Grace & making effort: Are they compatible?

We know the message and it comforts our hearts. In his grace God pours out salvation upon us, the undeserving. We can be redeemed, made holy and adopted as God’s people because our salvation rests upon Christ, not our righteousness. Furthermore, the cleansing power of the Messiah’s blood is greater than any sin we might bring to him.

So, how compatible is grace with the command to make every effort to live up to God’s calling? If we feel like these are opposing ideas, we would not be alone. Continue reading “Grace & making effort: Are they compatible?”

Salvation and purpose

Salvation and purpose is an odd title. Yet, failure to distinguish between these ideas entangles them to the detriment of one or the other.

On the play ground, we can easily distinguish between becoming part of a team and what we are to do as team members. However, open the Bible and we might find ourselves blending what is distinctively different.  Continue reading “Salvation and purpose”

Are we as bad as ancient Israel?

There are three ways we can read the history of Israel in the Old Testament. We can read with disinterest, arrogance or humility. Only one of these is acceptable to God.

We read with disinterest because we don’t care about what happened to them. Moreover, we likely don’t see any real value in the Old Testament. In doing so, we set ourselves at odds with God.

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4, NKJV).

Continue reading “Are we as bad as ancient Israel?”

Satan helps us find a Church

by Richard Mansel, managing editor

Edgar attends a congregation that is devoted to Biblical truth (Colossians 3:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He holds Scripture sacred and is very happy with his church family. Spiritually, the sun is shining brightly on his street.

As happens in a sinful world, days change and a storm front moves over the horizon, threatening bad weather. Spiritual trouble comes to the lives of Edgar’s children and his love causes him to fiercely protect them.

His offspring resist the Scriptural efforts of their church family to get them to repent (Matthew 18:15-17). Edgar’s broken heart leads him to leave his principles behind to stand with his flesh and blood.

Edgar searches for reasons to validate the behavior of his children. He seeks the counsel of people outside of the church and he begins reading literature by popular religious authors.

These writers speak about a smarmy version of  love, grace and mercy that promises Edgar that God will not judge his children. Satan has set the trap and Edgar has swallowed the bait (1 Peter 5:8).

Edgar thinks he has found shelter but the safety is an illusion. He has fallen prey to the serpent, the master deceiver (John 8:44).

If our own inner peace takes precedence over our respect for truth and God’s will, we are in spiritual danger. Satan has a brand of grace and mercy that promises salvation but instead delivers deadly venom.

Satan will whisper in our ear that the church we attend is wrong and enslaving us. We need to be liberated from the narrow-minded so we can run to the arms of the enlightened ones who no longer need Biblical authority.

Safe in their clutches, Edgar and his children find that their so-called sins were only in the minds of the hypocrites. They are told that God opens his arms wide to celebrate their life-choices. They are joyous and tell everyone about their new church.

In their exuberance, they have failed to notice that the puppet master is pulling their strings. Not only has Satan led them to leave God’s Church, but they have actually become cheerleaders and missionaries for apostasy. They have been used and their reward will be an eternity in hell.

Satan’s false definitions of grace and mercy are guaranteed to find countless adherents. Satan’s voice sounds exactly like ours. While we see ourselves in the mirror, we can’t see the invisible strings moving our mouth as Satan searches our hearts for our greatest desires.

To combat these temptations, we must be submissive and put our souls over our desires if we will ever “come to ourselves” and return to the Father before it is too late (Luke 15:11-32).

If we do not fully die to the flesh, we will never be born to the spirit (Romans 6:1-13). Daily, we must examine our lives so that we do not allow our fleshly aspirations to consume us all over again. It requires courage and fortitude but heaven is worth any price.

 

When God's children fall away

by Stan Mitchell

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

I lay down in a rowboat on pretty Lake Alexander, in Zimbabwe, soaking up the warm sun. It was one of those days when the sun is just warm enough to make it pleasant, but not so hot as to become uncomfortable. I was no more than two feet from shore, and I allowed my eyes to close for a few moments, enjoying a perfect quiet.

I must have dozed off. When I awoke the warmth of the sun was gone. My eyes opened to the dark green shadow of a pine forest. I was on the opposite side of the lake, about a mile from where I had started.

The boat had drifted unbeknownst to me while I slept. Had the chill of the forest not awakened me, I might have drifted into considerable danger, perhaps near the spillway edge, and over to my death.

What happens to the child of God who falls away? This is a question I have pondered often.

  • Were they insincere when they first named their Lord in baptism?
  • Did they genuinely intend to give Christ a lifetime of service?
  • Was the Christian life they chose unexpectedly hard?
  • Were their hopes dashed upon the rocks of some unkindness at church?

I have heard the excuses. I have had the finger pointed at the church, and at me. I wasn’t too hurt, for I sensed that mostly these alibis were attempts to deflect responsibility away from the speaker.

Satan has no doubt been busy; we can count on that. But what has happened to the child of God who has fallen away?

I think that most Christians simply drift away, in the words of the Hebrew writer. They are lulled into a false sense of security, and before they are aware, they have drifted far from their intentions.

The drift is so inexorable, so slow, the boat’s movement so gentle, that they are not aware of how far they have drifted from the shore. Sometimes the chill of life far from the Son wakes them up in time. Other times, they simply never know until it proves too late.

As you read these words, I want to ask you, kindly, lovingly. Have you checked your distance from shore recently? How long has it been since you prayed? How many Sundays have you missed? Pay no attention, please, to the other voice, the one that whispers, “The sun is warm. Go back to sleep.”

Wake up and feel the cold of distance from the Son.

Navigating your spiritual life

Sitting beside the retired 747 pilot in a single engine Cessna, I immediately froze upon hearing his disturbing words: “I am going to let go of the yoke now.  You will be flying the plane.”

His patronizing comment, “you will do just fine,” was not very reassuring.

I thought this was supposed to be a joy ride, not a recruitment tool for Flight School 101. Nevertheless, I am still here today in spite of his later insistence to stall the plane, just so that I could experience being propelled toward the ground at some insane speed. His goal? Relieve any deep-seated fear I might possess about a plane stalling!

What I did learn that day was the importance of the flight instruments. A pilot does not check just one gauge if he hopes to arrive at his destination. Rather, the cockpit contains a whole slew of instruments such as an altimeter, a magnetic compass, an airspeed indicator and an attitude indicator.

Writing to the early Christians, Peter provided them and us with flight instruments to ensure we will arrive at receiving a rich welcome into “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11, NET.)

Although God has provided everything necessary for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), a saved individual might deviate from a godly flight path thereby leaving Christ far behind.

To prevent such a falling away and to ensure we receive the promises contained in God’s calling and in his having chosen us, Peter counsels Christians to make every effort to stay on course by closely monitoring their flight gauges (2 Peter 1:10).

If you find Christians who have fallen away from serving Christ, I can show you individuals who did not make every effort to pay attention to their instrument panel. At some point, the forgiveness they had received slipped from their view as their lives adopted another direction.

Maybe a crisis was the initial impetus for faith faltering, but no attention was paid to the warning light. Or perhaps self-control failed or godliness floundered because they succumbed to that insidious wedge known as temptation.

Embarrassed or feeling guilty, they began to forsake the assembly cutting themselves off from encouragement and attitude correction.

To follow this avionics analogy, since God has provided the plane, all the fuel, the flight plan, and even food for the journey, Peter commands that we pay attention to the cockpit instruments. 

“For this reason, make every effort  to add to your faith excellence,  to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish  love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Peter promised we will arrive at the goal, if we will remain diligent about staying on course.  This is not complicated. This is a matter of our heart.

Taking Both "Be Prepared" And "Saved by Grace" Seriously

by Barry Newton
Repeatedly, I have experienced authors and preachers emphasizing one idea while ignoring another. Either they tend to focus upon Jesus’ insistence that how we live determines if we are prepared for judgment or they gravitate to Paul’s message that we are saved by grace, not works.

Can visiting those in prison make us right with God or can we rely upon grace regardless of our lifestyle ethic? Continue reading “Taking Both "Be Prepared" And "Saved by Grace" Seriously”

Titanic and How We leave the Lord (3)

 

by Richard Mansel

The builders of the Titanic were remiss in several areas and doomed the mighty vessel to the bottom of the ocean. Their failures mimic our steps to apostasy. Their lessons are ours as we discover how Christians leave the Lord (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-31).

We examined how their pride and inattentive safety measures felled the great ship.

Third, they had a weak foundation. Experts who study the Titanic’s hull tell us that it was excessively brittle. It was very high in
sulfur content, which means that today, the Titanic “would never get out of the yard.”

While the shipbuilders constructed the Titanic out of the best materials available to them, it was still insufficient for the impact of the iceberg. While they were not negligent in the utilization of the steel, the point remains that when it faced the dangers before them, it failed to protect them.

Christians often fail to establish a firm foundation so when the storms arise their defenses are inadequate. By their standards, their armor is sufficient. However, the spiritual condition of our lives invalidates our standards.

Paul discusses the spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:11-17. However, he begins in the previous verse laying the foundation of what would follow. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). We “gird our waists with truth,” put on a “breastplate of righteousness” and the “helmet of salvation” and take up the “shield of faith” and the “sword of the spirit” (Ephesians 6:11-17).

Inadequately suited, we render useless the armor of God. When we go into battle with a lackluster faith, knowledge and Christian walk, we cannot expect our armor to protect us. Our own abilities will be insufficient to make up the difference. Therefore, we must be secure in the Lord’s armor or our best intentions or abilities will be futile. Rationalizations are useless to stop the “fiery darts of the wicked” (Ephesians 6:16).

Fourth, they ignored the warnings. The Titanic crew had received several transmitted warnings about icebergs in the North Atlantic. They failed to heed them./1

When we are weakening spiritually, we hear warnings from Scripture, sermons and other Christians, but we rationalize them away because we can handle it alone.

Fifth, small leaks sunk the Titanic. Six small slits that totaled less than twelve square feet sunk the mighty vessel./2
Likewise, no one leaves the Lord in one motion. Instead, we leave incrementally. The tears in our armor are small but Satan’s arrows still find their openings (Hebrews 3:12). Remember, small steps soon become miles.

Sixth, the pleas of the Titanic failed to bring help. The nearest ship had her radio off. Later, the Carpathia came after the ship had sunk.

When people are wasting away spiritually, we must be attentive to their needs. Their cries for help, often silent, are there for those who will listen and perceive (Philippians 2:4).

Seventh, the series of failures of the owners and crew of the Titanic led to the death of 1,523 people. When we apostatize, we lead others away from God. In truth, no one goes to heaven or hell alone. Our examples speak volumes to others following our steps (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 4:17-24).

Christians can leave God and be lost. Nothing sadder can occur in the life of a Christian. The loss is staggering. However, it never happens in a vacuum. We consciously cause the apostasy through neglect and sin. May we always remain attentive to prevent faith decay.
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1/ http://www.titanic-titanic.com/warnings.shtml
2/ http://www.titanic-online.com/index.php4?page=334

Titanic and How We Leave the Lord (2)

by Richard Mansel

The builders of the Titanic were remiss in several areas and doomed the mighty vessel to the bottom of the ocean. Their failures mimic our steps to apostasy. Their lessons are ours as we discover how Christians leave the Lord (Hebrews 6:4-6; Hebrews 10:26-31).

First, their pride doomed the ship because they failed to develop contingency plans since they falsely believed it was unsinkable. We face equal peril when we believe we are immune from apostasy.

Second, the self-righteous pride of the owners of the Titanic led them to seek the minimum in safety standards. They did the least or less in every area of safety. Their malfeasance had no justification.

Five decades before the construction of the Titanic, the Great Eastern had scraped on an uncharted rock off the coast of Long Island. It had torn a hole in her skin nine feet wide and 83 feet long. However, she had an inner hull and was able to limp into port. No one was hurt. Inner hulls became more popular but the builders of the Titanic apparently saw it as unnecessary.

They cut many other safety standards. The most famous were the lifeboats. Regulations called for a ship of Titanic’s size to carry enough lifeboats for 962 even though she could carry over 3,500 passengers and crew. They should have been prepared to offer everyone a seat on the lifeboats.

“The owners and operators of steamships had for five decades taken larger and larger risks to save money – risks to which they had methodically blinded themselves.” 1/ This carelessness exacted a heavy price.

Do we trim or skirt safety standards in our Christian lives? Do we try to get by on the minimum? People do this without realizing it.
We reason there is a minimum that we can do and be pleasing to God. We rationalize that attending Sunday morning services and living a moral life are enough. While everyone else are just “super Christians,” they are just fine with what they are doing. Their delusion is disheartening.

The army that seeks the minimum in arming its soldiers will soon find their enemy raining the maximum in destruction upon them. The soldier who fails to properly arm himself because the gear is too heavy, faces grave danger in the battle. Good soldiers are very careful not to cut corners in their battle preparation because they know their lives depend on it.

Discipleship is not about maximums and minimums. Salvation is not meritorious. /2 We require the blood of Christ on our souls in order to be justified before God (Romans 5). We must “walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 John 1:7, NKJV). We are commanded to walk worthy of the “calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1).

Trying to find a minimum, we seek salvation by works, rather than by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is not about attaining the minimum we can accomplish, it is about finding a way to do all we can for Christ (Matthew 22:37).

We cannot attend enough worship services, read our Bibles enough or be moral enough to merit salvation. However, seeking the minimum in the Christian life illustrates that we have little interest in Christ being the Lord of our lives. We can easily slip into the mindset that we want to be a Christian but that we do not want it to change our lives. However, if Christ is not on the throne of our hearts, Satan will fill the vacuum (1 Peter 5:8).

“Disinterested Christians reach the point where they are no longer bearing fruit and will be cut off from the vine (John 15:1-8). Faithfulness indicates allegiance, attitude, and direction in a life filled and flooded with God (Ephesians 3:19). Unfaithfulness leads to apostasy.” /3

Let us seek the maximum for Christ because he deserves it.

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1/ http://www.cuug.ab.ca/~branderr/risk_essay/titanic.html
2/ http://tinyurl.com/yrtthj
3/ http://tinyurl.com/3m69ow