Posted in encouragement, glory, joy, praise

A Sinner’s Joy Unspeakable

Sunday, and every day, is a good time to think about our salvation. And I do. I’m forever grateful, fully knowing my sinfulness, reprobate mind, and hate toward God prior to salvation.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)

How humbling it is to know that though I hated Him, He loved me, and in His due time, He brought me to salvation.

I’m often struck by Jonathan Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. the image of the gossamer thread holding us aloft while we dangle unknowingly over the open flame of hell is a potent one. I wrote this poem, and then below my poem are the excerpts from which I took inspiration from Edwards sermon and his book religious Affections.

With all Due Gratitude Toward the One Who is Able to Save
By Elizabeth Prata

Sinking in sorrow and shame
A slender thread
was enough
to keep me from the flame

The slender thread
The blood of Christ
My sin my shame
His blood sufficed

He lifted me from the muck and mire
Forever free from damning hellfire
Turning to Him who loves and saves
Fearing never the darkest graves

The slender thread pierced my cold dead soul
To worship life’s eternal flame
In one fell stroke
Sin’s power no longer my yoke

What sweet refrain can I freely sing
What joy in Jesus forevermore,
His blood it banished
My sins from east to west, O King!

~EPrata

“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.” — By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, ~Jonathan Edwards,Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

After the Bad News, comes the Good News

1 Peter 1:8: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Their joy was full of glory. Although the joy was unspeakable, and no words were sufficient to describe it, yet something might be said of it, and no words more fit to represent its excellency than these, that it was full of glory; or, as it is in the original, glorified joy. In rejoicing with this joy, their minds were filled, as it were, with a glorious brightness, and their natures exalted and perfected. It was a most worthy, noble rejoicing, that did not corrupt and debase the mind, as many carnal joys do; but did greatly beautify and dignify it; it was a prelibation of the joy of heaven, that raised their minds to a degree of heavenly blessedness; it filled their minds with the light of God’s glory, and made themselves to shine with some communication of that glory. ~Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections

Posted in easter, joy, resurrection

Resurrection Sunday!

What strikes me very forcibly is this—no mere man going to his grave could say, “I have power to take my life again.” The departure of life leaves the man necessarily powerless—he cannot restore himself to life. Behold the sacred Body of Jesus embalmed in spices and wrapped about with linen. It is laid within the sealed and guarded tomb—how can it come back to life? Yet Jesus said, “I have power to take My life again.” And He proved it. Strange power—that spirit of His which had traveled through the under lands and upwards to the eternal Glory—had power to return and to re-enter that holy Thing which had been born of the virgin and to revivify that flesh which could not see corruption.

Behold the dead and buried One makes Himself alive again! Herein is a marvelous thing. He was master over death, even when death seemed to have mastered Him—He entered the grave as a captive but left it as a conqueror. He was compassed by the bonds of death but He could not be held by them. Even in His burial garments He came to life—from those wrappings He unbound Himself—from the sealed tomb He stepped into liberty. If, in the extremity of His weakness He had the power to rise out of the sepulcher and come forth in newness of life, what can He not accomplish now?  ~Charles Spurgeon “The Power of the Resurrection

Posted in encouragement, glory, joy, suffering, the masters seminary

Reblog from The Master’s Seminary: "Teach Your People to Suffer"

I work with people who have lost children to accident, or miscarriage. I work with people who lost spouses, who have been through trauma or war. Below is a wonderful essay in which the author recounts the agony and the blessing of his and his wife’s trial, and the suffering they endured to the glory of God. The author’s point is:

Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering!

Originally published at The Master’s Seminary

Teach Your People to Suffer
Eric Dodson February 29, 2016

My lovely wife and I were sitting in a parenting class at church, when the chairman of the elder board came and asked for us. Actually he asked for “the parents of Calvin Dodson.” Slightly embarrassed, thinking our little one must have thrown a fit, or done something else to show we really needed the parenting class, we got up and went with him. 

As we left the room and headed down the stairs, he let us know that our 8-month-old son had experienced a seizure and that the nursery staff had called 911. Stunned, we came in his nursery room to find our son—our youngest at the time—being tended to by a nurse. He had blue lips and barely moved. It was terrifying. 

That scene began what has turned into a nearly three-year trial that’s included many trips to Children’s Hospital LA, two of our sons experiencing multiple seizures, sleepless nights, many tears, and the dreaded news that their condition could end their life before adulthood.
It’s been a terrible trial, and it’s been an incredible blessing. 

That may seem impossible to say, and three years ago, I might not have believed it myself. But the truth is that this trial—the most suffering we’ve ever faced—has been an immeasurable blessing. It has been such a blessing because of the amazing church we attend, a church with leaders who prepare their people to suffer. 

Friend, if you’re a Bible-study leader, Sunday school teacher, and especially if you’re a pastor, I beg you: prepare your people for suffering! 

Suffering is a present reality. 

Just turn on the news, and it’s obvious that today’s culture is a living testimony to the truths of Romans 1. As society continues to rebel against God, reject his teaching, and increase in unrighteousness, suffering is the inevitable result. We live in a fallen world filled with disease, political strife, wars, racial tension—evil! As those who shepherd God’s flock, we must prepare them to live in such a world. We must prepare them for suffering. 

Christians should expect suffering. 

Not only should we prepare our people for the suffering that results from living in a fallen world; we must also prepare them for the unique suffering that is guaranteed for those who follow Christ. Suffering is part of the Christian life. Scripture speaks repeatedly of the suffering Christians are bound to face (Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 1; Philippians 1:29, 3:8-10; Colossians 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; James 1). Nearly the entire books of 2 Timothy and 1 Peter are devoted to helping Christians deal with suffering. Christ warned the church of Smyrna that they would face great suffering (Revelation 2:9–11). Scripture makes it abundantly clear; Christians will suffer. If we are to teach the whole counsel of God, we must teach our people about suffering.
Suffering produces sanctification. 

Scripture not only promises that Christians will suffer; it also tells us that suffering is not without cause. In fact, we are to rejoice in our trials knowing that they are one of the tools God uses to make us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4). What an incredible encouragement that is! We must not help our people avoid suffering or be chiefly concerned with helping them escape trials as soon as possible. We must encourage them to learn from their trials, to rejoice in the sanctifying work God is doing through their suffering. 

Suffering increases fellowship. 

One of the oft-overlooked benefits of the church as the body of Christ paradigm is found in 1 Corinthians 12:26: 

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it… 

It’s difficult to overstate the impact suffering can have on the depth of fellowship within the body of Christ. Suffering provides the church a unique opportunity to grow in compassion, understanding, and love for one another. Trials provide a chance for the church to truly, practically bear one another’s burdens, and to model the love of Christ for the world. 

Suffering produces hope.

One of the greatest gifts of suffering is the contrast it provides with the glory that is to come. Paul celebrates this truth beautifully in Romans 8:18: 

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

Friend, that is far more than a religious platitude. That is glorious truth! The great hope for Christians—suffering any type of trial—is the unfathomable glory that awaits. Our suffering ought to point us to that. Our trials ought to increase our anticipation, increase our longing for future glory. 

There is coming a day, when the curse that weighs heavy on this world will be lifted, when the redeemed of the nations will worship together free from persecution, when there will be no more conflict, political strife, or war. There’s a glorious day yet future when no one is scraping pennies just to get by, no wife loses her husband to cancer, no more little boys with seizures. The trials of this day point us forward with ever-growing expectation of that glorious day.

* * * *

Eric is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary, and shepherds a Bible study through the Cornerstone Fellowship Group at Grace Community Church. He works as a Broadcast Copywriter at Grace To You. He and his wife, Tara, have three sons.


Posted in demon possession, encouragement, john macarthur, joy, S. Lewis Johnson, salvation, sin

The joy of submitting to Jesus, and the tragedy of rejecting Him: two anecdotes (and a third)

There are two responses to the Gospel, yea or nay. Here is S. Lewis Johnson with an anecdote about a person who said yea.

Paul, His Gospel, and Thomas Jefferson

George Cutting is a man who is best known for the fact that he’s the author of a little pamphlet. You usually find it in tract racks of Christian churches. It’s entitled, “Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment.” Mr. Cutting was just a simple Christian man who went around preaching the gospel. He was also a business man, as I remember, and one day he was bicycling through Norfolk in England. He was an Englishman. And he said it was early in the morning, and as he was going through, he was a very quiet man, he suddenly gained from the Lord the distinct impression that he should shout out a Bible verse. And so, right in the midst of this small town, there were just a few houses around, he shouted out “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” He said he cycled on a little bit longer, and the Lord seemed to say definitively to him, “Say it again.” So he said he shouted out, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” 

Six months later he was visiting in that little village, and he was doing, as he frequently did, just knocking on door after door. His first question, he said, was always, “Are you saved?” That’s called the direct approach. [Laughter] So a woman opened the door and he said, “Are you saved?” And she said, “Oh yes. About six months ago I was in great distress of soul. I plead with God to help me, and even while I was calling upon him, I heard a voice cry out, ‘Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.’” And she said, “I was startled. I wondered if I had really heard right.” She said, “I prayed again to the Lord, and I said, “Lord if that is the message, repeat it again.” 

[Laughter] And she said, “And I heard it again and I trusted Christ, and I’m saved.” And Mr. Cutting had the joy of telling her that it was he who had called out the verse. That’s preaching. You know, when Paul tells us to be instant in season and out of season. And imagine there were lots of citizens in that little village who thought that it was very much out of season to hear a Bible verse shouted out early in the morning from one of their streets. But it was in season for that lady. 

there is only one response to the message of the apostle, and that is to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ. Does salvation come by praying through? No. Does salvation come by paying the church? No. Does salvation come by good works? No. Does salvation come through religion? No. Does salvation come through some religious ritual which we practice, baptism, or sitting at the Lord’s Table? No. Does salvation come through the organization of the Christian church? No. You must be born again.

Here is John MacArthur with an anecdote on a person who said nay.

The Tragedy of Neglecting Salvation

And so, we believe it is a warning to the intellectually convinced, those who have heard the gospel, know the facts about Jesus Christ, know that He died for them, know that He desires to forgive their sin, know that He can some into their life and change their life but are not willing to receive Christ as Savior. And may I hasten to add that’s the most tragic category of people in existence. And I’ve told you a story once before that points it up as graphically as anything. I’ll never forget on one occasion when a lady came into my office and informed me that she was a prostitute. And she said, “I need help” And I said, “I guess you do.” And she said, “Please, I’m desperate.” 

And so I presented the claims of Christ to her from beginning to end and I said, “Would you like to invite Jesus Christ into your life?” And she said yes. She said, “I’ve had it.” She was at the bottom to say the least through the dope scene, the whole bit. So she prayed a prayer and evidently she invited Christ into her life. And I said, “Now,” I said, “I want to ask you to do something.” I said, “Do you have your little book that you have all your contacts in with you?” And she said yes. I said, “Well, let’s just take a match here and we’ll burn it.” And she looked at me and she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Just what I said. I mean, if you’re really going to live for Jesus Christ and you’ve really accepted His forgiveness and you really met Him as your Savior, let’s burn that book and we’ll just have a little party here and just praise the Lord.” And she said to me, “That’s worth a lot of money.” She said, “That’s worth an awful lot 

Then she said to me, “I don’t want to burn my book.” Put it in her purse and looked at me right in the eye and said, “I guess I don’t really want Jesus, do I?” And she left. 

Now you see, there was somebody who when the..when it really came down to the nitty gritty and counted the cost, she wasn’t ready. I don’t know what the story of that dear girl is. My heart has often ached for her and I’ve often thought about her. But I do know that she knows the facts and she believes them, but she’s not willing to make the sacrifice. And it’s a bad bargain, for what she kept wasn’t worth anything compared to what she could have had in Jesus Christ forever.

These days in 2015 it is not popular nor even accepted to speak of hell or demons. But they exist, they are active in the world, and they still do possess people, just as they did in the time of Luke 4:31-37. That’s the passage John MacArthur was preaching when he related this anecdote:

This is a rare thing. I’ve preached the gospel for a long time and only about three times in my whole life have I ever heard demons speak, been confronted. One of them was a few weeks ago, I told you about last week, right down in the front when a demon-possessed person came running down the aisle after I was preaching the gospel, exalting Christ’s power over the kingdom of darkness, came at me and said, “Why are you attacking me? Why are you trying to hurt me?” Which is exactly what the demon said here.

But it was some years ago when I had first come to Grace. We had built the family center and we were having services there before we built this facility. It was a Sunday night and after the service was over I was over having some food with somebody from the church and I got a call from Jerry Mitchell who was here a few weeks ago. He was on the staff at the time. He said, “You’ve got to come down here, John, I’ve got a…I’ve got a girl in here whose got all kinds of demon voices.” He had never experienced anything like this and I never had either. And I said, “Well I don’t know if I could be much help but I’ll come right down.”

So I came down, I walked in and there was chaos in the office. It was over in the building by the family center, and I walked in and the place was in disarray and it was obvious that she had been terrorizing things. She had overturned the desk and poor Jerry who was a boxer in the Navy was having a hard time defending himself against this girl, and that is characteristic of New Testament accounts where there’s a certain level of strength that’s beyond normal. And I’ll never forget the greeting when I walked in the door. I walked in the door and this…out of this girl’s mouth — whom I had met and with whom I had spoken because she had been coming to the church — came this voice, and I can’t, obviously, replicate it. But in my memory I know what the voice said. It’s something like: “Not him, not him, not him, get him out, get him out, get him out,” to me.

Well my first reaction was, “I’m leaving. I’m not sure I’m up to this.” Wow! And my second reaction was, “They know who I am and they know whose side I’m on, that’s very affirming.” It was affirming. I sort of started feeling apostolic. Paul I know and Jesus I know and John MacArthur, you know? Wow! Amazing!

I don’t think that demon was afraid of me humanly. I don’t have any human power to deal with demons. In fact, Jerry and I didn’t know what to do. We started trying to send the demons away. We sent them everywhere you could think of, the pit, the abyss, Phoenix, anywhere hot, you know. And the bottom…the bottom line is they didn’t go anywhere and so we just were praying and saying, “You know, this isn’t working, this casting out thing isn’t working. I’m not Jesus and we’re not apostles and we don’t have authority over that kingdom.” There’s only one way that this girl will ever be delivered and that is when Christ delivers her in the act of salvation.

So we wrestled, literally physically trying to restrain her and get her in a chair and she was so exhausted physically and finally calmed down and we gave her the gospel. And she confessed her sin. I’ll never forget it, just really gushed out her sin before the Lord and embraced Jesus Christ and then it was just this calm that came everywhere. There was deliverance. Nothing to do with me, nothing to do with a formula, nothing to do with an exorcism, nothing to do with that at all, that…that is not what deals with demons. She needed to be delivered from the kingdom of darkness, you understand that? And she was. She was.

The demon was terrified of me not because of something I could do in the human. The demon was terrified of me because the demon connected me with the message of the gospel. And the demon knew that if the gospel came to this girl and she believed that he was finished. And that’s exactly what happened. She was as clean as the driven snow after that and never had another occasion of that kind of terrifying experience.

Anyone who is not of Christ and in His sheepfold is under bondage to the god of this world, satan They are serving him, whether they believe it or not. And anyone who has not confessed their sins and submitted to the Gospel is at risk for being possessed by a demon.

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Does that means He might be far? Yes. Someday, He might turn a person over to their sin in a hardened heart and salvation might not be possible after that. His grace, peace, mercy, and love is manifold. Having the gentle and lovely Spirit inside of us is a ‘burden’ that is easy. As we saw from the anecdote about the demon, having satan in us is a burden that is harsh and heavy. How many woes lay in the demon direction, and how many blessings there are in Christ. Seek Him while ye may!

Posted in chris powers, encouragement, full of eyes, joy, titus

Awaiting the Blessed Hope

Here is a beautiful drawing from Chris Powers of Full of Eyes Ministry. His picture brings to life the verse from Titus 2:12-14,

training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

I’m waiting for the Blessed Hope, so eagerly and excitedly.

Chris’ artist statement is:

In these verses, Paul’s point seems to be that the grace of God teaches us to be godly pilgrims in this life, living in the world as faithful people of God, and yet always waiting, always hoping, always looking for the appearing of our great God – Jesus Christ. I have always been struck by the beauty of Paul’s contrasts here….directly after affirming that Christ is “our great God and Savior,” he adds “who gave Himself for us.” Christ’s deity and His sacrificial death are placed side by side as a reminder of the depths of His love and the beauty of His character…..our God is the One who gave Himself for us….and the God who gave Himself for us is the One whose glory will one day dissolve earth an heaven in His appearing……how stunning it will be for believers on that day! 

The One whose beauty is splintering the skies and whose majesty is terrifying the nations,  that same one  is the one who loves us and gave Himself for us….wonderful.
In this image I wanted to show that the believer is a pilgrim and yet always lives with the “sight” (by faith) of Christ’s appearing before their eyes….He is our great hope.

Chris Powers illustration, Full of Eyes Ministry

I can’t imagine what it will be like when we hear the trumpet and the Voice calling us home! I can’t imagine our joy, and our amazement and our relief and our surprise and our worship. I can’t imagine what it will be like to live in a body that is un-corrupt and free from sin!

The Christian life is hard. As we grow more toward the holy end of the spectrum the more we hate our own bodies, minds, and hearts. Not because we have low self-esteem, as I used to think before I was saved, but because we know how our sinful acts blot the name of Jesus and are against Him and Him alone. We love Him so much, He being of perfect character and beauty, that when we sin it’s hurtful to our own selves more and more. Our very bones groan in agony. Psalm 6:1-3 captures it

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
2Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long?

And that brings us back to the Titus 2:12 verse. The spirit is training us to renounce ungodliness and live self-controlled upright lives, while we wait for the Blessed Hope. He is Blessed, and the Hope is great! Turn your countenance toward heaven, see the joy set before you (by faith) and know that one day, our joy will be by sight.

Posted in encouragement, joy, scripture

Interlude: The Scripture cannot be broken

I’m working on a very hard-hitting and uncompromising blog essay. In these apostate times it’s easy to become depressed at all the false teaching, the turning aside of beloved friends, the wolves coming out of the woodwork. God promised this, He said it would happen and it is.

But His promises of faithfulness are just as sterling and perfect, too. Before I do publish the essay I’m working on I wanted to stop for an interlude. There is a verse I love. It is John 10:35-

If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—

The verse is part of a longer conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, but let’s focus on the fragment inserted into the verse: scripture can’t be broken.

In today’s world, everything breaks. I have a Weber Showcase & Fixture Co. turn of the last century Banker’s Chair. It is heavy oak, with a steampunk mounting and swivel that would hold a tank. It is well made. Only in the last year did it break. The threads stripped enough so the chair won’t stay high at the table for me to use it. In the beginning of the 20th century and the century before, they made things to last.

Now, everything’s broken. We have broken marriages, broken homes, disposable toasters, throw away watches. Your TV breaks? Buy another. Dishes are no longer carefully handed down from generation to generation, when they break, just go to Target and buy some more.

Scripture CANNOT be broken. It will never be broken. Pulpit Commentary says of the John 10:35 verse,

cannot he broken; loosed, destroyed. A fine testimony to the confidence which our Lord exercised in the Holy Scripture. He was accustomed to educe principles of life from its inward structure, from its concealed framework, from its underlying verities.

S. Lewis Johnson says of the verse

There is one other point I think we ought to notice. And that’s that little statement, “And the Scripture cannot be broken,” in John 10 verse 35. That gives us some idea of our Lord’s view of the word of God. The Scripture cannot be broken. It is of indefectible authority. It cannot fail and the things that it teaches cannot fail either. All of the designs and purposes of the word of God shall be accomplished, just as all of the designs and purposes of the Son of God shall be accomplished. The Scripture cannot be broken. That’s striking isn’t it?

What joy to see our Savior model complete trust and rest in His Father’s word. We do the same. We know that though false religions will come, and wolves and destroyers; so will peace, fulfillment of all the scriptures, and everlasting promises of the Lord our God.

The scripture cannot be broken. In wrapping ourselves in the scriptures, we cannot be broken either. No matter how  upsetting, no matter how concerning, no matter how terrible things get, all the promises God said would happen will happen- including His working things to the good, our coming hope and joy, the Banquet, the rapture, Jesus with us in person, eternal perfect worship. All of it. Because…scripture cannot be broken.

EPrata photo

Posted in christian life, condemnation, joy, prophecy

Do you struggle with condemnation? It’s not complicated. Don’t.

Post-salvation, do you ever feel any condemnation, or ever struggle with it? A lot of people do, especially new Christians. I don’t want to seem super-spiritual or anything, but I don’t struggle with condemnation. I’ll tell you why, and maybe it would be encouraging.

Accused of being dogmatic all my life, I always saw things in black and white, right and wrong. People said that as I grew up I’d come to know that there are gray areas.

Do you see any gray there?

I mulled that over for a long time but rejected that notion, there is no gray area. There is only right and wrong, dark and light, good and bad, etc. The “seeking” of the rest of my life was to discover a philosophical construct which fit my innate sense of either/ors.

Buddhism seemed excessively complicated. Wicca seemed excessively simple but trying to be complicated. Islam, well, Islam is just crazy. Catholicism had too many rules, and they contradicted each other.

I found my dogmatism, my either-or perspective, satisfied in Jesus.

In Him there is law/grace, broad road/narrow road, condemnation/forgiveness, in Christ/out of Christ, heaven/hell. A great gulf is fixed. Everything with Jesus is clear and simple. Not simplistic, because Christianity is the most complicated and deep philosophy/religion/way of life one can ever study, but simple in its approach. The Gospel is often rejected because ‘it can’t be that simple’.

Let’s take a look at a scene. At the end of the Tribulation, Jesus will have blinked out all the lights in the universe. There will be no moon, no sun, and no stars. Earth will be wrecked so probably no electricity. It will be dark. It will be dark for a while, because Jesus says no one knows the day or time the son of Man is coming. (Matthew 24:36).
whoever does not believe is condemned already. John 3:18

Then all of a sudden a blinding light fills the sky. JESUS is coming in wrath, and with condemnation on His lips, and His glory is undimmed, unveiled, and no other light competes with it. It terrifies the inhabitants of the earth! They fall down and hide under the rocks and in caves, crying out

“Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (Revelation 6:16-17)

If I think myself condemned, or have done an action that Jesus would condemn, I think of that scene. Am I there? NO. I am not one of those unbelievers hiding under a rock and begging to escape the notice of the Lion of the tribe of Judah? NO!

Well, since Christianity is either-or, and if I’m not there, where am I? HERE:

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:11)

So I never struggled with condemnation, because it’s either-or. If I think about my sins, former or present, sure, I’d feel condemned. It is a heavy weight to know I fail Jesus even today, with the Spirit in me. But I don’t think about it. If I do, I’d be putting myself on the place of those poor blasphemers in Rev. 6 at the coming of Christ, hiding under the rocks and terrified of His approach. I’m not there, that’s not me. So, who am I? I am forgiven, in the light, embraced by Jesus who knew me before the foundation of the world. It simply isn’t profitable to think of being condemned, and we’re told not to:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Not that we don’t feel bad when we sin. I certainly do. But the glory of Christ is His intimate relationship with us, and my opportunity to bring my mourning over my sin to Him and ask for forgiveness.  He delights in His children and wants to forgive. As for the unnecessary feeling of condemnation?

It’s not complicated.

Jesus went through excruciating pain and agony in order to satisfy God’s wrath. He took our punishment so that we would not be condemned. Therefore I will not diminish His work by adopting an attitude of condemnation.

It’s not complicated.

If we have the faith of a child, we won’t overcomplicate the message. We’re co-heirs with Christ, in us there is no condemnation. (Romans 8:1). Why purposely burden my life with a gray area of endless options for feeling condemned in my sins when Jesus stripped it all down to two? We are either outside Christ and condemned or we are in Christ and forgiven. It’s that simple.

Posted in Apostle Paul, joy

Can we really do all things through Him who strengthens us?

What Christian isn’t familiar with one of the New Testament’s most famous comfort verses?

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

It is good to be reminded that it’s His strength and not our strength which propels us along in sanctification. It is good to be reminded that He is our all, and that all is possible.

However too many people misunderstand and misuse the verse. It does not mean I can attain whatever desire I have through Jesus. And it doesn’t mean Jesus plops all things or all strength down into us fully formed and ripe for use.

Let’s back up a little and take a look at what came before that verse. There is more to it than what many Christians of today take the verse to mean.

Paul said several times that he learned contentment. Learned it. He had to work at contentment, and learn the skill of practicing contentment over his long road of personal tribulation.

The two verses which precede the all things of verse 13 are:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” [emphasis mine].

What Paul was learning is the power of Christ as the daily means of sanctification as he strove to holiness, and ultimately, contentment in all circumstances.

Paul had to consciously strive toward contentment through constant practice of cultivating it through reliance on God’s provision and promise. And he is not talking of self-sufficiency here, but of a diminishment of worldly desires as he strove to do all things God would have Him do in the name of Jesus.

Paul had many trials and difficulties. Paul isn’t saying that Jesus plopped down a supernatural contentment to his heart as he took a deep breath and relied on Him to do all things through Him. Not at all. As a matter of fact, Paul admits to dissatisfaction covetousness brings, in Romans 7:8. Through all his varied circumstances, Paul is saying, he had the opportunity to practice being content in the circumstances he found himself in, because those circumstances are divorced from earthly measures of contentment and joy. He had to learn it. This indicates an active participation on the part of the Christian.

Whenever Paul was low or high, had plenty or hunger, abundance or need, didn’t matter, because Christ was strengthening him in love, growth, joy and the other treasures we hold dear. If we divorce our joy or contentment from worldly things, what remains is Christ! Through Christ, all things are possible! Paul learned that. It took him a while and he had to work at it. But what glory for the Savior when we learn it.

So be careful what you are really saying when you say “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Are you working at learning how to do all things, apart from our flesh and distinct from the baggage of worldly wants? No matter your circumstances?

Phil Johnson preached on it recently, and this little note is a summary of what I took away from his sermon. I found his sermon exposition to be tremendously enlightening and inspiring. For a full explanation of what that verse means, I encourage you to take a listen and /or look at the transcript.

How to Find Contentment in a World of Discontent

Pastor Johnson ends his sermon this way:

“By the way, verse 13 contrasts wonderfully with Jesus’ statement in John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” If the boundaries for “all things” that you seek to accomplish are set by the express commands of God and the righteous example of Christ, then there truly is no limit to what you can do through His power. That is the secret to true contentment. It’s not really a complex mystery. But the reason it is so difficult to learn is that it entails the mortification of our worldly lusts, our carnal ambitions, our selfish pride, and our ungodly attitudes.

“Hard? Yes, it’s a lifelong pursuit. But it is by no means impossible. “[We] can do all things through him who strengthens [us].”‘

Posted in endurance, joy, perseverance, trials

Personal testimony: reclaiming joy after a heartbreak

I am in the midst of finalizing the last essay regarding the LORD’S Four Sore Judgments: beasts. But I felt compelled to leave off that till tomorrow, and write something of a more personal nature today.

I have written once or twice about personal things, but mostly I keep it technical so the focus can on Jesus and the Word. I also personally hate to write about emotional things. But here goes.

It has to do with how I handle devastating personal attacks or heartbreaking betrayals. If you are a bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian in today’s world, I don’t care where you are in the world, America or Iran or anywhere in between, the world hates you. At some point you will have to endure a devastating heartbreak for Jesus’ name.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20a).

“Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12).

It is especially difficult when those revilings against you come not from the world, but from within the confines of the safest place where you thought you could be safe: your own church and from people who profess Christ. I wrote about the State of the Church a while ago, and how more and more churches are turning into sheep-shearing or sheep-slaughtering factories by false teachers or pastors who run them. The case of church carnality and abuse is dealt with in Part 5a, Part 5b, and Conclusion. Unfortunately personal attacks and/or betrayals inside churches are becoming more frequent, and many of you have written to me about your own stories.

Now, I am not talking about the minor day-to-day slings and arrows of life. Sins abound and people are going to get on your nerves, say the wrong thing, take credit for your work, lie, cheat and steal, in the workplace and some of them happen even in church. That’s life and we forgive and move on. I’m talking about the devastating things that happen that make you want to quit church forever. The kind that set you back years in your walk. The things that happen where you just want to throw in the towel. The big things.

Fortunately I have had only two of those. I am a baby Christian, lol. I know there will be more. Here is what I do:

First, I get very angry. That’s the flesh. This kind of anger is different from righteous anger. When I am reviled against I get mad because my feelings are hurt. So I rant and rave in my head or at home alone out loud. I say stupid things, like “I pray that he dies of a thousand plagues!” Or, “I hope his tongue shrivels up!” That doesn’t last long, because that kind of lashing-out anger is bad. If I said anything or even thought anything negative about the person, I repent sincerely to the Father. I know the flesh wants to rear up and be mad, and to some small degree I let it because I’m human, after all. But I really try to let the Spirit restrain my sin, because that would be all the more for me to repent about! I do not let myself stay angry for longer than a day. I take my action from this verse:

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Ephesians 4:25-27)

When that anger simmers down I cry or get depressed. I lay around moaning “I can’t take any more.” Or “Why me?” Or something equally piteous. I’m useless to anyone, I can’t think or function well. That goes on for a day. Then I stop it.

Like Bob Newhart said in his famous comedy skit, “Stop it!” How does one stop one’s self from feeling anger or sadness or grief over a hurtful situation we are currently enduring? Emotions and thoughts are a choice. We don’t feel love, we choose love. How else to explain marriages that successfully endure for fifty or more years? If one of the spouses bailed every time they felt mad, every marriage would fail. They persevere in love even when they don’t feel love. I want the joy of Jesus. I am in the depressing part of the cycle. There is a gap, and I will not reach that joy unless I move my body and change my thoughts.You choose it. Anger is a choice. Hurt is a choice. In that way I simply choose to stop feeling mad. I do this 3 ways.

1. Move the body. To move my body, I rouse myself, I get off the couch, and I resume normal life. Chores, shopping, cleaning, no matter how minor, I do it. I make my body get up and do something normal. Do the dishes. Cook some soup. Vacuum the rug. Whatever. And I keep doing that normal thing even though I don’t feel like it, until it feels normal again.

2. Capture the mind. As for the emotional thought process, I stop thinking about the wound. The first thing I want to do is constantly rehash it all over in my mind. When the thoughts come into my head to relive the event or the hurt, whatever it was, over and over, I stop it. I certainly don’t talk about it. I deliberately capture every thought. (2 Corinthians 10:5). If what I am thinking is weakening me through negative emotions and hindering my joy, then I stop thinking about it. Satan is too sneaky and Jesus is to important for me to be sidelined by grief or upset. So what? I’ll be happy in heaven. For now, I have work to do.

People put too high a regard on their feelings. Feelings are temporal, fleeting and deceiving. I allow the hurt and grief to have expression through tears or anger for a short time, and then it is time to get back to work. When I sink into my problems they tend to become large and Jesus becomes small. When I concentrate on Jesus, my problems become small and He becomes big. Therefore,

3. Concentrate on Jesus. Spiritually, I reclaim my joy through Jesus. Jesus IS my joy and He is the path to my reclaimed joy in the dark times. To that end, I spend a lot of time reading His word. It washes me. I spend a lot of time listening to hymns (not contemporary praise music, which is as empty as a tin can rolling down a tumbleweed highway). Old Hymns have doctrine in them and therefore are edifying. I sing and I talk aloud, either bible verses or the music. And last, I listen to sermons. I am not feeling the joy yet. BUT I KNOW I WILL.

Singing, praising, listening will allow the Spirit to apply truth to your mind and comfort to your heart. Let Him do it. Instead of running to my dark place, I run to the Light.

My own process involves gravitating to sermons about Genesis 1 at the dark times. Listening to sermons on Genesis 1:1 helps me to put my problems in perspective! The majesty of God the creator is revealed in Genesis and His eternity and holiness and power compared to my puny problems puts myself into perspective in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. He is great and good. I am not. And yet, He loves me. I begin to feel the joy again.

I apply Philippians 4:8-9 here:

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”

And guess what? Putting off the negative, holding on to what is good, praising His name, washed in the word, pondering the noble and performing praiseworthy things does the trick. Pretty soon I feel the Holy Spirit’s strength flowing back into me! I start feeling the heartbeat of joy again! He wants to lift us up! If I just continue walking He meets me more than halfway and showers grace and strength to me! He wants to do that abundantly for everyone, you included!

Source

Persevering in the faith is not glamorous. It is hard, hard work. It doesn’t happen by magic. There is no genie who will wave his wand over you and all your feelings of heartbreak or betrayal will go away. Persevering in the faith, to me, means putting one foot in front of the other. Each day. Some days if the dark time has come and I’m enduring a trial, means I do so mechanically, tearfully, slowly, but even though I’m moving slowly, my eyes are fixed on Jesus!!!!! Keep your eyes on him and the joy will return. He wants to comfort you! He shed His blood for you, didn’t he? He wants to restore you.

Don’t let grief or satan or anything steal your joy. It sounds like an oxymoron, but some days we just have to work at being joyful. One day my faith will be sight, and He will wipe away my tears. My heart will be full of love, never to experience another heartbreak or betrayal. What a day that will be! Meanwhile I’ll close not from the bible, but John Prine lyric, “A heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.” Don’t you want a strong, courageous heart? Wash those stains with Jesus’s blood. It will come out clean and strong, I promise. Better yet, HE PROMISES.

“let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22)

“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:3-5).