Who determines your outcome?

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Romans 9:16 So then, it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

Do those words make you feel stymied or relieved?  Angry or grateful?

Fellow pilgrim, this fact about our God and those who receive the gift of a permanent place in God’s family achieves two ends.  First, we are humbled.  If ever we entertained the idea that our works were good enough to leverage God into owing us anything, this verse in Romans affirms otherwise.

But doesn’t our world trumpet the opposite with THIS success formula:

Dream big and work hard.  Results go to the man in the ring who perseveres!

Second, and for me, this is burden lifting, Paul teaches that God alone determines family membership.  If I rightly suspected that no amount of good works or sincere effort to avoid sinning could meet God’s standard of perfect holiness, my gut feeling correctly aligns with reality.

Illusions dispelled should leave in their place only stunned awe and awakened gratitude.  If meriting this privilege never was likely, but God in His mercy has freely given it, then I have more than hit the jackpot.

Moreover, energy spent trying to drum up desire and work hard enough to impress the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all with my ‘worthiness’ can be properly channeled.  And you probably know the counter-intuitive truth that shifting one’s life’s energy and focus off of self and onto God and His Kingdom satisfies us far more. Celebrating God’s sheer goodness and inviting others to step out from the crushing weight of performance won’t sap us of energy but multiply our joy.

Too remarkable to be true?  Not for the God of Truth!

 

Do we work for our salvation?

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“….Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,  for or it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.…” Phil 2:12b-13a

Work out your salvation

Do you ever feel like you’re on the outside of a certain Bible passage, looking in? Like you can’t unlock what the verses mean, no matter how much you chip away at the word meaning or greater context?  I’ve felt that way for a LONG time, about MANY verses that seem too short and too cryptic.  Recently John Piper explained what is beginning to happen to me.  And it’s a welcome change.  Let me share a recent example and maybe you’ll find some hope for how you, too, can be rewarded with nuggets of gold after some hard-core mining.

A piece of that reward arrived this past Sunday as I was poking around Blue Letter Bible to research the Greek meaning of ‘work out’ in the cited verse.  In that rich soil, God brought forth a new ‘aha!’ moment as He opened up my understanding of Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians.  I’ve always struggled to understand two aspects of his ‘strong suggestion’.

  • what are we working out?  are we actually working toward our salvation?
  • what does working out one’s salvation have to do with what God is doing IN me?

What I have found is that some of the Bible seems to be written in a shorthand form.  A lot of explicit explanation just isn’t there.  Reminds me of poetry, which often stumps me. Or maybe some of these puzzling lines are like the parables Jesus told, meant to keep out those whose only interest in Truth is passing.

But I WANT to know, to understand, to OWN more and more of God’s Word.  So I dig around and soak in the Bible A LOT.  And after 18 1/2 years, things are beginning to ‘pop’.

What got me soaking all those years ago?  I started actually STUDYING the Bible systematically through an in-depth Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF link here).

I had become a Christian 16 years earlier, but my scripture reading was hit or miss and except for about a year in a British Anglican church, we weren’t around ‘Christians’ who actually believed that the Bible was God’s authoritative Word, alive and full of power.

BSF changed all that.

So now, although we have moved and don’t find ourselves near a BSF class, we continue to read and study our Bible and belong to a church that submits to the authority of the Word.

And I’m beginning to reap my investment of time and energy.  Verses and passages which previously remained closed to me are now opening up.  And it’s exciting!

So what about the WORKING OUT conundrum?  Here’s what I figured out or WORKED OUT from reading the Greek meanings of katergázomai/work out.  When we take something and think it through and see how it applies, then it becomes OURS.  We’re fashioning it to fit into what we already know.  It’s like making room in your house for a new painting.

I was relieved to conclude that NO, we don’t do works to earn our salvation, but we have to renovate our entire understanding of who we are and why we exist in the first place by yielding to God as our Creator, Redeemer and Happy Master.  And the comforting good news is that God does not leave us to do this home renovation on our own!  Look at Philippians 13:a.  It’s God Himself who is at work in us both to DESIRE (will) and WORK to please Him.  What a sweet deal for us.

Knowing God so far, it’s safe to assume that He has many more treasures for me.  If I stay rooted like a tree, near His living and life giving water, then as I draw up cool refreshing nourishment, I will continue to grow.

Tree by a stream

Can we lose our salvation?

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Treasure

2 Cor 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Many Christians (regarding whom, I have NO doubt that they are authentic believers) fight the fear that they are just fooling themselves when it comes to the status of their eternal salvation.

Like a radio with antennae continually seeking strong signals, so too do I search out scriptural truth to bolster the hope and assurance of struggling brothers and sisters I love.

So when I heard John Piper talk about desire being the key to authentic Christianity, I saw something true and comforting that I might be able to pass on.

When we are born again through the Spirit of God it’s like we are given a new set of eyes. We begin to see clearly just what IS treasure and what is trash.  New desires germinate and start to flourish.  Yes, growth can be slow and seem irregular in direction and pace.  But the overall trajectory has been changed.

But what do we do when doubts like these below plague us?  (who do you think ‘might’ be behind these doubts? – not God!)

  • What if the Bible and how one is saved isn’t true?
  • What if I really haven’t believed?
  • What if I’m not a TRUE believer?
  • What does it mean that I don’t seem to feel as enthusiastic or sure as other Christians?

What do we do?  We look at the treasure!

Think about the man who stumbled upon buried gold or silver in that field (Matthew 13:44). Quickly reburying it, he sold everything he had (fields, house, furnishings, livestock) to put together enough money to buy the entire pasture.  Once he possessed the plot of land, do you think he moved on to other pursuits, ignoring the treasure?  No!  I can picture him digging it up and handling it, savoring it, thinking about what it meant to his future.  His imagination easily filled in the blanks.  He might have used some of it for the present, but the rest he protected as his inheritance or retirement fund.

His joy would have remained and been stoked and even grown with every re-imagining and glorying in this treasure.  Had he started to doubt whether he actually possessed this wealth, he would have wasted no time pulling it out and savoring all that it represented.

That’s what we have to do with OUR most precious possession. As believers in Christ, we have:

  • forgiveness and peace with God
  • a new Spirit in us – no longer of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind
  • Christ’s continual presence THROUGH this indwelling holy Spirit
  • and a bright future to be lived in His presence where ‘fullness of joy’ is promised.

So what do we do either to ward off the doubts or deal with them?

We just need to ‘visit’ and ‘revisit’ our treasure every day, holding fast to it.

Whatever it takes to hold on to our faith, we must do.  Faith is our most valuable possession.  John Piper exhorts fellow believers to STRENGTHEN the gift by realizing that:

Little faith = Little joy

Stoked faith = MORE joy!

How do we fan the fires that heat up our faith?  By reading about this great gift in God’s Word and learning what it means for us to be partakers and heirs of God’s kingdom. Remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  I need to hear God’s truth every day, throughout the day.  And it’s MY voice rehearsing God’s promises out loud that help me most to HEAR.

LOVE the Treasure!

PONDER the Treasure!

PRAISE the Giver or the Treasure!

GET TO KNOW the Giver!

Look at this concrete advice to early Christians battling unbelief:

Hebrews 3:14

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first.

The good kind of fear

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So many things to fear.  To be human and do MORE than huddle in bed, sheets pulled up over our head, takes courage.

Cowering in bed

The Bible is very forthright when it comes to fear.  I can’t think of one Bible character whose fear is not described.  Abraham worried about the Egyptians and thus passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Moses shrank back from the task God wanted to give him, that of confronting Pharaoh.  Esther trembled at the idea of approaching her husband the King without his initial bidding.

The former blind man’s parents feared excommunication from the Temple community when asked to explain why their grown son could now see. The disciples feared the Romans and met furtively behind locked doors after Jesus’ execution.

And this week we faced horror after horror as events in Paris, Syria and Nigeria unfolded, just to name a few!

But there are also more mundane fears.  Friday, I had the occasion to chaperone middle school students on the first of five afternoons skiing here in Western North Carolina.  It had been 12 years since I took to the slopes.  I found myself feeling nervous due to the unknown arrangements of ski rental (will my feet cramp in those confining blocks of cement?), of navigating the ski lifts (will I ‘miss’ the moving seat and fall and make a fool of myself?), of avoiding dare-devil kids on snowboards (will I fall and break something and not be able to complete my daily walks?)

John Calvin observed that our hearts are ‘idol-factories’. Well, we are equally skilled at inventing fears.

Therefore, I felt greatly encouraged by a Desiring God blog post entitled Trading Fear for Fear

Reading it over several times (the link is above) and grappling to put the truths into my own words, I have concluded that God MEANS us to fear and has wired us to do so. But there is a right kind of fear and a wrong kind of fear.

I’m curious to learn how YOU would explain the godly kind of fear (no one needs any help in describing our default mechanism to fear the unknown and the threatening).  Here is what I have concluded from studying God’s word and letting it sink in:

  1. Fearing God – Hebrew word YIRAH (Strong’s # 3374) is experiencing  awe and respect and even a thrill at the ‘greater-than-we-can-grasp’ power and majesty and being of God.  Psalm 2:11 illustrates this posture as in “Worship/Serve the Lord in Yirah (reverence) and rejoice in trembling.
  2. The proper fear of the Lord is actually a gift granted to those to whom light is given.  Before this ability to see, we actually have a twisted view of the world and of God.  For in fact, we are by nature born into darkness and the light with which we see and evaluate the world is about as powerful as that emanating from your bathroom nightlight.  When God, via the Holy Spirit, flips on the switch giving us HIS light, we then see the truth of the world for the first time. We then begin to KNOW who God is and how life, liberty and joy are the birthright of all of us who grab hold of this true, forever and loving God who has given us new birth.
  3. Therefore, until we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness in to the Kingdom of Light, we can’t understand the right kind of fear, godly fear, because we don’t see/understand God correctly.  (Colossians 1:13 –He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.)
  4. Once our eyes are opened, we can begin to fear God properly. And what blessings accompany this YIRAH/correct attitude and posture toward God! Just do a google search on ‘fear of the Lord’ and feast on the many promises of God.

5. Finally (and this helps me the most), I can’t fear two completely opposite things at one time.  Why not?  Aren’t we good at multi-tasking?  Perhaps YOU are, but it’s more than holding 2 ideas together at one time.  What we fear, what we respond to is dictated by what we look at.  If I focus on troubling world circumstances like the evil terror that seems unrestrained and growing, or if I dwell on my imagined fears accompanying upcoming new experiences, or if I worry about what might happen if this or that happens, then I am fearing PRECISELY in a way that God commands me NOT to. Isaiah 8:12 is a good reminder: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

However, when we fear/revere/thrill/look at the awe-FUL, wonder-FUL character and works of God, then all sorts of attendant resources are made available to us, besides JOY.  The same prophet Isaiah assures of that….

33:6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

2a - Maria skiing for first time in 13 yrs - 9 Jan 2006

The best gift ever – or beholding v. seeing

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There is seeing and then there is seeing.  Even Jesus distinguished between the two.  It’s like always learning, but nothing sticking.  We can look at something, but it makes no difference.  We don’t get it.  Anyone who falls for the trite, oft trotted-out truism of ‘seeing is believing’ has never read the Bible.  Count up how many people witnessed Jesus’ miracles, yet did not believe.  They reacted with either indifference or hatred. Why is that?  Let’s look first at the terms and how they are used.

Greek offers several verbs to satisfy the distinction between two kinds of vision.  There is: Horeo – to see (3708)

John 6:36 – “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.

And then there is: Theoreo – to behold (2334)

John 6: 44 – “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I, Myself, will raise him up on the last day.

John 8: 51 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word, he will never behold death.”

2 Cor 3:18 – “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

So who are those who behold and get it? – those whom the Father has drawn.  You don’t see Jesus unless you’ve been regenerated, made alive, born again.  And when you are awakened, when you truly behold, it feels like you choose.

Here, then, is an explanation for those who argue for ‘Free Will’.  When the light comes on and you truly see the beauty of Jesus and his offer of salvation, you cannot help but respond favorably.  It is the most natural step in the world.  But the set up, your ability to see anything, is all from God.  Jesus said that He was the Light.  He wasn’t kidding.

Because of the Father’s action, we can see Jesus. So if you have any affection for the Son of God, thank the Father for his life-giving plan, set into motion before the universe was created.  By His will, you were chosen.  If all else goes wrong in your life today and you feel alone in your pain, this thought should be enough to carry you through until you feel the warmth of his love and favor again.  There are only 2 groups of people:  those the Father predestined to be part of His Family forever, and those not.  If you are glad to be part of the first group, that is proof that you truly belong.

Savor the ultimate in Christmas gifts.

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