Clinging to God’s Assurance

My favorite of all the apostles is John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Some people give him a bad rap for calling himself that, saying it’s arrogant. I disagree. I don’t believe this title for himself is any indication he thought he was the only one. Rather, I believe it reveals how certain he was that Jesus loved him and everyone else, including you.

My memoir, My Name Is Beloved, is so titled for the same reason. I don’t believe I’m the only one who is beloved by God. I know that I am not and I want others like me to know they are beloved, too.

I love John’s Gospel, his three epistles, and Revelation. One of my favorite passages is from 1 John 4:7-21. It’s all about God’s love for all of His children and how we should love each other in the same way. There’s not a hint of arrogance here.

There are a number of things I love about John’s writings:

  1. He reminds his readers that he was an eye witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That means he writes with truth and authority of what he knows to be true.
  2. He clearly sets out the evidence for Jesus’ divinity. Especially in the Gospel, where we see the “I am” statements of Jesus.
  3. He focuses, particularly in the epistles, on the love of God. In fact, he says “God is love” twice in 1 John 4.
  4. He reveals the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. It is by the Spirit that we overcome sin and know we are God’s children.
  5. He provides believers with an assurance of salvation.

It is this last point that I’m focusing on today. Early in the history of the Christian faith, deceivers had come into the church who taught that one had to achieve sinless perfection to be saved. John wrote his first epistle to combat this heresy. The same type of heresy has crept into many legalistic denominations even today. By outwardly following the rules, such people claim to be without sin. But as John writes:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

1 John 1:8-10 (NIV).

John here provides assurance that the fact that the believer sometimes sins does not negate their salvation, because Jesus is faithful and forgives our sin. One dictionary definition of assurance is “full confidence; freedom from doubt; certainty.” Throughout this epistle, John provides further assurance that those who trust in Jesus can be certain of their salvation even though they are not sinless and perfect.

The word know appears 42 times in this short epistle because John wants to make sure believers know that God loves them and that they can rely on His promise of salvation. In each of the chapters of the epistle, John includes his assurance:

“I am writing to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.”

1 John 2:12-13 (NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”

1 John 3:21-24 (NIV).

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”

1 John 4:15-16 (NIV).

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

1 John 5:13-14 (NIV).

None of us is perfect and completely sinless. If we were, we would not need a savior. But we do need Him, and we thrive best knowing that He is faithful in His promise of salvation for those who believe.

Now don’t get me wrong. John does not advocate living a life in which we sin willy-nilly simply because we know we can be forgiven. Those who truly believe in Jesus, and trust in Him for salvation, will desire to keep God’s commands. His Spirit living in our hearts will help us to overcome the temptations of the world and to love as He has commanded.

Are you struggling today with worries that you are not good enough, that you’ve sinned too much, or that God will give up on you and you will lose your salvation? Meditate on John’s words, inspired by God, and know that these worries are unfounded. It is the struggle itself that proves you are alive in Christ.

Remember, God is faithful in His promises. He has promised eternal life to all who believe in Jesus and allow His love to live in them. He has not hidden the truth from us, but has made Himself known through His Son and the witness of the apostles so that we can be assured of our place in His Kingdom.

 

Linda L. Kruschke is the author of My Name Is Beloved, winner of the Unpublished Memoir category of the Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Writing Contest, as well as self-published author of two poetry books. She is a wife, mother, active member of her church, and former Bible Study Fellowship leader. After struggling through years of major clinical depression and finding God’s healing grace, she is now a fearless follower of Christ, living in the assurance of her salvation and God’s love.

She blogs at Another Fearless Year (http://AnotherFearlessYear.net).

The Gospel According to Job

Today, I want to bring out this book, out into the spotlight.  It is a tremendous devotional that makes its way through the book of Job.  I have leaned on it, and it has held me nicely.  I challlenge you to get a copy of this, and to let it work in the confines of your spirit and mind. ––Bryan

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Excerpt from “The Gospel According to Job,” by Mike Mason

 

“An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One who Lost Everything”

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A“Once I met a man who, like Abraham, had moved his entire household halfway around the world on the strength of a vision from God. When I asked him to tell me the story, he answered that there were three versions of that story, and which one did I want to hear? First, there was the version of the story that he told to Christians. Then there was the version he told to non-Christians. Finally, there was the truth. Job is a book that tells things from the third point of view. Probably, along with Ecclesiastes, it does this better than any other book in the Bible.

Not that the other Scriptures do not tell the truth. But Job tells the truth in a way that makes it almost impossible to pervert the truth into pious pabulum. A few years ago I went through a difficult time. Never mind what the problem was. It was nothing compared to the trials of Job. In fact, it was nothing at all compared to the sufferings of many of my neighbors right there on the quiet street where I lived.

But pain is pain, and suffice it to say that my pain was enough to drive me to my knees, totally defeated, half-crazy at times, and crying out for relief. Month after month the battles raged on, thick, dark, agonizing. I prayed, but somehow prayer did not ‘work.’ Usually nothing at all worked, except lying low and gritting my teeth until, for reasons entirely obscure to me, the straightjacket of oppression began to loosen a little––at least enough for me to get on with my life for another day or so before the screws tightened again. What else could I do? How was I to fight this?

In retrospect I can see that a large part of my anguish was rooted in the fact that there really was nothing I could do to control what was happening to me. I was absolutely helpless, and it is this, perhaps, that is the soul of suffering, this terrifying impotence. It is a little taste of the final and most terrifying impotence of all, which is death.

We Christians do not like to think about being absolutely helpless in the hands of our God. With all of our faith, and with all of His grace, we still prefer to maintain some semblance of control over our lives. When difficulties arise, we like to think that there are certain steps we can take, or attitudes we can adopt, to alleviate our anguish and be happy. Sometimes there are. But anyone who has truly suffered will know that when it comes to the real thing there is no help for it, no human help whatsoever.

Simply put, when we are in a deep dark hole we cannot think our way out; neither can we hope, sing, pray, or even love our way out. In fact there is absolutely nothing either we or anyone else can do to better our situation. We can have faith, yes; but in itself faith will not change anything. Neither faith, nor any other good thing that a person might have or do, can actually lift the cloud, move the mountain, or bring about an end to the problem.

Only the Lord Himself can do that, and when He does, as Exodus 6:6 puts it, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke.” How will we know? Simply because nothing and no one else could possibly have done it. In this kind of crucible, therefore, we come to a new understanding of what it means to be saved, what it means to be snatched away from the brink of destruction.

Here we get down to the bedrock of the gospel. During my night of anguish, I turned to the book of Job, and there I began to make contact with the gospel in a way that somehow I never had in studying the New Testament. Reading Job, I found myself experiencing in new and astonishing depth the reality of Jesus’ promise in John 8:32,

 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 

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The Glory of Gripping Things

Understanding the way our Father works is a personal passion for me.  I did not ‘major’ in theology, and so many things have to be painstakingly explained to me, like I was a small child. It seems that I will occasionally find something that is insightful.  A critical need we have is understanding the subtleties and significance of being made right with God (justification) and being made whole (sanctification).  This verse really applies here,

It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Proverbs 25:2

Furthermore it was the Bereans who were the only ones in Scripture to be called “noble minded” for their serious study and thought (Acts 17:11). Study should not make your spirit ‘rigid’, rather the opposite should occur. God wants us to be learning Him and His ways. Understanding is a good thing.

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Justification & Sanctification– Gripping the Two

  1.  Justification is free (John 4:1)
  2. Sanctification is costly (Lk. 14:25-33)
  3. Justification is instantaneous (Jn. 3:8)
  4. Sanctification is a life-long process (Jn. 8:31)
  5. Justification is by faith (Eph. 2:8)
  6. Sanctification is by faithfulness (1 Cor. 4:2)
  7. Justification is not of works (Eph. 2:9)
  8. Sanctification is of works (Eph. 2:10)
  9. Justification involves Christ’s love for me (Jn. 3:16)
  10. Sanctification involves my love for Christ (1 Jn. 4:19)
  11. Justification concerns Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21)
  12. Sanctification concerns my righteousness (Lk. 14:25-33)
  13. Justification involves my position in Christ (Col. 2:11-14)
  14. Sanctification involves my practice (Col. 3:1-11)
  15. Justification considers what God has done (1 Cor. 15:3-4)
  16. Sanctification considers what I am doing (Lk. 14:25-33)
  17. Justification is God’s commitment to me (1 Jn. 5:9-13)
  18. Sanctification is my commitment to God (Jn. 14:15)
  19. Justification requires obedience to one command: to believe the Gospel (Ac. 6:7)
  20. Sanctification requires obedience to all of Christ’s commands (Matt. 28:19-20)
  21. Justification focuses on the cross which Jesus took up once and for all (1 Cor. 1:18)
  22. Sanctification focuses on the cross which I am to take up daily (Lk. 9:53)
  23. Justification is finished at the moment of faith (Jn. 5:24)
  24. Sanctification is not finished until I go to be with the Lord (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

Discerning the two should only be a blessing. This is no way puts God in a box, but it does have an ability to explain much. I might add, examining some of the key verses that develop this statements will also bless you.

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Feet Finders, [Intimacy]

JesusFeetOne of the more amazing studies you can do in the New Testament (Matthew-Revelation) are the people who found themselves at the feet of Jesus. Actually there is probably more than you think.

There are some common dynamics that take place by these “feet finders.”

  1. A great need- “desperation”
  2. To emphasize one’s need and true condition
  3. To ask for a healing (for self or family)
  4. To honor Jesus as God
  5. To worship more authentically
  6. To be more receptive to His teaching
  7. To witness to others

“Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.”

Matthew 15:30, NIV

“In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet.”

Mark 7:25

“And the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”

Luke 8:35

In fact, there are several other instances where people came to Jesus’ feet.

  • Mark 5:22-23, Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue
  • Luke 7:37-38, a sorrowing mother for her daughter
  • Luke 8:41, also Jairus
  • Luke 10:39, Mary, when Jesus was teaching
  • John 11:32, Mary, meeting Jesus entering Bethany
  • John 12:3, Mary, with her perfume
  • Revelation 1:17, John to express what he was seeing (also 19:10)

In every case we find people consciously coming and kneeling at the feet of the Lord Jesus. It was a deliberate action coming from their hearts. Each had a need, custom built for this precise moment in time.

One of the classic scenes in the Gospels is when Mary meets Jesus. She doesn’t understand His delay, she is grieving and confused. But she only has one posture and one place in her heart to be– at the feet!

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

John 11:32

Being at the feet is not supposed to be a mindless exercise. She maintains her issues with Jesus re: Lazarus. But this questioning came from her knees. The issues could never take the place of her love and her honor. But I think she is an example of how our problems can coincide with a real faith.

One might say that she had every right to take up an issue of incompetence and neglect with Jesus. Much should be made of the fact that Jesus been briefed on Lazarus’ illness much earlier. And yet He purposefully delayed going to Bethany. Maybe Jesus never responds to crisis; but people in need.

To be honest with you, I have my own occasional controversies with God. I have gone through hard things that really needed His attention. I have cried and begged to no avail. I’ve tried to negotiate and manipulate and it doesn’t work.

But even there, there is found a place for me at His feet. It is where I belong. I love Him.

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The Art of Offending Jesus

SIN_KILLS_SIGN Our actions can bless God, and others immensely. We really have no idea that we have such power in our grasp. But we do say and do things that do alter the realities of those who are trying desperately to draw close to Him. We like to be unattached from these very real things. We suppose that it is a “no-brainer,” we will always avoid any complications or entanglements, about our behavior.

However, reality is much more “unforgiving” then we imagine. How we conduct ourselves is certain, and is significant. Honestly, when we become believers and are added to His church, can we honestly behave worse than we were before our salvation from sin?

I’m afraid salvation from sin means “turning off the faucet.” We can’t avoid this, it will determine what kind of a Christian we are. What do we do? Do we continue to sin? “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

Romans 6:1-2, NLT

I’m truly convinced of this. Our decision to keep enjoying sin is disturbing. Our “death” in this case, has never happened. We have died to nothing, and remain untouched by the Gospel. We become just inoculated enough to make us believe that we are “ok.” Our lives keep moving, and we will never consider that we have made these wrong adjustments.11831809_417345445125926_2957479398676821867_n

Are we not “offending Jesus Christ” by not dying to our own sins? If we have pretty much remained the same kind of people, then it is very likely we have. Our enjoyment of sin indicates our real allegiance that we will have when “push comes to shove.” It really seems that we must shake off the old way before we can put on the new.

I simply suggest that you liaten to the Spirit as you make your choices.

Let him accompany you and show you what offends. I only speak boldly, because it matters more than you realize.

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Almost Holy, [Almost]

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“And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, NLT

I hesitate to tell you this, but I have not found any secrets to becoming a holy person.

To be sure, I wish I figured this out. I would very much like to come to you with the secret formula. Sometimes I want to just make things up, just to alleviate your trials and strivings. I would easily latch on this idea of a “magic wand.” I think it would be good; and maybe not.

But the authentic Christian life is hardly formulaic. It seems to defy any attempt to explain, and then guide anyone else into that special place of true obedience or holiness. I’m supposing that you are just like me. I truly want to be right. I would love to be holy. But it ain’t happening. I always seem to end up back in the place I started from. Always, defeat and simple failure. Rats!

I’ve always been mystified by the conundrum of Romans 7. I really want 8, but I’ll settle for 6. Romans 7 has been in limbo for a very long time. I don’t really know what to do with it. (I honestly avoid it, after all chapter 8 is so good!) But way deep down, I have a real strong sense I’m missing something very important.

I suppose it might be compared to making a really good ‘discipleship smoothie.’ Of course we must add to our blender Rom. 8. And many would add Rom. 6. However, a lot of us would hesitate to include Rom. 7, we’re not really sure why. Quite a few commentaries also hesitate. Many good teachers and preachers regard chapter 7 as parenthetical. They suggest that Paul is describing his life before coming to Christ, and certainly not in a ‘present-tense’ discipleship.

When I look at the Gospels, I see, across the board that those– the healed, forgiven, cleansed and made whole were always the desperate. They have nothing, they bring nothing– they meet no requirement, but pure poverty. They are the “zeroes.” (Maybe– even the negative numbers?)

I don’t believe, at this point anyway, that there is a singular principle of sanctification. Perhaps we can truly do nothing in precise alignment. There is no such thing as a “microwavable discipleship,” and no real instant breakfasts. We truly come with a desperate faith– and we will end up with just a desperate faith. This should be incredibly humbling to us all. It takes a long time to learn humility it seems.

“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!”

Romans 7:21-24, NLT

Please (someone?– anyone?!) challenge me on this. I tell you, chapter 7 chafes, and then “disrupts” me. Will I always be so misaligned and “out-of-step?” Or am I just a lousy excuse for a Christian disciple? If I’m out of line and screwed up; please let me know. But whatever dear one, don’t give up– “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” (John 6:68.)

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“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”

–Mike Yaconelli

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kyrie elesion, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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The Tabloids Were Scandalous!

scandalous‘Scandalizing is celebrated openly today. We’ll manipulate and defame so all will pretty much see our enemies as disgraceful or hypocritical. It makes me want to cry when I hear of this intimidation inside the Church. Jesus told us that this would really, truly happen. We shouldn’t be at all disturbed. To be hurt this way is very much part of being his disciple.

In Matthew 11:2-6, 2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Offended. The word in our Greek N.T. is “skandalon.” It’s used in many ways, but the most amazing one is defined as, “the trigger of a trap, to kill an animal. To be the trap wire or stick used to catch prey; a snare.” We have the word scandalous, or to be involved in a vicious manipulation, scandal. Another metaphor is that it’s like the “fly paper” that’s hung up in the barn to catch those big nasty flies. 

Jesus dug up his dictionary, and chose this very specific word to communicate what he wanted. Of men and women, boys and girls caught in something they can’t get out of without help. John the Baptist, languishing in a dark place, wants to understand Jesus. John seems to expect Jesus to hop on a white stallion, and forcefully exert his messianic role.

Jesus will send his message. “You’re blessed indeed, if you do not stumble” (or get trapped) by the misconceptions. John confined in Herod’s dungeon, would be meticulously praised by Jesus. The Lord honors his own openly.

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It is easy to take up offense, (whether right or wrong.) When we hear a message causing shock, anger, repulsion, or disgust; that is a pretty good indicator that you are being “scandalized.” And turn-around is fair play. We might be the scandalizer, or the victim. It happens all the time.

Are you trapping– or are you trapped? Either way we need to stop it. We can’t continue to trip others up– nor can we allow others to foist their trap on us either. The Gospel regards itself as a ‘stumbling block. For some agnostics’, Jesus is someone they keep tripping over. But for the believer, Jesus is a ‘climbing up’ stone!

Worship is the finest defense. People who stumble, or cause another to stumble are usually…

  • grim,
  • guilty,
  • and grouchy.

They become graceless and sterile in the important matters of the heart. They become rigid and bitter.

The man or woman who stands up for their faith, and who doesn’t fall away or let their zeal ‘leak away,’ is incredibly blessed. God however is ready to forgive all those who backslide and then repent, but is especially pleased with those– like John, who hold firm to the faith.

 

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