This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Archive for February, 2012

The assurance of salvation

What if. . .

. . .we could live our lives trusting in the unconditional love of God? What a novel concept!

We would know that He loved us no matter what we did. We would experience the ups and downs of life with the blessed assurance that Jesus is there regardless of the situation, that He will never leave or forsake us.

Oh, but wait! That’s “easy grace,” isn’t it? We can’t preach that, can we? Everyone will take advantage of it and do whatever they please because they will know they’re going to Heaven anyway.

Let’s don’t dare preach that, even though the Bible does say we are sealed to the day of redemption.

“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby YE ARE SEALED unto the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30

“. . .after that ye believed, YE WERE SEALED with that holy Spirit of promise,” Ephesians 1:13

We preachers will have no control over people to make sure they toe the line if we don’t preach that they can lose their salvation. We’ve got to warn people continually to walk the straight and narrow so that they’ll be so scared of hellfire and damnation that they’ll live right.

Really? Is that what makes people live right?

Could it be (hear me out) that what REALLY makes people live right is “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine”? Could it be that if we could rid ourselves of the “He loves me, He loves me not” mentality (based on how well we’re performing right now), we would actually live better lives because of our intense gratitude and love for Him?

Bible teacher Andrew Wommack wrote an interesting book called Spirit, Soul & Body in which he contemplates the novel concept that if we truly get saved (we’re not talking about walking the aisle and shaking a preacher’s hand or filling out a card at the altar or meaninglessly reciting “The Sinner’s Prayer”–we’re talking about being truly born again), we cannot get unsaved. That if you’re truly born again, you cannot get unborn. That if Jesus redeemed you, He’s not going to unredeem you based on your performance.

If we have to be without sin to be able to enter the pearly gates, then why wasn’t the law enough? Why do we need grace? If we sinned, we could just go to the Temple and make the proper sacrifice and we’d be good to go. There must’ve been a need for something more comprehensive–His amazing grace.

And if I couldn’t live good enough to earn salvation, how in the world am I going to live good enough to keep it?

And if committing sin means I am no longer saved, how much sin does it take? Where is the sin-ometer that tells me when a person has crossed the line, has fallen away, has become unredeemed?

I do believe there is such a thing as apostasy. I believe a person can renounce Jesus Christ and blaspheme. I believe someone can leave Christianity and become an adherent to another religion that does not believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Only Door By Which One Can Be Saved. In that case, I believe they cannot go to Heaven.

But then you have to ask: was that person ever truly saved? Maybe they professed a faith in Christianity, the religion, but not Christ, the Savior.

And in the case of apostasy, we’re not talking about just committing sin or backsliding. We’re talking about renouncing all ties to Jesus and refusing to be identified with him. There are many, many backsliders who can tell you that truly God is married to a backslider–that they felt His presence deep in their spirit man even while they were living in outright sin. So if His Spirit is still there, are we saying that these people couldn’t go to Heaven if they died?

Are we saying that a person has to be living a totally stellar life to make it to Heaven if they die suddenly and unexpectedly? As a tree falleth, there will it lie? (And why are we reading Ecclesiastes and quoting a verse about trees to define salvation?) If you get killed in a car wreck and you have something you haven’t repented of, you can’t get to Heaven even though you have been born again?

Hmmm. . .makes it sound as though it’s about works, doesn’t it?

“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Romans 11:6

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Here are 4 of my 5 kids. They sometimes disappoint me. They make me mad occasionally. They have at times sinned against me. But since they are truly my children, nothing they can do can make me love them less. And I gave birth to them; I can't make them unborn.

Am I saying we can live any old way while here on Earth and suffer no penalty? Absolutely not. First of all, even if Wommack is right and your spirit is sealed no matter what you do, if you live in sin you will pay the price in the body realm–perhaps with sickness, premature death, legal prosecution, jail-time, a horrible quality of life. You will also pay the price in the soul (mind, will, emotions, conscience) realm–with torturous thoughts, a guilty conscience, troubled emotions, no true peace or happiness or joy.

So yes, sin carries with it a huge penalty while here on Earth. And if you believe in differentiation of rewards in Heaven, then sin will also carry a penalty there. A friend of mine recently told me about her belief of how we won’t receive as many crowns or rewards if we did not live holy lives. But it doesn’t mean that we won’t be saved.

“If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:14-15

A person who has lived not as holy a life by building wrong things upon the foundation of Jesus Christ will suffer loss–that’s certainly punishment. But he can still be saved, according to the Scripture.

I haven't seen my cousin Susie in many years. We don't email, we don't call, we have no communication really. Our relationship has been physically nonexistent for a long time simply because we live far apart and our lives are busy, each of us with 5 kids. But we are still family, born of the same blood. I did not disown her just because our relationship has been lacking. We love each other.

I am convinced that the assurance of the security of eternal salvation will actually make a truly saved person (again, remember that many will say “Lord, Lord” and not enter in because they were never truly born again) live a holier life. The knowledge that Jesus Christ has forgiven us of all sins past, present and future ought to fill us with such a joy and gratitude that we want to do whatever it takes to please Him.

I, who have lived my life under the fearful knowledge that if I don’t perform well as a Christian I will be found wanting on the Judgment Day, have become assured of my salvation for the first time in my life. And it has brought a joy and peace that I have never known before, as well as the desire to live the holiest life possible for the Savior who loved me so.

What if. . .

. . .we accepted the security of our salvation in Christ our Lord and rested in that knowledge without the fear that He will disown us if we are not perfect? What a novel concept!

(More to come about this subject as I discuss my thoughts on “Why repent of sins if we are eternally saved?” “What does it mean you must endure to the end to be saved?” “But can’t He blot out your name from the Book of Life?” I welcome comments because iron sharpens iron, and I believe that challenges to our belief system actually make us stronger. And if we disagree on this subject, please know that I love you all and hope you can still love me.)

Hope you enjoy Chris Tomlin’s song “Amazing Grace”! This video has lovely landscapes in it.

Remembering Whitney

Whitney Houston

I am always sad to hear about a death, especially what seems to be an untimely one. The death of Princess Diana kept me riveted to the TV for days, as did the sudden passing of Dale Earnhardt. It seems like yesterday that I was priming tobacco for my neighbor when my buddy Jack walked up to the barn to say, “Did you hear that the king is dead?” I sat up late that night, listening to “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and sniffling over Elvis Presley’s death.

But I don’t know that any of them affected me the way Whitney Houston’s death has. Maybe it’s because she and I were about the same age. Perhaps it’s because when I was just entering young womanhood, she was also finding her way as a young woman–singing about the things we young women dreamed of–“Saving All My Love For You,” “All the Man I Need,” “The Greatest Love of All.”

And as she aged so gracefully in appearance, Whitney also got even better vocally–for a time. And still she sang songs that seemed to come from MY heart–“I Will Always Love You,” for one.

That same heart of mine ached when I began to hear rumors of her substance abuse problems. I grieved to see her extraordinary physical beauty begin to deteriorate–not because of the normal aging process but because of the effects of the drugs and alcohol. For some time, she was a bag of bones, and her face–though still lovely–grew haggard.

Whitney's changing appearance

I always pull for the underdog, and so I was heartened to see Whitney seem to make a turnaround. She “fleshened up,” as Grandma would’ve described it. Her face took on a shade of its former glow. She went on a world tour again. She was preparing to film another movie.

Then one quiet evening at home, the shocking news that she was dead at 48 stunned me. I haunted YouTube for a while, listening to old Whitney tunes, finding new ones I had not heard. I watched old interviews with her.

I am grieved over any type of waste, but especially the waste of a promising life. Yes, I know she did more in 48 years than most of us would do in 90, but there was so much left in her. I had to battle some ugly thoughts toward her ex-husband Bobby Brown; she had seemed so pure and naive before hooking up with him. (Yes, I realize Whitney had free will and made her own choices to enter the dark and sinister world of drug use, but temptation often comes through appealing people.) I prayed not to hold any hard feelings toward Bobby and don’t.

But what fascinated me (and haunted me) most about Whitney’s life were her early years in the black Baptist and Pentecostal churches. (I say “black Baptist” to differentiate from “white Baptist” because the two church styles are very different.) I wondered if she later missed being such an integral part of these powerful churches. I know that she still sang some gospel songs, especially when she made the movie “The Preacher’s Wife.” But recording some gospel songs to random mass choir backup is quite different from actually being a vital part of a personal church music program.

I watched an interview that Whitney did with Diane Sawyer in 2002. The poignancy of it was heart-wrenching. Diane asked her what her perfect life would be in 10 years. Whitney detailed her dreams of being retired in 2012, watching her daughter grow into a productive woman of God, living a good life, having grandchildren.

She could not have known way back then that that would be the very year of her death.

Diane Sawyer’s interview with Whitney (2nd video clip–wait for it)

Diane asked her which of the drugs was her biggest demon. Whitney looked at her contemplatively and replied with raw candor, “That would be me.” She clarified that the drugs weren’t the demons–that SHE was her own demon in this situation since she made the choices. Diane persisted in this line of questioning, wanting to know specifically what people who wanted to help be the barrier between Whitney and drugs could pray for. Diane probably thought that Whitney would name a particular drug or other temptation.

Whitney looked at Diane as though they were on two different planets. With great passion, she declared that she didn’t want people to pray about the drugs. Instead she wanted them to pray for her soul, that she would be able to be stronger and make good decisions.

At the end of the interview segment that I watched, Whitney’s fervor increased as she pointed to the sky and avowed that no matter what anyone said or believed, she knew that she was a child of God and that He loved her. Then she quoted the words of the old song, “Jesus loves me; this I know.” And she smiled sweetly and trustingly.

And when that same Whitney–10 years older and more worn, her once exquisite voice hoarse and ragged–sang the last song of her career onstage at a pre-Grammy party the night before her death, it was “Jesus Loves Me.”

Less than 24 hours later, she was dead.

I’ve already heard the debate: Did she go to Heaven or not? My daughter Meghann’s response to that was, “I am not God, and therefore, I do not dare presume to judge.” What a wise girl God has blessed me with!

If your doctrine tells you that we can lose our salvation based on our works and that we’d better not die while swerving off the narrow road or we’re sho nuff out of luck (and grace), then you may think there’s no way she made it to the pearly gates. If you ascribe to the “once saved, always saved” doctrine which believes that we are truly sealed to the day of redemption and that it is not of works that we are saved lest any man should boast, then you assume she made it on home.

I don’t have a soapbox in this debate. I trust in my all-wise and all-knowing God to make the right decision, and I wouldn’t DARE speak a word against the dead in this case. We don’t know what her last thoughts were. Even if she was in a state of intoxication, who knows that she wasn’t crying out to God to forgive her, to deliver her, to help her? I wasn’t in the hotel room. I don’t know.

Young Whitney, the choir girl

I only know that I am still haunted by the old video of the pencil-thin little girl with cropped hair–looking somewhat like a young boy–singing in the choir at her New Jersey church. I ache at the memory of the exquisitely lovely 38-year-old woman whose eyes lit up with excitement as she told Diane Sawyer how the “Holy Ghost fire,” as she called it, would be on the people’s faces when she would sing in church and that’s when she knew that God had truly given her an infectious gift.

And I will remember her best perhaps as she sang a song called “I Love the Lord”–her beautiful voice ringing out to tell the world that “He heard my cry, and pitied every groan. Long as I live, while troubles rise, I’ll hasten to. . .His throne.”

THAT’S the God I blog about. THAT’S the God I long for. THAT’S the God I serve. The God who hears our heart’s cry and pities every groan. I believe that’s exactly how He felt about Whitney.

My romantic getaway

Right about now, I am like a balloon pumped full of helium–ready to pop from all of the exciting stuff within me. You see, for the first time in my life, I’ve planned a romantic getaway. I am taking the hubster off somewhere (I can’t spill the beans, because he reads my blog!) in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

I see that man every day. Despite the difficulties of third shift, we manage to be together in some capacity daily–whether it’s just sitting on the couch watching SportsCenter or riding with the other one wherever he/she has to go just so we can be together. But every now and then, it’s nice to have a special, out-of-the-ordinary time together–a time when the TV doesn’t compete for our attention, when the kids aren’t running all around us, when the to-do list doesn’t get done.

It’s the same way with our God. Yes, we are with Him every day. In Him, we live and move and have our being. I’m sure we manage to find time daily–despite our busy lifestyles–to have prayer and/or Bible study. We even “give Him” a couple of hours on Sunday morning and maybe some time on Sunday and Wednesday nights. But it’s nice every now and then to spend a special day with Him–a time for just the two of you to be together, the way you would steal away for a romantic encounter (of the moral kind!) in the natural.

That’s what I did yesterday.

I didn’t plan it, I’m sorry to say. I get so caught up in my busy life that I think I “can’t afford” not to be productive every single day. Well, maybe I “can’t afford” not to occasionally leave behind the workaday world and just soak in Him.

My “romantic encounter” with my Bridegroom evolved as a result of a nasty virus that has tried to attack me for over a week. It hasn’t latched on, thank God, but it has played a game of tennis with me–back and forth, a day of feeling better, a day of feeling under attack again. After feeling particularly challenged and exhausted by this bug on Monday night, I decided to take a mental/physical health day on Tuesday. I had heard people use the “mental health day” term for years but had honestly never taken such a day off.

Tuesday is the day the kids are with their daddy, since it used to be my press day at the newspaper, and the hubster sleeps much of the day. That leaves me alone to teach piano lessons, write newspaper stories, run errands, etc.

Well, this particular Tuesday, it seemed as if my loving Savior orchestrated the day’s events just for me to be with Him. All three Tuesday piano students canceled for a variety of reasons. I found that to be too unusual to be coincidental. So for once, my common sense prevailed, and I made the decision to simply rest for the day.

It was not easy.

I itched to clean out a filing box or two. I wanted to continue my new health regimen and go walking all through the neighborhood. I thought of a zillion and one things I needed to do around the house. But I contented myself with just a few necessary chores–doing a load of laundry, distilling a gallon of water, making some long-neglected phone calls.

And you know what? I had a marvelous day! I actually took time to read a book–a fabulous juvenile fiction book that my son had begged me to read. I dozed on the couch for a while in the afternoon. I took a long, hot shower.

But most of all, I communed with my Maker. His presence was supremely real to me all day long. It was as if He and I had scheduled this time to be alone with each other.

The house was almost totally silent, with just the faint whir of the hubster’s fan in the bedroom and the ticking of the clock audible–comfortable little sounds. The sunshine poured in through the living room window. The very atmosphere was pregnant with His presence.

I knelt/lay in the floor for a while, just soaking in the river of His essence. Meanwhile, my computer played for me worship songs such as Kari Jobe’s “Revelation Song” and Christ for the Nations’ “So Beautiful”–peaceful, lovely songs of praise. I couldn’t get enough of Him.

I took a comfy chair down to the creek bank in the backyard and sat there facing the afternoon sun, hearing the refreshing bubbling of the creek as it meandered toward the mighty Dan River not far away. I opened my Bible to the middle, hoping to land on a Psalm that would match my mood.

It opened to Psalm 19 which seemed absolutely perfect for my natural outdoor setting:

Lower Cascades, Hanging Rock (Photo by Monty Stevens)

“1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Lower Cascades, Hanging Rock (Photo by Melinda Ring)

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
   refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
   making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right,
   giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
   giving light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
   enduring forever.
The decrees of the LORD are firm,
   and all of them are righteous.

 10 They are more precious than gold,
   than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
   than honey from the honeycomb. . .”

All too soon, my romantic getaway with my Lord was over. I had to work that night, covering the Walnut Cove town meeting and writing the stories from it.

But I was all the better both physically and mentally for the day I had spent focusing on Him. His presence provided times of refreshing, as the Scripture says it does (Acts 3:19).

I still smile when I recall yesterday. My sigh of recollection is a satisfied one. I know I’ll feel the same way when the hubster and I get back from our Valentine’s getaway. I’ll smile when I remember the time we spent together. I’ll feel all mushy inside when I recall the love we shared–just the two of us. And our relationship will be stronger for it.

So why do we see the wisdom in doing this in the natural with our spouses but not in the spiritual with our Lord? I’m not talking about drawing aside for a time of prayer; we should do that every day. I’m talking about marking off a whole day on the calendar to be drenched in His love and Spirit, with no outside interruptions.

Maybe you can only do it once a year, maybe once a month. But I encourage you to go for it. It’ll be a day you won’t soon forget–a sabbatical that strengthens your relationship with Him and brings you forth refreshed!

Try it; you’ll like it!

(Click on the link below to hear one of the songs that helped bring me into His presence yesterday!)

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