When We Are Free At Last

I have often heard people say that if salvation is really eternal, why does the Bible instruct us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”  I prefer the New Living Translation which reads in Philippians 2:12, “work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear (respect).  The next verse goes on to tell us that, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”  

We want to live more Christlike but isn’t it so hard at times?  Probably we are our own worst enemies, mistakingly thinking that it’s up to our own hard work; however, the verse clearly tells us that God Himself is working in us and giving us His own desires.  What does that mean exactly?  Are we still working for our salvation?

I recently read something by David Jeremiah which explained it wonderfully.  I paraphrase his words.  The concept of our salvation involves three stages:  Initially when we come to Christ, we are saved from the penalty of sin.  As we grow into Christlike maturity, desiring with all our being to walk in His ways and to be obedient to Him, trusting that His ways are for our own good, then He gives us the power to overcome sin.  It doesn’t mean we ever become sinless but it does mean we are able to walk further without falling; temptations to sin are better kept in control because we are walking easily in the power of God to stand against sin.  Finally and wonderfully, one day when we leave earth for heaven, we are then saved from the very presence of sin.  Isn’t that amazing and exciting?  I’m so thankful for that insight the Lord gave to David Jeremiah.

So we see that our salvation cannot at all be earned.  It’s bought by Jesus, paid with His blood, given as a gift.  We may choose to receive the gift or not.  Then we walk on each day, month by month, year by year, learning of Him and His ways, becoming more like Him, beginning to overcome the influence of sin until that long awaited day when we see Jesus face to face.  Only then are we finally free from the very presence of sin.  It will be vanquished forever!  Hallelujah!  We will be free at last!

“I’ll Be Back, Jack.”

Like every dog, Jack watches with anticipation for me to return whenever he sees me go.  “I’ll be back, Jack,” I assure him as he looks at me with somewhat mournful eyes.  If he had his way I would stay with him every moment of the day.

It was the same with the disciples of Jesus.  After the crucifixion, when they finally began to understand exactly who Jesus was and why He had come, there came the moment when He told them goodbye.  We read in Acts 1:9-11, “He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him.  As they strained to see Him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them.  ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why are you standing here staring into heaven?  Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday, He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go!'”

As we enter the Easter season, we are reminded of this wonderful fact: Jesus is coming again.  We wait and watch.  We don’t know when He will come, but we know it will happen.   He will return and take us with Him.

When I leave Jack, he looks longingly, but he doesn’t stand gazing after me every moment I’m away.  He’s very busy.  He has hole digging to do, hard work keeping the birds from landing in his yard, and of course, there’s play time with his ball and frisbee.  He keeps busy, but every so often, he takes time to stand and watch for my return.  He looks for the signs: the sound of my car, the sight of me walking toward the house.  Oh, delight, when he sees the signs of my return.

It is the same with us.  We are busy with the things of life, both the mundane necessities as well as the ministry aspects we are involved in: but every now and again, we take time to stop and reflect.  We look for the signs of His return.  The signs are there, of course.  He is coming again.

As the song reminds us, “Oh what a day of rejoicing that will be.”

Asking And Receiving

Throughout the ages there has been much discussion, argument, disagreement, and misunderstanding about the words of Jesus, “ask and you will receive.” I have known many Christians who have become disappointed; even disillusioned with God, because they asked and they did not receive. Some have turned away from God because of it. Others remain quietly despondent but press on with God nonetheless.

Some requests brought to God could be described as selfish, like asking for a boat or a bigger house when neither is needed. There are those who believe to ask for material possessions is a wrong motive. It rather makes me chuckle to note, that often, folks of this persuasion have plenty of unnecessary “things” in their own lives. The counter argument for this is that God cares about our needs but also He loves to give unexpected gifts to simply bless us with extra happiness like good father’s do.

Some requests are brought to God out of a broken heart. We ask that either ourselves or a dear loved one be healed of some terrible disease. We beg God to restore a broken relationship. Single people plead for a spouse, while married people complain to God that the spouse they have isn’t what they had hoped he or she would be. Asking and receiving from God often abounds in disappointment.

Of course, we probably all understand that many times God says, “no” because He understands that what we ask for is not good for us. On this matter I often recall an incident of many years ago. My cousin was visiting us as Christmas approached. She had her little girl with her. At one point during the visit I could see the toddler speaking to her mother. I didn’t hear what the little girl said but the mother’s response makes me laugh out loud to this day. She said with a look of sternness and dismay, “I told you, you are not getting a chainsaw for Christmas!” The little girl was about three years old at the time. What a hoot! I’m sure you and I are hoots, too, at times in what we ask God to give us.

The question of, why do I ask but I don’t receive, has been dealt with in volumes of books and in endless discussions. Therefore, I will not attempt to write a tome of thought on the matter; nor will I conjure up every argument I can remember. I will just share one verse that is often quoted during discussions. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 What a lovely, encouraging verse.

The thing that often comes to my own mind when I consider this verse, in relation to our requests to God to give us what we want is this: There is much meditation on the last part of the verse that tells us that God will give us our heart’s desires. I find not so much meditation on the part that says we are to delight in Him. An interesting note to pay attention to because it is the first instruction. Delighting in God comes before asking Him for anything. Do you think that part is often forgotten?

What does it mean, anyway, to delight oneself in the Lord? I looked it up in the dictionary. To delight means to, “please someone greatly.” Well, that puts a whole new look upon the matter, doesn’t it. Why should I expect God to grant me my heart’s desire if I ignore Him, never think about Him, except in times of trouble, or spend countless hours blaming Him for everything from personal dilemma to the world’s chaos.

What if we spent more time just in getting to know Him? What if we took time everyday to read His love letter to us in the Bible and then meditated upon His words? What if we talked to him, not only when bad things were happening and we needed His help, but just to say thank you for a lovely day: the sunrise, the sounds of birds singing, a friend’s laughter, the enjoyment of a neighbor’s visit. What if we took time to ask God to help us to understand His ways and then to give us the strength to walk in those ways ourselves?

If we took time to truly delight ourselves in Him, I wonder what desires of our hearts we would receive?


What Slipped Out Of The Book

I picked up a book the other day and flipped through its pages. As I did, a tiny piece of paper fell to the floor. Instantly, I recognized the hand writing to be that of my mother. Curious, I picked it up and began to read. As I did, a smile came to my face and my heart warmed. My mother had seen something that day that obviously touched her deeply; so much so, that she wrote down her thoughts. I want to share them with you now. She wrote:

“While driving along a country road I saw a beautiful little colt eating lovely green grass. She had eaten herself to the other end of the field from her mother. As she looked up, fear was in her eyes. The loving mother looked and whined to call her colt. How happy the little colt was to see her mother. She galloped as fast as she could to her mother’s side. What joy and peace to be in the shelter of her mother’s love. Aren’t we the same way when we wander away from our Heavenly Father? We lose our peace and joy, but our Father waits with open arms for our return to Him. He is a loving, forgiving God who is always there. Such love hath no man.”

When I read the above, I took a moment to thank my Father in heaven for the mother He gave me. My father often said that his ministry was all the more successful because my mother was at his side. They were indeed a terrific pastoral team, but even then, their effectiveness came because they were never a duo, but a trio, with God Himself in the middle, leading the way.

There may be those reading who, like me, are single. It doesn’t matter, because any partnership with God is a powerful force that can stand strong amidst any storm in life. Like the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”

The example of my godly parents encouraged me to always be looking up in times of joy or despair. Not everyone has had the example of godliness in the home; even so, never forget, relationship with God Himself brings the Holy Spirit to reside within. He is our teacher and guide and comforter all along the way.  Therefore, one person plus God is always a majority.

Training Jack

Our dog, Jack, has a morning routine. I let him outside after sweet wake up cuddles. After about half an hour he comes back inside and eagerly looks up to the shelf where we keep his peanut butter sticks. (It’s a healthy alternative to rawhide; much better for your pets.) He gets his beloved peanut butter snack, throws it in the air a few times, rolls on it in his happiness, and then devours the tasty morsel. After that, Jack and I head outside for a rousing game of frisbee. It’s a vigorous start to the day for both of us. We love it.

Once in a while as the day progresses, Jack comes inside and glances up hopefully at his bag of peanut butter sticks. “No, Jack,” I tell him, “Only one peanut butter stick a day.” What does he do? He immediately finds another toy, contenting himself with his other playful selections.

There are times, too, when I go outside to discover that Jack has, once again, been digging trenches along the fence. “Jack?” I look at him as he drops his head in a dip of shame. I patiently explain, yet again, why this behavior is unacceptable. He sits with sad eyes and head drooping. When the instructions are over I go inside. A bit later I return and ask, “Jack, where’s your ball?” Oh, happiness again! He finds his ball, trustingly brings it to me, and runs far to receive the pass.

This dog’s trust in my love for him warmly touches me. He knows I love him when I tell him yes, and he knows I love him when I tell him no. It never seems to occur to him that I could easily give up on him, give him away, or simply ignore him, doing nothing more than tossing food and water his way. No matter his naughty trench digging or ripping up his blanket — again! Jack knows all is well and that play time is just around the corner.

If only we humans could be a little more like a dog when it comes to the One who watches over us and keeps us in His watch care. Our heavenly Father knows what’s best for us, not some of the time, but all of the time. He knows when it’s in our best interest to say, yes, and equally when it’s in our best interest to say, no.

When we’ve dug trenches of bad behavior He will never turn His back on us. There may be a time of discipline, but never because He’s getting fed up with us. It’s always because He seeks to train us into His own beautiful likeness.

I know Jack is a good dog. He’s still learning and one day he will no longer be digging unruly holes or tearing up another brand new bed, leaving white foam all over the place. You and I get stronger, too, in our walk with God — as long as we listen to His instructions and continue trying.  Above all, we must hold on to the truth that He loves us unconditionally. We may be tempted to give up on ourselves, but He will always continue to fill us with His own peace and hope.

Instead of despairing when our Father tells us no, I do wish we could be a little more like a faithful dog, knowing without a doubt, He has our best interests in His heart every moment of every day.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; so not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all your do and He will show you which path to take.”
Proverbs 3”5-6

Which Road To Travel?

Remember what it’s like to have an idea, a thought, a desire to do a particular something?  A part of you feels excited.  Another part is scared.  You don’t really know if it’s the best route to take.  In your heart you know you only want God’s best.  You want to follow His will for your life.  The only problem — you can’t figure out if you should attempt to climb the summit of Mount Unknown or not.  You might be successful or you might very well come crashing down in full view of everyone watching.  What in the world should you do?

Uncertainty is such a part of life’s journey.  We may wonder why God doesn’t just drop a sign from heaven to instruct us clearly in the way ahead.  Why does making decisions have to be so difficult?  I’ve had those same thoughts myself along my own journey through life.

First of all, there is actually beauty in not knowing because the right road could still have some dangerous pot holes ahead.  If we knew the right way and all it held, we might just slink away in fear anyway.  Not knowing but trusting anyway builds our faith and our stamina in God.  Even so, how can we know upon which road we should proceed?

God’s Word tells us in Proverbs 11:14 that there is safety in having many advisors.  In other words, when unsure of a way to go, consult with those whom you see as walking closely with God.  Look for advice from others, just be careful that the advisors you choose are those whose own desire is to seek God in all they do.  I have often, over the years, sought counsel and advice from those more experienced than me who walk an obvious path of keeping God first in their lives.  They have been a huge blessing to me along my own life’s paths.

Last, but by no means least; in fact, the best comfort of all, is Jesus Himself.  We read in Romans 8:34 that Jesus “is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”  How about that!  He is “pleading for us.”  When we don’t know the way to go, Jesus is coming to Father on our behalf, asking His Father to show us the way.  When we are troubled, Jesus is coming to Father on our behalf, asking His Father to send His own comfort and peace into our troubled hearts.  He literally, because we are His own, holds us as His own, before His Father in heaven; who by the way, is our Father in heaven, too. Father loves us so much that He gave His Son’s blood to purchase our freedom.

So, are you wondering today which way to go?  Seek God’s people to stand with you, and take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is bringing your needs to His Father.  With godly advice and the truth of Jesus leading you — walk on.  He will close the doors you should not enter and open wide the ones in which to proceed.

Every road taken with God is not always a safe one, but it’s always the best one, and it’s the one that brings ultimate joy when the journey is complete.  Never fear the unknown for when we get to our tomorrows, we discover that Jesus has been there all along, planning our route.

The First Time I Saw Him Cry

I suppose we have all had the experience of a memory of long ago popping into our minds; at times, apparently for no reason at all.  This happened to me this week.  Suddenly, and for a reason I could not explain, I was seeing in my mind’s eye the first time I ever saw my father cry.

I was 11 years old.  My Dad was 32. He was in his air force uniform with a duffel bag at his feet.  As he hugged my mom and then me and my sister, he stood back and that’s when I saw the tears glistening in his eyes.  I had never seen him cry before.  He made no apology for crying.  He didn’t even try to wipe the tears away.  Instead, he hugged each of us one more time and then he left.  I thought with my 11 year old understanding, that the tears were because he was saying goodbye for a while.  Now, with adult comprehension, I know the tears were for so much more.

He was leaving to serve the first of two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He first served in Danang and then TanSonNhut.  He was  there during the Tet offensive. He was wounded on an air field when a bomb destroyed the plane he was on, causing him to fall thirty feet to the tarmac. He had to lay on the airstrip for several hours while crossfire whizzed over his body.  He dare not lift his head for fear he would be shot for sure.  Once I asked him, years after the war, “Dad, did anyone you knew ever get killed while you were there in Vietnam?”  His answer, “Everyday,” left me speechless.

As I reflect upon the first time I saw him cry, I can now, with better knowledge of the situation, guess that they were for more than a goodbye.  He must have looked at our faces, cherished the way we felt in his arms, knowing that it could be the last time he would ever see us on earth.  He knew he was going to war.  He knew what was happening there.  He was in a situation in which there was no way out.  He was proud to serve his country, but the cost could be the greatest he could give.

Perhaps he also imagined the pain his death would bring to his young wife of 28 and to his daughters of 11 and 7.  He must have felt the weight of agony with the very thought, but there was nothing he could do about that either.  He could only let the tears come in his grief, but I know, too, he held on to prayer which was his connection to the heavenly places.  My father knew that his heavenly Father would bring us all through whatever the future would give.

As I have remembered this week, the first time I saw my father cry, a verse in Psalm 56:8 comes to mind: “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in Your book.”  That’s such a beautiful and comforting picture.  You see, while you and I can share our grief with another, receiving comfort from those close to us; the fact remains, the only One who can truly know what we feel is Jesus Himself.

Isaiah 53:3-4 tells us that Jesus was, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down.”  Isn’t that absolutely beautiful?  He knows the deepest places within us where pain crushes and grief tears us apart inside, perhaps causing such sorrow that we sense a loss of purpose; we become void of all hope.

If you are hurting today, if you feel no one truly understands, then please be reminded   that Jesus cares so much for you.  He treasures your every tear, holding them as a reminder, not for Himself because He never forgets, but to remind each of us that He loves us deeply.  He will take our pain and He will comfort us, giving us fresh hope and purpose for tomorrow no matter what the future may bring.

He really is our everything to get us through anything.

The Purpose Of the Yoke

In the days of long ago, before farmers had tractors to do the work, donkeys, horses, or oxen were used to plow the fields.  A wooden crossbeam, called a yoke, would be attached across the neck of the animal with reins that the farmer would hold to guide the animal in the right direction.  The farmer held a plow and together with the plow and the yoked animal, straight rows would be furrowed, ready to then plant the seeds for the desired crop.  While the yoked animal assisted greatly with the task at hand, it was only the skill of the farmer that could guide the animal to keep the rows straight.

I was thinking about the yoke earlier this week as I was reading in Matthew 11:28-30, “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.'”

This passage, upon first reading, can seem anything but helping to ease a burden.  We picture a yoke as onerous and vexing.  Why would anyone want to wear one?

If we concentrate merely upon the yoke, then yes, we get a picture that is oppressive and troublesome to even think about.  The yoke definitely does not paint a pretty picture in our minds.  Good news!  It’s not about the yoke; it’s all about the farmer.  It’s the farmer who has the skill to guide the animal in the right direction.  In the above illustration; again, it’s not about the yoke, but about Jesus who guides us with every step we take.  As the verse reminds us, Jesus teaches us the right way to go.  He is gentle in His guiding and He uses everything in the fields of life to instruct us in His ways, and His ways are full of beauty.

If all we do is focus on the yoke, the difficulties of life that we face, then we will fail to pay attention to the One who instructs us into all truth, guiding us along the furrows of untamed soil, that we may reap crops of joy and peace and courage.  The yoke is merely an instrument that our perfect Teacher uses to keep us close to Him so that we may feel His tugging here and His guiding to the right or the left there.

Without Him, we will be all over the fields of life, making senseless tracks that lead to destruction. However, with Him, we are always pointed in the right direction that promises fruits of goodness for all our days.

In our passage, the phrase “let me teach you,” is also translated “learn of me.”  You see, as we become familiar to the guiding of the One who holds the reins, then we sense His gentle touch, we recognize His words of encouragement.  As we learn His ways, what happens then?  Trust grows.  Faith grows.  Therefore, joy in the midst of any unfurrowed field, grows, too.  Why?  Because our faith is in the One who holds the reins. We trust that He indeed knows the way we should go.  Therefore, in gladness, we bear the yoke, and take off with His leading into the fields of uncertainty, at last realizing that He always knows the most wonderful way in which we should go.

Kicking Sharks

A few days ago, riding down the road, I turned on the radio. I missed the first part of an incident being reported, but what I understood was this: a man had somehow met with an accident and was treading water in the ocean. Whether this was a boating or small plane accident, I don’t know, but the report stated that the man had been treading water for several hours. The Coast Guard found him and thankfully rescued the man. When the Coast Guard came upon the scene, they discovered that several sharks had been circling the man who had been bleeding from a cut on his forehead. The man said that he had been frantically kicking the sharks for about three hours.

There is no doubt, that if not for the outside intervention of the Coast Guard, in time the man would surely have died and met a terrible end. The man had great resolve. He was highly motivated to do whatever he could in his own strength to save himself. Even so, he could only have kicked sharks for a limited amount of time. Without the arrival of the Coast Guard, no matter his efforts, the man would be lost forever.

I thought to myself that this is exactly what takes place in our spiritual world. When we think of eternity, dreaming of what heaven may be like, desiring to get there, it is absolutely useless to think for a moment that our own efforts, no matter how noble, will be our ticket to paradise.  Jesus plainly told His disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” We may tell ourselves that our good works will earn us a place in heaven. We may tell ourselves that our generosity will secure our allocated spot. We may deceive ourselves into believing that enduring suffering with a joyful attitude will be just what’s needed to take us to heaven.

None of the above is true. We humans actually make it so very difficult in the things we tell ourselves, doing our best to convince our own selves that we are good enough. In speaking about human effort we are told clearly in Romans 3:10, “There is no one that is good enough; no, not one.”

Hoping for heaven doesn’t have to be uncertain. It doesn’t have to be hard.    Understanding the truth is the most beautiful life changing experience that brings peace to man on earth and certainty about eternity.  Take a look at God’s own words from Romans 3:23-26: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Jesus Christ when He freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in past times, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He makes sinners right in His sight when they believe in Jesus.”

No one has to tread the waters of uncertainty, depending on their own resolve and effort to save them from the deceiving sharks of this world.  The only necessary thing is to look to Jesus.  Like the Coast Guard who saved the day, only He can reserve a place for you in heaven, saving you from every sin, and covering you by His perfect grace.


The Conquering And The Conqueror

I have recently observed an incident involving two women; both have been victims of various types of abuse in their lives. However, as I observed their words and behavior during a conversation they were having, I concluded that the first woman allowed the abuse she suffered to dictate to her an inability to show kindness and compassion to the other woman. When this first woman heard something that reminded her of her own abuse, she suddenly became incapable of offering time to be a listening ear to the other woman who was deeply hurting by a recent event in her life.

On the other hand, as I observed the second woman, who attempted to share her wounded heart, I was reminded of this second woman’s overall attitude and behavior. She has suffered tremendous abuse throughout her childhood and teen years, including multiple sexual assaults from more than one of her uncles. Consequently, during her young teen years she developed a problem with bulimia.

In truth, while both of these women have suffered abuse, the second woman has suffered far greater abuses and for a much longer time. Even so, she has risen above the chains that can emotionally imprison a victim. She consistently gives time and a listening ear to anyone who needs to talk out their own troubles. At times, what people share, naturally reminds her of the hurts that she, too, has suffered. Nonetheless, she does not allow those reminders to shut her down, rendering her too stressed to be a needed listening ear. She does not allow her mind to be held captive by those memories.

What makes the first woman a slave to her pain while the second woman makes pain her slave? The first woman is controlled by her stress levels while the second woman controls her stress. How does this happen?

We read in Psalm 27:10, “Even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” The second woman has learned the beauty of that verse which reminds us that no matter who may reject and abuse us, Jesus in all His beauty has promised never to leave us. We also read in Philippians 2:4-5, “Don’t just look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The second woman has come to understand that Jesus is the one who can offer perfect comfort and peace to the hurting and faultless strength to the abused. He is also the one who can enable someone to be that listening ear to another, rising above the effects of their own pain.

The world’s philosophy says to take care of number one, avoiding anything that reminds one of their own pain. The philosophy of Jesus says to be that listening ear to those who hurt because when you are reminded of your own pain, Jesus is big enough to squash it, tame it, and bring it into submission. Through the strength of Jesus, personal pain can be brought under control rather than the pain controlling one’s mind and emotions and behavior. Isn’t that amazing?

There is absolutely no pain of this world that is stronger than the peace of Jesus. When we learn of Him and His ways, then we take on that strength, rising above the status of victim; thereby, enslaving pain, never allowing pain to dictate inability to simply offer someone a listening ear.

Jesus said when talking with His disciples in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give you a rich and full life.” Satan, the god of this world, seeks to steal all joy, kill all peace, and destroy ability to rise above the role of victim. Jesus came with HIs purpose to restore what pain has stolen, to heal what abuse has killed, and to bring back to life what being a victim has destroyed.

In Christ there is always victory.  Through Him we can be a conqueror.  He is our everything to get us through anything.