Sunday, December 30, 2007


I've been thinking more about that "my" vs "Thy" salvation devotional.

When it was "my" salvation, my joy wasn't really in salvation at all -- it was in human accomplishments. I was happy because I believed that, at least for the moment, the scales were tipped in my favor. My joy came from a temporary assurance.

I certainly have a lot more joy in my life now that I'm secure in my salvation--not the ecstatic laughter stuff that I used to call "the joy of the Lord," but a deep (and still deepening) sense of gratitude and awe that still makes me smile every time I think about it. This joy isn't a passing emotion that I need to "work up" and attempt to maintain on my own strength; instead, it is more of a silent, steady undercurrent that is always there. I can draw from it at church, at work, in the car, anywhere...

Before, "joy" was a stream that I had to feed. Now, it's a stream that feeds me.

That's a huge contrast...

Friday, December 28, 2007

"Thy" salvation vs "my" salvation

The Purpose Driven Life devotional was really good this morning. It talked about how Ps 51:12 can sometimes get mis-quoted as "restore unto me the joy of my salvation" instead of "Thy salvation."

One little word can make a big difference: "my salvation" implies that it originated with me; "Thy salvation" acknowledges that it is not mine, it is a gift from God.

The devotional goes on to say:

"If our joy about Jesus is based on what we’ve done, then we’ll always wonder if we’ve done enough. That joy is only temporary. But if our Jesus-joy is based on the grace of God, it’s permanent – “it is finished.” (John 19:30)"

That's true... but in my experience I'd have to take it a step further. I don't think there's any real joy in the "my salvation" view. There's a lot of fear and worry, punctuated by short periods of relief that might appear to be joy... but it's just a deceptive calm.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

End of the year

I've always enjoyed making New Years' resolutions... most of which don't seem to last very long. I've gotten more realistic over the years, but I still have mostly mixed results.

For example, from last year:
  1. I resolved to get in shape during 2007. That didn't happen.
  2. I wanted to get a better job. Success! I managed to do that!
  3. I was going to complete an IT certificate program. That didn't happen.
  4. I promised to have a daily quiet time. I kinda did that... but I can do better.
  5. I wanted to read more and watch TV less. Hrmm. I think I managed to read more, but I also managed to watch more TV... so I would have to count that one as a wash!
I might not have managed to live up to all of my resolutions last year, but it was still an excellent year for me. I got off to a slow start, but I did manage to get some material written for this site. I got to know some wonderful people. I found out what grace was all about. I got baptized. Not bad!

Here's the beginning of my list for 2008... subject to change (of course) until Jan 1:
  1. Get some exercise 4-5 times per week
  2. Read through the Bible at least once, maybe twice this year (NLT first... then NASB)
  3. Save more money
  4. Take a real vacation (which could sabotage #3!)
  5. Complete the online classes at

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Excellent Resource

I asked my "grace awakening" pastor if he knew of any online Bible classes... and he had an excellent recommendation for me. It's - run by the "Our Daily Bread" folks. I can remember getting those little devotional booklets back when I was in high school, although I have to admit I thought they were a bit cheesy back then. That was... a long time ago! Probably 18-20 years... so it's nice to know that these classes have the backing of a ministry that has been around for that long. Of course, longevity isn't everything...

This isn't just a course or two -- there's twelve courses for Old Testament Survey, and twelve for New Testament Survey, along with some apologetics and other stuff. I'm going to start with New Testament Survey.

Feel free to join me!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bible courses?

It's been an incredible month for me. I've learned so much, and I don't want to stop.

Maybe this is just a crazy idea, but I really want to dig deeper into the Bible, learn more about the historical and cultural context, maybe even dig into the original languages a bit. I would love to just spend weeks (or months?) digging into a book one verse at a time...

I'd love to take some classes online or even in a classroom setting someplace local on evenings or weekends... it's just hard to tell what programs are legit and which ones aren't. Even among the legitimate schools, I want to make sure that they are similar theologically to what my church believes. I definitely don't want to take classes from a school that is affiliated with a charismatic/Pentecostal denomination...

It seems like many of the 'legit' schools that advertise on the 'net are aimed more at folks who would like to be full time students -- people who want to get a degree and go into ministry themselves. That's not me...

I'm going to ask around and see what I can come up with. Maybe it is just a crazy idea... but it won't be the craziest thing I've ever done.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

(Re)Defining the relationship

I used to wonder if it was really possible to have a "friendship" relationship with God. I used to wonder what that even meant. I was afraid of losing my salvation. I was afraid that God was punishing me when things didn't go right. I read books about having a relationship with God... even if I didn't completely understand them.

That was reality for me for a long time... but it all seems like ancient history now.

When I was trying so hard to be a good Pentecostal, I believed that having a close relationship with God meant living a powerful, supernatural, happy, healthy, and successful life. It would mean having that "direct line" to God that my pastors, leaders, and other spiritual superstars seemed to have. It meant never ever having any doubts. I thought that I could get there by living a certain way, memorizing lists of verses then repeating them, saying certain things, and avoiding other things. If I could experience a little bit of the supernatural or get a warm fuzzy emotional buzz during a worship service, then I could convince myself that I was "still saved"! But the real goal was to get to the point where every moment of every day was that same kind of emotional / spiritual high.

Needless to say, I never got there! Instead, I've found myself with a radically different understanding of what a relationship with God really is.

I'm not chasing a high anymore. I'm secure in my salvation, whether I feel anything at that moment or not. Of course, there's been a lot of emotion involved in what I've learned over the last few weeks--a lot of relief, joy, peace, and just plain excitement--but emotion fades, and that's OK. My relationship with God isn't any more or less real because of my mood.

I'm not afraid of circumstances anymore. Bad things will happen, and have happened even in the last few days. I still have obstacles to overcome... but now I can overcome them without feeling ashamed that I didn't have enough faith to just make them go away. Difficult times are even more difficult when faced alone--and I used to believe that if I was facing a difficult time it was because I had done something that prevented God from helping me. There is tremendous freedom and encouragement in knowing that God will be with me no matter what I go through, and He is just as close in the tears as He is in the laughter.

I'm not afraid of messing up anymore. I'm not talking about abusing grace, the attitude that you can do anything because God will always forgive--in fact, I want to please God more now than ever before. I'm learning what it means to really be motivated by love rather than fear. I'm learning what it means to receive His grace when I do mess up.

But the best part is knowing that this is just the beginning!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Souvenirs from the fringe

In the spirit of making a fresh start, I decided to spend this afternoon doing a little cleaning.

It started with my books -- I still had a bunch of books from my "fringe" days. I don't even know why I held on to them this long. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I figured I'd give them to one of my Pentecostal friends rather than just toss them...

Books are one thing. But my collection of souvenirs from the fringe gets even better. I didn't even know I still had this stuff until I opened a storage box that probably hadn't see daylight since I my last interstate move.

Among the more interesting items:

  • Assorted "Prayer cloths" (little pieces of fabric that had been prayed over in some revival service somewhere)
  • A couple of vials of annointing oil (one would even clip on your keychain, in case you needed that extra annointing on the go!)
  • A little plastic tube of what appears to be water -- "holy water"? I don't even remember.
  • A small white landscaping stone (it was part of an object lesson from a meeting I attended in the mid 90s)
  • A gazillion program booklets and cassette tapes from conferences I've attended
  • An impressive collection of handwritten "prophetic words" that were given to me
  • The new members' orientation handbook from a church I left years ago.
  • A little baggie with some "gold dust" (looks exactly like glitter, and that's probably exactly what it is) from another "revival" meeting back in the mid 90s
At some point in the past, all of these things were significant to me -- significant enough that I held on to some of it for more than ten years! There is one common thread that unites all of these items: they are all physical things that were supposed to help me feel connected to God... and re-enforce the validity of the ministries that produced them.

It felt good to get rid of that stuff. I don't need a trinket or a ministry to connect me to God anymore. I don't need to see signs and wonders. I'll always remember those times (although now I'm more likely to cringe than to smile when I do), but I'm never going back.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I got baptized tonight!

I was nervous... and the water was a little colder than I had expected... but it was awesome!!

I shared a little bit of my testimony before the baptism (and yeah, I got a little teary). Even tho the water was chilly, everything else was perfect. The weather was absolutely beautiful. It was warm and pleasant outside. There was a really good turn out: most of the folks I had invited were able to attend. Getting baptized in a beautiful setting, surrounded by friends... I couldn't have asked for more! It was definitely something that I'll never forget.

After the baptism, I had some great conversations with people over dinner. Everyone hung around for a bit and toasted marshmallows & made smores around the bonfire.

I'm really glad that I got baptized again...

Thursday, December 6, 2007


In less than two days I'll be getting baptized!

I've been inviting everyone. I honestly have no idea how many people will be there. Over the last few weeks, I can hardly keep quiet -- I've told everyone who would listen (and a few who wouldn't) what I've learned about grace. I used to have such a hard time sharing what I believed... but that's probably because I wasn't completely convinced myself. Now, it comes so naturally. I wish I could get more "nonchurch" friends to come to my baptism, but even extending the invitation gives me an opportunity to share my story.

I guess I should probably explain what's going to happen. I'm not getting baptized in a church service, but at a friend's house--in their pool. Yes, it's outside. No, it isn't heated. Yes, it's December!! My baptism is going to be "really cool" in more ways than one! Of course, this isn't as bad as it sounds since I live in Florida. I won't have to break any ice to get in the water!

I will be baptized by the same associate pastor who taught me about grace -- and that means a lot to me. It makes it very personal. This isn't just some minister asking me if I've trusted Christ as my Savior, this is the pastor who took time out of his schedule to show me what it really meant to trust Christ and not my own efforts.

For the baptism itself, I'm not expecting some "charismatic style" spiritual experience, but I am expecting it to be meaningful and significant. It'll probably be a little emotional for me. I'm marking a new beginning, celebrating my new relationship with God... a relationship that I had previously written off as impossible. I'm just beginning to understand God's grace. I'm only starting to comprehend the magnitude of what Jesus did for me -- the free gift of salvation with no strings, no threats, and no regrets. Baptism is a step of obedience, a response to the gift, and an identification with the Giver.

I can't wait...

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Starting Over

It's been about two weeks now since the beginning of my "grace awakening." In so many ways, I feel like I'm starting over with God... although "starting over" implies that I've been here before, and I really haven't. I'm entering brand-new territory!

Before, I was afraid of God -- intimidated -- scared that He'd reject me whenever I messed up. I wanted to have a relationship with Him, but most of the time I thought the best I could do was keep a respectful distance.

At times, I wondered if the stories of people's "intimate" relationships with God were just that -- stories. I wondered if what I had experienced at times in the Pentecostal church was genuine or just a manipulated experience or emotionalism. I longed for something real, but had no idea if that sort of thing was even possible. Every once in a while I'd get a glimpse of something more than what I was living... but not consistently.

I thought I was pretty spiritual. I read the Bible. I had quiet times. I went to church. I served. I gave. But in some key areas, I still managed to miss it completely.

I didn't understand grace. If you had asked me about it, I would have confidently answered that I did. But if you watched me, my pride would have demonstrated that I was not familiar with giving or receiving grace. What I knew was legalism -- but I wasn't just a passive victim of legalism, I was an active practitioner of it. I judged others the way I didn't want to be judged. I had my own set of unreasonable standards for other people... and I felt superior to the ones who didn't measure up.

I didn't understand God's power. If you had asked me about it, I would have sworn that I believed in His omnipotence. But my insecurity betrayed my true belief that His power was no match for my mistakes. It wasn't just a false belief, it was a sin. I never would have stated it this way, but essentially I believed that I was more powerful than God. I believed that my ability to obey was more important to my salvation than Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That's arrogance in the highest degree.

I couldn't even begin to understand God's love, except in the most general of terms. The idea that God truly and unconditionally loved me wasn't compatible with the idea that He would reject me if I made too many mistakes. And I was even worse than what I imagined God to be: I don't know if I ever offered love or acceptance without strings. If someone offended me, I could stew over it for a long long time. It took me a while to get really annoyed with someone... but once I reached that point, I had a very difficult time forgiving, and an even more difficult time putting it behind me.

Thankfully, that's all starting change now. I'm learning how to accept God's grace towards me, and now I'm starting to learn how to extend it to others. It's been painful to see the truth about myself in these areas -- but it's a good pain. And I know that I'm making progress.

Today, the idea that I could lose my salvation sounds just as ridiculous to me as the idea that I could have earned it in the first place. I have a new understanding of grace... and that has brought with it an amazing freedom.

I still can't claim to understand God's love, but now I believe that it is truly unconditional and unfathomable. God's love for me is far beyond anything that I'll ever be able to comprehend. I deserve nothing -- in fact, I deserve less than nothing. I've broken God's laws, I've broken His heart, and nothing I could ever do on my own would even begin to bridge the gap that existed between myself and Him. Even if I devoted myself fully and perfectly to the task, it would be absolutely impossible for me to make things right.

That's why the cross only had room on it for one person. That's why Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice. "I do not consider the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, there was no reason for Christ to die." (Gal 2:21)

I still have a long way to go, but for the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I'm not scared of losing my salvation. I'm not scared that God would punish me or let something bad happen to me so He could teach me a lesson. I'm not scared that I'm vulnerable to attack because I'm not following a formula and I've removed myself from "divine protection."

For the first time in a long time -- if not the first time ever -- I can accept that God loves me, and that He actually wants me to have a relationship with Him. I'm just starting to get to know Him. I'm just starting to trust Him, rather than worry that my efforts are falling short.

I'm learning to appreciate the depth of the grace and love that God has extended toward me... and as that grows, so does my desire to show the same grace and love towards others... only I'm not motivated by guilt or rules this time.

I'm absolutely certain that I can never go back to the way things were...

This is such a significant change for me that I've decided to get baptized on Saturday evening (after the Saturday service at my church). I'm really looking forward to it. I've been baptized before -- but at that time, it was more about formulas and requirements than anything else. This time, I have an entirely different understanding of what I'm doing and why.