Salvation

butterfly monarch on yellow flowers

“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” (1 John 5:13, NIV).

Can I really be sure? That is a question I’ve heard, even asked, many times, concerning salvation. Maybe you are asking it right now. If you are, then read on, because I’ve got some really great news for you!

The answer to this age-old theological question is a definitive “yes”. You see, our salvation is not based upon anything that we do, but rather on the all-sufficient sacrifice that Jesus made on a cross some 2,000 years ago. God’s gracious gift of eternal life is available to all people and made ours through faith. The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV). “By grace, through faith!” “A gift!” That is really great news!

Still, so many people find themselves wondering, fearfully doubting if they are truly saved. They take their eyes off Jesus, his cross and empty tomb. Instead, they look at their own sins and shortcomings. And when they do, they become hopeless.

But, God does not want us to be hopeless or to fear. He assures us that Jesus has done everything necessary for our salvation. By the power of his Holy Spirit, he gives us faith in Christ’s victory over sin.

So, what do we do now? We do nothing to contribute to what God has already done. We are forgiven. We are saved. We are free. But we can do this. We can follow Jesus with reckless abandon. We can love others and serve them. And we can share the good news with those who so desperately need to hear it. May God bless us abundantly as we do these things!

Favorite Verses – John 3:16

flower white single

“ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ ” (John 3:16, NIV).

John 3:16 has rightly been called “the Gospel in a nutshell”. It is truly the meat of the good news message of what God has done for us in Christ.

We are told here that God loves the world, meaning all the people in the world. Too often we minimize the impact of these words. We can accept that God loves most people. But all people? This means that God loves the vilest of human beings, that God is passionately in love with murderers and sex traffickers, that God loves even those who will never love him back, that God loves someone like you and someone like me. Yes, God loves the world.

Try this exercise. Put your name in place of the word “world” in the verse. Also insert your name where it says “whoever believes in him”. In my case, the verse now reads “For God so loved Chuck that he gave his one and only Son, that Chuck shall not perish but have eternal life. This little exercise personalizes the meaning of this powerful verse.

Don’t ever think that God’s love doesn’t extend to you. God loves you so much that he was willing to give his very best to save you. Jesus faced the cruel agony of the cross so that you could have a crown of life. Believe what John 3:16 says, and share it with someone today!

East From West

ocean sunset“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12, NIV).

Let me begin by addressing the word “fear” in this passage. Are we really meant to fear God? Part of this answer, I think, lies in how we understand the word “fear”. God is perfectly holy and just, and, because of our sin, we can never, on our own, live up to the perfect standard he sets. Scripture says that even our most “…righteous acts are like filthy rags…” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV).

In Old Testament times, people “feared” God to such an extent that they refused to even speak his name. This is, however, the same God who knows each of us by our name. And what we could not do to earn favor with God, he sent his Son Jesus to earn for us.

By Jesus’ death on the cross, we are forgiven. We are declared righteous, made right, before our Heavenly Father. As followers of Jesus, we do not need to fear God because of what Jesus has done for us through his death at Calvary.

The rest of this passage of Scripture further clarifies our unafraid response to God.

Think of grace like this. A line extends infinitely in opposite directions. By its very definition, a line is without end. This is what I think about when I look at the above passage from the Book of Psalms.

The beginning point of our forgiveness is found at the cross where Jesus died. He took our many sins into his flesh and removed them from us “…as far as the east is from the west…” (Psalm 103:12, NIV). Our forgiven sins could not be more distant from us than how they are described by the Psalmist.

At the same time, God is with us. By his Spirit, he lives within us. He loves us. He forgives all our wrongs.

Believe that. Live today as someone who is truly forgiven and free. Because you are. Thank God for his grace and kindness.

Knit Together

flower close up yellow and purple“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:13-14, NIV).

I can’t say that I’ve ever knit anything, but I can appreciate the artistry and handiwork of the person who has. Knitting requires a great deal of physical dexterity and the use of fine motor skills. It is an intentional act, one that involves persistence and care. Knitting is intimate in nature. It takes time, creativity, and unparalleled patience. This is how King David chose to describe the work of God in creating every human being.

Think about it for a moment. The God who speckled the nighttime sky with shining stars and spinning planets, created the dimpled cheeks and freckled faces of human beings. The same God who painted rainbows and sunsets, who colored the wings of butterflies, chose the pigmentation of our skin. The very God who spoke and creation was complete is the God who breathed life into our still bodies.

So, what if we really believed these words of Scripture? Would we call people ugly if we knew that they were created in God’s very image? If we truly understood that God created each person’s inner being, would we look there first to see what really matters? Would we see the value of all life if we really accepted the notion that God knit each of us together in our mother’s womb? Would there be such devaluing of human life, such hate and disdain of entire races of people, such pettiness on the part of humans? What if we truly believed that each person is fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who loves them?

We may never perfectly grasp God’s intimate work in the creation of mankind. Maybe we’ll continue to hate and dismiss, belittle and hurt one another. Still the very hands that held each of us as they formed and molded and knit us together are the same hands that stretched out on a cross to redeem us from our sin and from ourselves. We are fearfully and wonderfully made and so are all the people on Earth. Let’s live it out.

Hidden

forest, leaves, sun

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:10-11, NIV).

As I think about this Psalm, I can’t help but recall my past. There was a time in my life when the commands of God terrified me. I viewed God’s law as a complicated list of dos and don’ts, should haves and could haves. I overlooked the spirit of God’s law (its actual purpose) while binding myself to the letter of the law, of which I attempted to dot every “i” and cross every “t”. I was like the Pharisees of the Bible, adhering to every detailed point. And while I’d like to say that I succeeded at my strict obedience and piety, mostly I just felt more and more lost, an enemy of a God who demanded a perfection of which I was simply incapable of attaining.

Things change with age, with perspective, and with God’s grace. Today, I see the wisdom in God’s commands. They give me direction in a world where it is so easy to become lost. God’s laws are an anchor that holds me steady as the winds and waves of life try to throw me around. They give me a glimpse of what I could become if I strived for God’s ultimate design and desire for my life.

Still, while I seek to live by God’s commands, I appreciate and rely on God’s grace even more. I understand that I could never earn God’s love or favor, and that Heaven isn’t a place for those of us who are good enough. I thank God every day for his mercy and kindness, Jesus’ cross and the empty tomb. Through them I am forgiven and free.

The Psalmist says, “I have hidden your word in my heart…” (Psalm 119:11, NIV), not because we shouldn’t share it, but because it is that special and central to who we are.

Expectancy

Waiting on God…

flowers yellow

Listen to my podcast of this devotion here.

Music from Uppbeat (free for Creators!):
https://uppbeat.io/t/adi-goldstein/what-really-matters
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“In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3, NIV).

This passage of Scripture tells me so much about God.

The simple fact that God “…hears my voice…” (Psalm 5:3, NIV) astonishes me. There are so many things for God to give his attention to: the sounds of his creation, the rushing waters, the cries of a newborn baby, the thunder on a stormy spring day. Each of these demands that God listens to them. And God does hear each of these. But he also hears me.

God allows me to “…lay my requests before him…” (Psalm 5:3, NIV). I consider all the things God must manage. Still, he is interested in what I have to say, my concerns, my joys, and my desires. Nothing I bring is too insignificant, too trivial for him to hear. This is because he loves me passionately. He is the one who “…knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13, NIV). He is my Creator. He is my Father.

And so, with the Psalmist, I “…wait expectantly” (Psalm 5:3, NIV). This is my worship, that I begin and end each day with a sense of expectancy. I know that God is with me, and that God is in favor of me, and that God is undoubtedly going to do amazing things for me and through me. Expectancy, quite honestly, is what gets me through the day.

He hears you as well. So, bring all that you are to him, simply wait, and expect.

Christ Crucified

crucifix and bible

“…I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2, NIV).

The foundational doctrine espoused by the Apostle Paul is “Christ crucified”. This is simply the idea that the most impactful moment in Jesus’ life occurred as he breathed his final breaths hanging from a Roman cross, where he secured our forgiveness of sins and freedom from their eternal consequences. Now, one might argue that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead served as Jesus’ crowning achievement, and certainly, the resurrection assures us that Jesus’ sacrifice was complete. But remember. The glory of Easter doesn’t occur without the gory scene of the cross.

Calvary is the scene of the most pivotal point in human history. God’s heart, while broken at the cross, was most clearly reflected there. We learn that Jesus “…was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…”, that “…the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV). This all occurred, not because God loved Jesus any less, but because God loved us so much that he was willing to allow a part of himself to die, rather than to go on living without us. God understood that the only way to restore the sin-broken relationship separating us from him was through the agony of the cross.

Sometimes, we, as followers of Jesus, get hung up on doctrinal differences and divisions. We proudly sport our denominational labels and cloister ourselves from those whose beliefs are contrary to our own. We love our theologies more than our fellow brothers and sisters.

What if we, who call ourselves Christians, spent less time focusing on the ministry minutia of things that divide us and gave ever increasing attention to that which unites us? What if we focused less on debate with one another and more on reaching the lost and the lonely? What if we simply loved one another and served together? Could it be that there really is common ground among us? I think the answer to that is found in the message and mission of Christ crucified.

Into Your Hands

cross forsaken

“Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46, NIV).

It was Friday and Jesus was dead. Some who knew him best were witnesses to the final faint breaths of their friend. They were heartbroken and confused and left to ask, “What would happen now that Jesus was gone?”

Mary Magdalene was there. Jesus had saved her from a spiritual bout with seven demons, dark forces that tormented her mind, body, and soul. She had had other “demons” as well, many of them of her own making. But Jesus had rescued her. He had befriended her. And she had followed Jesus all the way to the cross. But now it was over. Jesus’ body hang motionless just feet from where she stood. Her tears mixed with the rain that had begun to fall. With this brutal crucifixion, hope for her was gone. Her future, once so bright, was now darkened, just like the skies above. Now, if her “demons” returned, there would be no rescue.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, was also there. Even the torturous device of the cross could not break the bond of mother and child. Jesus, his body bloodied and bruised, beaten and broken, was barely recognizable, even to her. With such cruel irony, an aging mother would have to bury her own son and live out her days in loneliness. Jesus’ friend, John would now take care of Mary, but life wouldn’t be the same without Jesus.

There were others who stood bewildered and afraid in the shadows of Jesus’ cross. Most of his friends, however, hid elsewhere in the shadows of the day. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus, may have witnessed the crucifixion in private, but would not dare be recognized publicly. The other disciples were nowhere to be seen, fearing that they might be the next to be tortured and killed. Then there was Judas, the man who betrayed Jesus. His body hang from another tree. Sadly, he had taken his own life, unable to forgive himself for what he had done.

With Jesus’ death, all was lost. The disciples, in a best-case scenario, would live the remainder of their lives in relative obscurity. In the worst case, they would live their lives in hiding, never knowing when they might be the next to be captured and killed. Not that it mattered, for there was nothing worth living for. Hope had died along with Jesus.

But then…

Then came Sunday…

Finished

cross at cemetery“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30, NIV).

Have you ever noticed the difficulty in finishing something… anything? Personally I can be a bit of a perfectionist, which means that if I can’t do something right, I’d rather not do it at all. This way of thinking often derails my best intentions to finish what I begin.

My issues with perfectionism first became evident during my childhood. I vividly remember working in my coloring book, stressing over my inability to stay within the lines of the figures on the page. Even as an adult, I tend to “color within the lines” of life. It’s unnatural for me to press against the boundaries, to ignore the clearly defined borders. And scribbling is most definitely out of the question!

Still, it’s important to remember that Jesus was not a perfectionist. He was, however, perfection. Jesus lived a life that knew no sin. And, although he rebelled against the laws of men, he never fell short in keeping God’s righteous commands. Jesus was perfection. And, at the same time, he was transgression. Clinging to a cross, he became “…sin for us…” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV) in order to take all sin to the grave. Jesus’ life and death freed us to live lives that are un-bordered by legality and the rigid constraints of the Law. And, while this is not an anything-goes type of freedom, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did assure us that our sin is covered by his grace.

I used to think that Jesus’ words from the cross “…‘It is finished’… ” (John 19:30, NIV) referred to Jesus’ dying body, an admission of defeat. Now, however, I understand that “…‘It is finished’… ” (John 19:30, NIV) means that everything that needed to be accomplished for our forgiveness was taken care of at the cross, and that these words are a declaration of victory on the part of Jesus.

…‘It is finished’… ” (John 19:30, NIV). The work of Jesus is done. But our work is not. What better time to share this gospel (“good news”) message with others.

Thirst

hyssop“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips” (John 19:28-29, NIV).

The Gospel writer John loves to share seemingly insignificant details that point us to grander truths. So, in describing Jesus’ final moments of life, John speaks of the hyssop plant as the instrument with which the Roman soldiers extend Jesus something to drink. The mere mention of hyssop is meant to direct our attention to an event that occurred many years prior to the cross. That event is the Jewish Passover.

For those unfamiliar with the history of the Israelites, the Passover refers to an event that occurred as the Jews, God’s chosen people, were slaves in Egypt. God sent a series of plagues in an attempt to convince the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh to set the Israelites free. The final plague, often referred to as the death of the firstborn, resulted in the demise of many Egyptians including Pharaoh’s own son. The only way the Israelites were able to avoid such calamity was by following God’s specific directions involving the sacrifice of a blemish-free lamb and the spreading of the animal’s blood with hyssop on the doorframes of their homes. Death itself would “pass over” the homes marked with the blood of the sacrificed lamb.

Jesus is referred to as “ ‘…the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ ” (John 1:29, NIV). Jesus’ blood-stained cross is our doorway into our Heavenly home. Our sins are passed over because he took them in his body and was sacrificed for each of us. We no longer live in bondage to our sins and their spiritually deadly consequences. We are loved. We are forgiven. And we are free.