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Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians 2: 8-9’

Many of us are mourning the loss of an American era with the passing of a man, I think we won’t soon see the likes of again.  The beloved preacher and evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham, passed away on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, and was laid to rest in Charlotte, North Carolina, after his March 2nd funeral.  He was 99 years old.  Among other endearing terms, Rev. Graham is being remembered as God’s Ambassador and America’s Pastor, having provided spiritual counsel for every United States president since Harry S. Truman (our 33rd) right on to Barack Obama (our 44th president).

When I think of Dr. Graham, I can’t help think of my Dad who always encouraged us girls to sit and listen whenever a crusade was being televised (on network T.V. no less). I never told dad or mom, but I responded to one of those crusades, back when we lived in town (so prior to 8th grade). I sent for the follow-up material too, writing to “Billy Graham, Minneapolis, MN – that’s all the address you need” as Billy directed us from every crusade.  What came was a summary of his Steps to Peace with God and a study of the book of John.

I attribute that experience to a sensitive period in my life when God was softening my heart and mind to his, eventually leading me to receive the gospel truth.  I would not fully put it all together until my college years when God through his Word in Ephesians 2:8-9 caused me to once and for all lay down my works which I had been trying to offer all my life as an acceptable arrangement; one which I hoped would make God pleased with me and lead me to eternal life.  My plan had been Jesus + me = salvation, never realizing that the only thing I could contribute to Christ’s offering, was the sin that made it necessary.  Using the small faith God gave me for just that moment, I gave all that I knew of myself (my whole sin-saturated self and my inadequate works) to all I knew of Christ (my only rescue).

During college, Dana and I would counsel for a Billy Graham movie or two (World Wide Pictures) at the Cinema Theater in town (now the WDAZ studios).  After one particular movie, The Prodigal, Dana was completely broken and rededicated his life to the Lord.

A highlight for us was counseling for the Billy Graham live crusade in Fargo the summer of 1987 when we were expecting Ashley. We brought my cousin Paul with us one of the days (who was living in Grand Forks at the time, in the restaurant business with my Uncle Warren).  I’m sad to say, though, that I seem to recall my dad was unable to go to Fargo with us to see Billy in person, amounting to a double loss since the entertainment was another of Dad’s favorites, Johnny Cash (and his wife, Rosalind).

Rev. Graham’s gravestone briefly summarizes his life – Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – and then makes reference to John 14:6, “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes was printed on his funeral brochure:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now.”  I pray God will enable me to be faithful and about the King’s work to the end – in whatever capacity I am able – just as the world has observed in the life of God’s good and faithful servant, Billy Graham.

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Blessed Assurance

So my Bible Study Fellowship question asked:
What assurance do you have that Jesus has purchased you for God?

My lesson offered several biblical assurances that are laid up for me in God’s excellent Word (John 3:16-19, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 2 Timothy 2:19). In addition to these, however, several other assurances came to mind which bore witness immediately to my soul of having been re-created in Christ. This began that day in the break room at Sears when I joyfully came to throw all of my hope for life and salvation on the effectual death and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. The philosophical Law of Causality states that “every change in nature is produced by some cause” and this is no where more evident than in the change that took place in me from that day forward – the cause being none other than He who changed my heart of stone into a heart of flesh and wrote his moral law on this heart so many years ago.

From that moment of conversion, I experienced an uplifting of my spirit and a sense of peace and well-being which sprang from having the wrestlings of my heart and my impotent efforts answered by Jesus’ finished work on the cross – He did it all [Ephesians 2:8-9] – achieving for me that which I had been unable to do on my own. I immediately sensed a release of all my strivings when I realized my God-given desire to please Him was fulfilled, not in my never-ending checklists and duties, but in his own Son. I find my place at the banquet because of the Beloved.

Other evidences?

I received a new and lasting affection toward God. From then on, I have had a bend toward the things of God. I am hungry, still, after more than 30 years, to move “further up and further in” as C.S. Lewis put it.

A spiritual sensitivity to my offenses against God has increased not decreased over the years. Conviction of sin, which targeted first only my behavioral sins, has expanded its sanctifying work in me by addressing also those outwardly-imperceptible sins of thought and motivation as the Holy Spirit continues to form the new man in me.

Scripture began to make sense to me (1 Corinthians 2:14). I’ve read it now seven times and it continues to teach me. Each time I take up the Book, I still find it speaks to my soul, shapes my thinking, and magnifies Yahweh.

I have a filial connection to the Body of Christ, the Church. I am bound to fellow believers in a way that transcends race and ethnicity, geo-political boundaries, and socio-economics. I am not only bound to those believers in my local church, but to those who claim the name of Christ in my city, country, and around the world. Watching the global news these days, 1 Corinthians 12:26 is played out many times over: If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. This connection and association with the Body transcends time as I look ahead to worshiping around the throne with believers from ages past, present, and future.  There is a unity of the Spirit which we recognize in each other that goes deeper often than the unity of many blood relations.

Lastly, I have a deep-seated soul-peace when I consider the security of my eternal destination. Until I take possession of it, I bear the seal of the Holy Spirit (as the above evidences attest to) and He is the guarantee of my inheritance to come. I no longer wonder and hope and fret over my place in eternity. I walk this world now as a stranger and wayfarer, but I am confidently making my sure way to the Celestial City.

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pilgrims progress

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me? who caused his pain! For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shoulds’t die for me?

He left his Father’s throne above (so free, so infinite his grace!)
Emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, for O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread. Jesus, and all in him, is mine.
Alive in him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine;
Bold I approach th’ eternal throne and claim the crown through Christ my own.

[Text: Charles Wesley]

Dana and I were asked to write our “God story” this week in our application for membership to a church we’ve been attending now for 2½ years.  May God alone receive all the glory in the telling of it.

Dana

I was raised in a Christian home by believing parents who taught us the Truth from our earliest ages. Besides teaching and living the Word at home and bringing us to church every week, they often brought us to hear various speakers. When I was a preschooler, I think it was late Fall in 1965, we went to hear Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, the founder of Voice of the Martyrs, speak. He had recently been ransomed from a Communist prison after many years. I recall that Pastor Wurmbrand gave a clear Gospel message and ended with an alter call. Even as a preschooler I felt very drawn to step out and go forward. I did not, however. During the car ride home I talked to my mother about what I had felt and recall saying something to the effect that, “I bet that was the Holy Spirit wasn’t it?”

My parents had taught us enough that even as a preschooler I knew that God worked in us through the Holy Spirit. I had never actually “heard” and personally experienced Him until then.

My memory is not absolutely clear on the chronology, but sometime soon thereafter, possibly that night, as I was going to sleep I prayed and confessed my sin and asked Christ to be my savior. I was filled with the sweetest sense of well being a 3 or 4 year old could imagine. I can’t say that I sky rocketed in growth and maturity. I would say I grew in the Lord in rather quiet, steady manner.

The story of my regeneration is not dramatic in the way of some who live many years outside of Christ before being saved. I didn’t “get into any trouble” and was what most would call a “good Christian boy.” I did, however, fail to integrate in practical ways the truth of my salvation with my life. I knew I was saved and why, but this truth had not yet fully broken into my perception in a way that connected the material world I lived in with the eternal reality of my heavenly home (if that makes sense).

When I was a sophomore in college I acquired my first study Bible and began to read the Word for myself with more regularity. The Fall of that school year I went with Kim (now my wife) to see a Billy Graham movie. I think it was The Prodigal. I recall thinking that it was “OK”, but not being super “wowed” by it. However, after the show Kim and I went for a walk and I began to be struck by how little thought I ever gave God most days. I recall crying and crying and saying that, “I’m so far from him so much of the time.” Some might say that’s when I was born again, but I know that happened when I was a little child. I think that God said, “It’s time to grow up now, Dana, and get to know me and learn to live with me and for me.”

That was probably what a lot of people call “recommitting” their lives to God. For me it just felt like a crushing sorrow over the great ungrateful neglect with which had treated my Savior who so loving called me those years earlier.

Since being saved as a little boy, and more so after my deeper awakening that Fall, I would say that God has steadily grown Himself in me and opened my eyes to see him at work in my life more and more and my ears to hear him more and more. He has kept me from a great many griefs that I know my unsaved nature would have willingly run into had the Spirit not been in me to direct my way. In particular, He has placed in me a love for and joy in His Word. I love to read it, hear it preached, study it with others and help others grow in their comprehension, appropriation, and application of it. In more recent years He has been opening my eyes more and more to apprehend the beauty and magnitude of His grace toward me in the gospel. Instead of growing accustomed to grace, I’m more and more awed and likely to be moved to tears over it.

By God’s unilateral grace, I live in the blessed assurance of seeing Christ face to face and spending eternity in his presence because Jesus paid the penalty for my sin, bearing the full wrath of God until it was completed. I know that God accepted Christ’s death as my substitute for my sin debt because this was validated by Jesus’ resurrection when “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Jesus had no sin of his own, so having fully born the wrath for mine it was not possible that death should hold him. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that my sin has been paid for. Since “there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and I am in Christ by faith in his death and resurrection on my behalf and by the grace of His call, there is no basis for keeping me from the promised inheritance.

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:16-18

Kim

I have had a reverence for God and a love for Jesus since my childhood and I knew that Jesus had died for my sins; but in fact, I did not know how to appropriate his death to my sins.  The denomination of which I was a part taught that I and all others in the church became members of God’s family upon our baptism as infants in that church.  This denomination also taught a works-oriented religion meant to keep us in good standing before God.  My hope was in clean, devout living and regular church attendance.

When I was in elementary school, I remember responding to a televised Billy Graham crusade and writing to receive follow-up materials.  When I was in high school I received a small New Testament/Psalms/Proverbs from the Gideons.  I began to read it on the bus in the mornings on my way to school.  That was an exciting time.  I did not understand everything I was reading, but the Word of God was giving me a sense of joy and wonder as the light of truth began to peak through the darkness of my understanding of God.

It was in college, however, that I was born again.  I had been reading a book entitled Why I am a Lutheran to better understand the denomination my boyfriend (and future husband) belonged to at the time.  It was in that book in the Sears break room during my lunch hour that I first read Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourself; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

The Holy Spirit used this key Scripture to impress upon me my inability to contribute anything toward my salvation.  Just as “something like scales” fell from the apostle Paul’s eyes and he was filled with the Holy Spirit and could see; I, too, experienced scales of darkened understanding falling away.  I was filled with the Holy Spirit (not in a charasmatic manner) and only then could I see the gospel clearly.  I understood then that my salvation was solely secured by a trust-worthy and able God.

I remember a loop repeating over and over in my mind, “He did it all…God does everything…there’s nothing I can do!”  Like those referred to in Hebrews 4:2-3, the good news had come to me in the past as to others, but the message I heard had not benefited me, because I did not combine it with faith.  Still striving in the flesh, I was kept from God’s “rest” (Hebrews 4:9-10).  Just as the Hebrews in Egypt needed to actually take the blood and apply it to their doorposts to be saved, I finally understood how to apply Jesus’ death to my sins—through faith and faith alone.  I understood then that all of the work of my salvation had been done by God himself.  “Jesus paid it all.  All to him I owe.”

When I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as the only means to rid myself of the eternal punishment that hung over me, the Holy Spirit set his seal on me.  I had been justly held responsible for my sins which are an affront to the very nature and character of our holy Creator.  However, wonder of wonders, the sinless Jesus became my sin while on the cross and bore the punishment that was to be mine.  He bore all the wrath of the Father in my place until it was completely spent, leaving nothing but God’s propitiousness toward me.  What’s more, this God who had seemed distant and “other,” came near to me and revealed himself as an intimate, knowable Father.

I have walked as a new creation ever since.  I was given a new heart with a fixed allegiance to love and serve God and I was given a new mind to discern God’s Word and his ways. My inner self is being renewed day by day and I believe by faith that I am being conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

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