What if Salvation is More Like an Ambulance Ride?

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It started with a podcast. I’ve been mentioning Alisa Childers on my Facebook page and blog for a couple of months now. Her podcast and its interviews of various incredibly-smart-Christians has been rocking my brain. And I love it.

My husband, who also started listening to Alisa Childers, found this particular two-part series first. Consistent with his systematic approach to life, my husband started at the beginning and has been slowly working his way through the episodes in numerical order. My approach is more haphazard. Basically I just scroll through the options, see what sounds interesting, and listen to that.

Anyway, my husband asked if I’d listened to the podcasts on Molinism yet. He went on to say that he didn’t really like these episodes because they were complicated and confusing. He also didn’t think he agreed with the guest who seemed to say that everyone was saved unless they rejected Jesus.

What in the world was Molinism? I’d never heard of that before. I expected it to be some strange cult that Alisa and her guest were refuting, but my husband said that they appeared to agree with the theology. I skeptically checked out the podcasts the next day.

And I’ve been thinking and processing ever since.

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Photo credit: Wikipedia

Molinism refers to the teachings and theology of Luis de Molina, a Jesuit priest and scholar from Spain who lived in the 1500s. Molina was part of the Reformation, but unlike more well-known reformers such as Luther and Calvin, Luis de Molina chose to stay within the Catholic Church and try to reform it from the inside out. His attempts didn’t work since the Church rejected his teachings.

Molina attempted to reconcile the Scriptures that talk about free will with the Scriptures that also talk about the sovereignty of God. Rather than reject the idea of human free will, like John Calvin, Luis de Molina saw the opportunity for both. He suggested the concept of Middle Knowledge: that God not only knows everything that has and will happen, He also knows all of the “what ifs” that lie in-between. To put it in more modern terms, God knows all of the different timeline possibilities (thank you Avengers). Therefore, God is still sovereign and totally in control, but in at least some instances, He allows humans to choose. This concept is known as Libertarian Free Will.

This intense theological thinking definitely boggles my mind and I know it’s an intellectual stretch from some of my other blog posts. But, I really believe that wondering about theology is good for us! Paul told the Philippians to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

As I skeptically listened to the podcast episodes, Alisa and her guest, Tim Stratton, starting discussing analogies regarding salvation. They agreed that salvation is totally the work of God and tried to explain what little part we play in it. Alisa suggested that salvation is like a sick person going to the doctor and being given medicine. It’s their choice to take the medicine or not. But Tim wanted to take it a bit farther and this is where I’ve been stuck ever since.

He roughly quoted author Kenneth Keathley’s  Ambulatory Model of Overcoming Grace. I know this because after I heard the episode, I looked it up. Here is the blog post on Tim Stratton’s website called FreeThinkingMinistries.com.

And here is Kenneth Keathley’s model in his own words.

“Imagine waking up to find you are being transported by an ambulance to the emergency room. It is clearly evident that your condition requires serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express regret and give warnings, but he will still let you go. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you incur the blame for refusing the services of the ambulance.”

Tim Stratton, after discussing this ambulance model said these words that have embedded themselves in my brain ever since, “If you do nothing, they will save you.”

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My brain struggled to reconcile this new idea with the theology I’d always been taught. But my heart resonated with a God who was this big and loving. I cried my way through the rest of the podcast.

The idea within this Molinistic view is that God’s grace and forgiveness is available to everyone. (Something I agree with.) We are able to resist God’s grace and reject Jesus. (Something I also agree with.) However, if we do not resist, God will bring us to the place where He saves us. (A new concept I am still wrestling with and yet find myself wanting to accept.)

If you do nothing, they will save you.

When I think about this Ambulance Model regarding personal salvation, I totally resonate with it. Waking up in an ambulance and allowing your EMT’s to take you to the hospital requires just a couple of minor things from you. First, you have to become aware that you are in trouble and need saving. And second, you have to recognize that these guys can save you. Then you have to let them. Is it just me, or does this just scream the Real Jesus?

It’s not Universalism, the idea that everyone goes to heaven no matter what, although I supposed people could take it that way. I am not a Universalist, nor do I intend to ever go there. I’m not saying that by doing nothing, or staying neutral, we will be saved. I still strongly believe Jesus’ words in John three.

“Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” John 3:18.

Jesus death on the cross is the only way to be saved. But, too often God gets viewed as distant and angry. Religious Christianity says that we need to do the right things in order to appease Him. Salvation becomes something we attempt to achieve by a series of correct behaviors.

What if the Divine Trinity is more like a team of EMT’s? They not only want to save us, they are fully capable of doing it. All we have to do is agree that we need saving and let them save us. Just do nothing. 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8-9.

As much as I adore this view of salvation, I also love this picture of sanctification. So much of our relationship, or rather our lack of a relationship, with God is based on resistance. Whether it’s lies we believe about Him or about ourselves, an idolatrous love of earthly things, or sin we refuse to let go of, it often feels impossible to change. But what if real life and healing is found in letting go? What if repentance is simply changing our mind and admitting that we need saving? If you do nothing, they will save you.

It’s also called surrender.

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Could the Real God be so big, and so powerful, and so full of love, grace, and forgiveness that if we do nothing He will save us? From sin? From lies? From ourselves?

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” Galatians 5:1.

My guess is that when we stop resisting, He will come close. He will do the work He has wanted to do for a long time. We will be amazed at His love and mercy, and His indescribable beauty will cause us to love Him in return. Because we love Him, we will want to obey Him and through that obedience we will experience even deeper closeness. By doing nothing, we will find the life that is truly life.

Imagine that you are on that gurney in the back of the ambulance. What does it look like for you to lie still and let the Holy Team of EMT’s save you?

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Chasing Eden

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Something isn’t right. We know it in the very core of our being. We see it every day in the news, in our relationships, and in the creation around us. We are surrounded by death.

Beauty and brokenness. Hope and disappointment. The contradictions overwhelm us.

Life is a struggle. Relationships hurt. We sense the wrongness.

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Our longing isn’t just spiritual or metaphorical. We can tangibly and physically feel the ache for something that we can’t exactly explain.

It seems like religion should make a difference, believing and doing the right things, but even that falls short of satisfying our emptiness. This is shameful to admit…because people say that God is the answer. We hear Christianese phrases like “there is a god-shaped hole in our hearts” and we wonder what’s wrong with us. If this is true, then why isn’t religion filling our hole?

Once upon a time, there was a garden…Eden.

In that garden, for however briefly it lasted, God walked with the people He had created in His own image. They knew what His footsteps sounded like. The people lived in perfect intimacy with God and with each other…with nothing between them and without any shame. But they lost it, and humanity has been chasing Eden ever since.

Do you believe that? Or is Eden just a pretty myth?

We do ourselves a disservice by dismissing Eden. That garden explains everything to me.

I was created to live in Eden…created for an intimate relationship with my Father God and with the people around me. Created to live in a perfect world where everything works according to it’s design. In the depths of my broken soul, that is what I long for…that is why I am never satisfied. I was made for more. You were too.

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We are magnificent creations trapped in broken bodies in a corrupted creation. Everything and everyone has been affected by sin and death. Destruction is a part of life.

No amount of religious activity, or busyness, or social media, or money, or status, or anything else will ever satisfy our ache for Eden. We will live with that ache until we die. But there is hope!

Too often salvation gets presented as a list of behaviors.

  • We do bad things (sin).
  • Those bad things need punishment.
  • Jesus died on the cross to save us.
  • Pray this prayer.
  • Now go do good things to show that you really love Jesus.

Wow! That’s not even close.

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Salvation is about restoration.

Yes, sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. But before they behaved badly, they were already doubting God and listening to lies. Their perfect relationship with Him was already breaking. It wasn’t a surprise to God…He knew this was going to happen and He made them anyway. Why? I haven’t a clue!! God is way too intense and crazy for me to figure out. 😀

Salvation isn’t about our behavior. It’s about God’s unending grace, love, and forgiveness.

Jesus came and showed us WHO God IS…face to face. Shocking the religious people, amazing the crowds, and touching the broken, Jesus reached into our hearts and began to restore. He started by restoring our concept of God. God is not who our doubts and fears tell us He is…He is only better, bigger, and more good.

Jesus then grabbed sin and death around the neck and annihilated them. He effortlessly destroyed them once and for all. Jesus set us free.

But even better than seeing God face to face and having Him be nothing like we feared He was, and even better than being set free from the power of sin and death, Jesus put Eden into our hearts.

The Holy Spirit, that mysterious third member of the Trinity, comes to dwell within everyone who chooses to put their faith in Jesus. God within His creation. The possibility of oneness with our Maker. And the restoration continues. The Holy Spirit never leaves us…no matter what it feels like. He empowers us, teaches us, and begins to remake us into the amazing creation we were intended to be. We get to dwell with God NOW and for eternity. That’s salvation!

It’s more than religion, more than behavior; more than belief. It’s a new reality.

What does experiencing Eden in our hearts look like? I don’t know. I think it’s different for everyone. God is not limited to one cookie cutter experience. There isn’t a right Sunday School answer. This isn’t about religion. 🙂

For me, it means embracing the discontent and reminding myself that this is my pull towards eternity. It means recognizing that there is more to life than the physical things around me. It means accepting the reality of a mysterious Spirit and learning to know Him. It means giving value to the people I run into every day.

In these truths my heart can find hope, peace, and satisfaction. ❤ What does Eden mean to you?

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Knowing (Experiencing) Jesus

This is a condensed repost of two earlier blogs I wrote a couple years ago. It was on my heart again. 🙂

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There is a huge difference between knowing about someone and actually knowing them.

I write and talk a lot about legalism and religious Christianity vs a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It sounds good in theory. I’d much rather have a friendship than a list of rules to follow! But how does it work?

God often feels like a celebrity to us. We know (or think we know) a lot about Him. We read articles, blog posts, and books about Him. We listen to sermons, podcasts, and songs about Him. We hear lots of people’s opinions of Him, both positive and negative. But do we actually KNOW Him personally?

How do you get to really know someone like God?

I believe that everything God wants to tell us about Himself can be found in the Bible. One of the things that He tells us over and over again is that if we looks for Him, we will find Him. Check out some of my favorite verses.

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Paul speaking to the religious but lost people of Athens said:

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God promises that if we look for Him, we will find Him. He says that even if we have our eyes closed and are bumping around in the dark feeling for Him, we will find Him because He is close by. God wants a relationship with us! He wants us to KNOW Him, not just facts about Him.

Jesus made this relationship possible! We can’t get to God by doing good things, following all the rules, praying a prayer, raising our hands, or going forward in church. We can only get to God by trusting that Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:17-18

This is great news! But, how do we actually experience a relationship?”

When you get to know someone like the God of the Universe, you have to think outside of the box. He will blow your mind. You might not understand or being able to explain Him. And that’s okay with me!

God often seems kind of crazy, and He doesn’t usually make sense. Experiencing Him might make you cry, a lot, even when you’re not sad. But, He will also make you laugh. His love is ridiculous, and overwhelming, and amazing.

There is no magic formula for being a friend of God, no three step process. But, here are some suggestions.

  • Become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes we think we know what the Bible says, but we actually know what people SAY the Bible says. It might surprise you to actually read it for yourself. I highly recommend Max Lucado’s “The Story”. It’s a fantastic overview using actual chunks of the NIV with some summary in between.
  • Intentionally take quiet time away from noise and electronics. While I was in college, I used to go sit on a bluff at a cemetery overlooking a lake. It was beautiful, and peaceful, and made me think about how short life is. Now, I just try to get up before my children. Haha!
  • Tell Jesus you want to know Him, and wait for Him to “show up”. This is actually the best part. Because if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior, then His Spirit already lives inside of you. So, it’s not really Him showing up as much as it is you slowing down and becoming aware of His Presence.

What does is look like, sound like, feel like when Jesus becomes real? It’s different for everyone, but chances are you have already experienced Him and just didn’t recognize it. Sometimes it’s like this:

  • A song comes on the radio and it’s exactly what you needed to hear.
  • You are listening to a sermon or podcast and you start wondering if the person speaking is psychic or has been reading your journal.
  • As you read the Bible, a verse just jumps out at you in a way you never saw before.
  • Your friend calls/texts/messages you with a truth that you needed to hear right then.
  • Something really hard happens but you have a strange peace about it.

This is God, the Creator of the Universe, speaking to you, being intimately involved in your life. The more you become aware of God’s Presence, the more you will recognize Him.

Will you take a chance, and step out in faith, and ask Jesus to make Himself real to you? You were created for a relationship with Him. This is the true point of Christianity. You will not regret it!

 

But We Need Jesus (A Book Update)

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I’m sitting here at my favorite hipster coffee shop, feeling the vibe…feeling creative and artsy, and hoping to be inspired. I’m praying that I can explain what I’m thinking in a way that will make sense. 🙂

Friends, there are so many confused and broken people in this world! And we who call ourselves Christians have the answer for them…we have the good news about Jesus…the best news, the most amazing news! BUT…

It has to be more than just information.

Because logically, it doesn’t totally make sense. Intellectually, it’s kind of offensive. Culturally, it’s becoming irrelevant.

Words can’t convince people. Arguments can’t convince people.

But a life changed, overwhelming love and grace, total faith in something we cannot explain…things like that, proof of the Spirit of Jesus living inside of us…these are the things that make people wonder and think, even if they still question and doubt.

I’ve had three conversations in the past few weeks that are sticking with me in ways I didn’t expect.

  1. I was thanked for being kind by a person who has recently had Christians say terrible things to them because of something they are dealing with.
  2. I shared the good news of Jesus with a teen and listened as they prayed, trusting Jesus as their Savior, witnessed tears and smiles as they became a new creation.
  3. I listened, asked questions, and then shared my beliefs about Jesus with someone who believes in God but finds the Bible difficult to take literally.

These are my favorite conversations, my favorite types of experiences. They make me crave more. It’s amazing!

Confession time: I have been allowing doubts and fears to stop me from following God. I have allowed people’s opinions of me and my abilities to stop me from obeying Jesus. Ever since the agent I was working with turned me down, I haven’t even looked at my book proposal. It’s been three months. I let people shape my identity instead of Jesus.

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But these conversations the past few weeks…they are reminding me that I have a story to share. I have a passion and a message. His name is Jesus.

I don’t need to be perfect to share this message of love and hope, I just need to be willing. I will never have it all together, but that’s okay! I’m not supposed to…after all the message isn’t about me, it’s about my Savior who does the forgiving and saving, and shows the grace and love. I need Him just as much as anyone else!!

My heart for the lost world is for them to meet Jesus.

My heart for Christians is for them to actually meet Jesus and be able to share Him with the world.

I want you to so believe and experience Jesus that He completely changes your life. I want you to understand your salvation so well that it is effortless for you to share it with others. I want you to be at a place where you could sit in front of an entire coffee shop of people and talk about Jesus in such a real and compelling way that they would listen even if they didn’t believe…

Christian brothers and sisters, I want you to believe the truth about who you are in Christ with your heart, not just your mind. I want it to be life and not just knowledge. Not rules, not standards, not religion, but LIFE. Because we need the real Jesus. And this world needs the real Jesus. We are dying without Him.

And so, I am going to pursue this whole book thing again…until God clearly closes the door or until He flings it open. Please pray for me! Especially that I will believe the truth about myself. who I am in Christ, and not allow my identity to be shaped by people and their opinions of me.

 

Embracing Our Sin

Oh wow, guys. I am a truly awful person!

That’s not how this blog post was supposed to start. I had my post finished, scheduled to publish tomorrow at 7am, and was talking with my husband before bed. I decided to read it to him. And guess what? He wasn’t a fan. Hubby decided to make a few critiques and we got in a nice little argument. And then I got stubborn, and irrational, and trashed my post (which WordPress fortunately saved for me anyway.) We continued to fight while getting ready for bed, and then enjoyed some stubborn silence in the dark. I was doing a great job making excuses for my actions, words and attitude. Then it hit me: this was a great introduction to the point I was trying to get across in my article! I rolled my eyes at God’s humor, practiced embracing my sin, hugged and apologized to my husband, and got out of bed to tweek this blog post.

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The truth is, all of us are a sinful mess. There is nothing that we do, apart from Jesus, that isn’t affected somehow by sin. So glad I could be your example! Ug!

It is incredibly painful, to come to that place where you look at your own heart and life, and realize there is nothing good inside of you, that all of it is tainted by sin. Even worse, there is nothing we can do about it. It goes against our natural pride to admit it, to accept it.

If you are like me, we tend to justify and excuse our sin. “My husband was being rude and inconsiderate, so he deserved what he got.” That’s just a taste of what was going through my head… Agh! It sounds so much worse in writing. But it’s true, we want our issues to be someone else’s fault, we want to feel vindicated, and we want to pretend it’s not wrong.

Or, we like to cover up our problems with a good coat of pretend perfection. I didn’t have to tell you about what a jerk I was tonight. I could have just smiled and said nice Jesus things in this post. I could have made you feel bad about yourself, but made you think I had it all together. We do this. We try to fake out the people around us. We even try to fake out God. Guess what? It doesn’t work!

What if we stopped making excuses, stopped pretending, and just embraced our sin?

What do I mean by embracing our sin? I DON’T mean that we just accept our sin, and live in it, and make excuses for it. I DO mean that we become honest about our mess, with ourselves, with others, and with God. Why?

Because Jesus is the most beautiful when we are the most broken. We cannot fully appreciate Him when we are trying to be perfect on our own or when we are attempting to justify our sin. When we see our desperate need, then our salvation comes alive! Because there in the wreckage, Jesus meets us and offers us forgiveness, life, and a relationship with Him.

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I love these words from my friend, Richard. “I was broken, broken down to the reality of how much I needed a savior. I was just as bad as the most vile person imaginable. Like Jesus says “looking at a brother with hatred, is the same to God as murder”. Strangely, I found hope in that thought. It was like I could quit “trying” to be good. So I surrendered.

What stops us from getting to this point?

Why are we so reluctant to face our sin?

Maybe our sin is what’s stopping us from dealing with our sin. Maybe we are too prideful to want to admit it, and too selfish to want to stop it. Maybe we are too self-absorbed to realize that what would truly satisfy the cravings of our heart is a genuine relationship with the God who created us.

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I want to learn to embrace my sin.

It’s pretty easy to look inside my heart and see that I am broken (as I so clearly demonstrated for you tonight). I’m FAR from perfect, more of a royal mess actually! So, what do I do about it? I could look at my sinful heart and become depressed or discouraged (that’s really pride). Or I could start making excuses and try to ignore my mess (pride again). But, I want Jesus!

I want to embrace my sinful state (yup, that’s who I am) and fling myself at Jesus.

One day Jesus was talking with some religious leaders who thought there were pretty good. An obviously sinful woman came in and was scandalously loving on Jesus, crying over his feet and anointing him with expensive ointment. The religious leaders were horrified, but Jesus had this to say, “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47

It’s not like any of us only “sins a little”, but sometimes we think that’s true. And as a result, our love for Jesus is small. Seeing our sin, the very depths of the yuck in our heart, the secret things we struggle with, the thoughts, motives, etc…and realizing how lost we are…accepting and embracing that as truth…well, that makes us love Jesus MORE! I don’t know about you, but I want MORE!!!

I am going to stop pretending, stop making rules, stop justifying, stop making excuses, and just ask the Holy Spirit to show me the truth about my sin. And then when I see it, and am horrified, I am going to run to Jesus: to the cross where He died in my place, and to the empty grave proving His power over sin and death. I’m going to throw myself on Him and His mercy, believing that I am forgiven, that despite what I see, God seems me blameless through Jesus. I am going to LOVE Him, and keep getting to know Him because I CAN!!!

 

 

 

A Million Ways to be Saved

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Mel slowly admitted how distant she felt from God, how distant she had always felt. Even though she had walked the aisle at church multiple times and given her life to the Lord on numerous occasions, she still felt disconnected.  “It’s like there is a blockage between us,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “And I just can’t figure out what it is.”

“What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)

Ask this questions to different Christians and you will probably get multiple answers.

  • Pray the sinners prayer
  • Ask Jesus into your heart
  • Raise your hand, walk the aisle, etc
  • Make Jesus the Lord of your life
  • Repent
  • Be Baptized
  • Admit, Believe, Confess (ABC)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit
  • Etc.

Good old “Christianese”, the words and phrases that we Christians throw around without considering their meaning. It’s a problem, and I’m guilty too. Until a few years ago, answering the question from Acts 16:30 terrified me. Honestly, I avoided having to “share the gospel” if possible. When an opportunity presented itself, I often went with kind but meaningless things like “God loves you” or “I’m praying for you”. Those words sound nice, but they aren’t the Good News!

It wasn’t until I went to Bible school (at Frontier School of the Bible) with my new husband, and sat in a Personal Evangelism class taught by Dr. Richard Seymour that it finally clicked!

Strangely enough, I wasn’t the only one there who had never understood salvation. My college friend, Kristine, who had been in church her whole life, ended up trusting in Jesus because of Dr. Seymour’s class. Something he says happens every year!

Seriously? Every year people who love God enough to want to go into full-time ministry come to Bible school, hear the clear gospel, and get saved? What is wrong with our churches? Maybe it’s our Christianese!

What exactly is it that saves us?

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

By grace, through faith, not by works. As in, it is not based on anything I DO! Well, that knocks off praying a prayer, raising a hand, walking an aisle, repenting, being baptized, etc.

What about “Ask Jesus into your heart”? This phrase is incredibly confusing, especially if you take it literally. And who does it get used with most? Incredibly literal children.

The Bible tells us that we are given the Holy Spirit once we are saved as a guarantee of our salvation. So, we don’t have to ask for Him to come in. Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9-10. 

Revelation 3:20 talks about Jesus standing at a door, knocking, but it is not talking about the “door of our heart.” And, when you read it in context you will see that the verse is being written to a Christian church and it is not talking about salvation.

Hmmm… So, why do we use this phrase when telling someone how to be saved?

And, “make Jesus the Lord of your life?” This is the idea that in order to be saved, or as an evidence of salvation, a person must completely surrender, give Jesus total control, and make Him “Lord”. Isn’t Jesus already the Lord whether we live like it or not? And isn’t this basing our salvation on works?

I feel like this approach has good intentions, but misses the mark because often people end up either trusting or doubting based on their own actions…if they are making Jesus Lord. There is too much emphasis put on me and my performance, and not enough emphasis on Jesus and what He accomplished for me on the cross. Christians who believe in lordship salvation have a lot of verses they use to back up this idea, but I’d encourage you to look them up and put them in context.

So, then, how can I be saved?

I listened to my new friend as she shared her heart and her frustrations with Christianity and God. She wanted to be close to God, but it wasn’t working. I asked if I could share some verses with her. We turned to John 3:16-18

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (A familiar verse) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” 

“What if you have always struggled to feel close to God, because you never understood salvation?” I asked. “What if you were always trying to do something instead of believing in and accepting what Jesus has already done?

Mel examined the verses in front of her. “Can it really be that easy?”

I smiled, “I think it is.”

She signed, and I could almost watch a weight fall off her shoulders. Then she smiled.

I don’t know if that was the moment Mel trusted Jesus, but the when and how aren’t really important…the important thing is that we do!

What do you think? Too easy? What are you reacting to? What emotions are you feeling?Want to know more? I’d love to hear from you!

I included a link to Dr. Richard Seymour’s website. I’m also including a link to a Facebook note about salvation that I wrote back in 2008 after sitting through Dr. Seymour’s class. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Would We Miss Him?

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If Jesus came and visited my church would I recognize him? Would you? Most of the religious people missed him last time.

The Pharisees were some of the religious elite. They looked good on the outside. They not only followed the rules in the Law, they made up more rules and followed them too. They read and taught the Scriptures. But when God showed up, the promised Savior of the world, these same religious people missed him. In fact they didn’t just miss him, they claimed that he was a drunkard and that he was possessed by a demon! God, the Creator of the Universe!

Ironically, these “good” Pharisees were the only people Jesus condemned. He spent a lot of time telling parables about them, ignoring their rules, and challenging their ideology. Why? Jesus met “sinners” in the dirt, loved them, forgave them, and set them free. Why was he so confrontational with the Pharisees? Would he be confrontational with me? I think this is the answer.

The sinners knew they were sinners. The Pharisees thought they were good enough. Grace is only good news if you know you need it.

When I am in the dirt (like the woman caught in adultery in John 8), totally aware of my sin and my mess and my unworthiness, Jesus can sit down there with me and show me grace. He loves me and forgives me even though I don’t deserve it. Jesus overwhelms me with grace because that’s who He is, and I stand in awe and can’t help but love Him in return.

But, if I think that I am good enough because of the list of rules that I am following, if I think that my outward performance is impressing God, if I am standing in pride, then Jesus can’t show me grace. Grace means nothing if we think that there is something we have done to earn it.

I really believe that Jesus’ motivation behind every confrontation with the Pharisees was to show them their sin, to show them that they weren’t good enough, that they would never be good enough.

These religious people thought that God gave the Law so that people would follow it and be good enough to impress Him. They thought it was a checklist to perfection. But Paul tells us in Galatians 3 that God gave the Law to show us our sin, to show us that we couldn’t do it, and to remind us that we needed a Savior.

God’s standard is perfection. In order to be with Him, we have to be perfect. (Psalm 5:4) Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I’m out of luck! Still, He wants us! God wants a relationship with us! That has always been His goal. The consequence of sin, disobedience to God, is death. (Romans 6:23) But God loved us so much that He came to die in our place (John 3:16). If we believe this, that Jesus died in our place for our sins, then God forgives us, adopts us as His children, and gives us eternal life! (John 3:16-18 Jesus is talking to a Pharisee!) That is good news! There is nothing that we can do to earn forgiveness. And there is nothing we can do to earn God’s blessings or impress Him once we are saved.

I’ve met a lot of Christians who look more like Pharisees than Jesus followers. And I can say this because I was one once.

If Jesus showed up at your church with shaggy hair, maybe an earring or two, wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, with Christian rap music blaring out of his rolled down car windows, would you recognize Him? Does this description make you angry? Uncomfortable? Does it make you laugh? Let me know what you think!

I’ll be sharing some personal stories in the next few days about how I stopped being a Pharisee and embraced being a sinner.

Someone was Missing

empty-cross-01Growing up, I didn’t hear much about Jesus, except for the commands he gave (many of which were taken out of context). The teachings I heard in ATI/IBLP, and from other legalistic speakers, seem to mostly focus on God as He is revealed in the Old Testament. They point out His holiness, His perfection, His hatred and judgment of sin. They remind us of the stories where He killed sinners with plagues, hailstorms, snakes, and earthquakes. They focus on the law that God gave the Israelites, and the thunder, smoke, darkness, and trembling mountain that came with it. God seems unapproachable, harsh, and frightening. God becomes this Deity to be served and obeyed out of fear. The requirements of the law are shoved down our throat as God’s demands.

What they seemed to miss is that God also showed His love, mercy, and salvation at the same time: for instance, when He saved Noah and his family from the flood, rescued Lot from the town of Sodom, and protected the Israelites by making a way through the Red Sea. The Old Testament is full of stories like these, full of verses that show God’s love, and that talk about His patience and forgiveness. These are just a few examples!

The Bible claims to be the very word of God. It reveals the person, nature, and character of God to us. It tells the story of humankind and our relationship with the One who created us. God doesn’t change. He really is huge and powerful. He really is perfect and holy. He really does hate sin. He really does punish sinners. And, He really does love the people He created. The whole Old Testament is the story of God pursuing the people He created. The people ignore Him, forget Him, reject Him, disobey Him, and He just doesn’t give up! From the very beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey their Creator, God promised redemption; He promised a Savior. He continues to remind people of this promise all the way through the history books, the poetry books, and the prophecy books of the Old Testament.

Without an understanding of the huge, scary, holy, just God we see in the Old Testament, we cannot fully appreciate what happens in the New Testament. Because, God turns the full force of His hatred of sin, His judgment and punishment of sin, on His own Son, Jesus Christ. That’s how much He loves us!

Jesus Christ, fully human and yet fully God, comes and spends 33 years on earth. He loves, He Heals, He teaches; He rejects the legalistic “righteous” Pharisees and hangs out with the people who know they are sinners. But, people hate him, humanity hates their creator, and so they kill him. In His death, Jesus Christ, the only person who doesn’t deserve to die, takes the total and absolute punishment of the sins of the world upon himself. He is tortured and dies one of the most agonizing deaths ever invented.

God dies.

God, the same terrifying, earth shaking, law giving, God of the Old Testament murdered His Son…for you and for me. Because He wanted us. And this was the only way. He never gave up on us. He did everything that needed to be done. That’s how much He loves us!

When Jesus died, one of the things that happened was that the veil in the temple, the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies (where the very Presence of God dwelt) was torn in two from top to bottom. This was a serious curtain! They believe that it was 60 feet tall, 30 feet wide, and 4 inches thick! It showed the separation between God and humankind, separation because of His holiness and our sin. But when Jesus died, God tore the veil! There is nothing, absolutely nothing standing in-between us and God anymore, nothing stopping us from having a relationship with Him, from experiencing His love and acceptance. Jesus did it all, and all we have to do is accept His gift.

This is the story of the real God; we can find it in the real Bible. This is the real good news, the real gospel, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners so that they can know Him and enjoy Him forever. Maybe like me, you were lied to and truth was twisted and taken out of context. Maybe Someone was missing from the “Christianity” you experienced. Here’s my suggestion: throw all the garbage away, but don’t throw away Jesus, instead look for the real one!

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because He has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:16, 18

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“‘You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you’, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29:13-14