Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Immutable Plan of God

“For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” Malachi 3:6

Immutable. This is an attribute of God that only He possesses. It means -  He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. On the other hand, we (and all created things) are always changing. We grow older day by day. Our bodies wear out and die. Our knowledge changes. Our opinions change. Our feelings change. Our plans change. Our ideas change. Our circumstances change. But God does not change. 

God, the creator of time, is outside of time. He is eternal. He is the great I AM, without beginning or end, therefore He does not age. He cannot cease to be, nor can He die. He is life and the source of all life. God does not grow in wisdom, as He is the only all wise and the source of all wisdom. God does not change his thoughts, opinions, ideas or plans. All circumstances are under His absolute, sovereign control. What a mighty God! To you alone, Oh God, be all glory and honor and praise!

Great is the patience of God! God told His rebellious people through the prophet Malachi that they were not consumed because HE DOES NOT CHANGE. Despite the way Israel had despised His name, despite the way they had profaned His sanctuary, despite the way they had dealt treacherously with each other, He did not consume them in immediate judgment. His promise to send the Messiah from the seed of Abraham would not be derailed by their rebellion.

Nothing can thwart God’s glorious plan of redemption! The Father’s plan from eternity past to call into eternal glory a redeemed people for His Son has been unfolding from creation to the present. Even now, Christ is building His Kingdom. The Holy Spirit is bringing the dead to life. He is giving sight to the blind. As the gospel is preached, the sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd. Throughout all of history and up to this day, God has endured with much patience the iniquity of fallen humanity. His just judgment has not yet been unleashed. He will not consume this world with judgment and fire until all His children have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. But dare not think His seeming delay is indicative of His changed plans, for no scheme of man or devil shall dismantle God’s intent to display His glory before all of creation.

The Lord will bring His mighty purposes to pass. In the last chapter of Malachi, God gives a sobering promise. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” The words of the prophet Malachi would be the last words God spoke to Israel before the Messiah was to come. It is no wonder that Israel did not recognize Jesus, for they were waiting for a mighty Messiah to come in power and judgement. Jesus, the suffering servant, was not recognized. Israel was looking for a conquering King.

But be assured, just as Jesus has come once to seek and save the lost, He is coming again, but this time to judge the world in righteousness. “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of his Father with His angels, and then repay every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:27) Think about that. Every thought, word, and deed will be judged by the all-knowing God of creation. How will your soul fare on that Great Day? Perhaps you’re counting on your good deeds to save you. But just as the guilt of a serial criminal cannot be cleared by any amount of “good” behavior, the same is true of the good deeds of all sinners. They are useless and powerless to sway the wrath of the Holy God. We have all sinned against God, for every act of disobedience is a direct assault on God.

Who will be able to stand on the great Day of the Lord? But God, being rich in mercy, has provided a shelter from the wrath that is to come. Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, took the wrath of God upon the cross for ALL who will believe and trust in Him, for ALL who will follow and obey the Lord Jesus. This unsurpassable gift has been given by the grace of God; it cannot be earned. All who will receive this gospel by faith are given the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to turn our hearts away from sin and back to God. Have you surrendered to the authority of King Jesus? Is Jesus the meaning of your life? Is He your all and everything? Are you living under the authority of His Word or do you presume to rule over it? Have you found delight in His Word and in Him? These things are what he commands of anyone who would dare to call themselves His disciple. Christ’s invitation to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Him is being extended even now. Run to Christ! He will not turn any away. He alone is the only way unto salvation.  Jesus demands that we repent and believe this gospel, for He is coming quickly.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Testimony
How the Lord Brought Me to a Saving Knowledge of Himself

I was raised in a home that believed in God and professed Christ as the Savior. My parents were regular church attenders, and by default, I was too. As I grew up, the person who had the biggest spiritual influence in my life was my Grandma Ladee. It wasn’t her obsession with bible studies or keeping prayer journals that made an impact on me; it was the active, living relationship she had with Jesus. When she spoke about him, it was as if he was her closest friend and she really KNEW him. She helped create a desire in me to know him too.  She helped me understand and believe that there is One True God who is living and real and I could know him.
When I was around 7 years old, I “accepted” Jesus as my savior. I walked down the aisle one Sunday morning, my “decision” was announced to the church and shortly thereafter I was baptized. Growing up in a traditional Southern Baptist church, that’s the typical path many kids follow. We were told that in order to go to heaven, we needed to ask Jesus into our hearts. In my church, this “decision” was recognized in several ways including standing at the back of the church with the preacher and shaking everyone’s hand, being baptized as part of a special ceremony in the worship service, and joining the rest of the congregation in the participation of the Lord’s supper. Along with the promise of heaven and the avoidance of hell, these are things that quite possibly entice a child to make a “decision” to “accept” Christ and, unfortunately, none of them have anything to do with a revelation of the desperate situation of being a sinner in the hands of a holy God. Looking back, I don’t remember a struggle to believe, or a wrestling within my soul. I certainly didn’t understand the gravity of sin except that I knew I did not want to go to hell. Counting the cost and true repentance were not part of my childhood “decision,” but I grew up in an environment where people believed that repeating “the sinner’s prayer” would most assuredly save someone, especially if they were really sincere when they said it. I suspect many people today are still clinging to faith in a past prayer or experience as their hope for eternal life.
Throughout my high school & college years, I seldom doubted my salvation. I considered myself a Christian and believed that if I died, I would go to heaven. Why? Because I had accepted Christ as my Savior and I had prayed and asked him to save me which I believed was the work necessary for salvation. If I did experience doubts, I would just pray again to make sure he heard me when I asked him into my heart. My assurance of my salvation was based on what I had done – my prayer and my decision, although sometimes I would wonder why living like a Christian was so difficult. I didn’t have a strong desire to read the Bible, but I knew that I ought to. I would go through periods in my life when I would read my bible or a devotional, but many times, I would neglect my relationship with Christ altogether. You see, while I had the head knowledge that I was supposed to follow God and be obedient to his commands, my true motivations revolved around self-centered interests and pleasures. Honestly, I was much more interested in the exciting things the world had to offer. 
Also, during this time, I led a double life. If I was around my family or church friends, I behaved in a way to be accepted and approved by them, but around the worldly crowd, I was completely different. Sinning didn’t grieve me. Lying, drunkenness, disobeying my parents, blaspheming God’s name, inappropriate conversations, immodesty and lustful thoughts and actions only bothered me if I got in trouble. Even though I felt guilt about some of these things, I would ignore the authority of my conscience and the written commands of God and purposefully pursue them. I held on to the idea that my “sinner’s prayer” and even my baptism were proof that I was saved and that I was one of God’s children. 
Even though I attended a Christian college, I was still drawn to sin. I joined the “wild” sorority and continued to pursue my own selfish dreams and goals. Everything in my life revolved around me: I was the center of my universe. God was on the back burner of my life and I certainly wasn’t pursuing Christ. Granted, I prayed when I needed something. Sometimes I would even pray, asking God to forgive me and help me to do better. I even “rededicated” my life to Christ a few times! But my concern wasn’t about the sins I was committing against God, it was that my actions and behaviors didn’t line up with the Christian image. In retrospect, I have to admit that I never experienced the authentic, spiritual rebirth that comes from God when HE regenerates a sinner, when HE transfers someone from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I was trying to live like a Christian without the transforming heart change that makes the effort not only possible but pleasing and acceptable to God. All my efforts to live a Christian life were external, not produced by the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration.
When I was 27, I met my husband. We were both professing Christians and even though we agreed in our desires for a Christian marriage, a Christian home and a Christian family, I can’t say that I wanted Christ. Towards the end of 2010, something happened to our family. The Lord convicted Jeremy, who was bitter over his father’s death and running from God, and Jeremy surrendered his life to God’s leading and call to preach. As Jeremy began to submit to the Lord, he began to lead our family spiritually. Our conversations changed and many times I thought the level of his commitment to Christ and His Word was a bit too radical. In actuality, I just wanted the benefits of being a Christian but I didn’t want to surrender all my plans for our life and future to the will of God. Complete surrender was a frightening thought. During this time, we also changed churches which means the sermons and messages changed: no more topical, life-application, man-centered, seeker-friendly messages! We began listening to expository, biblical preaching centered around the truth of Scripture, the pre-eminence of Christ and the holiness of God. I began hearing words I’d never heard or understood before – words such as atonement, justification, propitiation, sanctification, and regeneration. Even though I resisted at first, I slowly came to realize that my understanding of salvation and the gospel were completely shallow and unbiblical.
Previously, I thought I was saved because I had said a prayer and because I had accepted Jesus as my savior. At some point during this time, God opened my eyes to the beauty of His gospel. He showed me how detestable my sin really was. God showed me that my behaviors and even my “good intentions” or “good works” were evil because the motives that produced them were evil or sinful (self-serving), and no matter how hard I would try to conform to the religious image of the “Model Christian,” my real problem was that on my own, I would never be able to conform to the image of Christ. My desires to be good or look good flowed out of selfish and self-righteous motives, not out of a grateful heart that longed to please and obey my Father. God gave me a godly sorrow for all my sins, not only my past sins, but the stubborn sins that still often plague my heart: pride, selfishness, and ingratitude. I also learned the biblical truths about salvation. I am only saved because of Christ’s finished work on the cross. The entirety of my own actual sins was placed on Christ as he voluntarily endured the wrath of God in my stead while he hung on the cross. I am saved because God chose me for Himself before the foundations of the world and He sent his Son to ransom me and to redeem me. His act of grace and mercy was not because of anything I had done, nor was it because of his foreknowledge of any future actions or “decision” on my part. The Bible records, “There is none who seek after God” and “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (Romans 3:11 & John 15:16). I have done nothing to deserve or merit salvation. Not only is salvation a gift from God, but so is the faith and repentance necessary for salvation. Salvation is completely, entirely and wholly a work of God. He shall receive ALL the glory for the salvation of his people! “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) When I came to understand that salvation is 100% the work of God and not 99% God’s work and 1% man’s effort as some have erroneously suggested, my entire understanding of my relationship with Christ changed. I owe him EVERYTHING. There is nothing about my life that belongs to me but all to him I owe! I don’t know the exact point in time when I was born again, all I know is at some point during these past six or seven years, God opened my spiritual eyes to the power and beauty of His glorious gospel.
About a year and a half ago, God again stripped me of my pride and showed me the glorious beauty of the cross. I had been having political discussions with several Christian friends who just didn’t see things the same way I did. I just couldn’t understand how they could support a certain presidential candidate. To me, the choice was so clear and biblical: if the choice is two evils, pick neither! But they insisted that picking the “lesser” of two evils was morally justifiable. I argued that supporting neither candidate was the “holier” choice and that sovereign God should be trusted with the results. “How can we have the same Holy Spirit guiding our lives and yet come to such different opinions?”, I wondered. I even began to consider the idea that perhaps they weren’t truly saved. Maybe they were just pretend Christians. As I thought about these things, a question popped into my mind: Well, Charla, how do you know YOU are saved?
So, I thought about it for a while. Well, I know I’m not saved by a prayer, of course. And then I began to tell the Lord why I knew I was saved. I began to justify myself to God by telling him, “I am saved because I know it is a work you have done. I believe what your word says. I know I am a sinner. I know Jesus lived a sinless life. I know he was my substitute. I know he died for my sins. I believe he was raised on the third day. I even understand the doctrines of grace, such as total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement.”  And as I began to unload all my incredible theological wisdom before God, in my spirit there was simply, “No.” Immediately, I became desperate and undone. “No? No? Then I have nothing. What can I say? How can I be sure I am saved?” And it was at that moment that I saw with my spiritual eyes – Christ crucified: Christ hanging on the cross for ME, Christ spilling out his blood for ME, Christ drinking the cup of God’s wrath for ME, Christ giving his life for ME. Christ is the reason. Christ is my assurance. Christ accomplished my salvation, then and there on the cross – a finished work! The gospel was so clear and so glorious that I literally covered my mouth with my hand and gasped. When I was looking to my own wisdom and giving myself credit for my assurance, God showed me the beauty of the cross. He showed me that Christ alone gets the glory. He gets the glory for saving me and keeping me. My confidence is in Christ alone and not in my wisdom or understanding of His truth.

Over the past seven years, God has created in my heart a desire to know him, a desire to follow him, and a desire to love him. I truly am a new creation! I am not who I once was. I am being sanctified and the Holy Spirit convicts me daily of that residual sin that is still at war in my flesh and by his grace, he helps me to crucify my flesh, pick up my cross and follow him. Even though I’m not sure when that moment of regeneration took place in my spirit, I do know when I was truly saved: around 2000 years ago, Christ shed his blood on the cross to pay the debt for my sins and three days later, he defeated death with his resurrection. The finished work of my salvation was accomplished then, and that is the most important date to me! Although I was baptized when I was 7 years old, I wasn’t actually born again at that time. Today, I followed my Lord’s command and was biblically baptized by my pastor and husband as a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria!
For the Glory of God Alone!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Rhetoric, Heresy, Blasphemy or Truth?
(A response concerning some of the underlying themes of many posts & comments made in reaction to Trump's victory in the 2016 Presidential Election by a Christ follower who decided to vote third-party.)  

Rhetoric – The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Heresy -  Belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine.

Blasphemy – the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things, profane talk

Truth - "The  sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Psalms 119:160

1.     “America is God’s Country.” Well, yes. But not any more than Germany, China, Uganda or Iraq. There is an unspoken comparative in this statement which is false. Psalm 24:1

2.     “America is God’s chosen nation.” In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s chosen nation through whom he would bring his PROMISE, although not all descendants of Abraham would receive God’s PROMISE. Despite the fact that “The PROMISE” and its meaning could be an entire thesis in and of itself, it can be briefly, but not entirely, defined as: JESUS CHRIST - the promised messiah that would give salvation to God’s chosen individuals as well as the inheritance of His eternal kingdom.  The salvation offered in Jesus Christ is salvation from the wrath of God which is rightly and justly due all mankind. All mankind stands under God’s wrath, BUT Jesus delivers his chosen bride from wrath. Romans 9:6-8, Galatians 3:15-29, John 3:36, Romans 1:18, 1 Thessalonians 1: 4 & 10

3.     “If God be for us, who can be against us. Romans 8:31” But who is the “us” in this scripture? We must read the entire chapter: those who are IN Christ Jesus (v.1), those in whom the Spirt of God dwells (v.9), those who are led by the Spirit (v.14), and those whom he foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified (v.29-30). We must stop using this verse out of context in a way that redefines “us” in the original text. "Us" is not the USA nor the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party nor any other group of individuals who are not brought together through the blood of Jesus Christ.

4.     “Christ’s blood is being poured out over the states, turning them red.” (I read this several times in reference to watching the unfolding of 2016 electoral votes map of the U.S.A.) This is a dangerous – do I daresay heretical? - statement. We must not abuse, manipulate, twist or redefine the gospel of JESUS CHRIST! We must not profane or make light of the precious blood of Jesus. Jesus Christ freely offered his life on the cross where his blood was poured out. But for whom did he offer his life? His bride! His blood is not a blanket that was poured out to cover the sins of our country, America. He poured out his blood to pay the punishment for the sins of God’s elect, those given by God to Jesus Christ. Titus 1:1-4, 2 Timothy 2:10-13, Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 21:1-8, John 3, John 17:6-9, Hebrews 9:11-14

5.     2 Chronicles 7:13-14 “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The Lord is speaking to Solomon in this passage. God’s purpose is to forgive his penitent people (not an entire country). He desires authentic, heartfelt repentance from the individual person who has been called by his name (humble themselves, pray, seek, turn). “Heal their land” refers to deliverance of the Israelites from drought, pestilence and the return of the exiles to their rightful home. For the elect, this includes the restoration of God’s people to a right relationship with Him.

6.     “To God be the glory because ‘my’ candidate won.” God is glorified regardless of the outcome of any election, and all outcomes fall under his authority. His glory may not be perceived in our limited frame of reference, but His eternal glory WILL prevail and He does everything for His glory. I submit there are children of God, sons of the promise, on both sides of the aisle in this election. It is offensive to look to the outcome of any election - from either perspective- and declare that its outcome proves God agrees with YOU. In whom or what shall we boast? To what or whom do we look and proclaim glory? Are you glorying in a shallow earthly victory while looking at fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and saying, "God is on MY side?" It is time to reject political sides and the presumption that God is choosing sides. WE need to get on God's side. We need to run under the cover of Christ and get on the side of the gospel. The GOSPEL is the power of God unto salvation. And it is ONLY the gospel that will save the citizens who call America their country. Romans 1:16, Romans 13:1, Isaiah 42:8, Isaiah 48:11, Jude 1:24-25; Philippians 2:9-11, Galatians 6:14