Tag Archive | Salvation

What Is Surrender Anyway?

For the next five week’s, I’m going through a Faithgateway Online Bible study on Christian worship leader and recording artist Laura Story’s newest book, I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life. My normal Tuesday and Thursday posts will be centered on the teaching in this book and the related videos and study guide.

The title for this week’s study: “What is Surrender Anyway?” So today’s post is to make sure we understand the true meaning of surrender.

Surrender is basically a military term. It is what an army does when it realizes their opposing army is going to be the victor and they lay down their arms and give up their rights to the conqueror.

This world is a battlefield. Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has ignored and rebelled against our Creator and chosen to walk according to our own desires. In essence, we have joined sides with Satan, who has been called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

There’s one major problem with that – it puts us on the losing side of the battle. Satan hasn’t yet been totally stripped of his power, but he has been defeated by our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The battle was won when Jesus became the spotless Lamb of God, died for our sin and rose again.

If you are a Christian, if you have accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the full payment for your sin, you did so by surrendering to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, revealing the truth to you that you needed a Savior. But surrendering to God doesn’t end when we are born again and experience new life. That is simply the beginning. 

In simple terms, surrender is turning the control of my life over to God. Surrendering to God is recognizing His authority in my life and choosing His will over my own. Surrender is not meant to be a one-time decision for a Christian. It is meant to be a daily lifestlyle. It is laying down our desires in order to make pleasing God our top priority. As Laura Story says in our study guide, “Surrendering to God’s will is a learned skill that takes a lifetime to develop.”

The actual word surrender is not used in most translations of the Bible. But the concept of surrender is found throughout both the Old and New Testament. 

  • Surrender is submitting to the Lord. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 
  • Surrender is recognizing the truth of Galatians 2:20, which says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 
  • Surrender is being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. It is believing and living according to Luke 9:23-24, which says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
  • Surrender begins with presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, as Romans 12:1-2 tells us to do, the first prerequisite of knowing and doing the will of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
  • Surrender is, as Ephesians 6:6 says, “doing the will of God from the heart.” Sometimes the will of God is clearly stated in Scripture, but often this isn’t true. It begins with us coming to the Lord in prayer and asking, “Lord, what is Your plan in this situation?” And then waiting patiently until we receive an answer and walking in obedience to the revealed will of God.
  • Surrender is yielding to the hands of God as He shapes us into a vessel to bring Him glory. It is making ourselves willing to be molded into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Remember, surrender is a daily choice. It is to choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of our lives, seeking His will in every circumstance that we face. It is being who God created us to be.

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The theme song for the “I Give Up” Bible study.

 

 

 

 

Thankful for the Indwelling Holy Spirit

“For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.” Psalms‬ ‭18:28‬

Something unusual happened while we were at church one Sunday in May. We had watched a video teaching on the Bible study we were doing at that time, and I had just finished leading our discussion on the promise of God we were covering that week – when the lights went out. With stormy weather outside, our classroom was really dark. A couple minutes later, the lights came back on, and we were able to finish the class and leave for home.

This morning, as I was preparing to write this week’s Thankful Thursday post, this experience came to mind. While it was just a small inconvenience, it brought to memory God’s promise to enlighten our darkness. And one of the ways He does that in our daily lives is through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes to live within us when by faith through grace we accept Jesus’ death on the Cross as the payment in full for our sins, receive His forgiveness, and accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord. And from that moment on, we never have to walk in darkness.

I am currently working on writing a Bible study which I’ve given the working title The Holy Spirit: Stranger or Friend. For many of us, Jehovah our heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Savior are parts of the Godhead we understand fairly well. In one of the lessons from the Bible study our iConnect Bible study class at church recently completed based on Max Lucado’s book Unshakable Hope: Building Our Lives On The Promises Of God, we read the following quote.

“Ask a believer to answer the question ‘Who is God the Father?’ He has a reply. Or ‘Describe God the Son.’ She will not hesitate. But if you want to see believers hem, haw, and search for words, ask, ‘Who is the Holy Spirit?’ Many believers settle for a two-thirds God.”

Yet there are more that a hundred references in the Bible to the Holy Spirit. From the Gospels, where Jesus says He will be returning to heaven but He will not leave them alone (https://www.bible.com/59/jhn.14.26.esv) through the book of Acts, and all the way to Revelation, we learn that the Holy Spirit is central to our lives as Christians.

Today, I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit and the many things He does in our lives. Here are just a few of the functions and names of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is our Regenerator. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, He is the one who opens our heart and imparts life. “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” John‬ ‭3:5‬

The Holy Spirit is our Empowerer. He gives us power to be witnesses and complete the work He has called us to do. “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke‬ ‭24:49‬

The Holy Spirit is our Helper. He encourages, consoles and comforts us when life becomes difficult. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,” John‬ ‭14:16‬

The Holy Spirit is our Teacher. As the Spirit of Truth, He shows us the lies we are believing and instructs us in God’s truth. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John‬ ‭14:26‬ ‭

The Holy Spirit is our Guide. He leads us down the path God has planned for our lives. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans‬ ‭8:14‬ ‭

The Holy Spiritis our Intercessor. He prays for us and His prayers always line up with the perfect will of God.  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Romans‬ ‭8:26‬ ‭

The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier. He works in us to make us look more like Jesus. Like the apostle Peter, we too are among the elect, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood…” 1 Peter‬ 1:2

There are many more functions and names of the Holy Spirit, but these seven give you a picture of His important place in our lives as Christians. And this week, I’m grateful for Who the Holy Spirit is and for all He does in our lives. How about you? Have you stopped in your busy day to thank God for the Holy Spirit? Who lives within you if you’ve accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life.

Seeking God with Our Whole Heart

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 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 ‭29:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This promise from Scripture is one of my favorites. It comes immediately after one most of us are familiar with, Jeremiah 29:11, which reminds us that God has a good plan for our lives, a plan to give us a future and a hope. Often, I see this verse quoted, with no mention of the following verses that are directly related to it. They speak of the focus that is to be present in our life as we realize God is good and His plan for our lives is good.

Earlier in the book of Jeremiah, we read a solemn warning of what was ahead for Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) if they continued down the path they had been trodding (see Jeremiah 9). If they continued stubbornly ignoring God’s law, determined to follow their own desires, judgment was ahead.

Unfortunately, this stern warning had not been heeded, and that judgment had arrived. God used Babylon as His agent of judgment against Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against Him, and in B.C. 587 Jerusalem was attached, the city destroyed, and the people taken into captivity to Babylon.

Jeremiah 29 begins with these words. “These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:1‬)

In this letter, Jeremiah gave clear instructions from the Lord to the exiles. They were to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat their produce, marry and have children, take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage that they in turn would have children, and seek the welfare of the city where they have been sent into exile. (https://www.bible.com/59/jer.29.5-7.esv). In other words, this would not be a brief interlude in there lives, so they needed to accept the consequences of their failure to obey God and live in the best way possible during this time.

In verse 10, Jeremiah gives them a promise that this time of exile will come to an end. Jeremiah writes, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

This is the setting of Jeremiah 29:11-14. The season of exile would come to an end, the people of Judah would return to their promised land, and in having gone through the Lord’s discipline they would have a hopeful future, as they chose to seek God with their whole heart.

While we have not experienced exile because of disobedience to the Lord, like Judah we are recipients of this promise. This is a conditional promise, requiring something from us. To seek God is to desire His presence more than His presents. While God has promised to never leave or forsake us, our awareness of His presence is affected by the depth of our relationship with Him. To walk in God’s presence daily, we must seek Him with our whole heart.

What does it mean to seek God with our whole heart?

  • It is to seek Him with a deep longing that makes the things of this world pale in comparison.
  • It is to recognize receiving life from Him is a vital necessity, something without which we can’t truly live a meaningful life.
  • It is to realize without Him we can do nothing of lasting value, and therefore make abiding in His presence daily our highest priority in life.
  • It is to respond quickly to the conviction of the Holy Spirit

Remember, we are seeking the presence of a God whose desire for us to live daily in His presence is so great that He sent His own Son to earth as a man, to live the life we were called to live but could not, and then to die as our substitute on the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins, was raised on the third day, and He now lives within us in the person of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live in a way that pleases the Father.

Once we have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice as the payment for our sin and become children of God, we can seek Him with confidence that He desires a close relationship with us even more than we desire to walk close to Him. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the way has been opened for us to encounter God based fully on His grace, mercy and love for us. All that is required for us to experience God is to set aside time daily to seek Him with ears open to His voice and a heart ready to receive and obey.

Original photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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Religious Lifestyle or Living Relationship?

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us as Christians to always be prepared to share the reason for the hope we have in Jesus Christ – in other words, to be ready whenever the opportunity arises to share our personal testimony of how we came to know Christ. I especially like the New Living Translation wording of this verse.

“… you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.”

During recent weeks, our iConnect Bible study class members have been taking turns sharing our personal testimonies of how we came to know Christ. The goal has been for each of us to prepare and share a brief, two to three minute testimony of our life before knowing Christ, how we came to know Him, and how receiving Christ as our Savior and Lord has changed how we live. Then, when God opens the door to  share this with someone who does not know Christ as their personal Savior we’ll be prepared to explain what God has done in our lives and what He is able and willing to do in their life.

This is my personal testimony.

I was born into a Christian family. My father and my mother had both accepted the Lord as their personal Savior at an old fashioned camp meeting revival before they were married, and by the time I came along over 20 years later, our family lived a Christian lifestyle.

Two of my earliest childhood memories are of my father sitting in his red leather rocker every morning before leaving for work reading his Bible, and of my mother kneeling beside her bed each night praying. And going to church was simply what we did – every time the doors were open. It was as much a part of my lifestyle as a child and teenager as going to school.

We attended a Methodist church that was at the end of the block where we lived, and I remember walking to the church early every Sunday morning. During the week, I also spent lots of time at the parsonage which was next door to the church, visiting with some of my best friends, our pastor’s daughter and another friend who lived next door.

My father was a deacon in our church, my older sister who still lived at home a children’s Sunday School teacher and choir member. And by the time I was in high school I was either working in the nursery or teaching the youngest class of children most Sundays.

When I went away to college in 1966, I continued to attend church. A large local Methodist church sent a bus to the campus to pick up students, and I seldom missed a Sunday.

When I graduated from college in 1970 and moved to the town north of Baltimore where I had a job teaching kindergarten, one of the first things I did after my roommate and I got unpacked and settled in an apartment was to start looking for a church. I found a nearby Methodist church and started attending. And this church is where my life changed.

At this church, my life changed when Christianity became more than a religious lifestyle. It became a relationship, a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It was in this church that I first understood that the only way to be a real part of God’s kingdom is by being born again. For the first time, I understood that my religious lifestyle wasn’t enough. I understood that my sin separates me from God, but that God had provided a way to bridge that gap.

Even though I had attended church all my life, even though I considered myself a Christian, for the first time in my life I recognized this wasn’t enough.

For the first time, I understood why Jesus had to die on the cross, and the steps I needed to take to benefit from His sacrifice.

  1. I now saw myself as a sinner who needed salvation.
  2. I understood that the just penalty for sin is death.
  3. I acknowledged that Jesus paid that penalty for me when He died on the cross.
  4. I recognized that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, one we accept by faith.
  5. I received that gift by faith, as I accepted Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And I was born again – and since that day my life has never been the same.

My life as a new Christian began me down a new road, one that definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I’ve never regretted the decision I made so many years ago. Jesus has been with me, walking at my side, through every trial I’ve faced, and my relationship with Him has been my source of strength.

Do you have a similar story you can tell? If not, now is the time to take these same steps I took. Moving from religion to relationship has the power to transform your life.

If you’ve already received this free gift of salvation by faith, are you prepared to share the reason for the hope you have found in Christ Jesus? Have you taken the time to prayerfully prepare a brief testimony of the work of God in your life to bring you to salvation? Acts 1:8 says the Lord has called us to be His witnesses, to our Jerusalem (the city where we live), our Judea and Samaria (the area nearby), and to the ends of the earth. Are you prepared to be His witness whenever He opens the door for you to do so? If not, don’t wait another day to get ready.

 

Entering the Trail to True Freedom

Today is a special day in the United States of America, the birthday of our nation and the day we focus on the liberty and freedom God has blessed us with as a nation. But there is an even more essential freedom than political freedom.

As I was reading today in Breaking Free, by Beth Moore, I was reminded that the key to true freedom is knowing Jesus Christ personally. As Beth says, “Christ is the only entrance to the freedom trail.”

John 8: 36 expresses the truth so clearly: “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

One of the most beautiful elements of salvation is its simplicity. Christ has already done all the work on the cross. Your response includes four elements:

  1. Recognize that you are a sinner and that there is nothing you can do to save yourself.
  2. Acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and only He can save you.
  3. Believe that His death on the Cross paid the penalty for your sin, that He died on your behalf
  4. Surrender your life to Him and ask Him to be your Savior and Lord.

If you do not know Christ personally, there is no better time to make that decision than today. If you already know Christ, is your relationship distant, close and personal, or somewhere in the middle? Knowing Christ begins with an initial decision, but growing in our knowledge of Him is an on-going process. My prayer for this day our nation turns it’s focus on freedom is that each of you will experience the freedom that comes from personally knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and growing daily in your knowledge of Him.

Everything Beautiful Bible Reading Plan, Week 4

Day 18: Psalm 96:1-6

Sing…bless…tell…declare…these verses are filled with action. The Christian life, lived the way God desires us to live it is not passive. Yes, Jesus has already made a way for us to be a part of the family of God. There is nothing we can do to earn His salvation. But once we have come to Him in faith and received salvation, He calls us to actively serve Him.

  • Sing to the Lord – repeated three times in these six verses. Even if you aren’t a skilled musician, God still delights in your songs of praise.
  • Bless His name. To bless the Lord is praise Him, to bend the knee in an act of adoration, to honor Him as holy, and to glorify Him through our words and actions.
  • Tell of His salvation. Remember the words of Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” You may not think of yourself as a preacher, but you can tell of His salvation by sharing what Jesus has done in your life.
  • Declare His glory. Declaring God’s glory is simply declaring His character, all He is, to others or even to yourself when circumstances cause doubt to creep in.
  • Declare His marvelous works. To declare is to proclaim and affirm something. Has the Lord done anything in your life? Tell others about it. Is there a promise of His Word that you’ve seen fulfilled? Share the promise and what God did to demonstrate His faithfulness to you.

Day 19: 1 Peter 2:1-9

What happens when you take a small taste of your favorite food? Do you simple say “that was good” and turn to something else? Or do you take another bite and slowly savor it’s flavor or smoothness or spiciness or whatever word best describes it’s appeal?

If you’ve had a taste of the Lord’s goodness, your response will be similar. You will want to know Him better. You will have a hunger that only the growing knowledge of God will satisfy.

I still recall the early days after I came to know Jesus Christ personally as my Lord and Savior. I was a kindergarten teacher at the time, needing to leave for school early in the morning, but it was no burden for me to wake up early to spend time with the Lord at the start of my day. I was hungry to know Him better.

I am no longer a spiritual babe, having walked with God for over forty-five years. But the desire to grow in my knowledge of Him is still a daily part of my life. I still set aside the first part of my day to spend time reading my Bible, praying, and often journaling. I crave this time in His presence more than I crave another bite of my favorite food, because the more I’ve come to know Him the more I’ve realized I’ve just cracked the surface into the fullness of all He desires to be in my life.

Day 20: isaiah 29:13-16

Father, help me to draw near to You with my heart, not just with my words. May my worship of You spring out of a heart fully committed to You. And above all, help me to remember You are the potter, I am the clay, not the other way around. I humble myself under Your mighty hand. To argue with what You are doing in my life is the height of foolishness.

Day 21: Isaiah 25:1-9

God is today and every day worthy of our praise. We sure to set aside some time today to praise Him for His faithfulness, His goodness, His steadfast love, His compassion, His righteousness, and whatever other characteristics come to mind. And give Him thanks for the wonderful things He has done and is still doing in your life.

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Day 22: Psalm 1:1-6

Being blessed sounds like something most of us would desire, and this passage gives clear instructions on how to be blessed, three negative “do not’s” and two positive commands:

  • Do not walk in step with the wicked.
  • Do not stand in the way that sinners take.
  • Do not sit in the company of mockers.
  • Delight in the law of the Lord.
  • Meditate on His law day and night.

Then it goes on to describe the one who follows these instructions, using the metaphor of a flourishing tree, planted by flowing streams of water.

Day 23: Ephesians 2:4-10

Our God is great in love, rich in mercy, and abundant in grace. This is seen clearly in the story of the Gospel. And those who belong to Him through faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus are God’s handiwork, His masterpiece.

We live in a world that applauds self-made men and women. But as Christians, we understand that we are God-made men and women. We belong to Him. We live for Him. We were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He planned in advance for us to do.

Day 24: Psalm 27:1-6

No beauty on this earth surpasses the beauty of the Lord. Seek Him with an undivided heart. Sing to Him. Bless His name. Declare His glory. Praise Him with your whole heart.

During this week leading up to Easter, as we focus on His sacrifice as the Lamb of God who took away our sin and on His victory as Risen Lord, take time daily to gaze on His beauty as you open His Word and get to know Him better.

Jesus, the Bridegroom

 

The name Bridegroom is used often in the Bible as a metaphor for God, specifically for Jesus Christ. The Church is likened to a Bride with Christ as her Bridegroom, painting a clear picture of the special relationship we are privileged to have with Him. We are bound together by a covenant of grace that cannot be broken.

In our current culture, marriage is not known for permanency. But this was not God’s original plan. God’s guidelines for marriage were explicit. Marriage was meant to be ‘til death do us part’, as the traditional Protestant marriage vow states.

“’Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew‬ ‭19:4-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

With this understanding in mind, the bride-groom imagery of the Bible is a wonderful picture of the security of the children of God in their relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Once we have made a true commitment of our lives to Jesus, we can have assurance that we belong to Him. Yes, we still sin, we’re far from perfect. But we never again need to fear we are lost eternally.

Whether or not you are now happily married, if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior and Lord you will be a part of the Bride of Christ at the Wedding of the Lamb. In his gospel, John said, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom” (John‬ ‭3:29a‬ ‭NIV). If you belong to the Lamb, Jesus Christ, you will be a part of the Bride of Christ.

At the culmination of human history, Christ will come for His Bride, the Church.

For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

The Bride, made up of all those who have believed in Jesus Christ as their Messiah through the ages, has made herself ready. Dressed in Christ’s own righteousness, she has grown in purity.

But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” 1 John‬ ‭3:2b-3‬ ‭NIV‬

Now, she has seen her Bridegroom face-to-face, and she is pure as He is pure. She is ready for her heavenly wedding. It’s time for the Wedding of the Lamb!

As I reflect on this name of Jesus Christ, I look forward to this day in the future. As part of the true Church, I know I will be included in the Bride. If you know Him as your personal Lord and Savior, you can have the same confidence.