Tag Archive | God

LESSONS WITHIN THE STORM: WHAT HURRICANE HARVEY HAS TAUGHT ME

Dear Friends,

I’m writing this from the shelter of a relative’s home in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It’s been a few days now since it finally went away, and we are all taking a collective sigh of relief. The latest numbers estimate 30,000 homes destroyed. While it’s one thing to read the numbers and see it on the news, it’s another to see the devastation first hand. On my way here, I passed one home after another that had piles of debris in their front yard. There are areas that still look like a lake, and traffic is stacked up due to road closures. However, I also saw distribution centers, and groups of people working together to clean up. It’s a mixture of chaos and hope. We’re pulling together to help those who have been directly affected and hopefully starting to heal as a city.

It’s perplexing as I experience yet another destructive flood in the Houston area. I don’t know what the future holds in this life, and in those times I am not left to my own wonderings but lean on the only truth and source of comfort, which is my sovereign God.

I’m reminded of His instruction as to how we are to view these trying times, some of which I’d like to share:

We live in a broken world, but believers will be delivered from this world one day

As I kept a vigilant eye on the radar during the storm, I couldn’t help but notice that the constant stream of one weather band feeding from the gulf quite resembled a relentless snake, the first symbol of sin and destruction in the Bible. How appropriate – It reminded me of the fact that we live in an imperfect and broken world, one that will continue to suffer the effects of sin.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:20-22)

It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous

Some of the dearest, strongest Christians I know had ­2-4 feet of water in their homes. A pastor’s wife that I personally know had to be evacuated while under hospice care. Another couple, both strong believers, have had their home flooded twice now.

It’s tempting to wonder why these God-fearing people have had such a trial. I wonder why He spared me for that matter, for they have been far more an example of what it means to be faithful believers than I’ve ever been.

I also notice that those who don’t know Christ at all have also lost their homes. Does that mean they are being punished? God’s word gives us some insight:

“…He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45).

There’s a character in the Bible by the name of Job, maybe you’ve heard of him. He is commended by God Himself to be one of great faith and righteousness, yet God allows Satan to take his children and his health. Not only that, but he has three friends who come to “comfort” him with what turns out to be misleading counsel. They claimed that he must have done something wrong to deserve punishment, when all along, his affliction was a test that he would not curse God, and it was as an example to us not to question God’s purposes when we don’t have a direct answer. When Job presses for an answer, God simply reminds Him of who He is:

“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man, I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:1-3)

In the end, Job’s response was humility and awe, saying:

Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)

Which brings me to my last point:

God is sovereign in the storm

As one friend reminded me, we as believers do have one thing to rest upon: He is our deliverer, He is our refuge, not just in this life, but in the next. He works all things together for His good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Flooded or not, we as believers can rest in the assurance that He will never leave us. We acknowledge His power in the storms of life, and we also acknowledge that the beauty from the ashes will find its source in Him.

He is the one who put compassion in the hearts of those who came to the rescue and those who helped to lend a hand.

He is the one that has seen to it that many have been spared.

By faith, we cling to Him in the coming days.

The evidence of His love? He paid the ultimate price by giving us His Son, who has saved those who will turn to Him from a far greater destruction.

Have you trusted Christ as your Savior? Turn to Him today. Tomorrow is not promised. Know the joy of His salvation.

 

 

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TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER

Dear Readers,

On 7/17/2017, my father went to be with the Lord. That’s an awful lot of sevens, and that is interesting because the number 7 is often associated with perfection or completion in the Bible. What’s even more interesting is that his name, Kamal, in Arabic, means perfect.

I think he would get a kick out of that. 🙂

One of the things I remember the most about my father is how light-hearted he was and how easy it was to make him smile. Anytime I would come over, he’d grin from ear to ear like it was the first time he’d ever seen me.

As I grew older, I grew to appreciate his sweet disposition and sense of humor.  He was just one of those types of people that was a delight to be around…and he had a quick wit! One day we were at his Dr’s office for some tests. I asked him if he remembered the tech’s name. He did. He stated her name, and I said, “Baba, that’s right! You got it right!”  He smiled and said, “Of course, but I only remember the girls’ names!”

Yet this sweet, unassuming man also went through many difficulties – he moved his family to the U.S. with limited resources, cared for my mother through her illness, and persevered through his own failing health with a quiet strength. I’d often get so worried about him, only to discover that he would again surprise me with his energy and tenacity. I later came to understand that this perseverance came from a strong faith and trust in God. He lived a life that proved God’s love.

I remember once when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. He and I would take walks around the neighborhood every day after work, and I’d complain about my troubles. He’d look at me and say, “Margaret, if God will allow anything negative in your life,” – and he’d say this with emphasis – “it is for a very good reason.” He was right.

And when I had regrets, even the big ones, one of the most hopeful things he taught is that God can even use my mistakes to work together for my good and His glory.

I will always consider him a gift to us, one that I have often wondered how I could deserve.

One thing I am especially grateful and honored to have gotten from him is a love for word of God. My father was a prolific writer, and I think this interest was a strong and distinctive bond between us. I’d often joke with him about how I was most blessed of the three of his daughters to have seemed inherit this from him.

His legacy will live on in countless binders he has written, Bible Studies on every subject you can think of. He’s poured his heart into a study about the book of Galatians that’s been published in Arabic. I’m so grateful to continue his work and vow to publish it in English.

He was the spiritual leader of the family, teaching us of God’s love, even from an early age. I remember we would come home from church and he would always bring up the sermon and we’d discuss it over lunch. One day, reading from our children’s bible, he turned to each of us and told us that Jesus loved us enough to die on the cross for us. I remember that moment because it was the first time that I knew in my heart that someone had to, and I believed.

He lead me to the Lord, and without this, without the fact that he reflected Christ so much, without his demonstration of how life is to be lived, I would not be who I am today.

He was fascinated with Heaven, and often spoke of it with eager anticipation. I can’t imagine how much he is beaming from ear to ear right now, finally reunited with my mother and in the presence of God. It blows my mind that he has all of his questions answered now and is brought back into the arms of the God who created him.

Was my father perfect? If he was here today, he’d laugh and “Yes, of course, that’s my name!”  Yet although no one is perfect, Hebrews 1:14 tells us that because of Christ’s atonement for sin, one day we will all be made perfect:

For it says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”.

Just like my father is now perfected in Heaven.

KEEPIN’ THE FAITH: OUR PROMISE OF PERSEVERANCE

 

Dear Readers,

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine”1

We sing this old hymn from time to time, but I also wonder how many truly born-again Christians struggle with doubt when it comes to their salvation.

One of the things I love the most about the Doctrines of Grace is that it biblically asserts that any attainment of salvation, any price, and any means we have to God is dependent upon Him, not of ourselves, who can and will fail. Is there a greater security of a believer’s place in heaven that is greater than God Himself?

On the contrary, His word shows us that:

Since

…we are unable to save ourselves so…He saves us. (Eph. 2:1)

…we are unable to choose Him…so He chooses us. (Romans 9:18)

…we are unrighteousness…so Christ provides the means to salvation (John 6:37-38)

…we are given ears to hear…so He calls us (Romans 8:30)

What He has ordained to save, died to save, and called to salvation, He will preserve to the glory of His Name.

So, we, as products of God’s grace, Christ’s work on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s calling will surely persevere to the end, eternally saved.

Thus, the fifth and final point in the Doctrines of Grace: The Perseverance of the Saints.

“He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)

The word of God confirms this truth over and over:

“And this is the Father’s will, that of all He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39)

“I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28)

“There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)

While we may fall, while we may have times of spiritual weakness or rebellion, the Holy Spirit within each true believer’s heart will continue to convict. The believer will come forth, and go forth again unto the ways of the Lord.

I love the words of W.J. Seaton – “The salvation that begins in the mind and purpose of God must end in the fulfilment of His unthwartable purpose that those ‘whom he did foreknow’ are eternally united with their Saviour.”2

Blessed Assurance Indeed!

 

1) “Blessed Assurance” Christian Hymn – Lyrics – Fanny Crosby, Music –Phoebe Knapp, 1873

2) Pamphlet “The Five Points of Calvinism”, © The Banner of Truth Trust 1970, Reprinted 2012 by VersaPress, Inc. P.22

 

WHAT’S SO IRRESISTIBLE ABOUT GRACE?

salvation 2

Dear Readers,

I’m so sorry to let so much time go by without posting, let alone right in the middle of a series on the five points of the doctrines of grace. I never wanted to be “that blogger” that let so much time slip away, yet here I am, several months later with no excuse. Life gets in the way, and unfortunately, I let it! It’s ironic that I stopped right between “Limited Atonement” (point 3) and never persevered to get to the “Perseverance of the Saints” (point 5)!

Hey, maybe completing this series on my part may serve as an analogy of that biblical principle – no matter what, falling away or otherwise, God’s elect will eventually persevere. (lol)

So onwards and upwards.

If you look backwards to the last few posts, you will notice that they build upon each other. The Depravity of Man, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement all construct into the solid doctrine of God’s salvation:

  • If men are unable to save themselves due to their fallen nature (The Depravity of Man – Eph. 2:1), and
  • If God has purposed to save the elect through no merit of their own (Unconditional Election – Romans 9), and
  • If Christ has accomplished the salvation of the elect, (Limited, or Particular Atonement – John 6:37-38)…

Then it is logical that God must also provide the means for calling them into the salvation He has already given them:

After all, why would He leave any work undone? Remember Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, and also Romans 8:30, “And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified”.

This brings us to the fourth point of the points of grace: Irresistible Grace.

Why does the term “Irresistible Grace” mean, especially since many don’t respond to God’s gift of salvation, but instead reject it?

We begin by explaining that there are two calls: An outward call, and an inward call.

The outward call is the one that is audibly heard. It is the words uttered to the masses. It can and may do a number of things. It can inspire, perhaps bring reflection or respect, but one thing it cannot do is save. It is simply the general message that summons the hearer.

For the Gospel to bring about salvation, the outward call must be accompanied by the inward call of the Holy Spirit, for (as the Bible states), He is the one that draws them to Himself. (John 6:44). This refers not to a moral or intellectual change, but to a heart change. It is a true-to-the-core spiritual transformation, the spiritual difference between life and death. Note Jesus’s words to Nicodemus when he described this rebirth:

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6)

When God stirs a heart to Himself, that call is said to be irresistible. That is, it cannot be frustrated or thwarted.  While some may argue that it is possible to resist God’s (inward) call, to say “no” to a true stirring by the Holy Spirit and walk away, I must ask: have you ever heard of a baby that has successfully resisted its own live birth and stayed in the womb? You see, spiritual birth is as real as physical birth. We can no more resist our own spiritual rebirth than a baby can stop himself from being born.

It is also interesting to point out that it is precisely because of our stubborn nature that God MUST have an influence that is greater than man’s resistance.

Note this scripture: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God”. (1 Corin. 2:14)

If we cannot, in our natural state,  say “yes” to the Holy Spirit, how is it that anybody has said “yes” at all?

Comments welcome!

CAN WE CHOOSE GOD, OR DOES HE CHOOSE US?

salvation 2

Dear Friends,

What will you say to God on judgement day if He asks, “Why did you believe on my Son while others didn’t?”

Would you say “Because I was smarter”? “Because I had the good sense”?

Of course you wouldn’t. I would bet that we would all be so overwhelmed with God’s glory and our own unworthiness that it may be hard to put two words together much less put any attention upon ourselves.

From a reading of Colossians 2:13, if we have been saved, it is because God has raised us from spiritual death.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins”.

Logic would then tell us that for those who have not been “made alive”, it is because God has not raised them.

The doctrine of unconditional election (salvation brought about by God’s sovereign choice, not according to any action, merit, or condition met by the believer) is probably one of the most analyzed and debated subjects in Christendom. God’s choosing of some and not others does not fit into our natural and limited ideas of what is right or fair.

To this objection, I refer now to Nathan Pitchford and John Hendryx at the Christian Publication Research Foundation who make an eloquent and biblical response:

In Romans 9, when Paul is speaking very clearly of God’s unconditional election of some, and not others, to eternal salvation, a hypothetical objector to this doctrine raises that very question:

“If it is as you say, Paul, and God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born, or had done anything good or bad, just so that his own purposes might stand in election, does that not mean he is arbitrary and unjust?” (see Rom. 9:14). Paul’s response to this is a resounding, “Of course not! May it never be!” God is not arbitrary or unjust – but he does elect individuals to mercy and hardens others as he sees fit, and for no good will or exertion that he sees in anyone (Rom. 9:15-16). He hardened Pharaoh according to his purpose of displaying his glory in all the earth, and he sovereignly chooses to have mercy on whomever he will, to display the glory of his grace (Rom. 9:17; cf. Rom. 9:22-24). In sum, “Therefore, he has mercy on whom he will and he hardens whom he will” (Rom. 9:18).

Just because God chooses to have mercy upon some does not make him unjust or arbitrary for giving to others their just deserts. It is his free, undeserved mercy and grace that he holds forth in salvation, and he may do with it as he will. We may not fathom the deep and mysterious ways of God (Rom. 11:33-36); but woe to that one who foolishly says, “I see no reason for why God chooses some and not others, so he must be arbitrary and unjust”. On the contrary, O foolish man, you would do well to say with Job, “Behold, I am of little worth; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand upon my mouth” (Job 40:4).

We would challenge you to wrestle with the following verses. Paul encountered this very same argument against election in Romans 9:18-23; that it would make God unjust and arbitrary:

18  So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19  You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”20  On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same  lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

Paul is saying that God has the sovereign right to do with us whatever He wants.  Will you deny Him this right? This points to an even greater truth: that there is no higher principle in the universe than God Himself. God is the ultimate Truth and therefore, if He determines something it is, by definition, not arbitrary. In other words, there is no better reason for anything than the fact that God determines it. We should draw no comfort from the theology that promotes a god who must yield to something greater than Himself.

In His counsels and works no cause is apparent, it is yet hidden with Him, so that He has decreed nothing except justly and wisely according to His good pleasure founded on His gracious love towards us.” (Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics) Just because we don’t know His internal reason for choosing some to faith and not others is not reason enough to reject it.  The “foreseen faith” people are, in effect, saying that they cannot trust God in making this choice and prefer it to be left up to the fallen individual, as if he would make a better choice than God. This would also make God’s love toward us conditional and based on some inherent talent, wisdom or strength found in the individual rather than in God Himself.”

What I have come to love about the doctrine of unconditional election is that it elevates a rightful, high and glorious view of God and keeps me humble. What great security we have in knowing that our salvation starts and ends with Him! Jesus prayed, saying that “all that the Father gives me will come to me”.

Friend, if you have come to profess Christ, and trust in Him as Lord and Savior, then you are of the elect! If you have not, how do you know that you are not? Come to Him this day. He will NOT forsake you!

Comments welcome 🙂

SOMETHING TO PONDER

salvation 2

Dear Friends,

One of the statements I hear most often from Christians is that God is in sovereign, that He is above all creation and governs all things as He sees fit. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “sovereign” (adj). as “having supreme rank, power or authority”. The Bible testifies this of our great God:

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

So here’s my question:

If we truly believe that God is sovereign, wouldn’t that mean that we believe He is sovereign over everything?

If there is any area of which God is not in control, wouldn’t that make Him less than God?

If you answered “yes” to either question, wouldn’t God’s sovereignty also include His sovereignty over matters of salvation?

Yet, when referring to predestination, many people (among whom are godly leaders I respect, I might add) have made a statement that goes something like this:

Let’s say God, from eternity past, was able to look into the future and see that someone will want to be saved upon hearing the gospel. Then based on this foreknowledge, God decides to save him or her.

Upon first reading, this seems very reasonable, until you consider the perspective a little more closely.

If I can say that I am saved because I had anything to do with my own salvation, including the choice to follow Him, wouldn’t that be a salvation based on my own merit? After all, in this scenario, I wouldn’t be saved unless I FIRST decided to follow Him.

Who is the one reacting to the other in this scenario? Is it God or man?

What’s more, if I were left in my natural state, without the Holy Spirit, I would have never chosen God, nor ever will:

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corin. 2:14).

I don’t deny the theological discussion that could arise from these questions. Many could point to scriptures that seem to put the responsibility of salvation squarely on man’s shoulders, such as the numerous passages that call the sinner to repent and be saved. The irony is that although it is God’s initiative to save, He nevertheless uses the earthly means to do so. He uses the preaching of the gospel and call to repentance to woo the sinner, to stir his heart, and to open his ears to respond. I’m not writing today to contemplate the mystery of predestination vs. free will, but simply to challenge two areas of our thinking: our view of God, and our view of man.

Of God, again, is he sovereign over all? Can man, at any point ultimately override what God will or won’t do?

What of man? What do we really believe his natural condition to be? Do we believe he is inherently evil or do we think there is a glimmer of goodness in him, (even if a tiny bit), to FIRST reach up to God for salvation?

A reading of Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience”

The word for “dead” in the Greek translation of this passage is the word “Netros”, which means “a corpse. (Strong’s concordance, P. 49, Greek Dictionary)

If “dead” means “dead”, (not swooning, or kinda weak, or even trying real hard to be alive), then the consequent questions we must then ask would be:

Can the dead raise themselves?

Can the dead recognize abundance of life?

Can the dead, who are blind, give themselves sight?

Can the dead, who are deaf, give themselves hearing?

I’m gonna take a stab at this and say, um… no.

But let’s say we did have a tiny bit of (spiritual) life within us, just enough to raise a cold, perishing hand to God for salvation.

Wouldn’t you still have to ask who put that spark within us?

*********

Comments welcome!

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN (PART 2)

Passport kingdom of god

Dear Friends,

In my last post, I shared some thoughts about what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, specifically the blessings inherent in it.

For one, when we are born again by faith in Jesus Christ, we gain the undeserved privilege of being called a child of God. We are given His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to transform us to be more and more like Him. (Romans 8:29).  Our focus as His own now turns from the earthly to the eternal. As we grow in our faith, the goal is to align more and more with God’s purposes and His glory. We strive to do his will, as stated in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”. (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus commissioned His disciples, (and all of us), to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20).

So you see, as citizens of the Kingdom of God we are given a holy mission that transcends whatever obligations we have that is earthly. A citizenship by any definition is not only to know the blessings of belonging, but it is also an opportunity to gratefully serve that to which we belong.

So, to continue this series, let’s look at our citizenship in the Kingdom of God in terms of our commissioning. Is there a sense of responsibility I bear as a citizen of the Kingdom of God? What does being a citizen mean from this perspective? I thought of a few:

Responsibilities of a citizen would include:

Allegiance – If I am a citizen of a country, this means I give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereignty. If our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, we align ourselves with God first, above all else. The motivation is gratitude for what we have been given. We are told in Exodus 20:3-5 to cast way any idols that could become bigger than God to us:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Defense – If called upon, I am to defend my country. Even more so,  for someone who professes to be a Christian, am I not called upon to stand up for my faith, to speak up when my God’s name is taken in vain? Sadly to admit, I have fallen short, and I’m convicted of these words:

 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Here Peter says it in a nutshell…be alert, always ready to stand up for your faith. Our attitude shouldn’t be argumentative and aggressive, but done in love and respect in order to share the hope we have.

Obey the laws – If we obey the laws of the land, how much more should we obey God? Yet, here again is the key: God does not demand compliance out of a sense of duty, but from the heart. We as Christians long to do what is pleasing to Him, not necessarily because He has decreed it, but because He has enabled us to want to (if we willfully submit to Him) by the Holy Spirit.

One final word: As a good citizen of this country, I’m supposed to obey the law and follow the decree of the land, but what if a given law goes against what God has said? What do I do then? If you are a Christian, what would you do?

I don’t think it will be long until we are all personally confronted to give an answer, one way or another.