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An amazing story was reported last week by the Associated Press.  A good Samaritan stopped along a Wisconsin roadside to assist a couple of ladies in changing a flat tire.  A short time later, and a few miles down the road, one of those ladies returned the kindness by performing CPR which saved the stranger’s life.

Victor Giesbrecht and his wife were driving their pickup on Interstate 94 near Eau Claire on November 5 when they spotted Sara Berg and her cousin, Lisa Meier, stranded on the side of the highway with a flat.  Giesbrecht, a 61 year-old from Winnipeg, Manitoba, told his wife that it looked like the ladies could use some help, and they pulled over to assist. 

After changing the tire and getting back on the road, Giesbrecht suffered a heart attack.  From the passenger side of the pickup, his wife adeptly applied the brake, safely steered the truck to a halt on the shoulder, and called 911.  Within moments, Berg and Meier reached the scene, recognized the truck, sensed that something was wrong, and stopped.  Giesbrecht was unconscious and was not breathing.  Berg immediately started CPR and continued until paramedics and state troopers arrived with a defibrillator which was used to return his heart to normal function and rhythm. 

This week in an Eau Claire hospital, Giesbrecht and Berg shared a tearful and joyful reunion, along with the first responders.

A state trooper was quoted as commenting, “It’s an interesting turn of fate.”  I know that many of us would readily reject the role of “fate” in remarkable incidents of this kind.  Nor would we want to simply chalk it up to coincidence or luck.  But, exactly to what would we attribute it?

Was it divine Providence?  Was it prompting or intuition provided by some outside source?  For many believers, the Holy Spirit would be identified as the Prompter in such situations.  Or, was it just a circumstance in which a person chose to do good in response to a need and then immediately reaped vital blessings from the seeds of kindness that had just been sown?

I am open to all three suggestions, or that it was a combination of all of them.  I am just grateful that Giesbrecht and his wife chose to be compassionate and helpful to strangers, and that Berg possessed the proper training and had the opportunity to repay them with a life-saving act of kindness.  Any number of “what ifs” would have resulted in a much different outcome to the story.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers,” (Galatians 6:10).

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it,” (Hebrews 13:2).

Regardless of whether Providence, prompting, or prerogative provides the opportunity, our calling and responsibility remain the same.           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. 

I know, I know…  Every year it seems like the Super-Mega-Stuff-Marts, the home improvement centers, and the specialty shops keep trotting out their Christmas wares and decor earlier and earlier.  It makes you wonder if the post-Christmas and pre-Christmas sales will ever overlap on the calendar.  There is a strong case to be made for not having to see an image of Santa Claus in public if you are still having to mow your lawn and are able to watch professional baseball on television.

I completely understand and share those sentiments.  However…

I have an autistic son who loves Christmas and everything about it.  Though Coleman doesn’t speak, he signs Frosty (pats his hand on top of his head – for Frosty’s hat), Rudolph (taps his finger on the end of his nose), and Christmas tree (right hand up, fingers spread, wrist turning quickly back and forth) pretty much all year round.  He watches A Charlie Brown Christmas repeatedly on VHS, his portable DVD player, and YouTube, sometimes simultaneously.  It was fascinating to watch him when he was younger, standing in front of the brightly lit Christmas tree and alternately raising and lowering his glasses, just for the variation in visual effect: fuzzy…clear…fuzzy…clear.   

On a trip to Lowe’s with Kim over a month ago, he had a field day in their already expansive Christmas decoration section.  Although he wanted to put anything and everything into the cart, they compromised on a small tree for his bedroom and a string of big, multi-colored lights that we draped over his curtain rod.  However, that only seemed to whet his appetite, and he kept making forays into the walk-in attic storage space where we keep all of our Christmas stuff.

So…. the Christmas tree is now up at the Pyles house; it has been since Saturday, November 5.  It is fully decorated, complete with Kim’s authentic Larry Bird Hallmark Keepsake Ornament.  The nutcrackers are out in force.  The stockings are hung.  The blue and white Dallas Mavericks Santa Hat is draped on the antique chair.

And up it will stay, through Thanksgiving, through Christmas, past New Year’s, perhaps until Valentine’s Day (been there, done that), but more than likely everything will be boxed back up by St. Patrick’s Day.  Easter is just out of the question.  Even we have our limits.

Don’t judge.  At least it’s not in your house.  What matters is that it makes a very special young man extremely happy (and literally skippy) in our house!

 

On Saturday, October 29, I paid 27 cents for a cup of coffee. 

Now for the backstory…

About two and half months ago, I mentioned in a blog post that I have started taking graduate classes again.  It has been 11 years since I finished an M.A., and I have really missed the challenge, structure, and discipline of being in the classroom.  So I am just getting my feet wet in an M.Div. program at Oklahoma Christian University.  It has been every bit as challenging and enriching as I had hoped it would be.

Two weeks ago, I had to be on campus for a class that only meets periodically throughout the semester.  I had been there for the marathon session on Friday (1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.) and had planned on spending the night in Edmond since class would resume at 8:00 on Saturday morning.  However, my first bad experience with booking a hotel room through Hotwire (another story) caused me to change my plans and drive back to Tulsa for the night.  When Hannah found out that I was leaving town, she threw in with me for a quick road trip home.  It was great to catch up on some Daddy-daughter time during the drive.  We got home in time to watch the last three innings of Game 7 of the World Series.

I was up again at 5:00 on Saturday morning, and Hannah and I were sitting in the drive-thru at Chik-fil-A at 6:00 waiting for them to open.  Having secured our “road food” breakfast, we drove back down the turnpike to OKC.  I dropped Hannah off at her apartment at 7:40 and determined that I had just enough time to grab a cup of coffee before class.

Having opted out of the drive-thru in order to avail myself of their facilities, I walked up to the counter at McDonald’s and said, “I need a small cup of coffee to go, please.”  The young lady hit a key or two on her register and said, “That will be 27 cents.”  “Really?” I said in amazement.  “That’s awesome!”  I told her that I had always thought a cup of coffee shouldn’t cost more than 35 cents; a quarter and a dime ought to get you a cup of coffee anywhere in America. 

However, my euphoria was quickly shattered by the server’s response.  “Well, 27 cents is the regular price for our senior coffee,” she explained.

“Senior” coffee?  Seriously?  I was momentarily stunned!  I never saw it coming; it totally caught me off guard.  As one who has spent most of my adult life being told that I looked younger than my actual age, I had suddenly time-warped a couple of decades into the future.  Was it the lighting?  Was it the time of the morning?  Was it the fact the young lady was likely 16 or 17 years old and everyone over 30 looked like they qualified for senior coffee?  Did she know that the next day was my 49th birthday? 

In reality, most of the hair on my chinny chin chin is gray.  What started as “accents of gray” around my temples just a few years ago has begun spreading like a virus across the rest of my head.  I can accept that I don’t look as young as I used to, I just thought there would be a longer transition period between being called “our little preacher” and the offer of discounts for the elderly.  I heard Howard Norton say recently that there is an amazingly brief span of time between people saying, “You’re going to be fine preacher one of these days,” and, “You can still preach!”  You nailed that one, brother!

So, I smiled, swiped my card for the massive 27 cent purchase (25 cents for the coffee and 2 for tax), thanked the young lady, took my cup of joe, and left.  The coffee tasted exceptionally good.  I decided to keep the receipt.  I felt that it was worthy of framing.  I might as well try to do this gracefully.  

(please see the previous two posts for the context of this discussion)

When asked, “Are you saved?  Are you going to heaven?,” many believers hesitate to offer a confident, affirmative answer.  When challenged as to the reason for their doubt, a typical response is “I just don’t feel like I’m good enough!”

Let’s lay this one to rest once and for all, shall we?  You’re not good enough.  You’re not!  I’m not good enough.  We’re not good enough.  No one has ever been good enough to be saved from their sins.  Never has been; isn’t now; never will be.  No one will be heaven because they deserve to be there. 

That’s the whole point!  That’s why we needed a Savior (Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:11).  That’s why we still need an Advocate with the Father and the power of His atoning sacrifice (I John 2:1-2).  “Why are you asking Me about what is good?  There is only One who is good” (Matthew 19:17).  “There is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

This Biblical truth cannot be minimized or ignored just because some people would twist it into an excuse for immorality, use it as a moral copout, or buy into a concept of cheap grace.  There is more than ample Scripture to combat those notions.  But, our efforts to answer these misunderstandings of Scripture cannot be allowed to cause us to arrive at an even bigger one, i.e., the mistaken belief that faithfulness equates flawlessness and that enough obedience makes us good enough!    

So, our confidence in our salvation is not because of us, but because of Him.  We do not trust in our goodness but in Him who is good.  “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake” (I John 2:12).  Forgiven for His name’s sake; because of who He is; by the power and authority of His name; by the power of His sacrifice.

Salvation in Jesus Christ is not a revolving door through which we repeatedly move in and out of a right relationship with God on a daily basis.  Our assurance of heaven cannot be based on the thin hope and chance that we happen to catch the door in the proper position at the moment of our death or at the Lord’s return.  What a horrible way to live!

We seem to have no problem accepting and owning our salvation when we first receive it, nor do we hesitate in the least to confidently speak of a faithful Christian’s reception into divine glory when they depart this life.  It would be a shame to forfeit the joy and confidence of that salvation during the years in between!

In the previous post, we examined the question, “If God has testified that His children can know that they have received eternal life in Jesus Christ (I John 5:11-13), why do so many Christians still have doubts about their salvation?”  If, at the time our sins were washed away by the blood of the Lamb, we believed that we had been saved and were headed to heaven, at what point between then and now did we lose that confidence?  When did we stop “knowing” that we were saved and start “thinking so” or “hoping so?”

For me, it took less than 24 hours to move from confidence to doubt. 

I confessed my faith in Jesus and was united with Him through baptism in His name on a cold, January night in 1973.  My faith was very simple at that point: I believed that I was a sinner and that Jesus was my only hope of salvation.  That was faith enough.  My family and I were staying with my grandparents on their farm in Middle Tennessee at the time as we awaited our visas to move to Monrovia, Liberia.  During those few months, I attended the rural, K-12 school from which my father had graduated years before. 

On the bus ride to school the next morning, I made a comment that drew a quick response from a friend.  I have absolutely no recollection of what I said, whether it was grossly inappropriate or just mildly off-color.  But, I can never forget the reply of this young lady who was aware of my baptism the night before.  She said, “Well, it’s obvious that last night didn’t do you a bit of good!” 

Her comment stung me and stunned me; and nearly 40 years later I can still remember the tone of her voice and the expression on her face.  It was contemptuous. 

Was she right?  Was I really any different?  Had anything changed?  Had my sins really been washed away?  Was I really a Christian?  Was God mad at me?  Was I still going to heaven?  I didn’t know.  And just that quickly, doubt and anxiety replaced the joy and excitement that I had felt only 12 hours earlier.

My problem was that I had not yet worked out the difference between faithfulness and flawlessness.

The God who saved us through Jesus Christ expects, even demands, faithfulness and obedience as a demonstration of our faith and love for Him (I John 2:3; 5:1-3; John 14:15; et al.).  John Stott writes that throughout the letter of I John, the author repeatedly identifies three marks (or tests) of the new birth: belief, love, and obedience.

However, we know that the obedience demanded by I John 2:3 cannot mean sinlessness or perfection because of what precedes it in 1:6 – 2:2, an affirmation of our ongoing struggle with sin. 

Revelation 2:10 instructs us to be faithful until death; faithful, not flawless!

My imperfection is an inherent and understood part of my faithfulness, not a denial of it.

For 23 years I have been a faithful husband to Kim.  A perfect husband?  Are you kidding?  I’ll gladly let you call me a “work in progress” as a husband, but I will get in your face (metaphorically and rhetorically, of course) if you accuse me of unfaithfulness in my marriage.

I can know if I’m faithful.  I can know if I’m not.  Does that make sense?

This is getting long.  Part Three to follow…      

“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).

Are you saved?  Have you received eternal life?  Are you going to heaven?

My experience in ministry has taught me that many people who should be able to respond to those questions with an enthusiastic “yes” will instead offer a tentative, qualified answer of “Well, I hope so,” or “I think so,” or “I’m trying to.”  If you are among those sincere believers who constantly live with a question mark upon your soul, let me ask you a few questions.

How did you feel when you accepted God’s gift of salvation, confessing your faith in Jesus as God’s Son and being united with Christ through baptism in His name for the forgiveness of your sins?  Did you trust Him at that moment to be your Savior?  Did you know that your sins had been washed away by the power of His cleansing blood?  Did you believe that you were saved?  Did you know that you were going to heaven?         

If your answer to these questions is “yes” (and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be), what has changed between then and now?  At what point during the intervening weeks, months, and years did we stop “knowing” that we were saved and start “thinking” or “hoping” that we were.

I am aware of the standard objections.  “Well, sin has taken place since then.”  Yes, indeed, it has; and no one is more aware of that than God.  Even as believers, we continue to struggle with sin and stumble in sin.  To deny this is to deceive ourselves and accuse God of falsehood (I John 1:8,10).  But, for believers with confessional hearts who are seeking to walk in God’s light, we have the promise (guarantee, confident assurance) of continuous cleansing from sin through the blood of our Advocate, Jesus Christ (I John 1:7,9; 2:1-2).

The sacrifice that saved us from sin then is the same one that cleanses us now.  If we trusted in the power of Jesus to save us then, why do we doubt Him now?

Another objection is that confidence in one’s salvation is presumptuous and evidences a lack of humility.  I would suggest that this is false humility and that real presumptuousness lies in questioning the promise of God and the testimony of His word.

God’s testimony of our salvation has been verified by three witnesses: the Spirit, the water, and the blood (I John 5:6-12).  If two or three witnesses sufficed for the verification of human testimony (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:15-16), how much more for Divine testimony.  “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son,” (I John 5:11).  Do we dare question His testimony or ask for cross-examination? 

John R.W. Stott has written concerning this text:

“… it is common today to dismiss any claim to assurance of salvation as presumptuous, and to affirm that no certainty is possible this side of death.  But certainty and humility do not exclude one another… presumptuousness lies in doubting his word, not trusting in it.

But, what about faithfulness, obedience, and the possibility of forfeiting the gift of God?  These are all good questions which will be considered in the next post.

For now, resist the temptation to presumptuously doubt God’s promise and testimony.  Rejoice that you have received eternal life in Jesus Christ!  Rejoice in your salvation!

Lists and records.  Such documents, whether they exist in printed or electronic form, are integrally connected to our lives from beginning to end.

The fact that our name appears (or doesn’t appear) in a particular list or within a specific record can be extremely significant: a record of birth at the Office of Vital Statistics, a final roster after all the cuts have been made during try-outs for an athletic team, the honor roll or dean’s list, a list of students who have completed their course requirements for graduation, a record of marriage at the County Clerk’s office at the courthouse, a list of eligible, registered voters, etc.

Maybe you have had the experience of your name not being included in a list where it should have been or erroneously appearing where it didn’t belong (hopefully not an obituary!).  Perhaps it was just an oversight or an explainable misprint.  Beyond human error in the input of data, printed records can be damaged or completely destroyed and electronic ones can vanish forever with the crash of a computer hard drive.

Thankfully, the most important list in which our names appear is not subject to input errors and is in no danger of being damaged or lost.  It is a record that exists in the mind of our omniscient God and Father. We, as God’s children, have our names recorded in the book of life that belongs to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ (Revelation 3:5; 13:8, 20:11-15; 21:27; et al.)

Throughout the story of the Scripture, we sense a general understanding among people of faith that God knows by name all of those who belong to Him.  See Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Isaiah 4:3; and Daniel 12:1. 

When 70 of Jesus’ disciples returned to Him from a successful mission of teaching, healing, and casting out demons, the Lord challenged them not to glory in these demonstrations of divine power, but rather to “rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

The Lord knows those who are His (II Timothy 2:19)!

“My name is in the Book of Life; O bless the name of Jesus!”  Though I haven’t sung that song in quite a while, its message is still as true and as comforting as ever.

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