, but also the American culture embraces values far different than the godly standards Christians seek to live by. How can we connect with others so vastly different than ourselves in order to share Jesus and His priceless gift of salvation?

The apostle Paul purposefully worked to fit into the culture where he ministered. He removed all the roadblocks he could and sought to build bridges to earn trust and to gain opportunity to share the Gospel. He kept his prime directive in mind: “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me —the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, NIV).

 

Paul did everything he could to open doors to share the Gospel. Most of us probably won’t be given the opportunity to talk to Greek philosophers about Jesus on a hilltop in Athens (Acts 17:16-34) or share our testimony with a king (Acts 26:1-32) like Paul. However, we can work to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means we (I) might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22, NIV).

6 Ways to Follow Paul’s Example to Connect with Others:

  1. Find a common life experience or interest – In Acts 17, Paul the evangelist found affinity with the Athenian philosophers. They both liked to engage in deep, thoughtful conversation. Even if your new neighbor comes from the other side of the world you can find common ground. Maybe you’re both parents, or like to garden, or are both trying to get rid of fire ants in your yard. Whatever it is, it’s a place to start.
  2. Adopt their speech – As long as it’s not profane or “unedifying,” use their style of conversation. For instance, when I lived in the north, I said “you guys” and “soda” instead of “y’all” and “coke.” Paul used general sentiments and words his hearers would have known, understood, and accepted. Too often we use words and phrases that are very familiar to Christians, but they sound very foreign to the non-Christian (See “7 Churchy Words”).
  3. Compliment them – Of course, this must be genuine. Paul found something about which to commend the Athenians (Acts 17:22). Look for something about them on which to positively comment or admire. This small effort will help them understand you’re not “against them.”
  4. Find a launch pad – In Athens, Paul spotted an altar to “an unknown god.” This altar gave Paul the opening he needed to talk about Jesus. We may learn of a cultural idea we can use as a springboard to introduce spiritual truth. Or perhaps your new friend is struggling with difficult circumstances, and therefore open to words of spiritual encouragement.
  5. Respect their cultural mores –Paul did not demean or insult their culture or customs. He even conformed to them when they did not conflict with God’s holy standards. When Paul began ministry to the Gentiles, he began going by his given Greek name and did not stick to a kosher diet.
  6. Serve the truth with grace – Christians sometimes try to force God’s standards of values, beliefs, and behavior on non-Christians. We forget that to a person without the indwelling Holy Spirit, the things of God seem “foolish” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Our first priority should be to introduce them to Jesus. But honest, grace-filled conversations about “controversial” topics within the context of relationship can spark interest in Jesus (Colossians 4:5-6). So let’s always be prepared to lovingly, respectfully, and biblically speak to specific topics when asked (1 Peter 3:15). (See “Grace or Truth?”)

I would love to hear how you have purposefully worked to find ways to connect with the people around you to build relationships and ultimately share Jesus.

 

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Does it Matter What My Church Believes?

church doctrineJust last month, my husband and I moved to a new town. Yesterday, we began the search for the church God has for us. Our actual address may be small town Texas, but since we live on the fringes of the Dallas/Ft Worth area, church choices abound. We could visit for months – maybe even years – without attending the same church twice.

How do we begin? How can we narrow our search? Before we made the first visit, we narrowed the possibilities significantly based on what the church believes.

What? Doesn’t the preaching and the music and the programs and the community involvement carry a lot of weight? Does a church’s doctrine really matter that much?

Yes, a church’s doctrine is that important. Not only do the biblical truths and principles on which it stands shape its people and its ministry, but if what it believes does not align correctly with God’s Word, then the church is not following Christ.

I realize that’s a bold, brazen statement, but it’s based on the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, one of his primary purposes in writing was to combat false teaching and to admonish them to cling to the truth of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Paul describes the warped gospel they were following as “no gospel at all.”

And in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself called the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira to repent from following false teaching before they experienced God’s discipline (Revelation 2:14-16, 20-22).

Yes, what a church believes – and therefore teaches and acts on – absolutely matters.

I can hear wheels turning. Do you mean everything? What about the differences between denominations? Are you saying that only one denomination is right?!

Many differences between denominations and even individual churches within denominations are peripheral to the heart of God’s gospel. They do not impact key doctrinal truths. These kinds of differences can be held loosely. In fact, we can enjoy and even celebrate the variety within God’s church.

Things like style of music, order of worship, and areas of ministry focus broaden and strengthen the worldwide church. Even other beliefs like the role of women in ministry, the view of end times, and the structure of church leadership are not considered core essential truths. These types of areas are considered “minor doctrines.” There is room for differences.

But in other areas, those considered to be “major doctrines,” there is little if any room for difference. With these doctrines – ones that are central to Christianity and have significant impact on other doctrines – we must hold firm. These fundamental truths flow from the nature and character of God and His saving work.

We can’t fully cover all these major doctrines in one blog post. But here is a quick list of many of these essential truths:

  • The nature of God
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Jesus
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The nature of mankind and our need for salvation
  • Salvation solely through faith in Jesus
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus
  • The return of Jesus

What a church believes about essential doctrines are deal breakers for me and my husband. For instance, if a church believes there is something more required for salvation than faith in Jesus – or that salvation can be found anywhere else – that one doesn’t make the cut. If a church doesn’t hold to the truth that God is one God yet three distinct persons, there is no need for us to visit.

Why are we so dogmatic? A church that does not hold to the essential truths of the Christian gospel is not following the gospel at all. Overall, as believers, we can be gracious in those minor doctrines, the non-essentials, but we must be hold tight to the essential truths of our faith.

If you aren’t sure what your church believes about the major doctrines, find out. Many churches have “statement of beliefs” on their website. (I even have one on this website!) If you aren’t sure what you believe, start studying! Of course the Bible is your first and primary source. But if you’d like some additional resources, check out the list below.

Do you know what your church believes about the major doctrines? Does it matter to you?

Suggested Reading:

 

 

 

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Star Trek, CS Lewis, and Your Free Will

Free WillI am a Trekkie. I was a fan of the original Star Trek series, but I really loved The Next Generation. My favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data.

Data was an android with high computational capabilities. He looked like a human and was physically fully functional. Yet one thing prevented Data from understanding and relating to humans. He lacked human emotions.

Data’s desire to possess human emotions – and thus become truly human – was an ongoing thread in the show’s storyline. Although Data was like the rest of the crew in many ways, this deficiency made him somewhat of an outsider, unable to form strong bonds and experience deep relationships.

This may sound strange, but I thought about Data the other day while reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. During the discussion of another topic, Lewis wrote this about mankind’s free will:

He (God) gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.

The question of our free will has come up countless times in Bible study groups I’ve led or been a part of. “If God knew we would sin, why did He give us free will? Wouldn’t it have been better if we couldn’t disobey?”

Free Will Makes Ultimate Joy Possible

No, it wouldn’t have been better. If God withheld free will we could never know true happiness. We would be like little robots, always doing the right thing, but never experiencing the joy of relating to our Creator.

Even though Data was superior to humans in some ways, he knew he lacked the best part of humanity. The ability to love and be loved.

God desires to love us and to be loved by us. And He implanted the desire to love Him back in the deepest part of our souls. And that’s where we find our purpose, our fulfillment, and our ultimate joy. In choosing to love and be loved by our God.

Have you struggled with the question of mankind’s free will? Does Lewis’ explanation help?

 

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Jesus Died for Everyone – Even Terrorists

Jesus deathI woke this morning to the news of two terrorist attacks on Christian churches in Egypt. Dozens were killed and more than 100 injured while worshipping during Palm Sunday services. And this just days after a terrorist drove a hijacked truck armed with a bomb into a crowded shopping area in Sweden.

The attacks in Egypt specifically targeted Christians. As I prayed over the tragic events this morning I wondered about the terrorists. How do they justify their actions? How can they be so cruel? How could they dare to go right into God’s house and attack His people? How does God feel about them?

Then I glanced at the bottom of my prayer guide. It reminded me to pray for the attackers too. To pray for their salvation. My first thought was: “They don’t deserve Jesus. They don’t deserve His forgiveness.” But wait…

Neither do I. I don’t deserve Jesus. I don’t deserve His forgiveness. That’s exactly why the Cross was necessary. We are all sinners underserving of a relationship with a holy God. We are all sinners, dead in our sins with no ability to save ourselves.

Today, Palm Sunday, begins the most holy time of the year for Christians. Friday marks the event that makes our eternal salvation possible – Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. That is why Jesus came. To save sinners.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the Kingeternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17, NIV

Paul called himself the “worst of sinners.” Paul had persecuted, hunted, imprisoned, and killed followers of Jesus. It was his chief aim in life, his passion. To put an end to Christians. To blot out Christianity from the face of the earth. Paul was a terrorist. And Jesus saved him. Jesus chose him. And Paul’s life stood as an example of Christ’s unlimited grace and power.

If God could save Paul, God can save anyone.

He could save me. He could save you. He can save a terrorist intent on killing as many Christians as he can.

Here’s a challenge for us this week. On the days leading up to Good Friday, let’s pray not only for the end to terrorism, but let us also pray for the salvation of those who long to create the terror. May they become a display of God’s immense love and grace. May they become a testimony to His glory.

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Why Do You Follow Jesus?

Follow JesusThis isn’t just a rhetorical question. I am asking it of myself this week. Why do I follow Jesus?

The question came up during my daily Bible reading in the sixth chapter of John. Jesus had just fed more than 5,000 people with just 5 small loaves of bread and 2 little fish – a miraculous, supernatural feat that displayed Jesus’ power and authority.

The next morning the crowds came looking for Him again. But they didn’t come to worship or to seek the things that only He can give.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

John 6:26-31, NLT

The people looked for Jesus because He had filled their bellies, not because they had allowed Him to fill their souls. They missed the point of the miracle. They failed to see past their own physical circumstances. And even after Jesus pointed out their eternal, spiritual need, they simply asked what else He might do for them.

They asked for less. They looked for things that don’t last. It was all about a full belly and the here and now.

Sometimes I do the same. Often I am consumed by my temporary, physical circumstances and turn to Jesus solely because I want Him to “fix” things. I lost sight of the bigger picture. I allow the short-term to overshadow eternity. I spend all my energy worrying about things that don’t last when instead I should simply come to Jesus for the spiritual food only He can provide.

What about you? Why are you following Jesus today?

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Terror Attack Prayer Guide

Terror Attack Prayer Guide Yesterday – exactly one year after the deadly terror attack in Brussels – terror struck in London.  Although the details are still unfolding, British officials have officially called the attack in and around the Parliament building an act of terror.

Hours after the Brussels attack last year, I wanted to spend some intensive time in prayer, but wasn’t sure exactly how to pray. As I sat with my Bible and journal, God brought very specific prayers to mind. Afterward I shared those prayers here in a guide.

Although the situation in London is not active, many of these requests would still be appropriate. And although I pray we won’t need it again, this guide can be printed and put into your Bible for later use. (Link to PDF printable.)

Terror Attack Prayer Guide

“Lord, hear our prayers!”

Pray for Law enforcement:

  • Good, solid intelligence and information
  • Plenty of manpower and resources
  • Good coordination between agencies, including international
  • Physical stamina

Pray for Medical Personnel:

  • Physical and emotional strength
  • All the human resources, equipment and supplies needed
  • Wisdom to quickly assess individual situations
  • Steady hands and calming presence

Pray for the Injured:

  • Provide the help they need quickly
  • Surround them with believers who will pray and encourage them
  • Overwhelm them with Your peace and ease their fear

Pray for the Families:

  • Comfort for the families of those killed
  • Support for the families of those injured
  • Peace for the families of those waiting to hear
  • Good communication about the situation to all families

Pray for World Leaders:

  • Leaders around the world would rise up against this evil
  • Ability to set politics aside
  • Receive wise counsel from wise people
  • Leaders around the world would unite in a global effort against terrorism

Pray for Rescue workers and First Responders:

  • Protection from further violence as they work
  • Physical strength, emotional stamina
  • Good coordination and communication in the efforts
  • They would provide a strong, calming presence to those they encounter
  • Sustenance, like food and water, they need to keep going

Pray for the Terrorists:

  • Any left alive involved in this attack would be caught
  • Those on the fringe would give information to authorities
  • Any other related plots would be exposed
  • For God to convict them and bring them to repentance
  • For God to draw them to Jesus

Please feel free to add your prayers in the comments below.

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3 Reasons I Plan to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's DayI have a fresh interest in St. Patrick’s Day this year. Since last March 17th I discovered that I’m sort of Irish!

For Christmas, Wayne gave me a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. It was something I’d been wanting to do. Basically, the test confirmed what I suspected – I’m basically a mutt, a pound puppy. But I was surprised by the top percentage. Thirty-one percent of me is Irish!

Perhaps, like me, you’ve considered St Patrick’s Day a fun, but frivolous observance – a day to wear green clothes, eat green food, and listen to Celtic music. However, there’s actually good reason to stop and consider St. Patrick.

A Really Brief History of St. Patrick

Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born about 387 AD in Scotland. Although his grandfather was a priest and his father was a deacon, young Patrick did not embrace the family faith. Then at the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland and forced into servitude.

During his years as a slave, Patrick spent large amounts of time alone caring for the herds of his master. This life of slavery and solitude fostered a deep prayer life and Patrick came to true faith in Christ. In “The Confession of St. Patrick,” Patrick acknowledges that God used his time of trial to turn heart toward Him.

After six years of slavery in Ireland, Patrick escaped and returned to Britain where he continued his religious study. But it wasn’t long before a vision of a lost Ireland burdened him with the need to return with the Gospel. God was sending Patrick to a people that the church had decided was too lost to be reached – the pagans of Ireland were just too different.

In his mid-40’s – after becoming a bishop of the church – Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary. He spent 30 years converting thousands of Irish “pagans” to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Patrick died on March 17th, 461 AD at the first church he built in Ireland.

Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and although never officially canonized, early Christians consider him a “saint in heaven.”

3 Reasons I Care About St Patrick’s Day

  1. I’m Irish – Well, at least I’m more Irish than anything else and it’s the closest I will ever get to an ethnic holiday. So humor me.
  2. Patrick faithfully followed Christ no matter the cost – Loyalty to Christ and concern for the eternal state of his enemies led Patrick back to Ireland. He willingly and obediently faced danger to take the Gospel to Ireland. He constantly fought the temptation to leave the mission field and return home. Patrick even shared the Gospel with his old master. That’s bold faith!
  3. Patrick sets the example for evangelism – Patrick wisely separated the Gospel from the Roman culture, something the Catholic Church could not or would not do. Just as many Jewish Christians in the first century wrongly believed Gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, the church of the 5th century thought the “pagans” had to first become “civilized” before they could come to Jesus. But, Patrick shared the Gospel within the Celtic culture. He did not try to change their culture before he offered the Gospel. His method of evangelism freed him to embrace the areas of their culture that did not break God’s laws of righteousness. Like the apostle Paul, Patrick became “all things to all people so that by all possible means” he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). In this way, Patrick showed respect for the Irish and was able to build bridges and relationships that fostered opportunities to share the Gospel. By the way, Patrick used the 3-leaved shamrock to help explain the concept of the Trinity!

St. Patrick’s Day is not just a fun day of all things Irish. For those “in the know,” remembering St. Patrick encourages us to faithfully follow Christ no matter where He leads and to boldly share the Gospel of life with those in our path, no matter how different from us they may be.

How do you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

Some helpful articles for more information on St. Patrick:

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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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