How far is too far? How close is close enough?

For over a a year now I have been witnessing to a 90-year-old woman who can’t seem to decide to be a follower of Christ.  She keeps saying “I’ll try.”

My heart is drawn to her.  She is covered in prayer by friends she has acquired at this faith-based retirement community.

This past week I asked her some pointed questions, such as: “Have you decided to accept Jesus as your personal Savior?”  The answer was “No.”  “Do you believe Jesus Christ shed His blood and died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?”  “Oh yes!”, was her answer.   “Do you believe Jesus arose from the dead after three days and still lives in Heaven today?”  “Oh yes!”, she said.  “Do you believe He’s coming again?”  “Well, I’m not sure about that.”, she said.

My heart was rejoicing as I told her….”Then you believe according to the Word of God in Acts 16:31.  “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved….”

I encouraged her with Scripture and the account of Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples who did not believe Jesus was alive, who, after touching the nail scars in Jesus’ hands, and the wound in His side, cried out “My Lord and My God.”  John 20:28

Also in the scriptures; the account of a father asking Jesus to heal his son, if He could. (Mark 9:24) When Jesus said “If you can?  Everything is possible for him who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Isn’t it God’s great compassion and grace to give us proof in His Word that He knows our heart?  He knows our frail humanity!

Even though my elderly friend has not prayed the “sinners prayer”, or “gone forward to the altar” at church, she must be on her way to a full realization of who Jesus Christ is, and who He is to her. Even the thief on one of the crosses next to Jesus cried out to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “I tell you THE TRUTH, TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”  That man believed in his heart at that moment and didn’t have time to pray a sinners prayer, or go forward to an altar , or even be baptized in water….Jesus accepted him just as he was!

My point is…it is not for me to judge how far away her soul is from salvation, or how close is close enough.   God knows every individual heart and motive.  “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.”  Philippians 2:12

My part in her salvation is to pray for her, encourage her and disciple her in the Word so that she fully understands that salvation cannot be earned, it is a free gift, accepted by childlike faith; no need to try harder!

As she comes to the last years of her life on this earth, I pray peace over her; that she will know, without a doubt, that she belongs to Jesus Christ, her Savior for eternity.

I claim this scripture for her that my Mom prayed over me…”Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 1:6

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It Is ENOUGH

We have written much about our Mom and Grandmother Johnson lately. Obviously she had a good influence on us all the days of her life.  During the last couple years of her illness Mom shared with me often about waking up in the morning with a Christian song in her mind and heart.  Many times we would sing it together; sometimes it was such an old one from her childhood that I did not know it.  She even wrote those hymns or choruses down each day.  I am blessed with the gift of music in my head like Mom and her sister, Norma, sometimes so much that it is there in the middle of the night!

Piano keys and sheet music

There is a hymn we sang at church that has stayed with me the last two weeks.  One phrase in particular repeats over and over in my head…”It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.”

I know that those of you who are much younger than I, or that have not grown up in a church that sings the old hymns could not possibly know this song.  The new songs are great and I have them in my head and heart too, but most of the old hymns have so much good doctrine in the words that I am sorry you may be missing out on them!

Anyway, the point is today that we all go through difficult times.  Life is hard.  God did not promise life on this sinful earth would be easy.  God did promise that He would guide and direct us “through it all” (another great song by Andre Crouch). The point is that no matter what – it is enough, it is enough that Jesus, my Savior died for my sins, and that He lives and is preparing an eternal home for me.  How awesome and humbling is that?  No one, or no circumstance can take that away from me!!!

If you do not know Him and the power of His resurrection, I pray that as you read this you will ask Him to be your Savior.  It is so easy!  Our human minds try to figure out God, His Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Don’t go there, it’s not possible!  Just accept that it is enough that Jesus died for you.

MY FAITH HAS FOUND A RESTING PLACE

1/ My faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed; I trust the Everlasting One, His wounds for me shall plead. 

2/ Enough for me that Jesus saves, this ends my fear and doubt; A sinful soul, I come to Him, He’ll never cast me out.

3/ My heart is leaning on the Word, the written Word of God; Salvation by my Savior’s name, salvation thru His blood.

4/ My great Physician heals the sick, the lost He came to save; For me His precious blood He shed, for me His life He gave.

 Chorus/ I need no other argument, I need no other plea; It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.

Words: Lidie H Edmonds,  1891     Music: Norwegian Folk melody, 1891

Repost from June 2014

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GODS’ BALANCE OF JUSTICE AND MERCY

Does life seem unfair to you? You see the unrighteous thriving with enough money to buy whatever he wants.  You question how a God of love could allow an innocent child to be maimed in an accident.  Why does an elderly parent who has been a follower of Christ suffer a long and agonizing illness to death?  A Mom and Pop store is going out of business after 40 years because a large chain store has come to their town and taken their faithful customers.

You have unanswered questions in your heart and mind that don’t seem to make sense.  Life seems out of balance.  Have you experienced unfair judgement yourself, or to those whom you love?  Are you keeping account of it?  Do you want to strike back in revenge?

Problems are a part of life and are inescapable because of this fallen world of sin we live in.  You do not have the capacity to fix everything.  Talk to God.  Seek God’s perspective on the situation.  Ask Him to help you see the person or deed through His eyes.  The answer may not come in your lifetime, but to understand that God knows your heart and motives goes beyond the wondering as to how you will be vindicated.  After all that is God’s business….not yours.

I don’t know why “bad things happen to good people,” as in Rabbi Kushner’s book by the same title, but I do know that “God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)  You see….God is a God of order, with justice and mercy in perfect balance.

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Please be encouraged today in knowing that the God we serve is Sovereign and has a perfect plan for each one of our lives.  He is the only one who really sees the big picture of your life from beginning to end! TRUST HIM.

With Adam…sin entered the world.  This was not God’s fault.  Man had a choice and he decided to disobey God’s laws.  When that happens God’s justice holds up.  As in our courts of law the one who has been found guilty in the due process of a trial must accept the consequences.

God’s consequences and rewards are eternal…. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:22)

Remember that judgement is God’s necessity or He wouldn’t be God…but His nature and essence is love, and with that love comes mercy.  He is the One always calling out to the lost to be saved through belief in His Son, Jesus the Christ.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who have been called according to His purpose.”   Romans 8:28

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Jesus’ Address

Do you have a little boy in your home? If so, you know what I mean when I say life is never dull with one around! I am convinced they should be standard equipment for every home!

My five-year-old, who doesn’t “take” too readily to serious thoughts of religion, and to whom life is one long joke, was saying his prayers before being tucked into bed one evening recently. I thought it was time he began to learn some scripture verses, although I knew it would be difficult to corral the little mind that wanted to think of building forts, or wrecking them; of climbing the tallest branches of the tree, or just running for sheer delight at being alive.

With a silent prayer for help, I started in. “Ronnie boy, I want you to learn a simple Bible verse.” “What is it, Mother,” he asked in his sweet, bedtime innocence. We began with “For God so loved the world. . . .” with Ronnie dutifully repeating each word. We came to the end of the verse; “should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Ronnie sighed contentedly and bending to kiss him, I thought I had better acquaint him also with the chapter and verse, so added:

“John 3:16.”

“What’s that?” Ronnie asked, “Jesus’ address?”

Sighing, I thought, “he always turns everything into a joke.”

But if the verse did not actually “stick” to Ronnie, the meaning of my boys’ words certainly did to me. What is an address? Isn’t it a place where you find someone? And isn’t that exactly what John 3:16 is? Anyone—no matter how far away from God, can find Jesus in that little verse. They can find salvation — forgiveness of sins — the way to heaven — peace of heart. And isn’t that the thing we search for? They can find the loving heart of a heavenly Father who yearns over them. No one is excluded. He is immediately accessible to all who knock on the door of that verse.

Yes, Ronnie, that’s Jesus’ address, all right!

Thy Word

Gladys I. Johnson, November 1958

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The Beauty of Grace

As we come away from Resurrection Day, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection from the dead after offering himself as a sacrifice for ALL of our sins, I must share my gratitude for – His Sufficient Grace. For ALL have sinned and fallen short (Romans 3:23) – we are all in need of salvation which comes by His mercy (compassion and lovingkindness) and grace, and by the shed blood of Christ on the cross.

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Webster defines Grace as: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification, approval, favor, mercy, pardon.

Wiki says: In Christian theology, grace has been defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it”,[1] “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.[2] It is understood by Christians to be a spontaneous gift from God to man – “generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved”[3] – that takes the form of divine favor, love, clemency, and a share in the divine life of God.

And even deeper and better yet, the word in Hebrew is paralleled with several other ideas including: healing, help, being lifted up, finding refuge and protection, strength and salvation; to be rescued!

I met and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior when I was 6 years old. I spent my youth quite close to Him. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I really began to deviate from this relationship. I began to make poor decisions, and at some point I felt that I could never go back – that I had strayed so far that there was no point in even trying. Over the years I slowly drifted further and further away, trying to keep up appearances for those around me. I fought depression and isolation and eventually sunk deeply into alcohol and drug use and various other unsavory choices. I should have been dead many times over, but my God protected me despite myself. He showed me mercy even when I did not deserve it. I felt like I was too far to ever receive His Grace.

Finally, in early 2008 a perfect storm of circumstances caused me to hit bottom so hard that the only way to look was up. All I had to do was turn around and cry out – and there He was. He was there all the time. Restoration and rebuilding can take a long time, but when you call His Name, His Grace and Mercy come upon you in an instant, for you have finally stretched out your arms to accept what He has freely given.

You see, we all go through trials and difficulties in this life. That is just the human condition. We bring many of these upon ourselves, but others come from other people or circumstances beyond our control. God sees us through all trials, regardless of their origin – He extends His grace and mercy without regard to how or why we landed in our situation. He just wants us to turn to Him.

It seems to be hard for some people to grasp the simplicity of salvation. How could the Creator of the Universe so freely give His love? All I know is that He does, and that He extends that gift to ALL. No exceptions. He cried “It is Finished” from the cross, because He paid ALL our debt once and for all. Hallelujah!

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

At my time of restoration and renewal, I latched on to some wonderful songs that encouraged me and built me up.

One was “Beauty of Grace” by Krystal Meyers (a song sung from God’s perspective):

Tell me why’d you run
You say you’re so ashamed
bruised and broken
Thought if I figured out
The mess you’ve made
That I’d leave

Chorus:
But anywhere you are

Is never too far away
There’s freedom from your scars
The mistakes that you’ve made
Forgiven
The memories erased
Baby, that’s the Beauty of Grace

Tell me what is love
I’ll never hold you to
The things you may have done
You say you want new life
In my arms, there’s mercy

Another, by the greatest selling Gospel group of all time, the Clark Sisters. (Do yourself a favor and download this one!)

“Blessed And Highly Favored”

He brought me through hard trials
He brought me through tribulations
Never let a day go by and not realize
Had not been for the Lord who was on my side

Back was against the wall
He looked out for me
He heard my cry and rescued me
Never let a day go by and not realize we are blessed

Chorus:
Don’t take it for granted that we are here today
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored

As I look back through the years,
It’s amazing how He kept me.
What the devil meant for evil,
God turned it around,
Turned it around just for my good.

I know that I am blessed and highly favored.
Just know that we’re blessed and highly favored.

It coulda’ been me,
It shoulda’ been me,
It woulda’ been me if it wasn’t for the blood.
Grace, mercy.
Grace, mercy.

Not only does God extend grace to all of us by the power of the shed blood of Christ on the cross, but he also extends forgiveness and separates our sin from Him as far as the East is from the West. Since space is infinite, that means there is no ending point in the East or the West. So this means, as in the song “Beauty of Grace,” that He erases the memory of all that you have done. Think of all the times another human being has hurt you. Have you been able to forgive? Hopefully you extend the same grace to others as God has extended to you. But, if you are like me, you don’t easily forget that hurt. It can be hard to forgive others and yourself. And it is certainly almost impossible to forget. We harbor hurt feelings, and we condemn ourselves sometimes to the point of spiritual paralysis.

Imagine the kind of Grace that God is extending to you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or where you’ve been. He has offered atonement and covering for your sin through the Cross. All you have to do is accept it. You can never earn it – it is a GIFT. And not only has He offered this gift, but He has also promised that once you have repented of your sin, He will cast it off into infinity and beyond!

If you are waiting to “get things together” before you turn to the Lord, let me advise you that you will NEVER be ready because your efforts will always fall short. Cry out to Him and accept His gift of life. There is no greater thing than a relationship with the One who created you just as you are. He knows everything about you and loves you unconditionally anyway.

And that’s the Beauty of Grace.

Psalm 103:1-12 NIV
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 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.

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