Friday, February 29, 2008

Acts 10:34-48

Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.

"The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all) -- you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed.

"You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.

"We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross.

"God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead.

"And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.

"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins."

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message.

All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.

For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered,

"Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?"

And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Acts 2:1-41

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes Cretans and Arabs--we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."

And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"

But others were mocking and saying, "They are full of sweet wine."

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: "Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

And they shall prophesy.

“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.

For David says of Him,


"Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY.

This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.

For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says:


"Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ -- this Jesus whom you crucified."

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself."

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation!"

So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Help me, Lord

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Galations 5:22-26

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Gospel Experience

Honestly, I could spend a lifetime attempting to explain what did NOT convince me to trust in the promise of Christ. And that is primarily my frustration in talking to so many about about our understanding of salvation. There are many similar stories and testimonies, but no one is exactly the same. In each case, however, it does seem to be a deeply personal interaction with God mediated through the budding knowledge of Christ.

I think I can solidly agree that one cannot simply believe God sent someone to fulfill his promise - as you can decide that anyone could be that someone. It must be Jesus; THE Jesus of the Bible. And I can certainly agree that to believe, there are some fundamental facts about Jesus that set him apart that must be known to establish that belief. The debate seems to be regarding what absolutely must be known about him to claim to believe in the correct Jesus. And maybe that is not exactly correct. The debate isn't as much about WHAT as WHEN. Must these things be fully disclosed before salvation is granted - or simply accepted as they become known?

Again, I can only draw from my own experience. I do have doubts about many things, oh so many things, but that I know the source of my salvation I am absolute. That knowledge is not something I can even attempt to explain or even expect that you would understand. I just know.

In early September, 2000, I was fit to burst with my third child. The doctors said I was due the first week of October, but I knew (with absolutely no evidence) that I was due no later than the 23rd of September. I was more than 4 months pregnant before we discovered this hidden life, as I was still nursing a six month old! It was a strange and exhausting year. Essentially pregnant for the last 20 months, I was working full time while my husband was getting his degree and bar tending at nights. I had been sick for a month, and we could not afford groceries. For the first time in my life I had to ask a family member for grocery money. Running late, I picked my two kids up from daycare and stopped at grocery store on the way home. I had to make what I borrowed stretch as far as I could. The store was unfamiliar to me as it was far from my neighborhood. Both kids were tired and fussy, my back hurt and my heart ached for rest - not just sleep, but peace. I remember thinking, as I walked down the aisles trying to compare costs through the tears, "God, can you help me here?" I repeatedly met another woman, a few years older with 2 kids, coming the opposite direction on each aisle. After the 4th or 5th intersection of our baskets, she stopped and said, "I know you might think this is crazy, but I feel God begging me to talk to you." I laughed nervously. She proceeded to invite me to join her later that week to a Bible Study. I walked away thinking I should absolutely study the Bible, but knew I probably wouldn't.

But the day before, I decided I would do it. Then, I ended up in the hospital with false labor on that day. We rescheduled, and on that new date, the 21st, I was once again in the hospital welcoming my third child into the world. I lost the number and forgot all about her. But studying the Bible was a thought that kept returning.

We had christened our other two children in the same Catholic church we were married in. My husband was raised Catholic, and I thought it was sweet tradition. But we both were independently questioning what it meant to have faith, and had also independently came to the conclusion that we weren't sure about infant baptism - so we avoided the discussion, never realizing we were thinking the same thing.

I had an old family Bible - almost 70 years old and the spine was still stiff and new. The translation was difficult to understand and the size was inconvenient, so I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I would like a new Bible for Christmas. Christmas Day, while opening gifts, she laughed and told us we were being awfully religious for parents who had forgotten to christen their child. We quickly realized she had given both of us Bibles - we had both asked. We spent the next 2 weeks trying to read and discuss our thoughts, finally throwing our hands up. We both agreed that we needed to join a study group or class at a church.

Two days later, a group of people came through our neighborhood to invite others to a Bible Study they were having in one of their homes. We just laughed and agreed to join them. We had been discussing where to look for a study group when they knocked on the door!

The day of that study, I was pretty sure these people would be crazy - you know that way religious people can be kinda crazy. As the time approached, I felt a little tug at my heart that maybe I was already shutting out their words before I even heard them. I'm a professional know-it-all (really!); this was an unusual reaction for me. I stopped to pray. It was awkward, but I asked God to help me be open-minded.

I had read the Bible multiple times in my youth. The first time was at eight when a Sunday school teacher (they bused us in) told me my father was going to hell. Obviously it made no sense to me, and when I continued to ask questions that made the teacher uncomfortable, I was "expelled" from Sunday school. The second and third attempts were within a few years of that, and both of those occasions were purposed to prove "religious" people wrong. I did not want this rebellious let-me-show-you attitude taking over again. It was a phenomenal study. I walked away challenged, but hopeful. The second study, I asked lots of questions - probably to test if they would kick me out, too. We began to study daily at that point bringing in various other members of their church who could help me search out scriptural answers. It was apparent they were following some guided studies with me, but they were loosely structured so we could go with the flow.

First, we talked about their beliefs that the Bible as the word of God, the double-edged sword, the breathe of God. Okay, I could go with that, but obviously almost ALL of the Bible was allegorical.

Then, we talked about what the Bible had to say about sin and how it keeps us spiritually distant from God. This made sense and most of it fully supported my allegorical theory.

We talked about the Cross and why it was necessary to reconcile me to God.

I was not an easy sale. Each time I had an emotional response, I withdrew it as quickly as I could. I would not be manipulated. I must come to a rational faith in this or have no faith at all. So far everything we had studied could be labeled endearing, but not very real or practical.

About this time, they had a weekend couples retreat at a nearby campsite. We attended, excited to spend more time with these new friends. Late into one evening, we did the only study we had ever done together - men and women, my husband and I. I could barely stay awake. It was all about prophesy and how Jesus fulfills it. More allegory and symbolic guessing. I was a lit major in college and was a little prepared to scoff their attempts at this, but really I was mostly tired and prepared to be bored. Let me also mention I was a drop-out, so I wasn't as good as I thought I was.

Now, I still am not in 100% agreement with what was discussed that night, but as we flipped back and forth between the OT and NT, the words became alive. There was a clarity I felt, nearer to understanding than anything I had ever experienced. My heart was very heavy with a treasure as I began to know that Jesus was the Christ, the promise fulfilled. I stopped hearing the words that were spoken and saw the words written acted out in my mind. It is very difficult to describe. I walked out that night, very quiet and spent. Something felt very different, and I knew I would never be the same. I was terrified to voice what I had just experienced to my husband. It just was not rational. But I also could not contain myself. To my joy, he was feeling exactly the same way. We had stopped the arguing and the debating, and we just believed.

But they wouldn't baptize us until the next weekend. Our change of heart confounded them. Oh, I was so angry. The fruits of the spirit had not yet begun to grow. :) I did do something truly out of character, though. I stopped arguing with them after a couple of days about their belief that the Holy Spirit was granted at the moment of water baptism. I knew the Holy Spirit was already a part of me, but I just could not convince them. So I chose the way of peace. I have never regretted that.

The church we began to attend with them was about 250 members strong in Fort Worth, TX. Not a large church by any means for that area. After several months in attendance, I finally got to meet some of the parents who had been teaching the Sunday School classes after a changing of the guards. Remember that women from the grocery store? She was a member of the same church!

There is no reason to listen if I cannot hear.
Just Another Voice,

Friday, February 15, 2008

The True Gospel, Part Two

Sorry for the delay! I have returned to my story...

I may not always have a child-like heart, but I most often exhibit a child-like mind - easily distracted in thoughts and then suddenly hyper-focused on a detail others would by-pass. Looking at my previous post, I have become concerned that I might sound judgmental of those who preach Eternal Life or a gospel different than my own personal gospel. I am trying so hard to make a point; I failed to state the point! I do believe that Eternal Life through Christ is TRUE, but someone preaching that it is true did not make me realize it was so.

Another gospel emphasis, obviously just as true and critical to salvation, is the death of Christ on the Cross. Now this is the one I am most terrified to admit never quite affected me the same as it did others. I remember a study I did with some sisters a couple of weeks before my baptism. It was a study on the Cross - what does the Bible teach about what happened, and why did it happen? We watched a movie depicting the crucifixion of Jesus. It was heartbreaking and I cried - I shook with anger - I ached with the pain a mother, brother, friend could feel at this injustice - I felt the guilt of my sin and the responsibility it played in His death. But I also remember being too embarrassed to say what I was thinking, "I've watched death strike worse than this." We read aloud one of those medical accounts of crucifixion. It was horrid - but still not the worst I had imagined or even witnessed. These ladies had yet to learn that I was born in a home of a drug dealer and an addict prostitute, and even after my Dad changed his path and left my Mother I continued to witness, albeit in a sheltered way, some horrible facts about life and death. Add to that, it was my opinion at the time that this romantic story of sacrifice was being used to manipulate me - so any personal application to my life was tainted with this suspicion.

Again, this is an aspect of The True Gospel that is not a part of my gospel emphasis. So much so, that I often forget to share it when I witness! Be assured however, I have seen God use my meager seed.

An element or two of this study did begin to ruminate in my heart that night. I grew up with a determination not to be "bad" like the people I watched around me. They were unhappy and cruel, and I did not want to be like them. I followed every rule, to the finite point - for I clearly saw that sin led to death long before I read it in scripture. I had great difficulty in understanding I needed salvation. There were just a few things I could work at, with the assistance of a self-help book or two, and I would be the best person I knew. (You are welcome to LOL here.)

I am still soaking this lesson in seven years later, but I began to see that it was ridiculous to compare my "bad" to the "bad" of others. We are all offered the exact same restitution for sin - so how can one be any worse than the other?

I was fully aware that the girls at my study were carefully watching my reactions to the film, the reading and the discussion. I was so impressed with the leader of that study. Some might say she was being judgmental, but in her wisdom she knew the gospel had not become personal to me that night. Christ on the Cross was incredible - the resurrection was beautiful, but I was not yet persuaded.

There is no reason to listen if I cannot hear.
Just Another Voice,

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The True Gospel

I have been hearing a lot lately about the true gospel. There seem to be many opinions that sound very different on the surface - but as I dig and wind through to clarify my understanding, they aren't really so different. What the true gospel consists of seems almost universal in understanding: This Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross and rose from the dead, fulfills the promise of God in the Old Testament as atonement for our sin, and He alone can give eternal life to those who believe in this. Now there are many disagreements on HOW and for WHOM the promise is fulfilled...

...but maybe it would be easier to focus on one thing at a time. {c;

Is the gospel not simply the story - never told in specifically the same way more than once in scripture, by the way - about the salvation given to each man/women who tells it? I find it interesting that one person's experience with accepting the witness of the gospel emphasizes mercy, another eternal life, another love. Are they wrong? Shouldn't they see that my emphasis is certainly more correct than yours? Or could it be that a particular perceived emphasis is exactly what the Holy Spirit uses at the correct place and time in a man's life to persuade him to faith?

I've known people to listen to the brief testimony of one bumbling unskilled speaker, with no colorful beaded bracelet to make sure she's covered every point, and be fully persuaded that Christ is salvation and ready to accept whatever the Word and Spirit reveals - without ever opening a Bible. I've also known people who have had to study and wrestle with scripture for years, ask theological scholars of every denomination on every call radio station, and fully reconcile each historical event of the Bible before coming to faith in Christ.

Was either one less rescued than the other?

Let's look at one example. I will use my experience, because... well, it's what I know. One faction calling their idea of the "gospel emphasis" the true gospel seems to focus on ETERNAL LIFE. That would never have worked on me! I agree that eternal life is definitely a part of the gospel - a critical part. Leaving out eternal life is not like leaving out an "a" or a "the" - it would be death to leave it out. But if your gospel only included or over-emphasized ETERNAL LIFE, I never would have listened.

I grew up imagining my bones feeding the earth upon my death - and that seemed heavenly to me. It still does. Eternal rest is what appeals to me! I was poor, broken and weary long before I should have been (not gathering pity, as I believe many feel this way even before adolescence!) MORE life, ugghh!?!?

And even today, as I rejoice in the eternity I will spend with the Lord, whenever I hear someone extolling gratitude for eternal life, I can't help but think of these words from our Savior:

Matthew 16:25
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

Mark 8:35
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

Luke 9:24
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.
These reasons dissuade me from holding ETERNAL LIFE as the emphasis in my gospel. But that's just my gospel - my "gospel emphasis" probably wouldn't work for you either.

The Voice grows hoarse...

I will share more tomorrow!

There is no reason to listen if I cannot hear.
Just Another Voice,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Than One Voice

I am the daughter of a diligent Bible-studying atheist father and two devout haters of the church. My mother was mistreated by church doctrine most of her life, and my step-mother was abused by an over-bearing minister for a father.

I know I am, by no means, alone. However, I often feel like an outsider in religion. Maybe that's not a bad thing.

Exactly seven years ago I was born again. My conversion was an act of consciousness as well as divine inspiration. I received the gift of the Holy Spirit the moment I accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that he fulfilled all the prophesies of the Old Testament. I did not (and still do not) yet know all those prophesies - but I became convinced of enough that I accepted as whole what I had heard in part. One week later I was baptized at the hands of my also newly-baptized husband. Losing him was a cost I had counted, but fortunately had not paid. I was joyful and content with my experience. It made sense to me and gave me much assurance.

Yet, from the moment of my baptism, godly men and women began to assuage me with doubt. They were certain that I was to receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and it was not possible I had received it before. When I shared my testimony, God's use of the men and women of the church to intervene in my life and the "coincidences" of time and place that led to my conversion were praised as truth, while the spiritual and emotional interventions of God working alone in my heart were cautiously accepted with warnings to test the spirits with scripture.

For many years, I studied the Bible hours on end trying to find the conclusions and convictions of others in the scripture. Had the Lord abandoned my spirit? I could not find these convictions with the same source of enlightenment that had found the Lord. Mind you this enlightenment was not an emotional response - it was simply clarity of the knowledge set before me. As the speech of man began to clutter my heart I felt a loss for all clarity beyond the first.

The second half of my journey has been learning not to allow man to nullify my experience with God. Yes, I know that I still must test the spirits with scripture, and that many advisors make wise council, but I also know the voice of my Shepherd.

In the past two years, the Lord has added another dimension to my walk - blogging as a Christian. I call it my "stalk." I have been compiling information in my mind regarding other Christian's experiences with finding and holding on to God. My mind can only hold so much and make any sense of it. Hence, you have my voice right here - in your head, as it is in mine.

One of my goals is to find the common experiences. Is it common to all or some? Another goal is to learn not to dismiss someone's experience because it is not like mine. We are told in scripture that there is nothing new under the sun - so I suspect that there will be no truly unique experiences, that statistically I will always find two or more of a kind. I also suspect that I will find these common experiences are what gather us together into theological denominations - because it is safer. If your experience is the same as mine, you won't make me doubt what I have come to know. However, I also find it very dangerous. I will often defend my experience as the only way - attempting to create in you the very doubt I fear you will create in me. It is very ugly, and I pray daily I do not succumb to this close-mindedness. I think having more than one voice in my head will help.

I hope you find my voice is reasonable and compassionate, but loud. And when you respond with your voice in my head, I hope I find it just as reasonable, compassionate and loud.

There is no reason to listen if I cannot hear.
Just Another Voice,