Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

fear

The Bible is full of tensions and and truths that we must study and try to understand in our daily walks with the Lord.  Mutual responsibility (God’s sovereignty and our accountability), the coming of the Kingdom of God (Jesus has brought salvation in part, but it will be completed in fullness when He comes the second time), and the like.  But one that regularly leaves people in different camps is how we best relate to God:  Is he almighty judge?  King?  Or father?

Scripture teaches all of these truths, and to try to pick one out as better than the other or as our primary method of relating to God is dangerous at best and detrimental to our faith at worst.  If you think of Jesus as your “homeboy” as the tee-shirt suggests, you are in grave danger of disrespecting the king of the universe.  Jesus will not be snowboarding with you on the New Earth, He is king and judge and will reign from His throne (Matt 19.28).  But if you only think of Jesus as the eternal judge, you miss out on His tender, loving side by which we know we have been adopted as sons and we can crawl up in His lap and call Him “daddy” (Rom 8.15)

Should we fear God as the king, and as the judge?

Yes.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

– Matt 10.28

And, No.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”

– 1 John 4.18

There is a tendency in our culture to choose to elevate grace above all other attributes and gifts of God.  God’s grace is indeed glorious and deserving of our praise.  It is by grace alone that we have any hope for eternal salvation (Eph 2.8-9).  But we must be diligent, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, not to cheapen grace.  God’s grace is not an excuse for us to live however we want, we must be diligent to fight sin in our lives (Rom 6).  It is by grace that we are forgiven, but we cannot crawl up in God’s lap if we have unrepented sin in our lives (Matt 5.22-24).  He cannot and will not look on wickedness (Hab 1.13), and if we go on sinning after we receive salvation we prove ourselves to not be saved (Heb 10.26-27).

But yet, it is by grace alone that we are saved and we can not and will not earn favor with God by obedience.  We only love because God loves us, forgives us and welcomes us into His presence, and when we understand God’s love, we are not to fear Him.

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.  We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”

– 1 John 4.16-20

Consider this today, that the king of the universe who will judge all without partiality and without leniency has offered you salvation through the life, death and resurrection of His son.  He will adopt you as children, but the proof that we have been adopted is our obedience.  Love Him.  Know Him.  Call Him father, daddy even.  But do not become so comfortable as to think that He will excuse you and accept you irregardless of how you act.  Prove yourself to be His follower by loving and obeying Him.  Everyone who encountered any heavenly glory immediately fell to the ground and covered their eyes in fear.  We will have the same reaction on that day when we meet Him.  But He will welcome those who have abode in Him as beloved children.  Wrestle with the balance of love and fear.  Do not let one win out over the other.  God deserves to be revered and respected as well as loved and cherished.  Seek His face today.

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Is God proud to be your God?

shame

Every time I read through the faith chapter, this verse levels me :

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.”

– Heb 11.6

If you are not familiar, the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often called “the Faith Chapter” or “the Hall of Faith” because the chapter defines faith in verse 1, asserts that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (v 6) and then outlines the forerunners of the faith from the Old Testament, describing how they gave us an example.

God was not ashamed to be the God of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses.  And why is that?  Not because they had done amazing things – although they all did – but because they had faith.  They trusted God, believed Him, and obeyed Him.  Notice the structure of verse 16:

Premise:  “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

Result:  “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God;”

Reason:  “for He has prepared a city for them.”

The Bible is a logical, reasoning book.  Sometimes we forget and think of it as a collection of proverbs or good truths, but God Himself created wisdom, reasoning and logic, and the Bible builds extremely deep and complicated truths.  The entire book of Romans is a logical argument.  And even this small sentence in the book of Hebrews gives us two reasons that God is not ashamed to be called the God of these people:  Firstly, they desired a heavenly country and secondly, He has prepared a city for them.  Just a few verses before, we learn something dynamic about these faithful ones:

“All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own.  And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return.”

– Heb 11.13-15

This is a tricky concept to understand.  God promised Abraham a new land.  God promised Sarah a son.  God promised Noah salvation through the flood.  How can it be that these people did not receive the promises but only from a distance?  Because while God promised Abraham the land of Canaan (Israel), he himself lived as a sojourner on the land, a traveler, one who did not own the land.  He did not see the fulfillment of the promise in whole.  While God promised and provided Sarah a son, and she bore Isaac when she was 90, He also promised that through him they would be offspring as numerous as the sand on the seashore.  She did not see the multitudes that will only be fulfilled at the end of time.  While Noah was saved from the flood, he did not see the new Heaven and new Earth which would be without sin.  They saw in part, but not in whole.  But they were trusting God and looking for an eternal country.

These people did not earn God’s pride by great feats or acts of obedience.  They earned the pride of God because they trusted and believed Him.  They trusted Him, believed Him, and longed for a country that was beyond this Earth.  Therefore God was not ashamed of them.  Because He had already prepared an eternal city for them.

So how do you ensure that God is not ashamed to be called your God?  By believing Him, by longing for Him, by putting your hope and trust in an eternal city, not in your Earthly dwelling.  By making much of Him.  By recognizing that He is God, He has promised glorious things, and by ordering your life around those things.  Spiritual longing for God.

This is a strange concept.  We do not typically boast in our hunger, or our longings.  Amongst our peers it is not an honorable thing just to desire something.  But in God’s eyes, desiring Him is that which He values.  And true desire leads to unfathomable acts of faith and obedience.  Noah built an ark in a desert.  Sarah, at 90, built a crib and made baby clothes.  Abraham was prepared to kill his only son, who was born to him well after child-bearing years.  Abraham also packed up his family and possessions and walked into the wilderness trusting God to give him directions as he went.  What are you doing that makes no earthly sense?  These acts of obedience will not earn you favor with God, but the believing heart that trusts God will.

Is God proud to be your God?  

The only other option is that He is not your God.  God is not ashamed and He does not do shameful things.  God will not welcome people through the backdoor of Heaven.  That is why Jesus said,

“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

– Matt 7.14

Trust God today.  Believe Him.  And when you lack faith, pray as one man did:

“I do believe; help my unbelief.”

– Mark 9.24

It is God who is working in you to complete the work of Sanctification.  Pray that He will do that through you which He has commanded.  He has promised wisdom to any who ask.  Ask for it.  Ask Him to give you faith.  Ask Him to help you believe.  I am asking for those things.  Your actions and obedience should only be the outworking of your love, trust and desire for God.  God is looking at your heart.  Humble it before Him today.

Obey God, and leave the consequences to Him.

decision

Sometimes when we are left looking at our lives at the moment of decision or crisis, we weigh the consequences.  We list the pros, the cons, and we think about where each potential decision could lead us.  Sometimes we are deciding between right and wrong.  Sometimes we are deciding between good and best.  Sometimes we are just deciding.

God has given us a few, very clear, commandments (this list is not exhaustive):

1)  Die to ourselves daily and follow Him (Luke 9.23)
2)  Put away sin  (Rom 6)
3)  Go make disciples of all the nation (Matt 28.18-20)

So when we are making decisions we can ask ourselves things like, “Am I dying to myself by making this decision?”, “Is this sinful?” and “Is this decision helping or hindering me to make disciples?”.  We can always test and gauge ourselves by asking ourselves examination questions in our decision making and lifestyle choices.  God has been clear about what He wants from us and how we are to live.

Last night my dad was reflecting on a missionary family that he has known since early adulthood.  The man took his wife and son to Australia, living by raised support, and has been serving faithfully for over thirty years.  He is now in his late fifties, his wife has many medical issues, they are still serving and the man owns nothing.  My dad asked him if he had plans for retirement, and he said “I will keep working, I have nothing”.  He has no house, he has no money, he has nothing to “fall back on”, as we like to say.  He has given everything to God, and is trusting God to provide.

Charles Stanley encourages us simply:

Obey God and leave the consequences to Him.

God has promised us eternal life, to meet our needs, and to work all things together for His glory and our good.  Even if we do not see radical blessings in our lives as a result of obedience while we are here on the Earth, we know that our treasure and our reward is in Heaven.  So examine yourself, test your life, your decisions and your treasures against Scripture, and trust God for the outcome.  He is in control.  He will work it out.

Did God Create Evil?

good_evil

This is a sensitive topic for light-weight American Christianity.  We often subconsciously believe that God is good and Satan is His equal and opposite force of evil.  We push back against His sovereignty and we believe that God only redeems the bad for good, He certainly would not ordain the bad.  Right?

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God.
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other,
The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the Lord who does all these.”

– Is 45.5-7

Verse 7 is a difficult verse for many.  The word calamity, in Hebrew, is ra’ ( רָעַ) and it means evil.  It is found 663 times in the Old Testament, and 442 of those times it is translated as evil.  59 times it is translated as wickedness and 25 times as wicked, the rest of the translations are marginal and along the same lines.  So here we have a direct quote from God, declaring who He is and what He does.  He declares that He is God, the only God, and His intention is to make that known to mankind.  He formed the light and the darkness, and he creates good and evil.

How can that be?  How can a good God, who is love, who is righteous and holy, create evil?

Before we delve too deeply into the topic, we need to step back and understand that we are not God, but He is, and Scripture – as His spoken and authoritative word – gets to define reality.  We do not have the luxury of picking out parts that we like and parts that we do not like to establish our belief systems.  The moment we discredit one part of Scripture, the entire book loses its validity – because if one part may not be true than any part may not be true.

We also need to be careful to keep texts in their appropriate context.  If we cherry pick a verse here and there, we can make the Bible say almost anything we want it to say.  That’s why theologians suggest that we need to let the Bible interpret the Bible.  It will not contradict itself, and thus we must be intentional to study the logic and reason exemplified within the Scriptures and humbly submit ourselves to God.

That being said, we have this extremely difficult passage of Scripture:  “I am the Lord, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating evil; I am the Lord who does all these”  (Is 45.7).  Now, we all know well the reality that God created everything:

“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.”

– John 1.3

“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.  By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”

– Gen 2.1-2

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

– Col 1.16-17

Scripture clearly teaches us that God created everything:  both the physical and the invisible.  We also know that God created the moral and holy laws:  morality.  Part of the creation of man was his conscience.  Now, lest we fall into fatalism and basic deism, let us also remember that God is intimately involved in and sovereign over everthing that happens:

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

– Col 1.16-17

“…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

– Heb 1.2-3a

Jesus is continually speaking all things into existence, and he holds everything together.  God directs our daily steps, He has an established plan for our lives, He is sovereign.

So God created everything:  everything that exists, everything that is invisible, He also wrote the laws of morality and gave us consciences to convict us of evil.  Is it possible, then, that God created natural disasters, or evil things, even evil people?

“He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who makes lightnings for the rain,
Who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.”

– Ps 135.7

“Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.”

– Gen 6.17

“The Lord has made everything for its own purpose,
Even the wicked for the day of evil.”

– Prov 16.4

“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?”

– Rom 9.21-22

Scripture clearly and regularly teaches that God is sovereign over and causes natural disasters, and has created everything for it’s purpose:  even wicked people.  But what purpose could wicked people and evil possible have?

“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?  And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”

– Rom 9.21-24

God has ordained and sovereignly created evil and wickedness in order to display the riches of His glory upon those who are being saved.  Without wickedness to contrast God’s goodness, there is a limited grasp and pleasure in that goodness.  We recognize this reality in our daily lives:  if you never suffer failure, you will not have the fullest pleasure of success.  If you never lose, winning is not a joyful accomplishment.  If something is left untested, it is not worthy of praise.  In the same manner, when Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, they had fellowship with God, but they did not know the forgiving love of God.  This is why the angels marvel and long to look into our salvation.  They have fellowship with God, but they have not personally experienced the greatest measure of it:  forgiveness.

“It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”

– 1 Peter 1.12

We also know that God predestined and ordained the life and death of Jesus Christ from before He even created the world:

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.

– Rev 13.8

But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.

– Is 53.10

“[Jesus], 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.”

– Acts 2.23-24

So we have seen that God created evil, He created evil things like natural disasters and wicked people, all for the sake of making His goodness and mercy known to those who are being saved, and the most wicked of evils – murdering the son of God – was predestined before the World began, for just that purpose:  to glorify God by offering salvation to the lost.  Thus, we can see and understand clearly that:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

– Rom 8.28-30

All things will work together for God’s glory and to our good.  One might oppose on human logic, however, “If God uses evil then He must be evil”.  Scripture completely refutes that logic, however:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

– James 1.13

God’s usage of evil, calamity and wickedness is always for our good and His glory.  He is sovereign over it, but does not commit wicked acts.  Humanity is and always will be responsible for our actions.  Thus, even though the murder of Jesus was God’s plan for redemption all along, those who physically murdered Him will suffer the consequences.  This is what theologians call “mutual responsibility”.

“For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

– Luke 22.22

God is the sovereign creator and can create things to preform their function, even if their function is wickedness.  This does not cause Him to be wicked, it causes Him to be sovereign.  And God is not tempted to evil because His plan is set and He is good.  He will not change, and His plan will not change.  God does not tempt us with evil, but He does test us by it.  And He is glorified by our obedience through it, or our forgiveness after repentance for falling into it.

In summary, yes.  God created evil.  And it is all part of His glorious plan to glorify Himself, to teach us His greatness and to help us find our greatest joy and pleasure in Him.  He is sovereign, He has a perfect plan that will work to our ultimate and eternal best, and we are responsible for how we obey, follow and love that plan.  God is good.  His plan is good.  And He is so awesomely in control of everything that He even orchestrates the evil to be a good part of His plan.  Satan is not an equal and opposite force of God, and actually has to report to God for what he is allowed to do, and what he is not allowed to do.

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.

– Job 1.12

They accepted joyfully the plundering of their property.

prison visit

When Jesus came onto the scene give or take two thousand years ago, the Jewish people were living under the rule of the Roman Empire.  God had promised the people of Israel that they would be His people, that Canaan (modern day Israel, more or less) would be their land and that they would be blessed and successful if they kept His commandments.  They did not keep His commandments, and after generations of rebellion, God allowed them to be taken into captivity and allowed other nations to rule them and their land.  The promise and the hope of the Old Testament was of a Messiah who would set the Israelites free.

Jesus was that Messiah, but He came with the intention to set them (and people from every people group) free Spiritually, from sin, and unto eternal and full life. This was not well understood by most Jews, and that is why the Jewish people are still looking for a political Messiah who will restore to them the land.  But there were some who listened to Jesus.  It was in this setting that the rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked what the path was to salvation:

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’”  And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”  Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

– Mark 10.17-22

Under the oppression of the Romans, this committed Jewish man had kept all of the Laws of God since His youth.  This is no small task, as Jesus regularly condemned the Pharisees and others for keeping only the letter of the Law and only parts of the Law.  But this man was confident in his heart and obedience.  Jesus did not reprove him, but “felt a love for him” and actually called him to follow.  The man chose to not follow, however, because he valued his possessions more highly than eternal salvation.  He was unwilling to surrender his property to follow Jesus.  This is one of the most convicting and terrifying stories to me.  And we see an example of those who were truly committed to Jesus, and willing to surrender all things, just a few books later:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.  For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.  Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
      FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE,
HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.
BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH;
AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”

– Heb 10.32-29

The Hebrew people (the Jews) to whom the book of Hebrews was written recounted this story of the early days of their conversion.  They came to faith, and immediately came under suffering.  There suffering was twofold:  part of the group of believers were publicly humiliated through public reproaches, tribulations and imprisonment, and those who were not imprisoned went to care for those in prison, and in doing so fell victim to their houses being plundered.

And all of this, they “accepted joyfully”. 

Jesus made some hard claims to grasp, when it comes to salvation.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

– Luke 14.26

And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.

– Luke 9.23

“One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

– Mark 10.21

Would you surrender family?  Possessions?  Comfort?  Your “rights”?  And beyond that, James teaches us that we should consider it joy and a blessing when we share in the sufferings of Christ or suffer for His sake:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

– James 1.2-4

Would you consider it joy if you were made a public spectacle?  If you were beaten in public because of your faith?  Or put in prison?  Or if someone plundered your house?  I get cranky if my electricity bill is too high, if someone broke into my house, stole everything, and graffitied the outside, because I was a Christian, I doubt my first reaction would be to praise God and rejoice.  Would yours?

American values teach us to buy a house, get nice things, save for retirement and be generous to the needy with the leftover money we have.  Jesus told the man who owned much to sell it all, and give the proceeds to the poor – not to pocket it for another time.

Where is your treasure?  What are your values?  Is there anything that you would not surrender to or for Christ?  Is there anything that He has already asked you to surrender?  Sometimes we hear testimonies of people who believe that Christ brings them to a point Spiritually where they would only be ready to surrender house, family, job, desires, whatever – and then returns the thing which had previously been idolized.  Bu often in Scripture, we see people being called not just to be willing to give it up, but to actually give it up.  Like these Hebrews.  Sometimes they were found righteous, and sometimes the suffering weeded out the non believers, like the rich young ruler.  Where do you stand today?

This is why Jesus taught us to count the cost before coming to Him for salvation:

“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”

– Luke 14.28-33

Let us count the cost today, and hold loosely those things in our lives that are not Jesus.  Let us consider Jesus the highest treasure and joy, and surrender everything that He asks us to surrender.  If you are persecuted or suffer, let us endure is Jesus did and consider it a joy to join in His sufferings.  Let us check our hearts today.

Is being a wife truly the highest calling for women?

woman

I read an article last week speaking to women who felt called to the mission field, and finding their “place” in life.  Now, let me give you a tidbit of my background.  When I was in High School, my family started attending a fairly large church that was trying to wade through the transition from being activity-oriented to disicpleship-oriented.  The youth grew drew in a few hundred students from the city, and we knew how to entertain them.  My parents had connections with other ministries and sent me on international mission trips in the summers, and by the time I graduated High School, there was a driving theme in the youth group of calling students to full time ministry.  There were many who responded who are not even active in a church today.

Then I went to college, was active in Campus Crusade and then to Seminary, where many people had an interest and professed a calling to international and full time missions.  Interestingly, it was predominantly women who professed this desire.  But we all know how life goes, you go off to college with big dreams and then you learn how life is “supposed” to go:  get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, save money for retirement, and fight to make ends meet in the meantime.  If you don’t do all of those things, you are missing out and you are not just crazy, but you are unwise.  So people, who professed a passion for dedicating their lives to the Lord and to the Kingdom work, slipped into normal life, preparing for retirement.

Then I came across this article, supported by a prevailing voice in my denomination, that was written as advice for women who feel called to the mission field.  The thesis of the article was this,

According to God’s Word, God’s highest calling for most women is being a wife and mom.

And these are the two verses the author used to support her claim:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

– Gen 2.18

“…so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,”

– Titus 2.4

The author continues her argument for single women thus:

“If you are called to singleness, you are still created to be a helper in a general sense to the body of Christ, but you are also able to maximize your giftedness in a unique, devoted way (1 Cor. 7:32-35).”

There are two giant, red flags that we need to point out, and fight against in this article.  First of all, God did not create women for men, He created women for Himself.  God taught in the beginning, and Jesus reinforced in the New Covenant that our first and primary command is to love and serve God.  God is always and will always be our number one.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’

– Matt 22.37

It is only through loving God that we can rightly and truly love our spouses.  Men and women’s call in life is always, firstly, to serve and love God.  In fact, Paul teaches us that it is better for men and  women to not marry so that they can most fully serve God.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.  But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

– 1 Cor 7.7-8

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.  I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.  Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.  But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you…But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

– 1 Cor 7.26-29, 32-35

Scripture clearly teaches us that it is better to remain unmarried, because one who does not have a spouse and children can fully devote his and her time to the Lord.  Getting married is not a sin (I am married, and am extremely thankful for my husband), but it is a distraction and divides our time and energy.  Single women, if God is calling you to a life of singleness and to serving Him with all of your life, you have not missed the “primary call” of your life.  The Southern Baptists, who have the largest mission boards both internationally and nationally, send out women to men in the ration 2:1.  For every man on the field there are two women.  That means at least half of the women who are serving on the field are single.  And not only that, both the international and home missions boards were begun and are still recognized by their women founders:  Lottie Moon to China and Annie Armstrong who founded the Women’s Missionary Union.

If you are a wife, and you feel the calling to the field, then you need to discuss this openly and honestly with your husband.  Most missionary families who are on the field did not receive the calling at the same time.  Many couples will tell a testimony of one spouse hearing the call before the other.  But God is faithful, and if it is His intention for you to serve internationally, He will draw both units of the couple, and will open the door to service.  Most mission boards will not send a couple or family unless both husband and wife can articulate their personal calling to the field.  If one spouse (husband or wife) does not believe in the calling, the unit will fail.  And if wives go simply to raise the children, as soon as the children are raised, she will have no purpose and the unit will fail.  Women, you are not a wife to a missionary, you are a missionary.

The passage that this author applies to women’s calling as a helpmate alone, actually teaches the opposite:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Women will disciple and teach women.  Men will disciple and teach men.  If we only mobilize men to be missionaries, and if women only support the ministry of the men on the field, then half of the population will be left un-ministered to.  Paul taught a similar logic to Timothy in regards to men:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

This is what we call complimentarianism.  Men have a role in ministry, in marriages, and in life.  Women also have a role in ministry, in marriages and in life.  God teaches us that the men are the Spiritual heads of the household (Eph 5.23), and the financial provider (1 Tim 5.8).  But we also learn from Proverbs 31 and many other go-to passages that women, while they are mothers, are also praised for working, helping provide for their families, and being active in ministry.  As our culture continues to change, many families cannot survive on one income, and many women are offered high-paying jobs.  This is not a sinful thing, it is her being a praiseworthy wife, according to Prov 31.

Consider the Muslim world.  Men and women rarely socialize together in the Muslim world.  If male missionaries meet with men, reason with them, and lead them to faith over a long period of time, the day that man comes to faith, he will go home to a wife who has never heard the name of Jesus and the Gospel.  He is not prepared to reason with her, and often times, because of their culture, he will simply inform her that this is their new identity.  Shariah Law does offer her an escape, if he leaves the Muslim faith, but then she is left without a husband, still in her faith.  Either way, the picture is grim for her.  So most mission boards, to combat this tendency and problem on the field, are focusing on “household evangelism and discipleship”.  Many of the movements that have started throughout the book of Acts and the history of the Church began because an entire household came to faith.  And this requires the ministry of the husband and the wife in much of the Muslim world.

When people get married, their spouses and families automatically become priority number 2.  Husbands are Christians first, husbands second, and profession third.  Wives are Christians first, wives second, and profession third.  Thus we would appropriately apply 1 Cor 12:12-20 to husbands, wives, and everyone who would consider themselves a Christian.

The second red flag here is the implication that women cannot lead a ministry.  Just because God set up the familial structure that husbands are the head, does not mean that women cannot have a ministry of their own.  The point has been made clearly already that God intends for women to teach and disciple other women.  This will not be the ministry of  these women’s husbands.  This will be their ministry.  If an older woman teaches a younger woman how to love her husband and children, this is between them.  My mentor’s role in my life is not her husband’s ministry to me.  And if a woman is led to start an orphanage, a school, a house for women being rescued from the sex-trade, this can and rightly should be her ministry, if her husband is busy doing something else.

This is where we often get confused:  Scripture gives us guidelines for the qualifications of a pastor.  God has reserved the role of the pastor and elders of a church for men.  We see these clear qualifications outlined in the books of 1 Timothy and Titus.  Missionaries, however, are not pastors or elders.  And leading a ministry does not put one in the role of pastor or elder.  All mission boards appoint women as missionaries, but sometimes we forget that these qualifications – while solid and helping us evaluate the character of would-be missionaries – do not prevent women from service, because these women are not seeking to be pastors.  They are seeking to go share the Gospel with anyone who will listen.  Women can share the Gospel with men, and men can share the Gospel with women.  But long term discipleship will (and should) happen gender-specifically.

Single ladies, if you feel a calling to be a missionary, and if God has given you a peace about remaining single, you have not missed out on life.  Scripture teaches that you have a higher calling, and in reality, you are more like Jesus.  Jesus never married.  He devoted His entire life to the service of God.  Married ladies, if you feel a calling to ministry or missions, pray for your husband and that God will guide your family where He has you.  But you are not thwarted from serving God by your husband’s lack of faith or calling or whatever.  You cannot drag your husband halfway around the world to be a missionary if he is opposed – just like a husband should never try to drag his wife halfway around the world if she does not hear the calling.  You are a team.  You will and should minister together.  And God will place you where He desires you to serve.

Being a wife (and mother) is priority #2 for wives.  Being a husband (and father) is priority #2 for husbands.  Being a servant of the Lord is priority #1, it is the highest calling, for all Christians.  Ask the Lord what it is that He has for you to do, and for your family to do, in service to Him today and throughout your life.  And do not quench the Spirit’s calling on your life just because you are a wife and mother.

The law is good.

law

Do you go to church?  Do you believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Are you living a life of salvation under grace?  Do you consequently think that the Law of the Old Testament and Old Covenant are bad?  Does your skin crawl when people try to tell you what to do or how to act?

Sometimes we paint the picture that the Old Testament was bad and the New Testament is good.  The Law was bad, but grace is good.  That is, after all, where we get legalism, right?

But Jesus is love, He taught love, it’s all warm, fuzzy, feel good, non judgmental mushy gushy stuff.

Right?

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

– Matt 5.16-22

Jesus unashamedly taught that He did not come to abolish the Law, and that the Law will stand until the end of time – until there is a new Heaven and a new Earth.  And not only that, but anyone who annuls the Law will not make it into Heaven.  In short, you cannot love Jesus and hate the Law.

There was a very real change that happened when Jesus died and rose from the dead.  When the Old Covenant was fulfilled in the New Covenant, and the Law was fulfilled in Jesus, the sacrificial system was completed.  We do not have to make sacrifices to atone for our sins any longer because Jesus was the final and the perfect sacrifice.  The Old Covenant sacrifices were shadows looking forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus would make (Heb 10.1-18).  Thus, some of the traditions and practices were done away with by the completing work of Jesus on the cross.  But the theme of the Old Covenant Law is summed up in this:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4

This is the very heart of the Law, and the single command that Jesus said is the greatest.  The rest of the Law is how people were instructed to actually live out that love.  You cannot obey the Law unless love is your driving force.  And through love, the goal of life is to follow this overarching command:

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

– Lev 19.2

And both of these commands reign true today.  Jesus taught us to Love the Lord with all of our heart, soul and might (Matt 22.37) and Peter continues the command to be holy (1 Peter 1.15, 16).

Consider this,

“THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART,
AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,”
He then says,
AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS
I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.”

– Heb 10.16-17

God, when He made the New Covenant with believers, with us, promised to take out our hearts of stone and give us a new heart, and on that heart He would actually write His Law.  In the Old Covenant, they were instructed to write the Law “on their foreheads” and on the doorposts of the house:

“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

– Deut 6.8-9

But now, Hebrews says, we have no need of an instructor because the Holy Spirit is teaching us from within (Heb 8.11).  That does not mean that we do not need to read the Bible, but it means that the Spirit will convict us when we are tempted to sin or start to make the wrong decision.  His Spirit will guide our spirits, when we are willing and listening, in the path of obedience.

Jesus came to fulfill the Law.  The Law is now written on our hearts, and we are commanded to be holy – because of and through the love for God.

Without faith, hope and love in and for God, it is all worthless.  That is why Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed tombs:  They were following the law in their actions but not in their hearts.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

– Matt 23.27-28

The problem was not the Law, the problem was the heart of the Pharisees.

If you try to obey Jesus without knowing and loving Him, you will be just like the Pharisees.  But if you want to know and love Jesus, you have to obey, and you will be compelled to obey because God has written the Law on your heart.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.”

 – Heb 10.26-27

So let us focus on the greatest commandment:  Love God with everything you have.  Trust the Spirit convicting your heart of righteousness, and read the Scriptures to find out what God has to say about sin and righteousness.  Obey.  But obey out of love, not out of obligation or trying to prove yourself.  Prove yourself to be a believer by your actions, not a bag of dry bones.