When Did You Get Saved?

It’s a question that gets asked fairly often in Christian circles (at least, in the evangelical/holiness circles I’m a part of): When did you get saved?

download (3)So many seem to have a date, and sometimes a time, they can point to and say, “That was the event. That was when I became a Christian.” So many, in fact, that I wonder if there is anyone out there like me. I can’t give you a time or place or date. My story goes a little like this.

The first time I really began to wonder about whether or not I was saved was when I happened to turn on a televised Billy Graham crusade. I called a friend about it, who walked me through the sinner’s prayer, and I thought that was that. For a while.

After that, though, I did what people do: I sinned. A lot. I knew I was wrong and I was driven to despair over my sin. I would pray and beg God to save me, to not let me go to hell. Sometimes I felt saved. Sometimes I didn’t. I went to the altar at a church service and thought I’d gotten re-saved. I got baptized. I attended church a bit more reliably, read my Bible. Then I stopped doing those things and got into a pattern of desperately saying the sinner’s prayer I had been taught before going to sleep in the hope that, if I died in the night, the prayer would be enough to get me into heaven. Back and forth. That was my life for almost a decade.

Over the past few years I have seen a change in my life. Small and subtle, but real. I want to read my Bible more often. I want to pray more often, and when I do I more easily offer praise to God and prayer for others, not just myself. I have an honest faith in God. And I know that I didn’t do these things myself – they are gifts from God. I can tell you today that I am a Christian and I trust Jesus to bring me safely home.

So the big question – when was I saved? At what point in my story did I move from death to life?

A simple answer – I don’t know.

Some people get one moment. One bright, shining moment where they know they have experienced God and that everything has changed. Paul got that on the road to Damascus, when Jesus knocked him on his rear and spoke to him. It is possible that Peter got it, too, although that is harder for us to pinpoint.

What about the rest, though? What about Matthew, Jude, or John? Is it possible that they didn’t experience a moment, but a process in which they were changed by God? A process guided by an unseen hand but nevertheless real and effective?

Further, does it matter at all if I have a date and time and place as long as I am a Christian now? I don’t know if I would have gone to heaven if I had died five years ago, but I trust that if I were to die today I would open my eyes to see my Savior.

I say we stop asking about dates and places and start celebrating our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If you have been purchased with the blood of Jesus you have cause for great joy, whether you can remember a specific moment or not. May the star of our personal story always be Christ and His glory.

Book Review: Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds

Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism by 17688937Starr Meade is exactly what it sounds like – a devotional for families. It is arranged one week at a time. On Sunday you read one or more questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, then every other day of the week there is a short devotional that ties into the questions from Sunday. Each day’s reading (except Sunday) also includes Bible verses for reference. There are 52 weeks of devotionals in the book.

We haven’t actually finished this book yet. We are reading it at the dinner table, and, as I noted above, it could be a year or more before we actually get through the whole thing. I wanted to write a review, though, so others could hear about this wonderful book.

The book is written at a low enough level that I think it could easily be used by families with very young children (older toddlers to young elementary), but it is also written in such a way that it doesn’t “talk down” to adults or older children. My children are a bit older (older elementary to middle school age), and the book works for them. They understand it but don’t feel like it is a “baby” book.

Here’s how we are using it: every night at dinner, either my husband or I read the night’s devotional with all the Bible verses (I keep the book with my Bible, as the verses are listed in the book but not written out). Then, we ask the children if they have any questions or comments related to what we read. We have had some really good discussion about theology and Bible interpretation.

I highly recommend this book to all Christian parents. While we can incorporate Bible reading into family like without using a book other than the Bible, it is so much easier to do so with a guide, and Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds is an excellent guide.

Open Letter to Evangelical Worship Leaders

Dear Evangelical Worship Leader,

I’m going to open this letter by admitting that I am not Screen-Shot-2012-11-04-at-3.16.45-PMnow and have never been in your shoes. I know that your position is one that gets attacked quite often in the so-called “worship wars.” I don’t intend for this letter to pile on. I know you work hard every week to learn new songs, teach those songs to others, and make the musical part of church interesting and engaging. You are using your musical talent to glorify God, and – as someone who loves music but can’t play an instrument to save her life – I am so grateful that He has blessed the church with people like you.

However, I have noticed some trends in evangelical worship that I find very disturbing. I decided that I should address these things with you, if only to clear my own conscious. From a congregation member who cares a lot for both you and the rest of the congregation, here are some concerns I have and suggestions for addressing them.

Please remember that your portion of the service on Sunday is supposed to be corporate worship. You are leading us to the throne of God. I know you mean well and want everything to sound good, but vamping during a song (the improved “ooh, yes, Jesus” etc.) takes a lot away from the corporate nature of the worship and makes it seem a lot more like a concert. I promise you that the songs will still sound right without that.

Related to that, not everyone in the church listens to the cds and Christian radio stations that you do. New songs, particularly difficult new songs, need an adjustment period. Please stop telling us to “sing out” when the song is brand new – we’re learning. We’ll do better next time. Also, not everyone is an exuberant, hands-raised worshiper. This doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worshiping God as much as you are. Telling us to raise our hands or clap or whatnot doesn’t change how deeply we are worshiping.

Don’t dismiss the hymns. Many of us love the hymns and miss singing them. Often you seem to assume that the only people in church who want to sing hymns are over 60, but that’s not true. There are many good contemporary arrangements of hymns that don’t require an organ or choir robes (this cd is a good place to start if you haven’t heard any). I’m not saying ditch the contemporary stuff for the hymns, but simply asking you to add some hymns into your song rotation.

Remember that you have a role in the presentation of the Gospel and the teaching of Biblical doctrine. Please pick songs accordingly. Being played on Christian radio (or being in a hymnal, for that matter) doesn’t automatically mean the song has correct doctrine.

I beg you, look over your song list before Sunday and ask yourself one question – is there at least one song worship-crowd-320x311on the list that couldn’t be sung by an agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, New Ager, etc.? Be honest with yourself. Many songs on KLove and the like can be sung by non-Christians as easily as by Christians. Christian worship should include at least some explicitly Christian songs – songs that mention Jesus by name, talk about the cross, talk about sin, and so on.

One point that may sound a bit nit-picky, but that I think should be addressed anyway – if you are going to say something during the worship other than introducing a song, please think it over before you get up in front of the congregation Sunday morning. Consider writing it down. I’ve spoken in front of the church myself and I know that it’s easy to get started on something you think is deep only to realize halfway through that you’re simply rambling. Your congregation will thank you for saying your piece in a way that is short and to the point.

Once again, I appreciate what you do. I don’t say it to your face often enough, but it’s still true. May God richly bless you as you serve Him and His people.

Grace and peace to you,

CG

Missing the Gospel on Mother’s Day

The Mother’s Day service in evangelical churches is pretty similar wherever you go – something is given to mothers at the door (flowers, a card, a small present), mothers are honored at least once by being asked to stand or raise their hand, and the sermon focuses on mothering in one way or another. Often the children’s ministry gets involved in one way or another. Sometimes videos of children and mothers are shown.

All very sweet.

If you are a happy mother of a child with no problems.

But what about the other women in the church on sad-woman-silhouette-e1266563258497-225x300Mother’s Day? If your church has an average amount of people in it, I can guarantee that your congregation has heartbroken women.

Heartbroken women who:

  • Are grieving one or more miscarriages
  • Are grieving the death of a child they bore
  • Are struggling with infertility
  • Would love to have more children but cannot, either because of biology or unwilling husbands
  • Have children who have left the church and are living apart from Christ
  • Are struggling with feelings of guilt and doubt over mistakes they made with their children
  • Are post-abortive, be it one day or 10 years after their abortion, and feeling condemned by God

Some carry pain they brought on themselves through their own sin, some carry pain that was pushed on them by someone else’s sin, some carry pain that is simply a result of the fallen condition of the world. All are hurting.

You may not know. Many of these women carry their pain deep inside where no one can see. The church and the larger culture have pressured them into putting on a happy face and never revealing their brokenness.

Mother’s Day is a day when the church can preach a strong message of God’s amazing grace and mercy, His forgiveness of sin, His ability to redeem and bring back the lost sheep, His fatherly love, His desire to place the lonely in families. 

So often we miss it.

We don’t see the women who sit in church on Mother’s Day weeping tears of sorrow and pain instead of joy. 

We preach sentimentality instead of the gospel.

We do our congregations a disservice when we do this, because the gospel is so important to those who are hurting.

The gospel tells us that Jesus was a human like us in all ways except sin (Heb 2:17-18). While he was on the earth he knew pain and suffering and sorrow.

All those who trust in Him for salvation have their sins removed from them as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12). Jesus is our once-for-all sacrifice to take away our sin and guilt (Heb 9:24-28) and give us new life with Him (1 Pet 1:3). All Christians are adopted into His family (Gal 4:1-7). 

God comforts us in all our affliction (2 Cor 1:3-4) and He knows our tears (Ps 56:8). He has compassion for us because He knows our weaknesses (Ps 103:13-14). We may grieve for a while, but He will bring us joy (Ps 30:5). He is faithful and steadfast in His love and mercy (Lam 3:22-23). 

And Jesus has promised that He is preparing a place for those who love Him (John 14:1-3), a place of eternal joy where we will see His face and share in His glory (Rev 22:4; Rom 8:30). 

This Mother’s Day, don’t miss the gospel.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

(Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

The Thief on the Cross isn’t the Universal Out

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

iStock_000016225378Small-300x199This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. The thief was a person like any of us, dying a death he deserved for the crime he had committed, and in the midst of all of it Jesus had mercy on him. When he closed his eyes in death in this world he opened them in Paradise in the next. Powerful, heavy stuff that deserves to be preached often.

However, it is disturbing to me how often this story is used as an out for obedience to the clear commands for Christians found in the Bible.

So many people seem to view this man as the universal out, the story they can pull up to justify why they don’t do follow such New Testament commands as baptism, church attendance, communion, monetary giving, sin killing, and many, many more.

“Well, the thief on the cross didn’t do that and he still went to heaven, so I don’t have to do that, either.”

All I have to say to that is this : Grow up.

No, the thief wasn’t baptized. He didn’t attend church with other Christians. He didn’t take communion or give money to the church. He didn’t see fruits of sanctification, evangelize to the lost, learn theology, encourage others in their Christian walk, etc.

He didn’t have time.

You do.

Unless you are a brand-new Christian reading this post on your death bed, you have time for these things. (If you are on your deathbed, please switch to reading the Bible. I won’t mind.)

You have time to find a church, get plugged in, give sacrificially, read your Bible, learn theology, fellowship with other Christians, sing and pray to God, and take communion. You have time to be baptized as a physical and public sign of your faith. You have time to make war with your sin and time to tell others about Jesus.

It is true that you don’t need to do any of these things to be saved. Salvation comes by faith in Christ through His grace and cannot be earned. 

If you don’t do any of these things, don’t want to do them, and feel no guilt for not doing them, though, you may have a problem.

Instead of figuring out how to use the Bible’s stories of God’s incredible grace and mercy to excuse your behavior, grow up. Find a church. Read your Bible. Get baptized. Tell others about the One who brought you from death to life. Not because you are checking things off a to-do list for salvation, but because you are willing to do anything that Jesus, your most precious treasure, has commanded and enabled you to do.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

(Philippians 2:12-16 ESV, emphasis mine)