Rodney and Ellen Riggs 1975 to 2015 and counting!

The months of hospitalization, the confusion that strokes bring, the unbelievable stress that comes from having your life completely pulled out from under you began to take their toll on both Rod and Elly

IMG_3868It began without warning. Chest and abdominal pain – a trip to a local hospital and a transfer to a regional one. The doctor said, “I don’t think you’ll make it through the night.” Rodney Riggs, sixty-eight years old, was told he had necrotizing pancreatitis. His pancreas was eating away at itself. The hospital doctors decided to transfer Rod to the Cleveland Clinic Surgical Intensive Care Unit to have emergency surgery to forestall the destruction of his pancreas. The doctors told him he had a 9 in 10 chance of not making it through the surgery. That was about March 2, 2015. Rod never had to have the surgery. Most believe that it was the prayers of so many that stopped the pancreas with about 30 percent still functional, just enough to live on. While he battled the pancreatitis, infections and fevers haunted him. Then again, without warning, Rod suffered a debilitating stroke which made his entire left side non-functional. Weeks would drag into months as the roller-coaster ride of infections and fevers would drive Rod deeper into trouble. Eventually, he was transferred to a specialty hospital on the sixth floor of the Mercy Medical Center in Canton. It is now spring time. Rod’s wife Ellen, Elly, had been working, trying to get to the hospital as often as she could while struggling with her diabetes and high blood pressure, remnants of a mild stroke she had suffered years ago when she had a non-malignant tumor removed from her brain which also left her deaf in one ear. Then it came. The phone call that Elly had collapsed at work. She was taken to a special unit of the Akron General Hospital where it was learned that she had suffered a shower of strokes and was severely incapacitated. Eventually, Rod and Elly would be both in the specialty hospital at Mercy in Canton and from there they were transferred together to the Bethany Nursing Home, also in Canton for more focused physical therapy.
The months of hospitalization, the confusion that strokes bring, the unbelievable stress that comes from having your life completely pulled out from under you began to take their toll on both Rod and Elly. Depression and anger, both natural parts of the grief that comes in dealing with such a loss; was worsening. This was an incredible double loss. Neither of them could count on the other to help them because each was helpless on their own. Rod celebrated his 69th birthday at Bethany. Elly had turned 69 in April while Rod was hospitalized in Cleveland. There was hope and a desire that when Rod and Elly would celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on August 26, 2015 that they would enjoy it in their own home. God is the only one that can foresee that timing. But on July 15, 2015 Rodney called his brother Ross, an ordained minister, and asked him if he would be willing to come to Bethany and officiate as Rodney and Ellen renewed their wedding vows. And that is just what they did. IMG_3866
Many times, young people speak their wedding vows and the words, “for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health” just roll off their tongue without much more than a passing thought. When Rod and Elly spoke those words this time, it meant a great deal more. We celebrate with them and thank God for their love and their desire to go through whatever lies ahead, together.

East Jerusalem Attacks Intensifies Shadow Wars Within the Country

East Jerusalem Attacks Intensifies Shadow Wars Within the Country.

One is Too Many

For over forty years I have been a member of the law enforcement profession. For almost as long, I have been proudly affiliated with the U.S. Armed Forces, specifically the U.S. Air Force Reserve. From the very beginning of my careers in the mid 1970’s, law enforcement was given the badge of dishonor of having one of the highest divorce rates and even worse, one of the highest suicide rates, particularly among retirees of similar professions. Already I can hear you thinking, this is going to be a downer of a message; I don’t think I care to keep reading, or listening. I don’t blame you, suicide is a sad, painful topic. But in the midst of that pain and sadness, I come to you with two kinds of good news, first about suicide rates and second about the ultimate option that can be used to prevent the rates from spiraling out of control again.

What prompted me to write this was an article I read recently in the publication of the Air Force Security Forces Association, of which I am proud to be a member. It also caused me to look up some information on police related suicides as well. Here is the first bit of good news. The suicide rates for the U.S. military for all branches declined from 2012 to 2013. In 2012 there were 522 suicide deaths among all services. Of those, fifty-seven were airmen. The data for 2013, though not complete, shows that service wide the number dropped to 474. Lt. General Michael Linnington, Military Deputy at the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (can you imagine putting that on your business card?) says that “With an 18 percent drop in 2013, something is going right.” I agree with the General with one glowing exception. The 48 deaths less from 2012 to 2013 is just over 10 percent. To get an 18 percent change, the Lt. General was only counting the fifty-eight deaths less from the 319 to 261 Active Duty suicides between 2012 and 2013. Fifty-eight is 18 percent of 319 but if we are really counting all of our members, then we should really count all of them. Still, almost 11 percent improvement is a good thing and when the Lt. General says, “something is going right” I agree. I also agree with his remark that “one suicide is too many.” He said that the services needed to focus their efforts on where they believe they are most needed.

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That comment struck me just a bit as I recalled an internet message I received just recently from the U.S. Navy Reserve unit based in Cleveland and Akron here in NE Ohio. I had written to the unit’s program manager. She had informed me that the unit only had a part time chaplain. I am completing training for trauma counseling with a focus on military personnel and I have been certified for trauma counseling through the American Association of Christian Counselors. I volunteered my services to this Reserve unit and after checking with her commander, she informed me that they had no need for trauma counseling. I trust that the commander of the U.S. Navy Reserve contingent in NE Ohio is very thankful that he has a unit free of trauma. I pray that he never has to face the family of a Reservist who has committed suicide, I really do.

Then, of course, there is the law enforcement side of the picture. Again, there is a decline in the number of suicides among police. I do not believe these numbers reflect police retirees, only active duty law enforcement. “The Badge of Life (BOL) just released their initial report on law enforcement suicides over the past year. The good news is that the police suicide rate dropped in 2012 when compared to 2009 (the last time a study was completed). The bad news is it didn’t drop enough. One hundred twenty six law enforcement officers committed suicide in 2012. Additionally, in 2012, 129 officers “died in the line of duty”

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When we consider retirees or, for the military, if we look at veterans, the numbers are not as encouraging. For example, veterans are committing suicide at more than double the U.S. civilian population. “Records from 48 states show the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared to a civilian rate of about 14 per 100,000. The suicide rate among veterans increased an average 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011, or more than double that of the 1.1 percent civilian rate, according to News21’s analysis of states’ mortality data.” Police retiree suicide numbers are not as traceable because so many leave law enforcement and go on to other careers, often their suicides are not considered linked to the police work and there is no central reporting mechanism for such events. It is often impossible to track the suicides of those retired through their pension systems because cause of death is not a question that is recorded.

There are several factors that make finding a specific cause or causes for these alarming rates nearly impossible. For example, in both the police community and in the military the vast diversity of types of personalities, backgrounds, faiths, family dynamics, education, and personal health all create variables that make defining the problem even more complex. Suicide rates nationally vary by regions, this affects the police numbers as well. Pre-employment screening is done in some places, not in others. Would such screening have identified certain officers as more likely to commit suicide? Intervention programs, where they exist, also vary greatly across the country. Some departments have complete mental health resources available to their personnel. Others are more like the Navy commander and don’t see a need for such intervention.

So there is ‘good news’ and ugh… not so good news. As the General said, even one is too many but we, as a society, or as subcultures of society, such as the police or military, are limited to how far we can go. Recent studies show that suicide rates for veterans are skyrocketing. Yes, while men and women are in the service or on the job, they have resources; but those resources diminish to nearly nothing once a person retires or is discharged from active duty. There are too many cracks through which someone can fall. The answer comes by way of something that, though it is an answer, it is still a double edged sword.

Just as with the vast majority of our society’s ills, the key ingredient, the most efficacious remedy, the strongest, most resilient binding for wounds that can help bring people through their horrific dark times is family. The erosion of the family unit in America is the primary event that has led to the inability to care for our own. It is at once, that simple and that complicated.

Suicide has touched almost everyone in some form or another. I know of two that are so very close to me that I can speak with some authority to this next point. Even when family is close, even when persons who care desperately attempt to intervene, sometimes it is not enough and – this next point is critical – it is NOT the fault of the family members left behind for something that they did or did not do. When an individual reaches a point of deciding to take their own life, I firmly believe that they are not capable of thinking rationally, nor clearly. Certainly, their actions may be well planned and seemingly thought through to the minutest detail, but the rational part of the mind that would allow them to see the pain that they will cause, the simple trading of one set of problems for others that may be eternally worse is not part of their thinking process. Their physical pain or mental torture has brought them to the brink of an abyss that no one can see but them and they seek, what they believe to be, a release from whatever demons are driving them. No family member, friend, or significant other should ever carry the guilt of another’s suicide but rather realize that the person who has fully acquiesced to self-inflicted death is beyond anyone’s ability to reason with them. Those who are brought back from the brink of that abyss were, I believe, not yet fully committed to the final act.

There is only one person who has the capability to fully understand that pain and have the ability to meet someone there in that pain and give that person the peace with life’s circumstances so as to help them back from the precipice. That person is Jesus Christ. That is the truly Good News that can make all of the difference in the world. I made the comment that when someone has reached that final point of despair they are beyond anyone’s ability to reason with them. When I say that I know that first, with God all things are possible but I also believe that Christ would not reason with them. His intervening in their lives would be of such an amazing of grace that it would be irresistible. However, God does permit man to choose his own path; but families and friends can pray and seek God’s intervention. God’s Word assures us that: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”

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So here we are, several paragraphs later and to what good point has this discussion arrived? Has it illumined for you, dear reader, dear listener the plight of our veterans, our military active duty and reservists; or our law enforcement and encouraged you to pray for them and for their families? Has it stirred you to seek a deeper walk with Christ so that you might know better how to pray, that you might encourage someone to accept the grace of Christ Jesus, His forgiveness and His peace? Perhaps the next time you see a homeless person on the street, you may envision a former soldier, sailor or airmen who fought valiantly but later lost everything. ImageMaybe you will offer a word of encouragement instead of looking away, maybe even just a friendly glance. I am reminded of a story of a young man who can relate better than anyone what just such a kind gesture might mean. His name is Kevin Hines. He knows the statistics that over 1,300 people have jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge to their death and only about a dozen have jumped and survived. Mr. Hines is one of them. I will let him tell you his story as retold by Dr. Robert Simon

“Mr. John Kevin Hines, who said he was one of only two persons to survive a jump from the bridge since 2000, was a presenter at the workshop. Mr. Hines’s description of his profound mental suffering and isolation that preceded his suicide attempt was gripping and emotionally moving. The audience asked many questions.

Mr. Hines described his struggle with a severe bipolar disorder that emerged during his adolescence and worsened over time. Mr. Hines was overwhelmed by paranoid delusions and command auditory hallucinations demanding that he kill himself. Unable to function, he withdrew from college and immediately took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge. Like many people about to commit suicide, he was ambivalent about dying. He tarried at the bridge railing for about 40 minutes, trying to decide whether to go through with his plan to jump.

A number of people walked by him, oblivious to his anguish, unaware of his life-and-death struggle. Mr. Hines told us that “If someone had smiled and said, ‘Are you okay?’ I know I would have begged them to help me. I would have told them everything and asked for help. I would not have jumped. I just was unable to ask for help myself.” In fact, a foreign tourist did stop and talk with Mr. Hines. She asked him to take her picture, which he did. As she walked away, he felt more than ever that “Nobody really cares.” He jumped. On the way down, he changed his mind. He remembered thinking, “I want to live. Why am I doing this?” It was too late. Severely injured, Mr. Hines was kept afloat by a sea lion until rescuers arrived.

I asked Mr. Hines that if someone had smiled at him when he was on the bridge, given the severity of his mental illness, would it have prevented his suicide attempt. He answered, “Yes, a smile would have most definitely helped in my case. If the smile is genuine and caring, and it looks like the person is approachable, that person could have such an impact on a suicidal person at the moment of desperation. They could well save a life.”

As surely as Jonah was saved by a ‘big fish’ sent by God, it was God that sent that sea lion. What all of those people who passed by could have done, they did not; God had to use a sea lion instead. I do not profess to know much but as I consider the places that I travel to every single day here in Northeast Ohio, I know that there are no sea lions here, except in the zoo. So, I have decided that since God cannot depend on using a sea lion to help someone in desperate need; I will have to make certain that I am as ready as I can be so He can use me.

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An Inquisitive Look Into Freedom

In what some have labeled America’s ‘Post-Christian Era’ it would be difficult to get a majority consensus that even the Bible holds absolute truth.

 

Knowing the Truth:

An inquisitive look into freedom

                  Dad's pocket watch

 True North Ministry logo

Once More from the Top

 I have maintained for some time now that I learn more from teaching than I ever reciprocally provide in the form of knowledge to others; of that I am fairly certain.  Such is the case already in this first week in a study of spiritual disciplines that I am teaching for Baptist Bible Graduate School. 

A Thesis: There is an inordinately strong link between Truth (the capital ‘T’ truth of scripture) and the Spiritual Disciplines.

Understanding Freedom

Donald Whitney, an author on the subject of Spiritual discipline wrote, “There is freedom in embracing the spiritual disciplines.”[i] Whitney follows the writing of Richard Foster to argue that the Spiritual disciplines, rather than being restrictive and binding are the means to spiritual freedom. Foster goes so far as to call them the “Door to Liberation.”[ii] There is a quantum leap between the idea of the spiritual exercises or the acts that Christians do, (not so much as apart from God but as a requirement of God in living out their daily life as a Christian) and Jesus’ own words recorded in John 8:32. In one of the longest interactions that Jesus has with the Pharisees recorded for us by the Disciple John, brother of James; Jesus explains to them that “If you abide in My word then you are truly disciples of Mine and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”[iii] He goes on to say in a correlated statement; “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”[iv] There is, then an apparent relationship between the singular freedom of which Christ speaks in John 8:32 and the escape from death in 8:51. In explaining to the Pharisees who He was; He described Himself as the ‘Son’ and He declares that if the “son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”[v]

It is important at this point to identify and perhaps define the ‘Freedom’ about which Christ refers. Clearly it involves a freedom from death and extrapolating the fact that Christ, Himself, died a physical death not long after this conversation; then it is not from physical death that this new found freedom provides an escape. It most certainly effects then the spiritual death, a death which leads to an eternity separated from God in a place called ‘Hell’  prepared by God for Satan and his angels; an eternal abode for those who do not receive Christ as Savior.

Another Bible teacher, Elisabeth Elliott is quoted by Whitney as saying that “freedom and discipline have come to be regarded as mutually exclusive when in fact freedom is not at all opposite but the final reward of discipline.”[vi] If one is a connoisseur of ‘B’ Westerns then the term ‘final reward’ will strike a familiar chord as often used in conjunction with ‘the last round-up’ which was, of course, a synonym for heaven. Having heard Mrs. Elliot teach on several occasions, I do not believe she is advocating that by keeping the spiritual disciplines, a Christian will receive the freedom from spiritual death that Christ refers to in John 8. That would equate to a works received entrance to heaven. It is more likely that a better turn of phrase would have been that freedom is the end result of discipline rather than final reward. Regardless, though, of Mrs. Elliot’s soteriology, there remains a clear link between spiritual discipline and freedom; whether that is freedom from spiritual death or perhaps another type of freedom such as a freedom to live a fuller Christian life or have the freedom for a closer Christian walk with Christ. These are ideas worth considering! When one recalls that Richard Foster made a link between the disciplines themselves and spiritual freedom, to what specifically was he referring?

Defining Spiritual Disciplines

It is appropriate perhaps to define the ‘spiritual disciplines’ that are referred to here. A short list just to give the reader an idea of them includes, prayer, fasting, quiet time or solitude, intake of God’s Word which is more than simply reading but, reading is one method of intake; memorization, and meditation. The purpose in each is to grow in Christ-likeness and they are not linked in series, as such to one another, that is one need not do every type of discipline in order to gain this closer walk with the Lord but that a focused exercise of some combination of them is required; hence the term discipline. It is a required work, an exercise with an end goal in mind just as Paul described a boxer who trains and does not flail at the air but disciplines himself to be good at what he has chosen to do, or a runner who trains to compete for the prize by keeping his focus on the goal. If the authors quoted earlier are correct then, a part of that goal in becoming more Christ-like is freedom; a release, perhaps from what Paul, again, called the ‘sin that so easily besets us’. By keeping our focus, our thoughts, our attitudes on the things that are above and keeping our whole-selves trained in spiritual growth, we put behind us the preoccupation with sin and its temptation.

As quickly at the concept of completing or exercising the spiritual disciplines can devolve into a ‘works’ mentality – that is –  it is what we do that matters in our relationship with Christ; it is important to stress that the Christian can do nothing apart from Christ. It is the Holy Spirit abiding within the Christian that enables the human part of us to do anything at all that is remotely spiritually inclined. Apart from the power of God, the Christian has no ability to even consider the effective exercise of the disciplines. To attempt such an endeavor without the Holy Spirit would be to flail at the air like Paul’s fighter. The person would become exhausted in the actions but the exercise would have had no effect whatsoever.

The Capital ‘T’ Truth

In what some have labeled America’s ‘Post-Christian Era’ it would be difficult to get a majority consensus that even the Bible holds absolute truth. Many mainline Protestant churches will not be uneasy with the idea that there could be error within the biblical manuscripts. To say that the Bible is authoritative in everyday life, requires a background in Evangelical Christianity. There are some faiths that will hold that Truth can be found in the Bible but not go as far as saying that the Bible is Truth. Jesus, Himself said, in His great Priestly prayer to His Father that, “Thy Word is Truth.” There can be no greater witness to verify that God’s Word is Truth than Christ’s own statement. It is then, as we follow the logical if –then connection: If the Truth Will Set You Free and the Bible, God’s Word, is Truth; then the Word of God will set you free. The Primary role of the spiritual disciplines is to come to a deeper more abiding understanding of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. The extrapolation leads to the conclusion that if Spiritual Disciplines lead to a deeper understanding of the Bible, God’s Word, then those Disciplines lead to freedom.

Spiritual Disciplines and Truth

The final analysis brings the investigator back to the primary conclusion that it is not that completing the spiritual disciplines brings one to Freedom by way of a works mentality. Rather, it is that completion of the spiritual disciplines which brings one to a fuller appreciation and comprehension of the Bible. That deep and abiding knowledge of the Scriptures that comes from exercising the spiritual disciplines brings one to Truth, the Truth that sets you free. You are free from the Spiritual Death that is the result of sin because the Grace of God has given you that Freedom through Christ’s sacrifice which the Holy Spirit will bring you to trust through God’s Word. Freedom, too, from the daily onslaught of sin’s temptation. Not that the temptation will not rear its ugly head, but that you will have received the tools by which the Holy Spirit working within you will dismantle those temptations and bring you to victory over them. 

FREE INDEED

A classic song from the ‘Revolution’ days of the sixties by Janis Joplin titled ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ has the standard refrain, “Freedom’s Just another Word for Nothing Left to Lose; Nothin’ don’t mean nothin’ if it ain’t free.” As cynical and discouraging as those ‘blues’ lines are, they pose a dramatic disconnect to what Freedom in God’s Word is speaking about. What does fit is that the Holy Spirit brings to the believer the grace of God which, for the believer, is free… That’s somethin’ that means somethin’

 


[i] Whitney, Donald S. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, NAVPRESS: Colorado Springs 1991 (p23)

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] John 8:32 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

[iv] John 8:51 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

[v] John 8:36 (NASB) Ryrie Study Bible MBI: Chicago 1978

No Good Deed

It was the belief of witnesses that the gunman had every intention to kill his fellow student.

You have heard it before – usually tongue in cheek, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished!  It seems that is the order of the day for certain schools, particularly in Florida. A week or so ago I had the distinct displeasure of writing to a Middle School, a Superintendent, a local newspaper and a local television station for Clearlake Middle School in Cocoa Florida and in today’s news we learn the harrowing story of a football player on a school bus out of Lee County, Ft. Myers Florida. There he sits, this past Thursday, in his seat waiting to get home from school to enjoy his evening, maybe plan a date for the weekend, an even stronger maybe that he might get some of Friday’s homework done. drive in

Suddenly he finds another football player, the friend of another student he had argued with earlier, is pointing a loaded handgun directly at his head. It was the belief of witnesses that the gunman had every intention to kill his fellow student. That is when three other students reacted and wrestled the gun away from the would-be shooter. Taking their lives in their own hands, these three definitely aware that at any moment they might give up their lives for the life of their friend; an act, Jesus said, shows the greatest love. Thankfully, the near-victim survives, no shots fired, no one hurt. The student who had the loaded gun was arrested on a charge of aggravated assault, so far without a specification for ‘intent to cause death.’

Friday morning the three heroes report to school and, you guessed, were immediately suspended for “being involved in an incident with a gun.”[i] School administrators said it was policy and they should be able to return to school on Monday. To quote a phrase, The Inmates are Running the Asylum!

The anti-gun lobby will use this as yet another hunk of fodder for their argument when in-fact, it needs to be a story of gallant heroism by three young men who faced death at the hands of a psycho-path that could have used a plethora of weaponry but in this case, happened to use a gun. The media focus has never been more out of focus than thus far in the 21st century. As long as the liberal media are holding the camera, what should we expect?
To the three young men who took decisive action in the spirit of another set of heroes, Congratulations and May God Bless –  “Let’s Roll!”


[i]  www.theblaze.com Madeleine Morgenstern, The Blaze  3 March 2013

DEATH: Who Chooses When It is All Right to Die?

In a recent article in the The Weekly Standard it was reported that twenty-three percent of Dutch doctors feel they have no obligation to report any time they have completed a euthanasia procedure. That isn’t all, in Flemish, Belgium thirty-two percent of euthanasia procedures take place without the request, consent or even notice to a relative of the person euthanized. If you think that through, once the “patient” is deceased, who is to know if they ever consented to their own death? Who is the wiser?

Oh, but not to worry, that is in the Netherlands and as liberal as they are, there is no real risk of such practices coming here, right? Not exactly. In the states of Washington and Oregon, euthanasia is legal. In fact, not only is it legal, it is easier to complete than it is to witness a Last Will and Testament. According to the The Weekly Standard report, in Seattle Washington, a person cannot be a witness to a will if that person is also a recipient of an endowment from the will, for fear of duress or undue influence. However, according to a Seattle attorney, quoted in the article, an heir can witness a request for euthanasia, can go to the pharmacy to pick up the deadly prescription, and can administer the lethal dose up to a year after the prescription is written to their relative with no other witnesses present, and this heir need not have any medical training whatsoever to administer the lethal ‘medicine’.

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Consider for a moment how many due process arguments and hearings must take place before a convicted criminal is executed. “But the protections accorded to those accused of capital crimes- however imperfect – are completely out of reach for a patient that doctors, health care facility, insurer and family have decided would be better off dead.”[i] (emphasis added) And that is in the United States! According to the report, “Oregon and Washington have no meaningful precautions against wrongful euthanasia, no procedures for discipline, or hearings or board of review. Doctors report their own cases and there is no penalty for not doing so.”[ii] (emphasis added)

Returning briefly to the Dutch, Dr. Joris Slaets, a professor of geriatric medicine estimates the patient’s life goals, vitality and life expectancy before he decides whether they are “worthy of further therapy.” He unsuccessfully attempted to dissuade an 80 year old woman from heart surgery, a surgery from which she recovered and is doing well.

The Hippocratic Oath, as translated by Michael North, National Library of Medicine, states “…I will do no harm or injustice to them. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.”[iii] Not that I hold much concern for an oath made to Apollo and a stack of other Greek gods; but when anyone makes an oath in solemn acceptance of its wording and then so flagrantly disregards it, even one made to ancient gods and goddesses, where is the line that they will not cross?

There is an old joke that goes… ‘Be kind to your children, they are the ones who will chose your nursing home.’ Well, perhaps it is much more of a concern than choosing a nursing home when they are able to decide not where you will live but if you will live. It may be, not even they who decide, since in the Netherlands the doctors can choose what to do with you without even telling your children. Perhaps it is some form of misguided justice… the generation that failed to speak up for the unprotected unborn becomes the first generation to be the unprotected too old to live.


[i] Schulman, Sam “Last Rights” The Weekly Standard” Nov. 12, 2012

[ii] Ibid.

Thoughts on Faith

Rev. R. L. Riggs, D Min.      July 14, 2012

Seldom do I take a Minute for a theological doctrine issue; only because they usually take more than a minute. I’m not against a good theological debate. The Bible (and particularly one professor I had) says that iron sharpens iron. My reason for taking up this topic, even briefly, is that sometimes we hear things from the pulpit that, if our ear is trained – it twings a bit at the theology behind a statement. Many though, have ears that might twing a bit, but they aren’t sure why. Folks either walk away confused or worse, misled. I shall say here and now, I do not believe this young pastor meant to mislead or confuse. I believe it is more that, sometimes we use a phrase in our ‘Christian-speak’ so often it takes on a life of its own that will not really clear the hurdle of a theologically thought-out truth.

Here is the phrase: saving faith. If you have been in Christian circles, I know you have heard it. What is it? For the sake of our ‘Minute’ let’s take it logically.

Answer: faith that saves. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “By grace you are saved… through faith…” So it isn’t faith that saves, it grace.

‘Okay’, you say, that is splitting hairs. Is it? Let’s follow the thought. If faith saves, whose faith is it that saves? You answer logically, ‘the person being saved, it is their faith in God.’

I respond: How can a dead person have faith? Romans 3:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death…” Ephesians 2:1 reads, “And you He has quickened (raised to life) who were dead in your trespasses and sins.” The Holy Spirit had to come to you and open your eyes so you could see your sin and repent. Then, by grace, God gives you the gift of life. Remember Ephesians 2? It is a gift. If you must have enough faith to be saved, then is it a gift?

You reply: ‘Yes, but I must respond in faith to take the gift. I must stop putting my trust for my eternity in me and put it in God.”  Ok, then will you take the faith that God is giving you and put it fully in His grace to save you? This is our act of submission to Him.

The Bible tells us that we are ‘justified by faith’ but let’s see the context: Romans 3:24 reads: “Being justified freely by his grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood…”  verse 28  “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” As Hebrews outlines the ‘heroes of the faith’, verse 12:2 reads “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” ‘Justified’ is referring to the legal position in which the believer is found. The argument the author was making was to stop the Judaizers from forcing law as and rules down on believers, including circumcision, to be truly saved. Paul argues, ‘NO!’ It is by the faithfulness of God in His promise that His grace is sufficient that places the believer ‘legally justified’ in the eyes of a Holy God. If God has given that faith to a person, his life will show evidence of it.

But, how does a person get this faith? (Romans 12:3) God gives faith. Verse 22 of Romans 3 reads, “Even the righteousness of God ­which is by faith of Jesus Christ.” Follow the logic:

Either I garner up enough faith, myself, to believe in God to get the gift or

                God gives me the faith I need because of His grace at my repentant heart so I can receive the gift. Even my repentant heart comes because the Holy Spirit allowed me to see my true condition. I take the faith God gives me and put it solely on His grace to save me. This is the act of free will.

I believe the faith spoken of in Ephesians 2 is the faith of Christ that God gives to us. Galatians 2:22 reads… “Even though I am dead, yet I live. Yet not I but Christ lives within me. This life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God…” (Not faith in the Son…). I agree that in speaking to the fallen woman in Luke 7:50 when Jesus said, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” I also believe that scripture is clear; she could not have had that faith had she not received it from God because of her repentant heart. There is not time nor space to go into all of the intricacies of this but it comes down to God’s grace. Yes, we need faith to believe and to act but without His grace we can neither receive the faith nor act on it.

Author and theologian John Piper’s words are instructive:

 

According to Romans 12:3, God gives varying measures of faith to his people.

Paul says that we ought “to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted

 to each a measure of faith” (emphasis added). In the context, this is not a limited

reference to the unique spiritual gift of faith which only some believers have

(1 Corinthians 12:9). For Paul says, “I say to everyone among you not to think more

highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment,

as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (emphasis added).[i]

 

‘So, what is the big deal you?’ You ask. The argument I heard from the pulpit went like this…  (Remember, this is what I heard, it may not have been what was intended, and again I believe there was no intent to confuse)…

There is a kind of faith that saves and a kind of faith that doesn’t. Your assurance of faith is actually a tool of the devil. We put our faith in a prayer instead of a person… Jesus is my genie.  I should double-check to make sure I really am saved, that I really experienced ‘saving faith’ which produces the fruit of the Spirit.

My problem (and yours) is that neither I nor you can ever have enough faith to save us on our own. God gives us faith Jesus cried over his disciples, “Oh, ye of little faith.” Were they not saved men? When by their lack of faith they fell, did they lose their salvation?

For those of who understand the clarity of so many verses where scripture shows that salvation is once for all time, our sanctification (our growing more like Christ) keeps ebbing flowing but hopefully growing daily. And 1 John 5:­13   “These things are written… so you may know you have eternal life.”

Here is why this struck that twing-twangy chord with me. If there is anything Satan has used more in my life trying to rob me of my joy in my salvation, it has been doubt. He loves to point at my past and say ‘You see what you’ve done? You called yourself a Christian! ‘How can you be one of His?’ Or sometimes he uses the present, ‘I see what you just thought, heard what you said, felt that anger inside you… you call yourself a pastor? How can you…?’

Yes, yes a thousand times yes… we need to be sure of our salvation. Certainly if there are no fruits of the Spirit we must look to be certain of our salvation. Are we saved but grieving the Spirit, as the Scripture says we, as believers can do by our actions? (Eph. 4:30)

We all need to be assured and reassured of our salvation to keep our joy high, our spirits up, our movement forward, and our face to the fight. We are in a war and in the midst of a deep dark battle we have to be able to look about and remind ourselves we are already victors on the side that has won. To regard my assurance of my salvation as a tool of the devil is to rob me of any possible joy and rest in such assurance.

I will share this with my pastor friend and he may clarify for me how I misunderstood. But even if that is the case; let us make sure we all know going out to the deployment for the war rages on; that we are carrying the cross of Christ, the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the full armor of God.