Understand the will of the Lord

two roads

“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

– Eph 5.17

Do you understand what the will of the Lord is?  Much has been said about the will of God.  We kill ourselves wondering which profession we should choose, who we should marry, where we should live, and other major life decisions, asking God for a sign or a direct revelation of His will.  Since we often consider these types of decisions the main emphasis when considering the will of God, we are left to speculation and discouragement while trying to interpret dreams, circumstances and omens.

God, however, is primarily concerned with our hearts and sanctification.  In fact, Scripture plainly teaches us that the will of God is that we are sanctified – that is, made more like Christ.

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

God sent Jesus to live and die in order to pay the penalty for our sin and offer us salvation.  God sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and push us on to righteousness (John 16.8).  The sanctification process, therefore, is us understanding what God defines as sin, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict and change us, dying to that sin, and living to righteousness.  Both of these passages that speak so simply about the will of God give us very clear pictures of what that sanctification looks like:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks…So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

– Eph 5.1-11, 17-21

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

– 1 Thess 4.3-7

Scripture clearly teaches us that everything we do can and should be done to the glory and honor of God.  Eating, drinking, talking, working, etc.  Anything you will do throughout your day should be done to God’s glory.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

– Col 3.17

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

– Col 3.23-24

Therefore, we should be primarily concerned about our hearts and sin in relationship to the will of God.  Then, as we are making decisions about work, moves, dating, marriage, child rearing, we have a clear standard by which to judge our decisions:  Are we making these decisions to the glory and honor of God?  Are we sinning or going against any of God’s commandments to make this decision?

There are also some big picture commandments that we are given, which we often neglect in making some of our major life decisions.  The final commandment Jesus gave us, for example, was to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Is your job, relationships, family, everything doing that?  Is it enabling you to do that?

Perhaps we should reconsider how we pursue the “will of God”.  We should remember that God is primarily concerned about our holiness, and therefore we should also be concerned about dying to our flesh, repenting of sin and living our daily lives every day to His glory and honor.  Above that, as we are making our life decisions, we can simply ask the examining questions:  Is it sin?  Does it glorify God?  Is it obeying scripture?  Is it making disciples or enabling me to make disciples?  It is possible that there will come a time when there are two equally God-glorifying options before us and in those (very rare) situations, we can be confident to do what we want.  However, more often, we will clearly recognize that one decision will prove to be more effective at facilitating our holiness and obedience.

It is God’s will that we become more like Jesus.  He is, at fact, at work within us to produce this outcome.  Let’s join Him and understand His will.

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

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When suffering is necessary.

twin towers

September 11th, 2001 is a day that we will all remember.  Every year people recall what they were doing and where they were the moment they heard that a plane had hit the first tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  I was in my first year of college and involved in Campus Crusade for Christ.  A group of us immediately formed and on September 12th we loaded up a van and drove to Manhattan to be available to talk to and counsel people who were still in shock from the events of the day.  Cru loosely organized the students that poured in from around the country to pray, counsel and comfort those in need, and to guide us in our conversations they gave us a pamphlet entitled, “Where is God in the midst of suffering?”

This is perhaps one of the most difficult questions for the 21st century world.  The United States is built on the value that we all have the God-given right to pursue happiness and no one can stand in our way.  The industrial revolution has developed cars and air conditioning so we rarely have to suffer physical discomfort, and medical research continues to develop vaccines, supplements and treatments that can heal most ailments and keep us alive longer and longer.  We have developed to the point that I have multiple friends in their thirties who have never been to a funeral.  We understand suffering less and less, so much so that the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or any other relatively normal form of suffering will send us into bouts of depression, we will abandon faith in God, and we will despair of life itself.

When something tragic does occur, those of us who claim faith in Jesus intrinsically ask the question, “Where is God?”  We think that if He is love and if He is good, then suffering cannot be a part of His plan.  We are so out of touch with the nature of life, we are so narcissistic that we think suffering is foreign, is bad, that we do not deserve it, and if it happens then something is wrong with the universe and with God.

The most Spiritual among us will admit that perhaps God can bring good out of it, but it would never be His intention or plan that we suffer.

But what does the Bible say?

Let us first consider Jesus.  Jesus is the son of God.  The incarnate person of God.  The visible image of the unseen God (Col 1.15).  He came to the Earth to seek and to save that which was lost, and to do the will of God the Father (Luke 19.10, John 6.38).  And how, exactly, did Jesus do all of that?  By being brutally murdered on a cross and rising again three days later (Matt 26-28).  As Jesus was approaching the cross, He was broken in His spirit and did not want to endure it.  He begged God in prayer to let Him not have to suffer thus, but He ultimately submitted saying,

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

– Luke 22.42

And it was the will of the father to slay Him.  In fact, Scripture says that it pleased God to crush Him:

“But the LORD was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering…”

– Is 53.10

Now, one might be tempted to say that Jesus’ situation was different.  It was bringing about salvation, after all.  But what did Jesus promise us?

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.”

– John 15.18-21

Jesus promised us that if we are in Him, we will suffer as He did.  The world will hate us, persecution and trials will come at the hands of others.  And Scripture teaches us that God uses all trials – not just persecution for our faith – as part of His plan for our lives.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

– James 1.2-3

I got to visit my family this weekend, and my niece and nephew were over as I was getting ready to head out for a run.  They adamantly wanted to join me on my run, and so I bargained with them that I would run my long run and then we would do a short run together afterwords.  In planning the short run, my four year old nephew told me that the longest he had ever run was 46 miles.  They, with no training and a love of chasing each other in circles around the living room (and childlike faith), believed that they could go out and run many many miles.  But when they saw the distance and time that only a four mile run was, they were surprised and affirmed that I can run for a long time!

We often view faith and suffering in that way.  We hear the valiant stories of martyrs and the faithful and believe our faith to be of that type.  But then the car breaks down, a water line breaks in the wall, or a friend turns into an enemy and we crumble.  We thought we could run 46 miles, but we realize that we have never trained.  We have no endurance and we have no idea how far 46 miles actually is.  But God puts us through all sorts of trials to develop and mature our faith.  Various trials, according to James, are those things that God puts in our lives to test our faith and will develop endurance.

“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

Peter explains that these various trials are necessary, and not only that, the very will of God:

“For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.”

– 1 Peter 3.17

“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

– 1 Peter 4.19

Not only is is God’s will that we suffer, but that we would suffer for doing what is right.  And this is the same manner of suffering which Jesus endured.  And Paul promises us,

“If we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him;
If we deny Him, He also will deny us…”

– 2 Tim 2.12

Our suffering is intentional and is the will of God to test our faith and to bring about maturity.  It is not malicious, it is not abnormal, and most importantly, God is not evil because of it.  Rather, He is good and is allowing us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to obtain a deeper faith, greater love and trust for Him, and ultimately salvation.  It is because of this that James commands us to rejoice in suffering.  Paul explains that we should have joy and hope in our trials because of their outcome and God’s plan through them:

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

Dear Musician: Don’t choose your church based on an opening on the music team.

church

OK, so I realize that this is a bit of a targeted issue, but it is widely applicable.  The core of the issue is simply,

How should we choose a church?

First of all, let me point out the glorious and remarkable reality that we, in the west, live in a unique time historically and even in the world today in that we have an overwhelming abundance of churches from which to choose.  Small town USA has a church on every corner – sometimes more – and even big city USA, even though some would have us believe are abandoning the faith, are also marked by churches every few blocks.  I live in Denver Colorado, a notoriously “unchurched” city, and a Google search alone returns pages upon pages of churches that are big enough to have websites.  In my four mile commute to work every day, I pass six churches.

But that is another topic for another day.

So, when you live in a city that has thousands of churches, when there are many in your neighborhood community, and when there are niche churches of all types that cater to age, demographic, race, interests, secondary and tertiary doctrines, the task of finding a church can be overwhelming.  And quite frankly, we as believers have terrible decision-making skills on the topic.  So how should we choose a church?

Step #1:  Pray.  Pray, pray, pray.  Scripture teaches us to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5.17).  When you are looking for a community amongst whom you will worship God, with whom you desire to serve God, and from whom you want to learn and grow in your relationship with God, should it not be common sense that we begin the search by asking God for His direction and will?  God’s will is our sanctification:

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

It will often be that we grow, that we become more holy, that we are sanctified when we are outside of our comfort zones and when we walk in faith and not by sight.  If we go out looking for a church that is comfortable and that makes us happy, we might be limiting God in the things that He has for us to do and the things which He wants to teach us.  Ask God where He wants you to go to church.  And follow Him.  He might open unfathomable doors.

Step #2:  Get a doctrinal statement.  Most churches are denominationally affiliated and will be able to give you a comprehensive outline of what they believe, point by point.  If the church is not affiliated, and even some who are affiliated, more often than not the elders will have drafted a statement of belief.  This is extremely important, and should be your first consideration after prayer.  If the church cannot verbalize to you, both in writing and in conversation, what they believe – then you are placing yourself in an extremely dangerous situation.  If there is no defined doctrine, then there is no accountability for any teacher, for any Sunday School worker instructing your children, for missionaries on the field, or even for the pastoral staff.  This is how churches are led astray, form rifts, split, and abandon the faith.  If half of the church believes that you have to be baptized to be saved, and the other half believes that baptism is just a symbol, what do you tell the person who just came to faith last week?  If half of your church believes that God is sovereign over evil and the other half believes that God is only reactionary and “fixes” bad things to make good come out of them, how will you walk through a crisis together?  If some believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation and others believe that there could be many roads to salvation, how can you reach out to your community?

You must agree on the foundational doctrines of the faith.  If you do not yet know what you believe, then get a handful of doctrinal statements and read the Scriptures that they quote, line them up against other churches, pray, seek counsel, get some books, invest some time and grow!

When you get a doctrinal statement, examine it and determine if this is a statement to which you can submit.  Chances are high that there might be a secondary or tertiary doctrines over which you might disagree, but one that is not worth causing a fuss over.  For instance, Southern Baptists are notoriously divided over the topic of the rapture:  Will it happen before the tribulation or after?  This is not a primary doctrine because it does not have any bearing on salvation or how the church functions, and while it can be fun to discuss and consider, it does not impact how we minister to the lost or how we function as a body.  I believe that the rapture will come after the tribulation, but I have joyfully set under pastors who believe the opposite.

We are commanded to submit to our leaders in the Church, and they are given authority over us and will give an account to God for our souls, our obedience, and our maturity.  We get to choose them, but they do have a profound Spiritual authority over us once we join the church.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account.  Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

– Heb 13.17

Step 3:  Examine the fruit of the Church.  God has given us one primary command:  to make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.28-10).  Is this church making disciples?  Are they reaching out?  Are people coming to faith?  (You can observe this by noting if there are any baptisms happening.)  Are people learning the Scriptures?  How to pray?  Growing closer to God?  Learning to obey and holding one another accountable?  Is the Sunday service intentionally praising and honoring God?

Step 4:  Ask God if this is where He wants you.  And now we start getting into the nitty gritty.  Let me tell you a brief overview of my story.  I started playing the piano and singing in choirs when I was little tiny.  I put in the hours, I loved it.  When I was in the eight grade my church formed a youth band and I was the pianist/keyboardist.  I had to learn to play by ear and by chord charts.  The band played weekly for the youth and quickly began playing for “big church” as well.  In college I studied performance piano, played the piano and sang for the weekly Campus Crusade meetings and also for my church.  Then I moved to Louisville, KY to go to seminary.  There are two realities that became abundantly clear when I began looking for a church in this new city:  1) pianists are a dime a dozen, and 2) there are a lot of good churches out there.  I was tempted to look for a church that needed a pianist, because I play the piano.  That’s what I do.  I also had taught small groups, children’s Sunday School, helped with youth, led mission trips, and all that jazz, but I play the piano.  That was my primary identifier.

Here’s the deal.  God has given us all gifts and unique abilities to serve Him.  Some people play instruments, some people cook food, some people teach, and some people run Vacation Bible School.  The avenues for ministry and serving God are countless.  But when you take your “Spiritual gift test” and put yourself in a silo with the attitude, “This is what I do”, then you limit yourself, you quench the Holy Spirit, you get in a rut and have an inward focus that will not (and can not) grow.  God might want to use you to play the piano, but He might also want to use you to greet and welcome new comers.  He might want to push you and have you teach.  He might want to get you way out of your comfort zone and send you as a missionary!  Many missionaries do not get to go to church.  And when they plant a healthy church, nationals are preaching and playing the piano, not the missionary!

So when you are considering a church, do not say to yourself, “This is what I do, and if I cannot do it here, then I’m out”.

Consider this, also, that with any leadership position, a healthy and wise church will take the time to vet would-be leaders to make sure that they are people who should be in a position of authority and leadership.  I knew a church that would pay non-believers to play on the music team.  This is a travesty and should not be.  Sunday music is first and only about worshiping God.  We should bring our absolute best to lay on the altar of worship, which means we should practice and come with skilled musicianship.  But we do not sacrifice the heart for quality of sound.  People who are on the stage are positioned there to lead the congregation in musical praise to God.  If those people are not praising God, then they most likely will not lead others to praise God.  And if those people do not even know God, then they cannot lead others to praise God.  If a musician is playing for his own glory, we – as a Church – should never allow them on stage.

And the music leader at a church, along with the senior pastor and elders, will need time to get to know you and examine your heart in your desire to play an instrument (or teach a Sunday School, or go on a mission trip, or whatever).  There is a mutual onus here:  You must test the church and its leadership to examine their heart and commitment to God, to worship, to making disciples, and they must test yours.

Step 5:  Die to yourself.  While there are many amazing benefits that we will reap in joining and becoming active in a Church, it is not ultimately about me or you.  It is about glorifying God and making disciples.  Part of discipleship (well, most of discipleship) is training people up.  If you play the piano (or teach Sunday School, or lead the prayer committee), you do best to train up others to take your place.  A disciple-maker works himself out of a job.  He trains people who will go out and train others (2 Tim 2.2).  Now, this is not as easily applied to musicians as to most other places of service within the church, but the heart is one of humility.  Is there someone else who would like to play the piano?  Then let them.  Take turns.  Whatever.  If you have to play the piano (or whatever your niche is), then you are not worshiping God.  You are worshiping yourself.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Step 6:  Commit.  Once you are confident that the Lord has led you to a church, then commit.  Give it your all.  There will be difficult seasons, times of Spiritual drought, and times of discouragement.  And this is where we, as Americans, crash and fail.  The minute someone hurts our feelings or we do not like something the preacher said, then we go out to find ourselves a new church.  If we do not submit ourselves to leadership, then we will not grow.  Perseverance through the difficult times is what proves us as believers!  Press in, and “be the change that you want to see”.

Does God test us, without tempting us?

temptation

Sometimes we, as Christians, can over simplify the ways that God works in our lives.  Not only has God been around since before time began, He actually dreamed up all of creation, everything that exists, natural laws, moral laws, and human beings.  He intimately designed us, both in our physical characteristics and personalities, consciences and souls.  He wrote redemption’s plan before He created the world, and when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He could already see the culmination and fulfillment of time.

But yet He limited us by time.  We are bound to moments passing, to growth, to maturity, to learning and to temporal understanding.  God did this so that we could understand depravity, wickedness, our need for a Savior and His glory in saving us.  Every moment that we have on this Earth is preparation for eternity and an opportunity to get to know God more fully by dying to ourselves, learning about Him through His written word and revealed self, and growing in our faith.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
– 1 Thess 4.3

So if the will of God is our sanctification, that is, becoming more like Christ and dying to the flesh, how does He bring this about?  It is an interesting truth that we are incapable of becoming more like Christ on our own.  It is the promise of God, however, that He is the one who is working in us to make us more holy, we need only to submit and allow Him to do this work in our lives, and join Him in the efforts through the strength He provides:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

We all know that the way we mature and grow is through learning and testing.  We start at five years of age being instructed and tested on intellectual comprehension.  Sports teams undergo exhausting workouts in order to train muscles and skills, and then we time ourselves and push ourselves.  When we want to refine and purify precious metals, we put them through fire to burn out all of the impurities.  We understand testing and refinement in all aspects of our lives, although we often neglect and misunderstand refinement in our spiritual lives.  We know and often quote the reality that God does not tempt us:

“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 1.3

Since God does not tempt us, we reason to ourselves that God would not put anything in our path that would cause us to stumble; He would not allow circumstances that would cause us to doubt.  We carefully put God in His little box on the shelf which thinks that He would only allow and do things that would make us happy and successful.  Because He cannot tempt us, because He is not evil.

But yet, consider the root of temptation.  A seductress or a tempter is one who is evil and is attempting to lure another into joining a sin or practice.  It is the child on the play ground declaring, “All the cool kids are doing this”, already partaking in whatever activity it is that he would see another do – or hoping to see another preform an action that will lead to his demise.  It is the college-aged youth who tells obscene jokes or hands out his pornography for his buddies to enjoy as well.  The one who tempts has wicked intentions and desires to affirm himself by seeing others fall into the same wiles in which he already lives.

God does not do this.  God is not evil, and He cannot be tempted by evil, and thus He tempts no one.  It is not God’s heart and intention to see us fail, but rather to see us succeed, grow and mature.  And He does test us in order to bring about those results.  Unrefined gold remains of lesser value, but when put through the fire the impurities burn out and it becomes more pure.

“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.”

– Jer 17.10

Jesus tested Philip by putting him on the spot to see if he had faith, if he would understand the will of God to feed the people who had followed Jesus to hear His teaching:

“Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”  This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.”

– John 6.5-6

Jesus already knew the plan and knew how He was going to feed everyone.  But He wanted to test Philip in order to develop and mature him.  This was for Philip’s benefit.

“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…Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

– James 1.2-4, 12

“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…”

– 1 Peter 1.6-7

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

From the outside, a temptation and a test might look the same.  A parent might put a child in a situation where he has to make a moral or ethical choice on his own, and to the child it might seem to be a temptation.  But the differentiation is not in the situation but the heart of the outsider.  A parent, hopefully, would have the child’s best interest at heart and would have offered training and instruction to help the child make the best decision at the point of testing.  A tempter would seek to lure the child into failure.  Jesus posed the question to Philip in order to test him, while Satan asked similar questions to Jesus in order to tempt Him.  God does test us, because He will refine us and develop of our holiness.  He is at work within us.  And with every test and temptation, He will provide a way out.  We need only to seek Him, and trust Him.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

So let us seek Him diligently!  Let us see His hand behind our testing and trials, and let us glory in the holiness that will result from our obedience and conviction.  And when we do fail, let us return to Him confidently who paid the ransom for our souls, and let us repent and grow.

You know what assuming does…

assume

We all assume things in our daily lives.  We have an estimate of how long our commute to work will take, we figure that work requirements have remained the same as we go about our daily tasks, we make plans on what and where to eat based on our previous experiences with restaurants or recipes.  We understand scientific laws and expect that gravity will continue to hold us on the ground and that life will make general sense within our given set of variables.  But we have been taught to joke as a culture about the danger of assuming things that are on the fringe of reasonable expectation when it comes to people, because people will not always do what we expect them to do.

Have you ever stopped to consider that God will not always do what we expect Him to do?  And just because He told us to do one thing one time, He may ask us to do it differently next time?  My pastor showed a survey a few weeks ago asking the question, “Which generation turns to the Bible for direction in making decisions?”  The survey shocked everyone when it showed Millennials as the most likely to pull out the Bible looking for answers.  But as I reflected on the fact that the Baby Boomers and older were not very likely to pull out their Bibles, I had to wonder if it was in part because many of them have read the Bible so much that they think they already know the answers?

I have done no research and cannot offer that as a tested reason, but when I consider my own approach to Spirituality, I recognize that there are two types of questions that we ask God:  First, we ask God’s opinion on a matter.  God’s character, morality and promises never change.  They are established, they are set, and they are clearly outlined in Scripture for us to know.

“For I, the LORD, do not change…”

– Mal 3.6a

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

– James 1.17

Is murder wrong?  You can clearly look up the ten commandments in Exodus 20 and read “You shall not murder”.  You can also read Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5-7 and see that Jesus makes the teaching more intense by saying that being angry with someone makes one guilty before God, just as murder (Matt 5.21-22).  This does not change.

Secondly, we ask God for His direction.  In the Bible God has not given us a road map, turn-by-turn, for the life decisions that we are to make.  He intends for us to “abide” in Christ and receive direction for those life decisions by intimacy with Him and seeking His plan and His will.

When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up in search of David; and David heard of it and went out against them.  Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the valley of Rephaim.  David inquired of God, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? And will You give them into my hand?” Then the LORD said to him, “Go up, for I will give them into your hand.”  So they came up to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there; and David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like the breakthrough of waters.” Therefore they named that place Baal-perazim.  They abandoned their gods there; so David gave the order and they were burned with fire.  The Philistines made yet another raid in the valley.  David inquired again of God, and God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees.  It shall be when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall go out to battle, for God will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.”  David did just as God had commanded him, and they struck down the army of the Philistines from Gibeon even as far as Gezer.  Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and the LORD brought the fear of him on all the nations.

– 1 Chro 14.8-17

When David became king, he had the promises of Samuel in his heart and mind that God was going to use him mightily and prosper him as king.  The Philistines set out to fight against David and David, even with those promises, turned immediately to God asking for instruction.  “Shall I go up against the Philistines?”  God not only said yes, but gave him battle plans.  Shortly thereafter, the situation repeated itself.  Would you be tempted to just jump in and do the same thing you had done before?  If you had just been through a battle, against the very same people, in the very same spot, would you expect God to bring victory just as he had done before?  I think I would.  But David was wise and chose to ask God for direction and God instructed David with a different battle plan.  The ultimate outcome was the same, but the method was different.

We cannot presume upon God.  He has promised us big picture things:  We will have ultimate victory in the end.  People from every tribe, tongue and nation will hear and believe the Gospel.  Nothing can separate us from His love or cause us to be lost.  But we still need to turn to Him for the battle plan.  Why?  Because God’s primary concern is our sanctification, and our sanctification is achieved through remaining in Him and relying on Him for daily support, instruction, and sustenance.

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

– 1 Thess 4.3a

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.  If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

– John 15.4-7

God rarely does the same thing twice.  Just because a certain ministry works in one church, it does not mean that God intends to use it in your church.  Just because you shared the Gospel a certain way one time and someone came to faith, it does not mean that God wants everyone to hear the Gospel the same way.  Just because God miraculously gave you a job through a random move one time, it does not mean that God wants you to move again.  These are morally neutral issues about which we must seek God’s will.  If we attempt to do these things on our own, we will fail or have moderate, fleshly success.  If we seek God in prayer and submission, He will guide us into His perfect path.

God’s primary concern is His glory and our satisfaction through resting in and knowing Him.  He does not need us, He is not served by us, and He will accomplish His plan with or without us.  But it is our blessing and honor to be included in the accomplishment of His will of bringing people to faith from every tribe around the world.  And if we want to be involved, or better yet, if we want to learn and see what God’s will is for our life, we must stop and ask Him.  Just because He led us one direction before does not mean that He will lead us the same way again.  Let us not presume upon God, but let us stop and ask Him what we He wants for us to do, even if we have been in a similar position before!

Would the devil…

yellow brick road

Have you ever used this logic,

“It has to be from God.  The devil wouldn’t inspire me to (fill in the blank).”

I’m not going to lie, I have comforted myself with this argument.  I heard it this morning, “Satan would not lead you to give money to a ministry that is seeing people saved”.  While I was in college, I heard people wrestling with the assurance of their salvation, and the same basic logic was used,

“The very fact that you are concerned about this is your proof.  The devil wouldn’t cause you concern about your salvation.”

Really?  Are we so wise to the schemes of the enemy, who has existed since the beginning of creation, that we can use this simple logic in our every day decision making?  What is most concerning about this type of logic is the fact that we would claim to be believers, and yet we know the Lord so poorly that we do not recognize His voice or calling, we cannot discern the simple difference of God or the devil speaking into our hearts.

Now, that being said, Satan is a master of deceit (John 8.44).  And one of his most clever disguises is an angel of light:

“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

 – 2 Cor 11.14

And one of his greatest guiles is distracting us with good things.  If we can set our own agendas trying to get God’s work done without Him, then we are left floundering and fruitless.  If God is ready to do a mighty work and bring many to salvation in community X, then Satan will try to distract us to exert all of our energies in community Y.

We know that sometimes Satan is blatantly seeking our destruction.  Remember Peter?  The loud-mouthed apostle?  Jesus informed Peter that Satan was standing before God asking permission to reveal Peter’s true character:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat…”

 – Luke 22.31

But we also know that at the end of the age, Satan will send out false prophets who will preform miracles and wonders like what Jesus did, and lead many astray – even some of those who call themselves Christians.

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.”

 – Matt 24.24

Imagine the discernment it will take to know, if someone is healing the sick in the name of Christ, if he is a false prophet?  Jesus tells us that even some of these people will not know that they are false prophets:

“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’”

 – Matt 7.22-23

Jesus says that many will fall into this category!  Not just an odd ball here and there.  So let us consider the argument of financial giving.  A support-run ministry publicly argued this morning, “Satan would not lead you to give money to a ministry that is seeing people saved”.  Would he not?  We are commanded to give the first ten percent of everything that we make to God via the Church.  I can hear the moans and groans of my generation already, just at that simple statement.  And while that is another topic for another day, let us consider simply the fact that Jesus said the tithe should be done, along with keeping the full heart and intention of the Law:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

 – Matt 23.23

Apart from that is the simple fact that the church cannot function apart from our giving, and if we receive the benefit of the ministry of the Church, we must give to help keep it running:

The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”

 – 1 Tim 5.17-18

In short, the elders’ job is to keep watch over our souls and to teach us – and we need to financially support them to be able to do just that.

“So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.”

 – 1 Cor 9.14

My generation likes to take the position that we have autonomy to decide where we give that ten percent.  We think we will pray about it and receive some individual instruction from God that our money should go to this ministry or that project, but we forget that the money belongs to God and that He tells us we cannot allocate it.  The extra money hat we give above that first ten percent can be allocated, but the first has to be given freely.

So, the plea of a ministry might come in for money, and our hearts might be broken or drawn to support it.  If God is getting ready to use your church in a mighty way to reach your community or the world, Satan most certainly WILL tempt you to divert your giving, your time, your energy to that ministry that plays Christian music on the radio or runs the local soup kitchen.  Satan will use the good to distract us from the great.

Or consider the person in crisis who is examining his faith and is terrified about his eternity.  Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit convicting him that he is one of those false prophets and is drawing him to repentance?  But we placate him by saying that the simple conviction and fear is enough assurance.  This most certainly is not true, otherwise there would be no other religion in the world.  Satan offers many false assurances and hopes to keep people from God.  Some people are content to believe the lie that there is no God and no eternity, but most are not.  All major world religions are built on the wrong presupposition that we have to appease God and earn eternal bliss – except Christianity.  This is Satan’s varied deception:  work hard enough and your eternity will be all right.

We must take every instruction and conviction seriously.  Is someone asking for money?  Even if their efforts are of God, they might not be for your to support.  Seek God first.  Make sure you are obedient to support your local congregation, because that is the instruction of Scripture, and then ask God if and where He desires to use more of your finances.  Is someone wrestling with his faith?  Dig deeper!  Find out if God is convicting him of sin, if God is moving in him to draw him to salvation!  This might be a pivotal point of change and conversion that we might gloss over in fear of overstepping our lines, or out of uncertainty for what we should say.

Satan is not an angel of light, but he disguises himself and his wiles as such so as to lead us astray.  If he were to burst into the room looking like the grim reaper, we would run the other way.  But he will have much success diverting our attention from the difficult thing to which God is calling us to the easier, attractive thing to which He is not calling us.

Get to know the will of God and learn His voice and calling in your life. Obey the Scriptures and seek the heart of God for the extras.  And most importantly, do not try to use simple logic to define God’s calling and moving in your life, but dig deeper and submit to Him in prayer.

Joy in spite of…

 joy

JOY
noun \ˈji\
1.  a :  the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires :  delight

 b :  the expression or exhibition of such emotion :  gaiety
2 :  a state of happiness or felicity :  bliss
3 :  a source or cause of delight

 We all want to be happy.  We consider it our God-given right here in America to pursue happiness, and many blur that into a belief that we have the right to be made happy.  Happiness is entirely circumstance-oriented.  The opposite of happy is sad.  If things are going well, if you get what you want, if you are enjoying what you are doing, you are happy.  If things are not going well, if you do not get what you want, if you are not enjoying what you are doing, then you are sad.  Typically.

Joy can be misunderstood as a synonym for happiness.  Webster even defines joy, in point 2 as “a state of happiness”.  And yes, the two can be intermingled and misunderstood, but there is a deeper root to joy, and it is a peace and satisfaction within the soul.  Joy can see the big picture.  Joy takes comfort in unpleasant situations by being able to see the end result.  Thus we have verses which sound ludicrous at first glance:

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

Do you consider it joy when you encounter trials?  Paul and the apostles actually rejoiced when they were imprisoned, beaten, and persecuted for the name of Christ:

“…and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.  So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

 – Acts 5.41-42

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

 – Col 1.24

Here’s the deal:  God uses persecution, suffering and trials to test our faith and to produce endurance.  You cannot build endurance if you do not run.  Likewise, you cannot build faith if you never have to exemplify and rely on it.  God offers us the free gift of salvation through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.  When we come to faith we are made a new creation, given a new heart and brought into the family of faith, and then God sets about the task of sanctifying us:  making us more like Jesus.  That means removing the sin, and replacing it with righteousness; removing the flesh and replacing it with Spirit; removing worldly desires and replacing the with eternal desires.  The path of sanctification can be painful, but it is full of joy because we can see the big picture.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

 – Rom 5.1-5

We can understand it, then, that our joy will always be “in spite” of something.  If we can cultivate a truly Godly perspective, we may come to the point in maturity that we truly do rejoice in our sufferings like the apostles and like Paul did, but while we are still growing, we can strive to have peace, comfort and joy in our eternal salvation while our Earthly situations are difficult.  If your joy is not being tested and never has been tested, then I would get on my knees quickly because God promises that He will discipline and test us to produce sanctification (Heb 12.6, Prov 3.12, Rev 3.19).

What is the will of God for your life?  To be sanctified and made like Jesus.  Period.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification

 – 1 Thess 4.3

And our sanctification results in eternal life, eternal salvation.  Freedom from pain, suffering, sorrow and loss.  Seeing and knowing God as fully revealed, for eternity.  And in order to get us there, we go through trials, tribulations and sorrows.  If you are growing Spiritually, your joy will be in spite of something.  Embrace it today.  Embrace Him today.  And look to the future.