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Archive for the ‘Assurance’ Category

We need hope, but from whence does it come?

Certainly a sense of purpose or destiny or family and friends bring hope, but what about when these fail or seem distant? Hear what source of hope the Scriptures give us:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:4-6

Given that this was written before any of the four Gospels and the book of Acts, it must refer to the Old Testament from which Jesus had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”” Luke 24:45-47 Now, I am not excluding the great encouragement and instruction given by the New Testament, but I magnify the value of reading and studying the Old, especially for those many of you who don’t spend much time there or see much value in it, thinking I’m “not under law but under grace” Romans 6:14 (1) It was written for our instruction, so read the instruction manual before assembly.

Now we get to the meat of our source of hope. The passage reveals a two-fold instruction on hope from God with an ancillary instruction on hope from fellow believers.

Those who are blood bought, Holy Spirit sealed believers (2) increase in hope of their relationship to God and future rescue through persisting in faith in the midst of difficulty- perseverance. In fact, the teaching of perseverance of the saints is pointing out how believers persist in belief to the end while “the Spirit explicitly says” of those who do not truly belonging to God through belief in Jesus “that in later times some will fall away from the faith.” I Timothy 4:1

How does this strange occurrence of hardship increasing trust in God work? As the believer comes to understand that he or she does not deserve anything and yet God is carrying him or her through difficulty and revealing Himself in the process, the believer trusts more. The unbeliever begins to doubt that God cares and pulls further away. Many a believer will also struggle with doubts and be estranged, but it will not persist. In the end faith will persist. The believer perseveres.

The greatest help to perseverance is the Word of God. For this reason, Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted believers all over the world, frequently reports how believers ask for Scriptures over security, food, or shelter. The Bible brings hope and especially when we are paying attention during difficulty. The passage says “the encouragement of the Scriptures”. As we read of others who struggled but found God’s grace to persevere, we find strength. Promises of God impart strength. Ultimately, the excellency of the character of God imparts strength. Strength comes in the form of hope. When we are hopeless, then we are weak. When we are full of hope, then we are strong, strong in the Lord.

But God gives yet another avenue for increasing hope- fellowship. The passage speaks of “same mind”, that is, unity of belief and purpose. Then it says “with one voice glorify”, which is unified worship. When we worship together in unity and convey how God has increased our faith in difficulty and have comforted others in their difficulty with the hope of God and shared Scriptures of encouragement and instruction, then true fellowship and encouragement has occurred and hope is increased. For this reason “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The other disciplines of the faith like prayer, witness, fasting, service, and so forth, are all a part of this perseverance-Scripture-fellowship encouragement that strengthens faith leading to hope. What a good God we have who for His glory and our good by “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

And one day we will be removed from all difficulty and spend eternity in His presence. That will be glory!

  1. In context, this verse has nothing to do with the value or truth of the Old Testament. Rather, it refers to the source and power for overcoming sin, grace applied by the Holy Spirit and not striving to fulfill the requirement of the law. Why? Well it is because “a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 2:16
  2. These are not a special breed or dispensation of believers, just plain believers. I use these adjectives to exclude those who have mental assent to the things of God and are spectators in the church, but not saved.

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Preaching from John 20:19-23, my preacher asked, “Do you feel overwhelmed, uncertain, and afraid like the disciples on the day of the resurrection? Jesus meets us with a message that overcomes.” He went on to explain that Jesus provided forgiveness, peace, joy, purpose, and help through the power of the resurrection. I had already been thinking about Resurrection Celebration, but this gave so much more fuel for musing and giving praise.

Risen, oh risen from the dead
Joy in our hearts is widely spread
Death now forever overcome
For those who trust Him, rescued from

Without death no resurrection
His sacrifice, our protection
From God’s retribution and wrath
Giving us new life, a new path

His rising shows His power to save
Power to quell fear of the grave
Securing true peace for His own
The Spirit now sent from the throne

And by this power we now live
Witnesses who the Gospel give
Others know this peace and power
Stand unscathed in the judgement hour

Christ the first fruits to rise anew
Harvest of saints will not be few
On final resurrection day
Peace, joy, and nothing to dismay

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Last Sunday as I entered the church auditorium, I greeted a couple and conversed with them for a moment. I complimented the lady on her coat, which was sorta of a yellowish-tan, not quite gold or orange color. So, I followed up my first comment with, “What would you call that color?” Without hesitation she responded, “I’d call it sunshine.” Her husband and I chuckled and I said, “That sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem.

Fast forward to Wednesday morning. I was driving my wife to a doctor’s appointment 1:15 minutes away. About a third of the way into the trip I told my wife about the conversation on Sunday. She said that was cheery. We both went back to our thoughts and the following poem began to come. I didn’t write anything down until we reached our destination. I had composed the 1st verse and two lines of the 2nd verse by the time we arrived.

“I’d call it sunshine”
Even though the day be drear
I’d look for joy
In the midst of trial and fear

Not pretend it’s fine
When hardships are all around
But peace with God
Is settling and profound

Can’t keep it in line
There is so much going on
God controls all
It’s trust and rest I must hone

I am His, He’s mine
Though life is full of trouble
Unchanging grace
And His Word are comforts double

This poem is not about pretending everything is OK when it is not. It is not an Optimist’s perspective. Instead, this is a reminder for those who know God to look at the unseen realities that God has revealed and living based on that. And it is a reminder for those who have not come to know God that there is a spiritual reality that they should consider and seek to know God.

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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I am participating in a Ligonier Connect Bible Study online with my pastor and six or more other believers at my church. After answering questions and listening to a short lecture online, we have a Zoom meeting on Saturday evening to discuss the content. Fellowship with the saints over the Word of God, Christ, and our walk with God is always invigorating, encouraging and raising one’s spirit. Our topic is particularly encouraging since it is on assurance of saving faith. It can and should be sought after by the believer, because assurance strengthens faith, which in turn develops godliness and a desire for godliness.

In this last week’s lecture, Dr. Joel Beke mentions the key passages on assurance: I John, Galatians 5, Matthew 5, and II Peter 1:6-10. John states his theme toward the end of his book: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). Galatians 5:22-24 lists the fruits of the Spirit. Matthew 5-7 is the “Sermon on the Mount”, which Jesus begins by stating the “Beatitudes”, characteristics of those who are kingdom citizens. Peter is exhorting the believers to exercise “His [God’s] precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (v.4) by “applying all diligence” (v.5) in your faith. There is not a contradiction between what God gives and our proper utilization of it.

Dr. Beke’s lecture was very good, emphasizing the need to both trust the promises of God and “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). I appreciated most that he dealt with the nuances of testing your faith to be sure you neither deceive yourself into thinking you have saving faith when you have none nor deceive yourself into despairing of faith. I wanted him to provide a list of the assurances, the external and internal (“practical and mystic evidences” as he said it). Since he did not, I have attempted to list and organize them for my benefit and yours. Dr. Beke said there are about 30 evidences in these passages. I came up with the number 37. I combined some because they seemed to be saying the same thing, but I am sure I combine differently than he does. For example, I speculate that he may have clumped all beliefs about who Jesus is into one evidence, whereas I kept them as four separate items. Also, I expanded the II Peter passage by three verses, adding one more evidence.

I further tried to organize the evidences into categories. This is where I ran into problems. At first I had a catch all category that was titled “Emotions/Intentions/Actions”, but I quickly realized that would include everything on the list. So, I separated out “Practice of Righteousness”, but that is still too vague. On that point of vagueness, John lists “practicing righteousness” as a way to know you know God, but that seemed to be a summary of all that he meant and not merely a concrete evidence. I say all of this to say, the process of delineating every single evidence of saving faith is not easy, but the testing of yourself to see that you have saving faith is encouraging and faith building, joy producing, and useful and advisable. I hope that you are encouraged as you read the Scriptures from the list that I have provided. Don’t hesitate to suggest ways that I may better organize my list.

Evidence for Assurance

Or click here to see a clearer Word document version.

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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains