Sunday, March 28, 2010

Criteria for salvation

Alright, so I recognize I have taken my blogs in a pretty preachy direction lately. Not intentionally exactly, but maybe on some level, it is intentional. Not to be preachy, but moreso because its kind of an overflow of where I am in my heart right now. See, after years being out of a home church, we finally got plugged back in about a month ago to a church that I, and the rest of my little family, absolutely love! So out of the abundance of having my heart and spirit filled on a regular basis now, I am once again excited about being in fellowship with the Lord, and desire to see others come to the same enthusiasm about Him. I know many won't, and nothing I say about Him will probably change anyone's heart (though if it does, I would be incredibly humbled!), and I certainly accept others' reasons for not wanting to embrace the Lord even if its not the choice I am making with my own life. He doesn't force anyone to believe in Him, so who am I to try and strong-arm others with my words into conviction and condemnation in hopes that others come to Him? If someone comes to the Lord through my words, I don't want it to be through feeling guilty, but rather through feeling loved.

Which is a rather good lead-in to my blog today. In the end, it all boils down to love and grace; His toward us, and us toward others. And as I have written many, many times, the avoidance of Christians to judge others, and the propensity instead to meet others where they are and love them with the Godly example we've been given. Anyway, to get into my thoughts for today...

I was struck with a little bit of conviction a few minutes ago. Not guilt, not condemnation, but Godly conviction. The way it started was, I posted a status about the death and resurrection of Jesus. A few people "liked" the status, and I began immediately scrutinizing their beliefs and lifestyles, and from there, started to question whether their hearts truly did belong to the Lord. Certain things - in MY eyes - didn't seem to line up with Christianity. So I began to do what I hate about the way too many Christians operate - I began to judge.

But then it hit me. The "criteria" for salvation isn't aligning your life with His - it is faith in Him! We are saved through faith, by His grace, not by our works (the things we do).

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ~ NIV)

If we believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all the rest is circumstantial. We aren't saved based on our belief in creation, and aren't "unsaved" by believing in evolution. We aren't saved by stopping to drink and smoke, and aren't "unsaved" by continuing to struggle with addictions. We aren't saved based on our humanitarian work, and aren't "unsaved" by not doing so. And the list goes on... I know many people who live great, upstanding lives, who give of themself and their time and resources for the good of mankind, yet they don't believe in the life, death, and ressurrection of Jesus. And I know people (um...everyone I know!) who are Christians, yet still continue to struggle with their faith, or don't follow Christ closely. But the "make it or break it" is whether you believe in Jesus and what He did on the cross. And its the ONLY "make it or break it!"

9That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."[e] 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10:9-13)

To be a Christian isn't about what you do, its about who you align your heart with. Sure, God loves it when we begin to live the way He intended and fully embrace the Bible, but even if we don't, if we have faith in Jesus and entrust Him with our lives eternal, then that's good enough for Him. We don't have to walk closely with Him, or even agree with Him in all things. It is His desire that we do, but we are saved regardless, as long as we believe in Jesus. If we believe He came to this earth and died and rose again to save us from our wicked ways, then that's enough.

And getting back to my earlier moment of conviction, I have to say, I was even further convicted because I know how it feels to have my faith judged and questioned. And the saddest thing about it is, it happened at a Bible college! I was on a worship team that did outreaches to youth groups. The school was quite charismatic, and put a lot of emphasis on spiritual gifts, and speaking in tongues in particular. While the Bible supports the spiritual gift of tongues, it was sadly somehow overlooked by some that there are other spiritual gifts too, and that we don't all have the same ones. I am not one who speaks in tongues. Never have, and possibly never will. I am open to it, if the Lord ever chooses to use me that way, but I am completely content exercising the other gifts He's given me. Getting back to the ministry team, I guess my salvation, and that of a few others, were called into question by one of the young men on our team, based on the fact we didn't speak in tongues. Fortunately, the leader (another student) had the wisdom to put this young man in his place, and backed it up Biblically. I knew my salvation wasn't based on tongues, and I knew in my heart I had a solid relationship with the Lord, but nevertheless, it stung to have my faith called into question like that. So when it comes to questioning others' relationships with God, I, of all people, should know better. Or so you would think anyway.

I guess my point in all this is, faith is simple. There is one criteria, and one criteria only, for salvation, and that is belief in Jesus's life, death, and ressurrection. We can argue all other points of life and faith imaginable, but if we put our faith in Jesus, no matter what else we do with ourselves, we are still saved by His grace! The only thing He asks us for is to believe in Him, and we shall have eternal life.

16"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ~ NIV)

Be encouraged, believer and non-believer alike! We are immeasurably loved by the God of the universe....and that's a pretty big deal! :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Easter giving

With Easter approaching, compounded with recent tragedies and ongoing hunger and poverty around the world, I have been stricken with the conviction to give. Our family isn't in a great financial position, so its going to be difficult in that respect. Its hard to have the heart to give, yet feel like, practically-speaking, its just not that simple.

As an extention of this, I have also been realizing more and more just how spoiled American kids, and certainly my own kids, are in comparison to the rest of the world. In comparison to other American children, my kids live modestly. However, in comparison to 95% of other kids around the world, my kids are living in the lap of luxury. My kids get to eat delicious, healthy food, and never go to school or to bed hungry. My kids have an overabundance of toys and games and things to stimulate their minds and bodies. They are up on their immunizations and can visit a doctor regularly to keep them from disease and death. They live in a safe, comfortable house with indoor heat and plumbing. They are able to bathe and wear a fresh set of clean clothes everyday. My kids have so many things the rest of the world's kids undoubtedly live in envy of! Yet my kids are unaware and only want "more, more, more," because that is the culture they are living in.

My kids are excited for Easter, and the Easter presents they will be recieving. And as a parent, I am looking forward to being able to bless them that way and watch their sweet little faces light up with excitement. However, the very thought of my kids getting more stuff just makes me feel overwhelmingly guilty! I have joined the World Vision fan page on Facebook, and everyday, I see pictures of kids all around the world who won't be getting more "stuff" for Easter; kids who's only wants are a safe home, clean clothes, sufficient food, a family income... And I put myself in their parents' shoes....how horrible would it feel not to be able to provide basic necessities to your own children?

So now I am thinking... Maybe we'll make Easter more about giving than getting. I haven't run the idea past my husband yet, but I don't see any reason he would be opposed. I am thinking that each of my kids will get a small present for themselves, then $20-30 that they can put toward buying a gift for another child. World Vision has an online "gift catalog" with items such as a goat (provides a family with income, milk, etc.), school supplies, chickens, water purification systems, etc. And there are a lot of items within the $20-30 range! Obviously, we aren't going to change the world, but we can change one child's, or one family's, life, and that's pretty powerful. So what I am thinking is that the kids will get to take their amount of money and pick a gift out of the "catalog," we'll pay for it online, and then they will, hopefully, be able to see how an act of giving - even small - can change someone's life.

Besides, isn't that what Easter is about? Giving? With Easter, we celebrate the best gift ever given - the gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Jesus gave the ultimate gift when he freely up His life and His will to die for US. Us...I mean, really. We're pretty rotten people, and yet, He gave us a gift we didn't ask Him for, and certainly didn't deserve to recieve. But He gave it anyway. And if we are going to honor Him and His life and what He did on Easter, what better thing to do than follow His example of giving?

I can only hope and pray that my kids are receptive to this idea. Kids like gifts, and I know there may be a sense of disappointment that part of their gift is not to keep, but rather to give to others. But I think if they really can grasp what it is they're really doing, it may change their hearts and perspectives and make them better people in the long run. And I would be nothing short of amazed, proud, and humbled if my kids grew up to be "cheerful givers."

"So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7).