Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

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

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“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

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

Just worry about yourself.

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We live in a relatively narcissistic society.  Everyone is typically out for himself, we work our circumstances for our own best interest and call it human nature.  We naturally focus on ourselves, right?  I was watching a show this weekend with my husband and the narrator joking stated that when a friend has good news we celebrate that good news for a moment and immediately begin evaluating our own circumstances in light of that good news. How will their change affect us?  How do we line up against their newfound success or change?  We can even find ourselves bemoaning their good fortune because we desire the same for ourselves and would prefer others to not experience it before us.

The Bible has much to say about how we should interact with one another.  God has purposefully and intentionally created us for community.  Much has been written and observed about this community:  We as Christians are the body of Christ, we each have specific gifts and abilities that were given for the sake of serving the church (1 Cor 12.12-27), and we should consider one another regularly – putting each other before ourselves and pushing one another on to good deeds (Phil 2.3, Heb 10.24).

In response to our natural bent towards comparison and self-righteousness, however, Jesus commands what seems to be the opposite.  Jesus called twelve men to follow after Him.  One of those men denied Him and hung himself, and the remaining eleven plus Paul were those by which God built the Church.  Of these men, there were three with whom Jesus was the closest – they are often referred to as the “inner circle”.  These were Peter, James and John.  Peter is often known as the vocal one and John, who wrote the Gospel of John, is referred to as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13.23-25).  During Jesus’ final night before the crucifixion Peter declared his unwavering commitment to Jesus and yet Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the sun rose the next morning.  And Peter did exactly that (Matt 26.34).

Peter felt extremely guilty for denying Christ.  However, unlike Judas, he did not kill himself and was restored by Jesus.  Jesus met the disciples on the beach and had a one-on-one conversation with Peter to restore and forgive him.  Three times Jesus asked Peter “Do you love me?” and Peter stated that he did.  Jesus commanded Peter to feed and care for the Church (John 21.15-17).  He then prophesied that Peter would die a martyr’s death.  In the very same breath, Peter turned around and saw John walking behind them on the beach and asked Jesus “What about him?”  Jesus’ response was simple and profound:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?  You follow Me!’”

– John 21.22

Jesus actually said, “What is that to you?”  Peter, do not waste your time or energy worrying about John.  You just follow me.  Do what I have told you to do, focus on what I have taught you, and let me worry about John.

It sounds very much like a father disciplining a child, does it not?  “I will take care of your sister, you just do what I have told you”.  And when does this chastisement typically come?  When the child has cried out “That’s not fair!”  or “Why do I have to and she does not?”  A parent never has to discipline a child to focus on his own task and forget a sibling’s when the child feels he has been shown favor, it is when he feels he has been slighted and the sibling is receiving an extra benefit.

And even as adults we do that with God.  We compare ourselves to one another.  We wonder why so-and-so got the promotion, was born into a wealthy family, was given extra comforts or abilities that we were not.  We tell God that it is not fair and we gripe about our lowly circumstances when we feel slighted.  And Jesus simply says to us, worry about yourself.  He has a purpose and a plan for so-and-so, just like He has for each one of us and we need only to trust Him in His plan for us.

“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.”

– Rom 8.28

Each one of us has a unique personality, and unique personal disposition and unique Spiritual abilities and gifts.  God has purposefully and perfectly established a plan that will bring about our Spiritual maturity and Spiritual best in His timing and in His way.  He does place us in in community so that we can push one another on to maturity and to know and love God, but He also teaches us not to compare ourselves to one another.

Life is not fair.  God never intended it to be.  He intends for us to trust Him and His perfect plan for our own lives, and to rejoice with one another in successes, blessings and abilities.  So, in the words of all of our mothers, “you just worry about you” when you are concerned that you are being overworked or given the short straw.  God has a plan.  God is in control.  He is working your circumstances out for your best and His glory.  He is working my circumstances out for my best and my glory.  And while it may appear that so-and-so is getting special treatment, remember that we do not know the full story and God’s plan is bigger than anything we can imagine.

When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“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.”

– Rom 8.28

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

She is not mine.

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I am a new mom.  A “FTM” (First Time Mom) as all the bloggers and texters say.  Most of my friends back home in the midwest are years ahead of me, sending their kids to preschool and gradeschool, but here in Denver we do things a little more slowly and I am 33 with a baby two weeks old today.  These last two weeks have been a whirlwind, including unexpected medical diagnoses, hospital stays, and a three week early adjustment to parenthood – but some of the most amazing moments in my and my husband’s life.  One thing, however, that is rocking my world Spiritually is the new “opportunity” to die to myself.

There are many truths out there that circulate so rapidly that they sound cliche.  “Marriage is a mirror” and such, but in two short weeks I am beginning to learn anew what it means to die to myself and to surrender my selfishness.

The Christian life, the path of salvation, is often called the fight of faith.  We are engaged in a Spiritual battle for holiness.  We are killing our sin so that it will not kill us.  We are pressing on towards the goal, we are dying to ourselves, we are fighting for sanctification.  This is Biblical.  This is right.  This is honoring to God.  And it is indeed God’s plan to sanctify us:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

Our sanctification is a process, and God reveals our sin and our depravity in bite-sized pieces.  He asks/commands/enables us to fight our sin one day at a time.  If God were to reveal the depths of our selfishness and pride as well as confronting our sinful habits all at the moment of conversion, we would become overwhelmed and give up.  But graciously He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, empower us to fight it and when we begin to live by His strength and overcome it, He takes us to the next battle front.

My new battlefront is selfishness and possessiveness of this tiny baby girl.  Children are indeed a treasure from the Lord (Ps 123.7).  They are a blessing, a gift, and a joy.  They also provide heartache, pain and uncertainty.  But fundamentally, they are not ours.  They are God’s and He has entrusted parents as stewards of them.

We learn quite quickly, at least on a superficial level, that everything we have is God’s and that lesson is usually focused on finances:

“What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

The church at Corinth was caught up in an internal battle arguing over which teacher was the greatest and factions were forming accordingly.  Paul spoke out against this sin, encouraging even those who claimed to follow him to be humble and remember the Gospel.  Nothing that they had, no Spiritual insight or wisdom was of themselves – he said – but only a gift from God.  This reality is true about everything.  Everything in the world is God’s, and He has given of His abundance to us as stewards to care for and utilize everything unto His glory and honor.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.”

– Ps 24.1

This includes not only our physical possessions, our faith, and our Spiritual gifts and abilities – but children.  My daughter is God’s.  He has given me the remarkable privilege and responsibility to function in the role as her mother, but she is not mine, she is God’s.  He knew her before He formed her in my womb.  He has a perfect plan for her entire life.  He knit her together and He loves her more than I ever can or will.  He knows the hairs on her head, and He knows every single thing she will ever think, feel and experience.  She is His.

That is a difficult thing for a FTM to remember.  Yes, it is good and wise to set up relational and emotional boundaries.  Just because I am a steward and not an “owner” does not mean that everyone has equal say and equal access to my daughter.  I have been charged to protect and care for her, to teach her the truths of God, to love her.  But it also means I die to myself and get up in the middle of the night to feed her – even when I am exhausted – and I allow friends and family to enjoy her and be part of her life.  It means we partner with the Church to commit to raising her up in the ways of the Lord.  It means my husband has parenting rights and together we bring her before God and surrender her to Him and to His plan.  It means we trust God for today and for her future.

Fighting the battle of selfishness and control means fighting the fight of faith.  It means dying to self in order to trust God.  Martin Luther said it well:

“Faith honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . When the soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous, and whatever else should be ascribed to God. The very highest worship of God is this, that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted.”

– Martin Luther

What do you have today over which you boast, or on which you base your confidence?  What do you have today that you claim as your own, that you seek to control, that you hold too tightly?  Let us remember that nothing we have – no financial success, no skill or ability, no wisdom or social status, no relationship and no child – nothing we have was not given to us.  Everything is God’s, and He has given us access and ability to utilize all of those things to glorify Him and to make much of Him.  Let us therefore seek to surrender all of those things to Him.  Let us remember that He is sovereign over all of them.  Let us trust Him and His plan, and fight the fight of faith – thus laying hold of eternal life.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

– 1 Tim 6.12

For Whom Should a Christian Vote?

2016 election

The election of 2016 has proven to be a circus of extreme personalities and worldviews thus far.  For months, much of the western world considered Donald Trump’s run for the republican nomination to be a joke and we all waited with semi-bated breath to see how the proverbial chips would fall.  Suddenly, we are left with two primary nominees that much of the United States would prefer to not endorse, and Christians are entering the fray to seek and offer advice on “the right” or “the Christian” thing to do.  Up until now most conservatives have suggested writing in a candidate and seeking some moral high ground that would absolve them from responsibility when Trump or Hillary is elected but yet still fulfill their privilege and right as an American to vote.  Over the weekend, however, one of the most respected theologians amongst reformed and conservative evangelicals, Wayne Grudem, wrote a polarizing article with his explanation for why voting for Trump is the morally right thing to do.  People are writing open response letters, evangelicals are taking a hit, more conservatives are coming out of the Trump-supportive closet, and Millennials are promising to leave the church.

In short, we have a mess.

Here’s the deal, folks.  There is not now, nor has there ever been a perfect candidate for the office of President of the United States.  Democracy is not God’s form of government, and even though we live in a privileged nation with a unique opportunity to be a part of the decision making process, your vote (or lack thereof) is one hundred percent between you and God.

God’s form of government.

Americans like to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we are God’s country and chosen people.  We are not, in fact, God’s chosen people.  Israel was the only nation to hold that unique and precious title, and when God set up their government and nation in the way He deemed best, He established Himself as the King.  They had a theocracy.  This simply means there was no human king, president or leader, only priests and judges who had the Law of God and communicated His will and rulings to the people.  When the Israelites desired a king, it was only because they saw what the pagan nations around them had, and God sternly rebuked them for sinning against Him.  Not only that, He promised that it would be their downfall and after only three kings the nation was divided, and ultimately fell and the people were exiled.

“But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’  And Samuel prayed to the Lord.  The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.'”

 – 1 Sam 8.6-7

Is democracy a good form of government?  Yes.  We have been blessed to have a system in place which maintains some semblance of order and balance whereby one person or group cannot rule sovereignly over another.  It is the best system?  No.  God’s system of Theocracy is best, and all others are man-made.  We could – and many have – spent hours debating the best forms of government, social systems, and politics, but there is currently no existing system that is determined by and governed by God and Scripture.  Therefore we cannot claim God’s authority in determining our self-government, and we are constrained to apply God’s moral and ethical principles within a broken and worldly system.

Our Hope in a Broken System

Because we are seeking to honor God in a broken system, we must always remember that God is in sovereign control.  He alone establishes kings, governments and systems and the person who is elected next to the office of President of the United States will be stationed there by God and God alone (Dan 2.21).  He works out those plans in mysterious ways, and we would be wise to remember that there are times when He works the miraculous completely outside of our input and there are times that He utilizes our efforts towards His ends.

When the Philistines were attacking Israel and Goliath challenged any single warrior to a duel, David stood up to him.  After David defeated Goliath, the Philistines were “thrown into a confusion” and they killed themselves (1 Sam 14.20).  There are other examples of kings uniting to fight together against Israel, and God sent them into a confusion whereby they killed each other and Israel never even entered the battle (2 Chro 20).

God did not always keep the Hebrew people from battle, however.  We also see that God gave David success in numerous battles and wars, as long as he followed the direction and leadership of God.  There was never a time when the battle plan was the same and God provided success to Moses, Joshua, Saul, David and all other leaders who followed His lead.

God is unpredictable and He uses people in very different ways to accomplish His ends.  Sometimes, in fact, He tells different people different things in order to fulfill His plan.  Paul was the first and arguably most successful missionary to reach out to the Gentiles and the known world.  He made it his goal to take the Gospel everywhere.  Towards the end of his ministry the Holy Spirit began to lead Paul and tell him to go to Jerusalem:

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.  But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”

 – Acts 20.22-24

However, the Holy Spirit instructed other believers to tell Paul to not go to Jerusalem:

“After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.4

Not only that, God sent a prophet to warn Paul of what would happen if and when he went to Jerusalem:

“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”‘  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”

 – Acts 21.10-12

All in all, it was the plan of God for Paul to go to Jerusalem.  God was indeed telling Paul to go, and it was His plan for Paul to suffer there, and part of the preparation God utilized for Paul’s heart was the warning of other believers.  By the time Agabus  prophesied about his imprisonment and torture, Paul knew that he was ready and willing to die for the Gospel.

Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?  For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!”

 – Acts 21.13-14

We also see clearly that God used Judas as an integral and prophesied part of Jesus’ very own death.  It was foretold hundreds of years before hand that Jesus would be sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zech 11.12-13, Matt 26.15, Matt 27.3-5), and that by a friend (Ps 41.9).  Not only was Judas’ specific role predestined and foretold, the entirety of the crucifixion of Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning of time (Gen 3.15, Rev 13.8, 1 Peter 1.20).

Sometimes God’s plans do not make sense to us.  Sometimes God tells different people different things in order to bring about His end.  Sometimes God even utilizes sin to accomplish His goals – such as the murder of Jesus.

We Must Act Under Conviction

Because of these realities, we can only weigh our decisions against Scripture and against the personal direction of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Our conscience will bear witness against us if we disobey the direct commands of Scripture or His personal instruction, and the Holy Spirit will never instruct believers to do something contrary to Scripture.  It is His specific and clear purpose to teach and direct believers in righteousness:

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.”

– John 16.8

God is working in and through us to develop Spiritual maturity and growth.  He is working out our salvation, and helping us die to flesh and to sin.  He has given us the Spirit to convict us of sin – to remind us of what Jesus has taught us and what God defines as sin throughout Scripture, and to push us on to righteousness.  He will therefore never contradict God or His ordinances in Scripture.

There are times and circumstances, however, that are morally neutral and require personal and direct leadership from the Spirit.  This is where the Spirit can and may tell two different people two different things – like Paul and the disciples.  For us, then, we are bound to follow the conviction of the Spirit we have personally:

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.  Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

– 1 John 3.19-22

Our conscience will bear witness against us or for us on these issues.  It is under this reality where we find beliefs on drinking alcohol (not unto drunkenness of course), politics, professions, hobbies, etc.  These are extremely sensitive topics because very real sin issues can and do enter into the conversation as defined by Scripture, but not always.

As this relates directly to the election, we will find a variety of consciences and convictions.  There are some issues that are discussed in the election which are directly sinful or weighable against Scripture.  When these issues single handedly remove a candidate from our list of possibilities we call them “Single Issue Dispositive” issues.  For most Christians, abortion is a single-issue dispositive.  Most Christians will not vote for or endorse any candidate that would murder an unborn baby.  The opposite would be “Single Issue Sufficient” whereby a candidate’s stance on any one issue would outweigh any other position he would take.  Does Trump’s pro-life position justify every other position he holds?  To some it might, to some it might not.

The big conversation, however, is about character.  Some would argue that since the Christian community by-in-large called for Bill Clinton’s resignation after having an affair, that it would be hypocritical to vote for Trump because he has been married three times and divorced two.  Some would argue that his affiliation with playboy and the corporate success ladder, his explosive personality, and his racist disposition would all be enough to make his character wicked enough to make him non-viable as a candidate.  Unfortunately, as Albert Mohler stated so eloquently:

“We have always voted in a fallen world for fallen candidates in a fallen political construct and done the best we could.”

When evaluating character as means by which to judge a candidate, we will all have different requirements and varying opinions.  Both candidates verbally affirm a Christian faith, neither are perfect in character and neither uphold fully Biblical values.  Hillary is comfortable with abortion, Trump is racist.

Some have responded that it is better to not vote at all or to write in another option, citing the Scripture:

“…and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.32

It is true that we will give an account to God for every decision we make, including giving approval to wicked men.  It is also true that we are not appointing a man (or woman) to spiritual leadership when choosing a president and choosing a candidate who we believe is better suited for the job may not necessarily be someone with whom we align on all moral or Biblical issues.

In short, if you cannot vote for one candidate or another by your conscience, then for you it is sin to vote against your conscience.  If you cannot vote at all because of your conscience, then by all means do not vote because for you it is sin.  If you can vote for one candidate over the other, by the direction of the Holy Spirit and in light of Biblical truths, then by all means vote for that candidate.  The Holy Spirit might be telling you one thing and another person another thing in order to achieve His end of the next president (whom He has already chosen and appointed, by the way).  What is critical is that you have examined the facts, laid the issue before God and Scripture, and are acting under the guidance of the Spirit.

In all of this, let us not sin.

We must be keenly aware of the conversations and difficulties that arise when discussing politics.  Some people are highly educated and skilled in the art of political science and social reform.  Some people are not.  Within the moral grey-realm of Biblical application, some people might be convicted strongly on one side of an argument while others are convicted strongly on the other side.  For instance, does the dignity of human life require that we welcome all would-be refugees into our country?  Even though my conscience may not allow me to turn away someone who is suffering and looking for hope, I cannot condemn someone else’s conscience who would seek the safety of the nation and his family first and refuse that person.  This is not a moral absolute, and we must all turn to and submit to the direction of the Holy Spirit in our personal lives.  With that understanding, we must also recognize God’s authority and direction in other believer’s lives and never condemn them by our own conscience alone.  They must be condemned or justified by their own conscience and walk with God.

And this, friends, is the beauty of the democracy:  we are free to do just that.

So no, I will no tell you who is the morally right or “Christian” choice.  Because God might be up to something way bigger than anything we can imagine.  He might also be convicting your conscience differently than He is convicting mine – and it is all to same end.  If we trust God, His sovereignty and His plan, then we will never judge one another and we will never sin against one another for having a different opinion than our own, but will encourage one another to contemplate the Scriptures, to seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act (vote) in a way that falls in line with our beliefs and walk with God.

 

How do you approach God?

laziness

How do you approach the throne of God?  We have lost much general respect and honor in our casual society.  The workplace is business casual at best, we make and break plans on a whim, and we are so preoccupied with our own thoughts, rights and opinions that we never stop talking to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before or those around us.  I work out of a warehouse and wear exercise clothes to work most days, and I am not saying all is lost in the world because we no longer wear coats and ties to the office, but I am saying that our general societal worldview of entitlement and casual approach has created a void.  We berate our teachers and professors for bad grades instead of respecting their education and wisdom.  We get angry at and disrespect the police and military instead of obeying the law and honoring their right to keep us accountable.  We sue one another for minor infractions or inconveniences just to get rich.  We seek our own best interest, often to the detriment of others.

This is reflected in our Spirituality as well.  We no longer recognize God as the all powerful creator of the universe who will judge us for all our actions, but as our cosmic daddy who should give us whatever we ask of Him – and we get mad and pout when He fails to come through.  We proclaim that “God loves you just as you are” and tell people to run to Him without any consideration of His holiness and expectations.  Yes, it is true that God gives life to Spiritually dead people and we cannot clean ourselves up enough to become presentable to Him before salvation.  When we come to God the first time, for salvation, we have to come with open hands – just as we are – and without pretense because God alone can enable us to begin the transformation of righteous living.  However, once we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, His love is very much conditional.  If we continue in sin, He will condemn us (Heb 6.26).  If we have a problem or irreconciled issue with our brother, God will not hear our worship (Matt 5.22-24).  If you mistreat your spouse, God will not even listen to your prayer (1 Peter 3.7).  God does not save us to leave us in our sins, He saves us to transform us and begin a new work in us (Phil 1.6).

We have tricked ourselves into believing that making God so casual and approachable will encourage people to come to Him more quickly and consistently.  Unfortunately, this is not reality.  Like anything else we get used to and devalue, the newness and shine wears off quickly and we place Him on a bookshelf while we look for the next great adventure, pleasure or distraction.  We have at our fingertips access to the sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent creator God and we can hardly remember to pray before meals or bedtime – let alone submit ourselves to His will and direction.

“Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”

– Thomas Watson

Christ did in fact go more willingly to the cross than we do to God’s throne.  Even though, we have been promised that there is no condemnation remaining for those who are in Christ (Rom 8.1), and granted access to the throne of grace without fear (Heb 4.16), we neglect this privilege because we have made our faith about us and what we can get out of it.  However, when we truly encounter Jesus, when He transforms us and saves us from our sins, and when we recognize the holiness of God, we cannot remain indifferent.  We cannot be left unchanged.  We cannot have a laisez faire attitude about His work in us and the world.

It would be like Lazarus – a good friend of Jesus who died and was buried for four days and then resurrected from the dead – considering Jesus just another guy he knows.  It would be like Paul – a man dedicated to the murder and destruction of the church, blinded by God and then healed and sent away to the desert to learn the truths of the Gospel for three years – continuing about his daily life, looking for a nice house, success in business and general comfort in life.  This, of course, sounds absurd because it is absurd.

We no longer long for or expect Lazarus or Paul-like encounters.  We are more like the rich man who asks Jesus what we must do to be saved and when Jesus tells us to sell what we own, give it to the poor and follow Him, we walk way sad.  We are more like the crowd who received the food from the miracle of the five loaves and two fish – wanting to get our bellies filled without having to work, but not wanting to be held responsible to do anything.

Has Jesus rocked your world?  Or are you part of the crowd?  He is in the business of raising the dead to life, not feeding our fat bellies.  When we have been raised to life, Spiritually, we cannot overlook Him.  We cannot put Him on a bookshelf.  We cannot continue about life in a normal fashion because Jesus has raised us from the dead.  He has given us sight.  He has completely altered the trajectory of our lives and put us on the that narrow path that leads to eternal life with Him.  Let’s get to know that Jesus.  Let’s live that life.  Let’s boldly, continually and without doubting approach the throne of grace and follow Jesus.

“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

– John 12.26

Our favorite sin

gossip

Let’s be honest.  Each of us has a scale of sins and wickedness by which we gauge and evaluate our personal morality and self-worth.  There are things that we would never consider in our day-to-day lives, like murder.  We think through the ten commandments and think, “I would never rob someone, I would never kill someone, I would never…” and walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves.

Then there are those sins of temptation with which we wrestle.  Sins of disposition, if you will.  We are all born with or inclined socially to certain sins:  white lies, fudging on our taxes, exaggeration, gossip, pride, slander, etc.  Some of us might be inclined to the large-scale sins like murder and grand larceny, but for the average Joe, it is typically these sins of the heart and more personal sins that tempt us on a regular basis.

But lastly there are those sins that we actually enjoy and with which we have made peace.  These are those most dangerous of sins.  Any sin with which we have made peace can potentially separate us from God.  Forever.  Again, it can be any of the listed sins from the major or tempting sins, but they are typically sins of the heart.  And what is most terrifying about these sins is that we not only accept them and allow them to continue in our own lives, but we also are keenly aware of other Christians preforming them and we give them approval in doing so.

This is a terrifying reality, of which the Bible speaks extremely harshly:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.28-32

Read through that list again slowly.  It is a depraved mind that is full of greed or envy.  It is wickedness to gossip or slander.  Pride, insolence, any strife or boasting.  Disobedient to parents!  Anyone who is unloving, untrustworthy, or without understanding.  This mention of understanding is not knowledge based, it is someone who carelessly passes by someone in need – perhaps with a disability – and just continues about their own lives without concern for the person in need.  Do you avoid that mentally handicapped person who shows up at your church every week?

Pride, slander and gossip are so detrimental and yet so much a part of our lives.  In the church world, we might have felt convicted about any of those three, but in order to continue to placate our flesh, we dress them up as prayer requests.  “Please pray for Suzie Q, you won’t believe what happened…”  Or, “We really need to remember John Doe, he is struggling with…”  Or even still, “Pray for me, I really need/deserve/am angry at…”

We, if we allow this kind of attitude and conversation within the church are just as guilty as those who do it:  We “give hearty approval” by listening to their prayer requests, throwing out a verbal hail mary, and entertaining the sin (Rom 1.32).

But the danger of this sin is eternal:

“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

John teaches us that there is grace when we sin, provided we confess it, repent from it and never make peace with it (1 John 2.1).  Where we enter into dangerous territory is when we consider these palatable sins excusable.  When they are no longer bitter in our mouths or hearts, and we choose to enjoy them or receive the momentary pleasure that comes from them.

Hear me clearly, all sin is desirable.  It is a very rare occasion that any of us would give in to a sin that we despise and hate.  Sexual sin feels good in the moment.  Stealing provides a rush and the pleasure of ownership, if even momentary.  Lying pads one’s ego and creates some sense of image or appearance that is not true.  Even murder might provide some level of pleasure for some people.  Drunkenness pleases the senses and removes the worries of the world.

But when we are given Spiritual life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He enters into our worlds and rocks them.  It is His purpose and job to convict us of sin and push us on to holiness – helping us and empowering us to stop sinning unto the glory of God:

“And [the Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

Thomas Watson teaches us well,

“Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

When we choose to sin in light of His prodding and conviction in our hearts, we grieve The Holy Spirit who is working to convict us and make us hate sin.  How do we keep from grieving him?  Paul tells us clearly:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.25-32

Slander and gossip are extremely dangerous.  Jesus said that we will each give an account for every careless word that comes out of our mouths (Matt 12.36).  God promises to destroy anyone who slanders his neighbor (Ps 101.5).  So let us not take it lightly.  Let us examine our own hearts and those with whom we interact in the Church.  Let us claim with Augustine:

“Let those who like to slander the lives of the absent know their own are not worthy of this table.”

– Augustine

All sins with which we make peace are damnable and can separate us from God.  Let us press on to fight these sins in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  Let us put it away, remove it from our lives, our churches and our hearts.  Let us learn to hate the taste of sin – that it would bitter – so that Christ alone tastes sweet and we can grow in maturity.