Confident Christianity: “Sexual Revolution” (Part Three) – 1 Corinthians 7:18ff

hold hands1Jean Lloyd, PhD, is a teacher and a happily married mother of two young children. When she shared her story about the journey through rough waters toward a fulfilling walk with God, it got my attention. She has a voice worth heeding. She wrote:

“…Recently, my dear friend Diane was lamenting the fact that there are few places for Christians who experience same-sex attraction and wish to be faithful to Christian teaching to deal openly and honestly with those issues. Our culture’s sexual floodtide is breaching many individuals’ and churches’ fidelity to truth, and now, post-Obergefell, there is mounting pressure on any traditional morality “hold-outs” to give in and affirm all sexual acts as long as they are consensual. Thus “safe spaces” for Christians like Diane and me are fewer and farther between…When I use the term “safe space,” I … mean a space where people can openly share their experience of same-sex attraction, where others will affirm their dignity as children of God and accompany them in friendship. But I mean something [else] as well. In my vision, those with same-sex attraction can take refuge in this space and trust they will be sheltered from harm precisely because there is a steadfast refusal to affirm falsehood or to encourage any behavior that is contrary to human good.

Diane and I have journeyed together for over twenty years. I remember well the summer we met … She wore a ball cap and had her girlfriend in tow, while I wore my hair buzzed in keeping with my masculine style. Both of us were confused, wondering whether we should continue to embrace our lesbian identity with abandon, give it up for our faith, or try to have it both ways by twisting the Scriptures and suppressing the voice of conscience. Those were difficult times. That summer, I had gone to a well-known Christian professor on campus and begged her to tell me—as a Christian—her thoughts on homosexuality. In a reluctant voice, she said slowly, “Well, I can’t see anything in Scripture that would condone it, but . . .” Her voice picked up speed as she listed disclaimers of how the prohibitions couldn’t possibly apply to every situation, no one can judge, and so forth. As well-meaning as I’m sure my professor was that day, she did not have the fortitude to let God’s “yes” be “yes” and “no” be “no.”

I practically ran from her office, confused and desperately wanting someone to show me where the boundary line was. Greg, a classmate who was also a military chaplain, overheard the exchange and followed me out. As I wept, he grabbed my shoulders and commanded my attention: “Jean, Romans 3:4, let every man be found a liar, but God be true. You know the truth.” I was in dangerous waters, and rather than being given consoling words as to why I shouldn’t feel bad, I needed to be pointed to the shore. Despite all the “Safe Space” stickers decorating professors’ offices on campus, it was Greg who provided one that day.

However, I not only needed to be pointed to shore, I also needed hands to pull me out of the water and help me learn to walk uprightly. A few years later, I moved to attend graduate school and found myself in the same city as Diane. I knew that Diane had found a strong church, one that was providing the safe space she needed to heal and grow. So I visited, and as is typical with such generous lovers of God, they made room for me as well. These were rough and imperfect years for both Diane and me, but they were also deeply blessed. We had found hope. We became part of a group of Christians who were committed to truth and willing to honestly share the messiness of life as we all walked toward maturity and sought holiness together. These spiritual friends and mentors were a wonderful example of a welcoming and accompanying community who made us feel safe and protected us from harm. I am forever grateful to God for their life-changing love, prayers, counsel, and friendship.

Over twenty years later, I am a teacher and married with children. Diane is an excellent businesswoman, lay missionary, and highly esteemed friend to many. She is still single. Our individual fulfillment lies neither in our marital state nor in our sexuality, but in our surrender to our Creator’s truth, love, and will for our lives.

When the Supreme Court redefined marriage and everything from the White House to corporate logos turned rainbow, I recalled that year of monumental personal decision when I was struggling with my relationships with God, women, and myself. I remember digging out my Bible, which was dusty from disuse. I dared to look at the first chapter of Romans. The words blurred through my tears as I read. My mind was also blurry, for having opened a door to sin, I had opened a door to deception. I prayed, “If it’s wrong, You’ll have to show me another way, because I can’t see it.” I honestly couldn’t see the truth—it was as if there was a veil over my eyes.

These days, when I see the multitude of profile pictures on Facebook bearing a rainbow filter, I think of that veil. The rainbow veil tints reality with false hues, blurs the vision, and prevents one from seeing clearly. But what is most distressing is seeing the rainbow veil over the faces of Christian friends and family…” (

She went on to offer straightforward advice to those of us in ministry in these days. Her advice was well founded, and her words dripped with humility and love. The Witherspoon Institute printed her letter in their “Public Discourse” and I am grateful for the tone as well as the content. We have been investigating the direct teaching from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about human sexuality, celibacy, marriage and divorce. It was always a concern to the church through the ages, but never more than now. God’s Word is sharp in focus, careful in prescription and effective in result – but we must teach it thoroughly and hearers must embrace it fully. Remember our Key Principle for these few lessons has not changed…

Key Principle: The Designer knows the design, and His Word makes clear what it is.

There is a Biblical Context for Marriage

Before we look back at our primary passage, we should briefly remind ourselves that the Bible relates the PRIMARY PURPOSES for marriage:

• First, the Bible paired man and woman for the purposes of procreation – (To keep the race going). Sex wasn’t PRIMARILY given as “entertainment” but rather as the mechanism of procreation. Note that in Genesis 1:28: God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” This isn’t the Creation account, but the summary found in the story of the Seven Days of 1:1-2:3 in the prologue to Genesis. Yet, it included the detail that God intended procreation from the beginning, and made a system for reproduction to occur.

• Second, let’s not be prudes – God intended us to WANT to be involved in sexual expression. It was a pleasure both in its immediate physicality and its emotional by-product. In other words, it was both fun and fulfilling – because it was designed to create an emotional bond after it was over. God referred to sexual pleasure as something we would hunger for like water in Proverbs 5 – and that is what made it ripe ground for the enemy to torque into sinful mutiny from God’s standards.

• Third, a man and woman were paired because God wanted relationship at the center of our lives. He made man to be a guardian, and woman to be his helper. This was his provision for completion of both the man and woman. We weren’t generally meant to live outside of relationship (Ephesians 5:25 – 32 makes that clear).

• Finally, the picture of something greater was given in this union – in the Hebrew Scriptures it was a picture of YHWH and Israel in relationship nationally (cp. Hosea); in the Christian Scriptures it is a vibrant picture of Christ and His betrothed, the Church (see Ephesians 5).

When Paul wrote on these delicate subjects, he did so in the context of much revelation already available. The Bible affirmed “TWO PRIMARY PRINCIPLES CONCERNING MARRIAGE”:

First, Scripture offers the Permanence Principle: God’s original intention was that marriage be one man for one woman, PERMANENT until the death of one of them. This was His ideal (Gen. 2:24). Jesus echoed the same thought in Matthew 19: 1 -12 (cf. Mk. 10: 1-12). Though God allowed polygamy during the centuries when the infant mortality rate and the high death rate in delivery prevailed – that was never His design according to the revealed Word. When Jesus affirmed it was so “from the beginning” (Mt. 19:8), He rejected some rabbinic claims that Dt. 24 was an “easy out if the paperwork was proper” (Mk. 10:4). God wanted marriage to be permanent.

Second, Scripture presumes the Purity Principle: God’s stated desire for every man and woman was that their relationship be PURE by each pledging a covenant of faithfulness to one another (Ex. 20:14). This purity was to extend into their thought life, as they were not even to foster a desire for another’s spouse (v.17). Jesus reminded His followers of the PURITY standard including their “thought life” in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:27, 28. God is serious about our purity – even in a sex-soaked culture.

The Biblical Context for Divorce

Beyond marriage, it is probably also important to mention something else. In addition to setting out God’s design for marriage, the Word also included a sharp-focused teaching on DIVORCE. God knows man, and God knows the brokenness of sin would drive men and women apart. As a result, God offered “TWO PRIMARY PRINCIPLES CONCERNING DIVORCE” to match what He revealed about marriage.

First, Scripture made clear a Principle of Practice: Divorce was a Biblical practice, insomuch as God himself placed regulations on it in some cases – and set the standard for when it was appropriate and disallowed. In one special event He even required it (Ezra 10), when the marriages were specifically forbidden by Him beforehand. The formula was offered “..she is not my wife, I am not her husband…” in Hosea 2:2. Though He hated the sin which caused the hardness between people that ended in divorce – and He hated the process itself (Malachi 2), God did acknowledge this practice (Isa. 50:1; Jer. 3:8) and regulated the procedure of the PRACTICE (Deuteronomy 24). The emphasis was on protecting the weaker party from abuse by the law. Jesus acknowledged that the PRACTICE of divorce was regulated (“epitrepo” means allowed – Mt. 19:7,8), but this was only due to the “hard heartedness of sin”. Even in cases where God allowed divorce, He limited the circumstances which were allowable – but there were some. Jesus appeared to limit the “uncleanness” of Dt. 24 to the specific moral uncleanness of immorality (Mt. 19:9). That didn’t offer His complete position, but it settled a debate of that time on the meaning of Moses in the Law.

Second, the Word offered an often forgotten Principle of Presumption: The Hebrew Scriptures PRESUMED that remarriage would follow a divorce (Dt. 24:1-4), and regulated this practice to show the gravity of divorce, and minimize the continual damage to others. Jesus also PRESUMED that divorced people would remarry (Mt. 5:32). For that reason, He warned that others could suffer from the sin of one couple! Remarriage was not always sin, but was sin in cases where the divorce was not on Biblical grounds (Matthew 5:32).

Let’s say it this way: God gave us a gift of procreation that included pleasure with the one who was His Divine completing provision for us, as a picture of eternal and spiritual truths. It was intended to be a pure expression of a permanent earthly covenant – lasting as long as our sojourn on earth together.

In that context, God used Paul to add more Revealed Truth.

As we combed 1 Corinthians 7, we saw a number of truths that help us with God’s plan for our lives and relationships. We have seen in the chapter important truths:

• Believers were called to base their practice on God’s Word – not the culture, or even the LAW of the LAND in 1 Corinthians 7:1.

• The Bible defined marriage as one man to one woman in 1 Corinthians 7:2.

• The Bible defined the proper places and participants for sexual expression in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

• Men and women are equal in the sight of God in regards to the practice of sexual expression, and need to consult one another and care for one another as in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

• For some people, marriage is the best option – even when persecution grows, 1 Corinthians 7:8-9.

• God did not call a believer to leave their partner if one came to Jesus after marriage and the other partner did not, 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.

• God’s distinct call for us is found in our birth; we are to be the person God made us (cp. 1 Corinthians 7:17).

Paul Continued with a simple idea:

Be what God made you and celebrate that! (7:18-20)

1 Corinthians 7:18 “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.”

For believers in our time, (unless you come from a Jewish background) you may easily ask: “What is the big deal with “circumcision”?”

Let me explain. In the time of the early church, the message of Jesus was moving from a tiny Messianic movement within Judaism to a transformation movement of God appearing and working all across the Roman world. The earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish. He was Jewish. As the message spread, it came largely through the hands of Jews. As a result, and aided by some Jews who mistakenly wanted everyone in the Gentile world to see this movement as still something within Judaism, some Gentiles were feeling pressure to enter the Jewish world (and its prescriptions of Atonement Law) as part of knowing Jesus. They felt pressured to join Jews in worship and walk because they thought it was closer to God – or at least that is what they were being told by some traveling teachers. Circumcision was the beginning point of entry to a Jewish world that called people back to the Atonement taught in the Torah. Paul wrote letters like that of Galatians designed to counter than thinking. The problem was that Atonement was replaced by Justification – and there was no need for them to go backward.

Here is the point: If you were called to Jesus as a Jew – don’t try to stop being one. Things God has said to Jews and for Jews are YOUR things. The replacement of a “one size fits all” sacrifice of Messiah made your sin issue something that did not require atonement – but that wasn’t all there was to being Jewish. You had food restrictions, you had Sabbath requirements and you had national identity. Those things weren’t stripped from you when you came to Messiah. No one need trade his gefilte fish for a ham, nor their menorah for a Christmas tree. If you know Yeshua as your Messiah – you are complete in Him. You are part of the body, and you came to it the same as a Gentile did – through the completed payment of the sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb – your Messiah. Because you were saved the same way, does not mean you LIVE after salvation the same way. Women and men have different restrictions. Slave and free have different restrictions. All are saved the same way. For this reason, there are some Epistles that were specifically written to instruct Jews who came to Yeshua – such as Hebrews and James.

Conversely, if you were called to Jesus as a Gentile – don’t try to play the role of a JEW. Don’t wrap yourself in Jewish garb and try to become something you aren’t because it will somehow be more holy or more powerful in the Spirit of God. Your Designer made you the ethnic background He intended you to be. Dare I say it: Be the person God made you. Be that person for God’s glory. Stop letting someone tell you that what you are isn’t good enough.

Let me bring it even one step closer. If you are a believer, celebrate your identity as a follower of the Creator.

If you are a woman – don’t try to dress like a man, act like a man or imitate masculinity. I am a man – and I totally believe we have enough men in the world. Look like a woman. Act like a woman. Celebrate your womanhood. The world will tell you children are a burden – don’t believe them. Celebrate your womb and intentionally shape a life if God gives you the opportunity. It is a career – I don’t care what the world says. Don’t let the world convince you that being a man’s helper is some kind of DOG WORK – that demeans God’s Word concerning your design. At the same time, you are God’s beautiful creation whether you are 22 or 92 Don’t let the world tell you that your value is found in the outward traits of your body. It isn’t. Become within the person God is making you to become – that beautiful creation that God will take joy in watching and hearing. Paul continued…

Sexual participation by force is never the fault of the victim (7:21-24).

The Roman world was filled with slaves. Robert Garland at Colgate University offered a course I took on this subject a few years back. He opened the class with these words:

Imagine working down a mine ten hours a day and then being shackled for the other fourteen as you try to catch a bit of sleep or simply huddle with your fellow slaves to keep warm. Or, if you happen to be in a more “favorable” situation, imagine hearing with unimaginable dread your master’s heavy tread and knowing that he is about to force himself upon you yet again, as he has four nights in a row.”

Roman citizens believed they had as much right to own a slave as you do to own a microwave – and they thought about it in moral terms about as much as you think of your vacuum cleaner in moral terms. Slaves were a fixture. Snatched up as the common spoils out of the many Roman wars, slaves were abundant and filled the streets of Roman cities. Some came to Christ in the early years, and they couldn’t “walk out” of the brothel they worked within or the domestic service they were bound into. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 7:21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

It may not appear so, but these few verses are a comfort to many people in modern churches. Why? Because they may not have been sold into slavery, but for one brief period of their personal history, someone forced them into a sexual situation from which they did not have the power to free themselves.

• Perhaps they went on a date, and someone slipped into their soft drink a tablet or powder of Rohypnol (roh-HIP-nol), the trade name for flunitrazepam (FLOO-neye-TRAZ-uh-pam). When they regained their controlling senses, either they were engaged in something or had clear evidence that something had happened to them. For all practical purposes – they were enslaved.

• Perhaps they weren’t drugged, but were overpowered in a physical exchange. During the time they were forced to do what they did not choose to do – they were essentially a slave of someone else’s desires.

In both cases, and many like them, Paul offers a simple set of words that bring powerful comfort: “Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.” I don’t know if that will mean much to those who have never had this experience, but I can tell you from counseling people in the Word this truth: the fact that God told them to put away any sense of worry about it has freed many in the past. You are not responsible for actions beyond your control – period. It didn’t have to be hurtful on unpleasant – that isn’t the point. How you felt about the experience doesn’t determine your culpability or guilt. If you had no power to break free from the situation – you are not guilty before God in any way. If you were not of age to know what was happening – you are not at fault in any way. If you hid what happened because it upset you – that doesn’t make you guilty of wrongdoing in the actions… only that you should have spoken up. Let me say it this way: If you were not in control of the situation because of the power of another, you are free within and God understands what your place in that situation truly was.

Paul urged them not to CHOOSE to be in a situation where they could be abused – but not to beat themselves up if they worshiped Christ and served until freed in the local brothel. It was terrible, but it was real in the first century, and is real to some of our beloved brothers and sisters under a yoke of bondage today! Don’t think this is over…

Human trafficking represented an estimated $31.6 billion of international trade per annum in 2010, and is thought to be one of the fastest-growing activities of trans-national criminal organizations. We will lead some to Christ, and they will need to know how to deal with the pain and sweeping guilt. Paul continued…

When persecution comes, it may be easier not to be married (7:25-38).

Because Paul said things that confused them when he taught on the subject, he had to come back yet another time to make God’s design clear to them. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

Paul offered a clear, concise opinion that came from his broader view of the increased tensions of the time. This is specific to the time of persecution, and is important. At the same time, this reiterated what we already spoke about extensively in the series, so I will avoid more on this subject. Keep reading…

Use caution: Marriage is designed to both complete the ones called to it but it will divide them (7:29-38).

Paul made clear that persecution was rising and the end appeared very near. It has a number of times in history, and we are always told to be on watch and ready for the end. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure un-distracted devotion to the Lord.

Paul understood the needs of men and women. He knew the desire to marry and build a life here was from God. His caution was this: “It is getting bad out there. If we have only a short time left, let’s be careful about using it for ourselves.

Let me ask you a question that gets to the heart of this issue:

If you found out tomorrow that you had six months to live – but you would be healthy until that time, what would you change about your life? Would you simply consume the remaining time on your own interests? Would you drop your responsibilities and take off to travel the world? Would you place more emphasis on your spiritual life or on having a good time?

That is at the heart of Paul’s concern. He thinks he is facing the time before Jesus will wrap up the program – and he is calling them to “pour it on for Jesus” and take a back seat with their own desires. His words are tough. They challenge us at a level we need to be challenged. He is stripping our life down to this: “What is REALLY the most important thing about your sojourn here on earth?” Do you consider FAMILY at the center of your being? Remember, you will not be a marriage partner or a momma in Heaven.

Let me say it plainly: If your walk with Jesus is second to ANYTHING, it is in the wrong place. Your family is important – but second to Jesus and your walk with Him. Your accomplishments may have Kingdom results – but honoring the KING is the point of it all. Paul continued…

God gave each believer His Spirit, His Word, and their own choices (7:36-38).

Paul knew his view of the lateness of the hour was not God’s complete call for everyone. They were to steward what God put in their lives. They had choices to make and he wasn’t going to stop them from doing it. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 7:36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

If a young woman is in a culture where the father chooses her spouse as they were in Corinth, it was that man’s responsibility to make his own choices based on the Word’s fences and the Spirit’s guidance. Paul understood that, and wanted them to be clear.

Your pastor isn’t responsible to make you obey Jesus – that is your job. Your spiritual parents led you to Jesus, but they aren’t commanded to carry you through your walk – that is your job. Yet, there is more. Paul wrote…

Marriage is for this world (7:39a).

I cannot imagine life without my sweetheart, and I don’t want to. I do know that Scripture is clear that in Heaven the “shadowy earth” picture of marriage will give way to absolute intimacy:

1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes…

That underscores the point we just made – that your marriage is NOT more important than your walk with Jesus. It also says that if you lose a spouse due to death – you are not being “unfaithful” by finding another mate. That seems simple, and straightforward… but the last part of the sentence CANNOT be neglected…

A believer should only marry another believer (7:39b).

I see no “But he is such a nice guy!” caveat to the standard. The Word says:

1 Corinthians 7:39b … only in the Lord.

For believers, we limit our choices to those in God’s family! Don’t take this lightly. Don’t think that because marriage is only about this life, you needn’t be concerned about the eternal destiny of your spouse. What kind of love is that? I suspect that many people honestly believe a lie that goes like this: “When we get married, I will get him/her to Jesus!” Here is the problem: That isn’t what Jesus told you to do.

Let me close with…

Six Truths for the Tempted Christian

First, if you struggle with sexual desires, you are normal. That doesn’t mean you are free to do what you want – it means we are all struggling with you. The battle between the flesh and the Spirit has been going on since the Fall in the Garden of Eden. We don’t need false promises, and we can’t solve it with a cheap-grace that simply “forgives my failures. God calls us to obedience and surrender of every area of life – and this is part of that call. The continued struggle of life in the fallen world is the truth, and part of the Gospel. Deeply rooted in the Gospel is this truth: All are bent toward sexual sin of some sort, because all of us entered the world with fallen DNA and a corrupt nature (Romans 5:12-21). Your struggle is common to us – so you need not feel alone!

Second, sexual attraction is (and will likely long be) a part of your life. Coming to Jesus doesn’t change that. The Holy Spirit will soften you and transform your mind – but it will probably take a long time and come slowly into a changing heart. I need to be clear: surrendering to Jesus isn’t guaranteed to automatically and instantaneously take wrong desires away. We must recognize that as long as we are in this body, we stand the chance of fighting this fight. We should not be seeking a “healing” of sexual desires – because though they have been skewed – they are part of our design. In fact, this is true of those who are opposite sex attracted, and yes, those who are same-sex attracted. Jesus can do a work in us to heal us – but there is no Biblical mandate that we will lose these urges quickly any more than there is a mandate that we will stop getting hungry – so don’t hold your breath on a false promise.

Third, Jesus commanded us to flee from any sexual behavior that is not according to His holy design – no matter the context. Biblically speaking, whether this is a “one night stand” borne out of drunken promiscuity or a so-called “loving act” in committed monogamy, sexual behavior outside of marriage is a detestable evil because it is mutiny to the design God made and revealed – period. Because one situation is more acceptable to the world than the other doesn’t make one more acceptable to God. His plan is the right way. Any opposing plan in simply more rebellion – no matter how polite it appears to be to the people of our age. Consider this:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around about drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

Fourth, you must not accept the premise that your identity is found in your fallen desires. This is one of the true tragedies of the homosexual movement – they are convincing people that their very identity is bound up in their hungers and desires. We must assert anew this truth: You are not defined by your flesh – that is only the home where YOU live. The desires in this body are temporary, and our identity is tied up in Christ forever (2 Corinthians 5:16-17). In the end, Christ will come again, and your journey will be over. You be like him – beyond the clutches of sin, for “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

Fifth, God will redeem every struggle against the flesh for His glory. Sexual attraction can have a divine purpose! It can humble us and make us seek Jesus for the strength to simply get through the day. It can help us become more empathetic toward the struggles and needs of others as they face their sinful desires. It may keep us from becoming Pharisees. It may help keep us in tune with a broken world we are called to reach. It is a mystery, but yet a truth: God is using even your battle with your own sexuality for the good of telling His story through your life (Romans 8:28).

Sixth, the Restrictions of your sexual desires are a practical altar on which you can sacrifice something for your Savior in His honor. Obedience in this area entails celibacy at some stage in everyone’s life. Celibacy requires restraint. Restraint requires choosing to deny our biological wiring in favor of our Savior’s smile. There will be deep fulfillment in loving Him more than yourself. That is at the heart of Christian thinking. He will also use your life in a more wondrous way. Nothing given up for Jesus gets overlooked by Him.

The Designer knows the design, and His Word makes clear what it is.

She was fourteen when he met her. She came from a small village in the Mexican countryside. He was well-dressed. He was a smooth talker. He told her she was his princess and she would be treated to anything she wanted. One afternoon she finished hanging laundry in the side yard, and jumped into the car that changed her life. He pulled up, and in she went. That was twelve years ago. She has been beaten, used and abused on the streets in three American cities. Her spirit was all but crushed… until last week. Dropped off at an abortion clinic by her pimp, she walked toward the door, with a broken heart and empty eyes to match. Standing by a tree was an old Hispanic woman with a sign that said: “Jesus loves you!” The woman looked like her mom – but that just couldn’t be. She turned a second time to look and the woman smiled kindly. She hadn’t seen a kind smile in… she couldn’t remember. She walked a few steps toward the woman, and the smile grew bigger. Her arms extended. She said, “Come, child. This is too heavy for you to carry!” She fell into the woman’s arms. She sobbed the cries of the fourteen year old that left her village. She was broken, used and felt worthless. The woman held her and whispered: “It doesn’t matter where you have been, child. He loves you… He really does. A new life began that day… and a tiny life inside was saved. It wasn’t by preaching. It wasn’t by arguing. It was by meeting a girl at the place of her pain. That’s where Jesus wants us to take Him.

Second Chances: “The Move to Hope” (Part One) – Ezra 9:1-10:2

JFK_assassinationWhat was the most important news event you recall that took place in your lifetime? Do you remember where you were when you heard it? What did you do immediately after you heard the news? Did you sit down and reflect, or try to get more information? Did you run to share it with someone?

Some of the oldest walking the planet will recall the infamous words of President Roosevelt the day after the Pearl Harbor attack that took place on December 7, 1941. Others may recall the shooting reports of President John Kennedy, cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Some five years later, just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, 39 year old Dr. martin-luther-king-jr-assassination-everettMartin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed while standing on the balcony outside his second-story motel room in Memphis. A few months later, Senator Robert Kennedy was killed in Los Angeles just after speaking at a campaign event. Perhaps you recall one of these moments…. Maybe yours was a more positive memory, like the 1969 Apollo 10 lunar landing – or the 1989 fall of the Berlin wall that divided East and West Germany. Maybe the 1991 dissolution of the USSR into twelve republics is more your memory. Perhaps you can’t shake the ever-played video clip of fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, back in 2001. It is hard to believe, but today’s college students were in Pre-K or Kindergarten when that event occurred.

911-twin-towers-fireFacing bad news and responding to it is part of life – but it is especially difficult to do if you are the party responsible for the lives and actions of others. If you are “in charge” of people – the news about what happened “on your watch” must be even more powerful.

We think of leaders as power-brokers. We think of them as affecting the outcome of many things – and so they do. It is also equally true, however, that they are subject to the winds of history. Presidents, generals, governors and even sport’s coaches have watched judgment fall on them like a bitter rain when they had no control over events that were shaping the area that was supposed to be their responsibility.

The lesson of Ezra 9-10 is about a leader in a crisis. It is about right response to terrible news. It is about offering a pattern that is intended to replace panic.

Look at the scene…God seemed far away. Most of them wanted to do right, but they were in a strange place, and the opportunities were quite limited. They felt like they needed to take bold steps or nothing would get better. With few choices, they acted – but not in accordance with what God told them to do. In fact, one bad decision led to other bad choices…until they were no where near the path God intended for them. Some people knew they were going in the wrong direction, but they did not have the means to turn people back. When a new leader came on the scene, they saw an opportunity to bring to his attention the terrible choices, so they brought the violation to his attention.

They didn’t want to wound the leader – they wanted to fix the problem. Inevitably, he was brokenhearted. New to the scene, what should he do with a delicate and complex people problem caused by disregard to God’s instructions? Could they not understand what they were doing? The leader left a written record of his response, rooted in this truth…

Key Principle: There is a process to leading people from disobedience to a right standard.

Truthfully, I am very glad that is the case. God doesn’t drop people the first time they walk willfully away from His instruction. He doesn’t ignore their rebellion, but He offers a path back to obedience and blessing… and some of us need to hear about it. Drop into the scene of a “bad news” moment…

The Report:

9:1 Now when these things had been completed, the princes approached me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, according to their abominations, those of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. 2 “For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has intermingled with the peoples of the lands; indeed, the hands of the princes and the rulers have been foremost in this unfaithfulness.”

As the word came to him, what steps did he take?

Step One: He collected all the information. (9:1-2)

He grasped the nature and scope of the problem before he did anything else! Ezra heard about the sin of the people, and by the account, it appears that he was blind-sided. He was presented with a problem that he did not know – but the nature and complexity of it necessitated that he listen to those familiar with the scene. He allowed their approach and listened intently.

Every leader needs to learn to listen. The faster the pace, the higher the stakes, the more emotional the issue – the more the need to listen:

Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’ Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me — and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.‘” (Bits & Pieces, June 24, 1993, pp. 13-14.)

I like the advice of the late General George Marshall, a leader of men, when he offered this:

Formula for handling people: 1. Listen to the other person’s story. 2. Listen to the other person’s full story. 3. Listen to the other person’s full story first. (Gen. George Marshall, Bits & Pieces, April, 1991.)

The testimony was critical of the leadership – so it needed to be handled with special care. Many eyes were watching. As Paul warned the younger Timothy later in Scripture, leaders were under special scrutiny:

1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning…

The testimony was verifiable. This was again underscored in Paul’s words to Timothy (1 I Tim 5:19: “two or three witnesses”). In the case of Ezra, it would certainly be easy enough to ascertain the truth of the accusation because the matter was public.

What made the leadership think that they could openly violate the Word of God? There are several scenarios that may be in view here:

People don’t always know the Word, because the teaching of it is very scarce, in spite of the ‘religious environment” of their time. We wake up and find we have some leaders in Washington that were shaped by compromising Christian churches from their youth. Their values are a mix of ethical peculiarities shaped by a warped notion of justice and truth by poor teaching of the Word.

People dismiss the Biblical injunctions as unduly limited – because they see their situation as different. They shape in their mind the notion that because the situation looks different to them, they need not fall into the timeless truths and principles of God’s unchanging Word.

People don’t put together cause and effect – they don’t take sin seriously. Note the contrast with Ezra, who was broken because of the sinful practice.

Step Two: He identified the seriousness of the issue (9:3-4)!

Ezra recognized the issue as a violation of the Holy Word of God – and therefore it was serious and potentially devastating to the people if not corrected.

Note his “first response” was seen when he got quiet and personalized the pain (9:3).

9:3 When I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard, and sat down appalled (from shaw-mame: destroyed, crushed).

I cannot help but think of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians when there was immorality in their ranks. He told them: “You haven’t mourned for the sin!” (1 Corinthians 5). Ezra was shocked at what he heard from the men. Before responding to the problem, he took some time to get alone. Even before he left the others he showed the power of what he had heard in his life by plucking at his beard, tearing his garment, and sitting quietly in deep pain. It is significant that Ezra did not rush out to solve the problem. In our desire to do the right thing, we can react rather than respond. A mature believer must learn to take some time. A mature believer must process the emotion internally as well as before the Lord before making a response before other men. Our first response is often not our best response because it reflects our emotions much more than it reflects our long-term values.

Observe how he gathered quietly with other serious believers (9:4)

9:4 Then everyone who trembled (from charad: became fearful) at the words of the God of Israel on account of the unfaithfulness of the exiles gathered to me, and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

There are three specific helpful comments that Ezra gives us in chapter 9:4 –

• First, we see the kind of people he surrounded himself with when trouble came;
• Second, the text implies that some close by knew already what God’s Word instructed and were consulted at that time;
• Third, everyone in the room understood the power of God, the nature of God, and the truth of His Word. It was because of this they trembled.

A failure to take God seriously regarding His Word and presuming on His grace has often been a fatal flaw in the lives of believers. Those who witnessed the destruction and aftermath in Jerusalem should well have understood the words of the prophets and taken God seriously. It seems rooted within the nature of fallen man, to look at those who have gone before refusing God and his Word, and not heed carefully the lesson of their example. The bottom line is this: believers must take God seriously. Failure to do so will destroy their testimony, and their future. God is not playing games though God is patient. Peter warns that in the end times people will mistake God’s patience for impotence. Many a believer has fallen into that belief trap of the enemy.

How did Ezra take truth seriously?

• He surrounded himself with those who revered God.
• He consulted God’s word and stayed with those who took it seriously.
• He was thoroughly invested in understanding the nature of God as much as the nature of the problem.

Especially when facing times of crisis, we must learn to be as hungry to know God as we are to know the intimate details of the problems we face. Some of us act as though we are famished as we devour every ‘scrap of detail’ about a news item, but show little hunger to read, study and know of the Author of life itself. This allows us to be over-informed while under educated. We spend more time obsessing over celebrity behaviors and colored coffee cups than soaking up the goodness of the one who colored the Heavens and whose fame is sung among the stars above. That leads us from misery to misery – not glory to glory.

Step Three: Got alone with God and prayed (9:5-15)

Shocking news required time with God…

9:5 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the LORD my God; 6 and I said,

Notice how he personally embraced guilt. Leaders take personal responsibility in intercession! He prayed:

9:6b…“O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens. 7 “Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been in great guilt, and on account of our iniquities we, our kings and our priests have been given into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity and to plunder and to open shame, as it is this day.

I am always disappointed when I see leaders in our day deflecting responsibility – blaming the other party, or finding an excuse in the “chain of command”, etc. There are a number of places in Scripture where deep personal responsibility is reflected by a man of God when he looks at the fault of his nation. Daniel models this, as does Nehemiah. Every time I read one of the kinds of prayers I am deeply struck with the personal nature and responsibility that these men felt over the sin of others. We live in a time where it is easy to be outraged at others. Yet, seldom do I see believers who fall before God and take responsibility for their nation in our day. We may be tempted to “write that off” to culture and say that the Hebrews were collective in their thinking, but I am left to question whether or not there is some deep biblical truth behind taking responsibility for the greater nation and its sin.

• Do we call out to God on behalf of our nation feeling as though we are also partly responsible for its laxness regarding sin?

• Do we “pawn off” on others the disobedience of our day and claim it is simply someone else’s responsibility to repent? I am convinced that God will respond to believers who humble themselves not only for their own sin, but also for the sin of their nation, and their family. Though I understand that God’s promise to hear the prayers of his people if they call was specific to Judah in the ancient world, I agree that there is a broader principle of Scripture that reminds us to pray not only on our own behalf and on behalf of others.

• Do we not share some responsibility because of our own lack of testimony and fervent seeking of the Lord? I suspect we know the answer.

I am also struck by how he acknowledged God’s grace and thanked God for His goodness at that hour!

Judgment withheld is grace at work…

9:8 “But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage. 9 “For we are slaves; yet in our bondage our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

I think another significant insight into the prayer of Ezra is the fact that he was very aware of the goodness of God in his life. It is not enough to serve God out of fear, for that is not all there is to the vastness of our God. God is good, and He cares for us on so many levels throughout the day. Yet, I often find believers who mature into a negativity about the responsibility of following God without the delight of knowing him — walking with him in joy and in delight to be his!

Ezra acknowledges that they are technically still slaves, but he acknowledges that there is much that God has done for them! They are in the land now because of God’s goodness. The favor of the King was planted by divine decree. Ezra recognized that he had what he had because he followed the God he followed. It is important for us to grasp the goodness of God even when we’re facing very difficult decisions as a result of the sin of people around us. The occasion of this prayer was not marked by a moment of praise, but by a difficult moment — the facing of sin. Yet, it was necessary for Ezra to tell the truth. God is good and has been gracious toward us. Recognizing that, is simply recognizing the truth.

Note the emptiness Ezra expressed as he asked God what to say…

9:10 “Now, our God, what shall we say after this?

I have to admit that verse 10 is very helpful in peering into Ezra’s soul. He wasn’t sure what else to say! How do you defend the absurd actions of rebellious men? One need only read the daily newspaper today to ask such a question! Here is the truth: when we do not know how to pray we should honestly ask God to accept our hearts and read well past our words. Broken hearts pray with deep pain but not always great words. God is not your English grammar teacher, worried about the structure of your sentence. He delights in the surrender of the heart.

Ezra didn’t cover up, but rather carefully articulated guilt. He offered specific enumeration of their crimes…

9:10b “For we have forsaken Your commandments, 11 which You have commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end and with their impurity. 12 ‘So now do not give your daughters to their sons nor take their daughters to your sons, and never seek their peace or their prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it as an inheritance to your sons forever.’ 13 “After all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and our great guilt, since You our God have requited us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us an escaped remnant as this, 14 shall we again break Your commandments and intermarry with the peoples who commit these abominations? Would You not be angry with us to the point of destruction, until there is no remnant nor any who escape?

In the careful articulation of the specific crimes Ezra turned to the Lord and:

• He flatly took responsibility for violating the command of Scripture.
• He specified the sin.
• He made note that God had already blessed them by not giving them the full punishment of their former deeds.
• He ended with a question: “How can any of us escape if we do all of this again?”

One of the things God responds to in Scripture is specific prayer. The prayers like “Bless the missionaries” seem like vain repetitions because they offered no specific request. It is not that God does not know how to bless missionaries, but the prayer of this nature often reveals the laziness with which we have approached our brothers and sisters in Christ and their needs. This same tendency can carry over into the issues of our own sin: we can simply ask God to forgive us all of “everything we may have done”. Yet, this lacks the sense of personal responsibility and big knowledge meant that is so required for God to teach us of his grace and goodness.

It is very important for us to note that we do not receive the full penalty of our sin. As believers, we know that we do not receive the ultimate penalty of an eternity apart from God, but there is much more. Even in this life, we do not receive the bill for all that we have charged against the account of our personal sin. The proverb “what you sow you reap” (Galatians 6:7) is a proverb — a truism. In my life, thankfully, Jesus has paid for much of my poor sowing.

Consider how Ezra accepted God’s right to respond, as he humbly opened to the consequences…

9:15 “O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we have been left an escaped remnant, as it is this day; behold, we are before You in our guilt, for no one can stand before You because of this.”

Another essential feature of the prayer of Ezra can be seen in the close of his sharing with God. Ezra acknowledges that God is right to respond in judgment. He outlines the clear argument that there is no defense for what the people have done. He stands with his people “guilty”. Anything God decided to do as a result of their sin was justified. Ezra called on the mercy of God and recognized God’s rights and God’s just nature.

Even among believers the fighting and quarreling that we experience often is a reflection of our ego. Our prayer can reflect a wrong view of God’s plan. We are heavily invested in our own pleasures and easily led astray to work against the kingdom we represent. God deeply wants us to yield ourselves to Him and His Spirit. In the process of surrender, we open the doors of our life to God’s unmerited favor. Our resistance against the enemy grows in direct proportion to our submission to God’s gentle Spirit within. Our open desire to be nearer God sets in motion His drawing nearer to us. God cleanses our hands. God purifies our hearts. God shapes a single-minded man to please Him. Yet, all of this comes from a seriousness about sin, and the surrender to the Lord and his presence. James, led by God’s Spirit, could not have said it better.

Step Four: Refocused Confession to Hope (10:1-2)

The problem was prayed for – but not yet dealt with…

10:1 Now while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly. 2 Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.

Ezra was committed to complete repentance. He was not putting on a show for the people around him, but rather deliberately falling before the Lord and asking him for mercy. A contrite heart draws others toward God, while a self-centered heart deflects glory from God. Ezra did not wait for others to follow, nor did he put on a show for them. He lived his life before the Lord, and others saw it for what it was and were moved.

While the people gathered and wept bitterly, two leaders stepped forward and spoke with promise and hope about the future. Leaders cannot simply wallow in guilt and despair, they must offer the earnest expectation that people can change their behavior, and God will open his heart to them.

From Parade magazine comes the story of self-made millionaire Eugene Land, who greatly changed the lives of a sixth-grade class in East Harlem. Mr. Lang had been asked to speak to a class of 59 sixth-graders. What could he say to inspire these students, most of whom would drop out of school? He wondered how he could get these predominantly black and Puerto Rican children even to look at him. Scrapping his notes, he decided to speak to them from his heart. “Stay in school,” he admonished, “and I’ll help pay the college tuition for every one of you.” At that moment the lives of these students changed. For the first time they had hope. Said one student, “I had something to look forward to, something waiting for me. It was a golden feeling.” Nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school. (Parade Magazine.)

The SS Stella left Southampton with Captain William Reeks at the helm. She was 253 feet long, with a beam of 35 feet. She was designed to carry 712 passengers and had aboard some 754 life jackets and 12 lifebuoys, but her lifeboats could only carry 148 people. Thick fog banks rolled in fast and her speed was reduced twice while passing through the misty darkness. Approaching the Channel Islands, more fog overtook her, but speed was not reduced. Unable to see, the Captain Reeks ordered his first and second mates to stand fast of the both starboard and port near the front to listen for the warning buoy bells or signals from a known nearby reef. When the signal was heard it was too late, as the rocks were directly ahead. Captain Reeks ordered the engines full astern and attempted to turn away from the rocks, but as the Stella scraped along two rocks, her hull was ripped open. She sank eight minutes later. Four lifeboats were successfully launched, while a fifth capsized. Women and children were ushered off first according to maritime protocol. One stewardess, Mary Ann Rogers, gave up her life jacket and refused a place in a lifeboat to allow others inside. Survivors remarked at the many mariners who helped the passengers (there is a memorial for her still in Southampton), and some who gave up their life vests for the ill-prepared. In all, 86 passengers were killed during the sinking, but also 19 crew members, in all, resulting in 105 fatalities. On board the vessel that day was the famed English opera soprano Greta Williams, who used her voice to comfort the ship’s frightened survivors as they rowed in the deep awaiting some rescuers. A poem by William McGonagall, published just after the shipwreck, contained the lines:

“But the sufferings of the survivors are pitiful to hear, And I think all Christian people for them will drop a tear, Because the rowers of the boats were exhausted with damp and cold; And the heroine of the wreck was Miss Greta Williams, be it told. She remained in as open boat with her fellow-passengers and crew, And sang “O rest in the Lord, and He will come to our rescue”; And for fourteen hours they were rowing on the mighty deep, And when each man was done with his turn he fell asleep.”

Some apparently sat aboard the lifeboats angered at the captain and crew, even voicing complaint about the cold, the loss, and the bitterness of it all. Yet, in the end, most survivors remembered what brought them through the ordeal. It was not mere stamina and energy – it was HOPE from one voice. Miss William’s song rang out repeatedly the source of hope. Survivors recalled those “songs of the Lord” from deep, fog-ridden places that night. They were rescued the next morning, but when they were, very few of them doubted they would be – because they heard the Lord was watching over them throughout the night. The call to “rest in the Lord” was in their ears, then their minds, and finally their hearts. Those who wanted to hurl blame helped no one. Those who sought God and trusted His salvation – helped everyone.

There is a process to leading people from disobedience to a right standard.

It doesn’t include blame or deflection.
It doesn’t include anger.
It includes brokenness.
It is bathed in humility.
It is kept alive by trust in God’s goodness.

Second Chances: “Meet Me at the River” – Ezra 8

Old_People_403359885It was a kindly group of people. They loved God. They had their problems, but what group didn’t? They wanted to see great things happen in their community, but now they were but a few – and the great dreams had all settled down. They once had lofty goals, dreams and visions, but it didn’t happen, and it wasn’t happening. It seemed like “out of thin air” God materialized help for them from another city – simply because He had something He wanted to accomplish. The new infusion of life, help and hope took the old ministry and revitalized it… because God wasn’t finished with that work. I hope that is the way some of the churches we are sending help to feel – but I am not talking about them. This is a story from long ago – recorded in the book now named “Ezra” – which fittingly means “help” in Hebrew. You see, Jerusalem was about to get a new vision from another wave of exiles on the return, because the call of God was being answered.

I have a question: “How does an aging and perhaps declining ministry hit the reset button?” Many people have been in churches that sadly had to answer that! How does a group go back into the mode of excitement and regain joy and vision when they have settled into a pattern that seems to lead only to defeat, disappointment and discouragement?

God has a message from the ancient collection of His Word. The book of Ezra is unique, however, in that it is actually two different pieces of writing put together into one “book”.

• The first six chapters detail the work of Zerubbabel as he returned with people from the Babylonian exile.

• Chapter seven through ten, offered the story of Ezra who came many years after the first group. In fact chapter 6 closes in the year 516 PCE, and chapter seven open after the year 464 BCE, some 60 to 70 years later.

This small scroll of Ezra 7 through 10 gives us the details of two events:

• 7-8 Offers the story of the Return of Ezra;

• 9-10 Offers the story of the Reforms of Ezra after he arrived back in Jerusalem.

Stepping back and looking into this part of the book that comes much later than the first part, we learn something significant from a little story about the journey to Jerusalem…

Key Principle: Though God does not hold us responsible for what we cannot do, He delights when we do what He has called us to do.

Here is the truth: We must resist the temptation to spend our energies doing what God has not called us to do.

I mention this because I live in a time when people are throwing their energies at great political movements trying to save the morality of a fallen nation – but they don’t bring the Gospel to their neighbor and they don’t pray for their leaders… As we face yet another election season…I recognize my responsibility to be a part of the democratic process. I recognize my responsibility to be a community leader, an organizer of positive events that underscore a moral path of life. At the same time, there must be limits even in a ministry — we can only do what we were called to do and maintain our peace. There are too many stirred up brothers and sisters who seem to be trying to do things beyond their call and get us to do things that are beyond our ability.

God offers insight in a simple story from long ago. It begins with a focused group of people on a mission.

This will help us focus first on what they did and what we can do as we serve together for God’s purposes:

First, Ezra understood the need for a people-centered view of the work (8:1-14)

The first fourteen verses are a list of people who headed up the campaign of return in this second “wave”. Ezra recorded:

Ezra 8:1 Now these are the heads of their fathers’ households and the genealogical enrollment of those who went up with me from Babylon in the reign of King Artaxerxes: 2of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush; 3of the sons of Shecaniah who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah and with him 150 males who were in the genealogical list; 4of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah and 200 males with him; 5of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah, the son of Jahaziel and 300 males with him; 6and of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan and 50 males with him; 7and of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah and 70 males with him; 8and of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael and 80 males with him; 9of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel and 218 males with him; 10and of the sons of Bani, Shelomith, the son of Josiphiah and 160 males with him; 11and of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai and 28 males with him; 12and of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan and 110 males with him; 13and of the sons of Adonikam, the last ones, these being their names, Eliphelet, Jeuel and Shemaiah, and 60 males with them; 14and of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and 70 males with them.

As obvious as it sounds, there are many today who forget that teamwork is people work. God’s vision was set forth, and now people needed to get there and get going. The vision didn’t OPPOSE the people – it was FOR the people. Let me say it this way: There are many in ministry who see the goals of the ministry as greater than the people that work in that ministry. The fact is, ministry is about relationship for people by people empowered by Jesus. I love that Ezra took the time to share the names of so many households. I love that he took the time to tell us that they were from genealogical records that could be verified. I do not want to spiritualize the passage, but look at what he says in verse one. Ezra reminds us that he checked out the people before he involve them in the work.

The only way a church can protect itself from the kinds of waves of attacks that are going on in the media today against good churches continues to be to attempt to carefully check out the people that it places in ministry. That means, when people wish to be involved in ministry, they must open themselves to inspection. There is no such thing as moral privacy when you involve yourselves in communal work. We have individual rights, but we forego many of those when we sign on to be a part of community at this level. I am not suggesting that there is no more privacy. I’m suggesting that my sin affects the whole team, and as a result I must expect that others are paying when I am not walking as I should. As a result, even leaders need someone who can “tag them out” from ministry when it is apparent that there is a deep problem that is not being resolved. Ezra took the time to check the people out. Today, we must not allow the work of the ministry to become so large that we forget to keep our eyes on the people of the ministry.

One of the great blessings of ministry is that it is intended to be a team sport. I think of the words shared by Pastor Skidmore: “Have you ever heard of Lieutenant Hirro Onada? He was the last Japanese soldier to surrender after World War II. He was left on the island Lubang in the Philippines in 1944 — along with three other soldiers. They were left with the command to “carry on the mission even if Japan surrenders.” Eventually the others were killed or surrendered. But Onada continued his war alone. Through the years, he ignored messages from loudspeakers announcing Japan’s surrender. Leaflets were dropped in the jungle begging him to surrender so he could return to Japan. During his 29-year private war, he killed at least 30 Philippine nationals. More than half a million dollars were spent trying to locate him and convince him to surrender. Finally, on March 10, 1974, Onada surrendered his rusty sword after receiving a personal command from his former superior officer. His lonely war was finally over. When he returned to Japan as a prematurely aged man of 52, he made this comment: “There was nothing pleasant during those 29 years in the jungle.” (Newsweek, 1974) Well, that was a bit of an understatement. But people can spend long years fighting lonely battles when they are determined to “go it alone.” The Pastor finished with this insight: “People spend years battling secret sins and weaknesses and addictions — when they could end the battle IF they would let other people help them.”

Second, Ezra got the right people together for the work (8:15-20)

Having a people centered work is only going to be truly effective if you have the right people. Ezra knew who he WANTED – but that isn’t always who volunteers. I think it is clear in the text that he was disappointed that the “right guys” didn’t seem quick to step up and volunteer?

Ezra 8:15 Now I assembled them at the river that runs to Ahava, where we camped for three days; and when I observed the people and the priests, I did not find any Levites there.

No matter what team it is that you are ministering with, we all have to admit that there are times when we are discouraged. Discouragement comes when our expectations aren’t met in reality. Sometimes we have to take a step back, even when we are doing what God desires us to do.

The truth is that God understands setbacks and times of limitation. I remember years ago I first encountered this truth when Philip Yancey wrote a selection in his book Disappointment with God about Jesus and way God understands us. Speaking of Jesus, he wrote:

Imagine for a moment becoming a baby again: giving up language and muscle coordination, and the ability to eat solid food and control your bladder. {In the Incarnation story was see] God as a fetus! Or imagine yourself becoming a sea slug – that analogy is probably closer. On that day in Bethlehem, the Maker of All that is took form as helpless, dependent newborn.”

I guess it would be safe to say that God understands disappointment and limiting setbacks, though it’s difficult for me to understand the feeling of leaving the highest place in heaven, to put on the skin of the baby. Jesus knew what it meant to do the hard thing for the right thing.

Ezra thought the problem through, and delayed moving forward to get the right people in the right positions. What a smart move. We read:

Ezra 8:16 So I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, teachers. 17 I sent them to Iddo the leading man at the place Casiphia; and I told them what to say to Iddo and his brothers, the temple servants at the place Casiphia, that is, to bring ministers to us for the house of our God.

Because I’ve been a long-time in leadership I can testify to the reality that delay can be one of the hardest disappointments for a leader. Once we ascertain exactly what God wants us to do in some area, we want to reach out and do it right away. Yet, there are many instances in Scripture, where we find God called upon His people to wait on Him — not to rush ahead and accomplish the task even when He has made it clear that is the task He wants completed.

I am struck by the record that shows how Ezra sent for leadership among the priestly class, but he also sent specifically for teachers. He needed people who could work, but he knew that in order to expand the work he needed people that could teach the work. Shortsighted ministry enables workers. Long-term ministry intentionally raises up teachers to build more workers. I came to this conclusion over the years of study of the text — many a church has failed to raise up leaders behind them, and their great work collapsed as a weight upon aging leaders. Jesus told us to make disciples. Some of those disciples must also be teachers. Others, fall into the last category of the text, those who are simply called ministers for the house of God – but are vital to the work!

Ezra knew he needed people who could do more than build, clean and fix – he needed those who could teach the people of the Holy One of Israel. They needed to know how the Temple was to function and what God said about pleasing Him. Nothing else would do. I cannot pass this moment without offering the words of A.W. Tozer, in “The Divine Conquest”, where he chided us to do this once again – to think about how we could serve God and not make Him serve US:

While few would dare thus to voice their secret feelings, there are millions who have imbibed the notion that they hold in their hands the keys of heaven and hell. The whole content of modern life … contributes to this attitude. Man is made large and God small; How deeply do men err who conceive of God as subject to our human will or as standing respectfully to wait upon our human pleasure. Though He in condescending love may seem to place Himself at our disposal, yet never for the least division of a moment does He abdicate His throne or void His right as Lord of man and nature. He is that Majesty on high. To Him all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein: … heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.” … before Him prophet and Patriarch and saint have knelt in breathless awe and adoration. Our God has now become our servant to wait on our will. “The Lord is my SHEPHERD,” we say, instead of “The LORD is my shepherd,” and the difference is as wide as the world.

Beloved, we must remember that we are called to serve him and He is not called to serve us. Whether we are leaders, teachers, were servants, whatever we do is for Him – His glory and His kingdom. We did not earn our way onto the team, nor do we choose the others that are on it. We request that God would give to us those that are necessary to do the work he is called us to do.

What is so important is that Ezra recognized God’s provision when it arrived. He recorded:

Ezra 8:18 According to the good hand of our God upon us they brought us a man of insight of the sons of Mahli, the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, and his sons and brothers, 18 men; 19 and Hashabiah and Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his brothers and their sons, 20 men; 20 and 220 of the temple servants, whom David and the princes had given for the service of the Levites, all of them designated by name.

Someone has said, “There are more prayer meetings for requests than for celebration.” Why is that? I suspect we often ask for things, hoping that God will answer us, and forgetting to praise Him when He does! I think it’s interesting that Ezra constantly pointed out that the good hand of God was upon him and the people. Note especially what Ezra was thankful for: each of the points of praise were attached to the names of brothers in the Lord.

Mahli was a man of discretion (seh’-kel: prudence, insight). The word denotes someone who is shrewd, disciplined, and loyal. Ezra gave a special note of thanks to God for this man — I suspect any really good leader would have. This was a man who knew when to speak and when not to speak. This was a man who knew how to look at a situation that would cause others to panic and be careful to lead with diligence and confidence. Along with this man of discretion Ezra points out the temple servants were those who belonged to the specific named group or appointed group of King David. Ezra had a big enough project on his hands that he insisted on leadership with a heritage and track record. When God provided the right people Ezra raised his hands in praise.

Third, Ezra called them to get their hearts ready for the work ahead (8:21a)

Ezra 8:21 Then I proclaimed a fast (tsom) there at the river of Ahava,

In order to move people from their busy lives into the work of God, Ezra took the time to separate them from their daily life. Fasting was an outward show of the “time of consecration” to the new work to which they were called. May I say something that must be pointed out here: Brothers and sisters, we are far too often rushing quickly into the world without carefully heeding the need in our own hearts to take the time before the Lord. We need to stop and examine our hearts and prepare more for our mission outside these doors. We too quickly lose vigor when we are not careful about our examination process. Dr. Martin Luther King penned in his book The Strength of Love:

The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” The man was a modern day prophet.

Fourth, Ezra placed his trust in God’s providential power for the success of the whole endeavor (8:21b-23).

He called upon the Lord for the specific needs.

Ezra 8:21b “…that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions.

Look carefully at the subject of his prayer. Ezra wanted God to meet him, lead and guide him and all his people. As a result, he humbled himself along with all the other people and got specific with God about what their needs were. My eyes were drawn to “our little ones”. How desperately they wanted to reach Jerusalem safely with the gold and silver and properties of the temple. How much more desperate they were to make sure that even their children arrived well. Prayer need not be a lofty thing — God answers the heartfelt cry of one who simply calls “Help!”

During the US Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln met with a group of ministers for a prayer breakfast. Lincoln was a man of deep, if at times unorthodox, faith. At one point one of the ministers said, “Mr. President, let us pray that God is on our side”. Lincoln’s response showed far greater insight, “No, gentlemen, let us pray that we are on God’s side.” If we want to know what God wants us to do, then we must first strive to live a life of conformity to Him. ( We must not ask God to bless our vision – but rather that He would give us His.

I think it is also significant that he recognized the weaknesses of their flesh.

Ezra 8:22 For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.

I love the integrity of Ezra that is revealed in his words of shame. Ezra did not think more of himself than he should, but he was rethinking words that he spoke to the king. He wanted God’s name to be elevated, and he wanted to explain the testimony of Who God is and how powerful He is. As a result, he spoke of God’s power before the king. What is striking to me about verse 22, is the candor with which Ezra admits what he had done. To admit shame is to admit human weakness. Many men do not show emotions easily. Still others, because of ego, refuse to admit that they are as weak as all others.

In 1960, Israeli undercover agents orchestrated the daring kidnapping of one of the worst of the Holocaust’s masterminds, Adolf Eichmann. After capturing him in his South American hideout, they transported him to Israel to stand trial. There, prosecutors called a string of former concentration camp prisoners as witnesses. One was a small haggard man named Yehiel Dinur, who had miraculously escaped death in Auschwitz. On his day to testify, Dinur entered the courtroom and stared at the man in the bulletproof glass booth. The man who had murdered Dinur’s friends, personally executed a number of Jews, and presided over the slaughter of millions more. As the eyes of the two men met – victim and murderous tyrant – the courtroom fell silent, filled with the tension of the confrontation. But no one was prepared for what happened next. Yehiel Dinur began to shout and sob, collapsing to the floor. Was he overcome by hatred? By the horrifying memories? By the evil incarnate in Eichmann’s face? No. As he later explained in a riveting “60 Minutes” interview, it was because Eichmann was not the demonic personification of evil that Dinur had expected. Rather, he was an ordinary man, just like anyone else. And in that one instant, Dinur came to a stunning realization that sin and evil are the human condition. ‘I was afraid about myself,” Dinur said. “I saw that I am capable to do this – exactly like he.” (Donnie Martin, illustrations).

Those are the words of a real man – one who came to know himself. He wasn’t a pompous man, filled with righteous indignation about the actions of others – He was a man broken by the sameness of another’s sin.

I think it is also telling that Ezra and the others were not presumptuous with God. Just because they had a call to do something, didn’t mean they didn’t need to be very careful about HOW they completed the vision God gave them. Ezra recorded:

Ezra 8:23 So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter,

Previous fasting wasn’t sufficient for this new call. They were Jews, and they knew fasting. They could have said: “I just finished fasting”. I wonder if some thought yesterday’s sanctification was sufficient for today’s problem. They would have been wrong. The fact is, we must constantly return to the Lord to seek Him. Note that Ezra says they sought Him concerning this matter specifically – to be sure about what He told them to do and how to do it.

Note that Ezra spotted the blessing and empowering of God when it came. He wrote:

Ezra 8:23b…and He listened to our entreaty.

Isn’t the confidence inspiring! Ezra prayed, God answered, Ezra celebrated. I’m not suggesting that Ezra knew that moment but God answered, because the passage is reflective – it recalls the story in a truncated way. I simply make note that nothing escaped the leader when it came to being able to point back to God’s blessings. I wonder if Ezra ever had to be prodded to have more time for testimonies of God’s goodness – but I doubt it. Good leaders celebrate a GOOD GOD often.

Ezra divided tasks for the work (8:24-30) and that is one of the most important and yet difficult tasks for any work. How should it be done? The text offers the steps:

First, he identified the key leaders (8:24)

Ezra 8:24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests, Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and with them ten of their brothers;

Ezra had a choice as to how to proceed with the work. He could have put all of the gold and silver and utensils for the temple together into wagons and surrounded them with all the men. Sometimes the best way to minister is to collect everyone together on a single project. In this case, Ezra thought it safer and wiser to split up the people in teams, and divide up the goods and spoils for the temple amongst them. This meant that there was no single place where bandits could get all of the goods. Yet, Ezra needed trusted man — and indeed leading priests he found them.

Second, Ezra distributed the work (8:25-27)

Ezra 8:25 and I weighed out to them the silver, the gold and the utensils, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes and all Israel present there had offered. 26 Thus I weighed into their hands 650 talents of silver, and silver utensils worth 100 talents, and 100 gold talents, 27and 20 gold bowls worth 1,000 darics, and two utensils of fine shiny bronze, precious as gold.

President Ronald Reagan used to say of the weapons treaties of the US with the former USSR: “Trust, but verify”. Ezra trusted these men, but everything was carefully weighed and checked so that each man could report to Jerusalem with exactly what was given to him. In order for the ministry to restart in Jerusalem, many people had to do what they could do. Each one had to take responsibility for their part of the body. Failure of any one leader to lead properly, or anyone’s servant to betray the others, may have led to disaster, or at least hindered the work significantly. The body has many members — each one must do their part. Yet, each part counts on the other parts!

Third, Ezra charged the workers with the tasks (8:28-29)

Ezra 8:28 Then I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD, and the utensils are holy; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers. 29 “Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leading priests, the Levites and the heads of the fathers’ households of Israel at Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”

I think it’s significant that Ezra reminded them verbally of their commitment to the Lord and to his things. There must be calls to holiness — they must be frequent, they must be strong, they must be convincing. A ministry filled with information, but not characterized by pointed calls for transformation, is cheap ministry. Ezra put them back in front of the work of God and the Master of that work – God Himself. People should feel the awe of God if they are going to understand the weight of fulfilling God’s mission.

Fourth, the Leaders accepted the challenge (8:30).

Ezra 8:30 So the priests and the Levites accepted the weighed out silver and gold and the utensils, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.

The leaders clearly accepted the challenge that was given to them, and took responsibility for their own actions. They understood the objectives, and each one was working toward fulfilling them. Though they traveled separately, each one was working for one great goal understood by all — to honor God by bringing a new team into the Temple, complete with support and utensils.

Fifth, Ezra saw God’s protection in the work (8:31-34)

As each got busy with their tale of the adventure (8:31), Ezra watched like a general at headquarters…

Ezra 8:31 Then we journeyed from the river Ahava on the twelfth of the first month to go to Jerusalem; and the hand of our God was over us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and the ambushes by the way.

The service to the king is always an exciting adventure. No once again that Ezra says the hand of God was over them — he delivered them from traps of the enemy. In the day in which we live we are given armor by God to put on (Ephesians 6), but we must constantly remember that there are more on our team than can be seen whether physical eyes. God is fielding a very large team — and we are part of a very mighty army!

Ezra established a check point, and got to the first goal where he planned to gather the people (8:32-34).

Ezra 8:32 Thus we came to Jerusalem and remained there three days.

I think the only reason Ezra tells us about the arrival to Jerusalem and the three days of rest is to remind us that not everyone arrived together. As each party came in from across the desert, new excitement began to build in Jerusalem. The excitement wasn’t only over the assets that they brought — the gold and silver, but over the people themselves. It is an exciting thing to stand in the ministry where God is assembling a great team. We must remember to rejoice in these days!

Ezra didn’t neglect accountability! They weighed out each arrival’s goods to check the work was completed according to the plan (8:33-34).

Ezra 8:33 On the fourth day the silver and the gold and the utensils were weighed out in the house of our God into the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui. 34 Everything was numbered and weighed, and all the weight was recorded at that time.

Finally the team came together in Jerusalem. Each person was checked, each bag was weighed. The total inventory of accountability was offered by every single person. The Ministry of God was now about to be renewed — the reset button was in sight.

Sixth, the people had opportunity to testify about God’s help in the work (8:35-36)!

The came in and turned their attention to celebrating the journey with the Lord (8:35)

Ezra 8:35 The exiles who had come from the captivity offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 male goats for a sin offering, all as a burnt offering to the LORD.

Gathering together at the temple in Jerusalem, Ezra immediately called for the people to offer burnt offerings (of full dedication) and they wholly dedicated the people to the Lord. They offered sin offerings — remembering that it was not their goodness that brought the team together, nor was it them that made all of the celebration possible. God was on their side, but they would need him daily to be the God of grace to the undeserved team.

They saw God’s hand extend beyond the Temple to the region (8:36)

Ezra 8:36 Then they delivered the king’s edicts to the king’s satraps and to the governors in the provinces beyond the River, and they supported the people and the house of God.

When God is doing a great work people will find out! No fires or bulletins needed to be handed out on street corners to suggest that God was doing something. It started in the hearts of the people, it moved to the heart of the King, it worked its way through the hands and feet of the leaders, and it ended in the ears of lost men! What a great moment to see the “reset button” press effectively. The work was God’s Temple. It was not simply to keep it going, it was to instill new vision, new leadership – new hope in a dying organization that went stale.

To get the vast project completed they needed people. The right one’s didn’t show up immediately, but with urging and time, they were able to field the team. They got the team ready for the work and admitted that if God didn’t show up, they were finished. With organization ready and hearts attuned, the leader divided the tasks among other leaders that were obviously among them. This protected the work by spreading it out to make it harder for the enemy to take it all apart at once. Off they rushed, each into their own part of the work for God’s glory, bounding toward the first major goal – the collection of the materials into the right place. Trusting God and seeing His hand through the adventure, the people re-gathered and gave an account of their part of the work. They celebrated and honored God, recognizing their own sinful inadequacies – and God’s provisions beyond their abilities!

Look at the part of the work they were called to do and could do:

• Plan: call people to the work,
• Wait: Hold when the work was not ready to advance,
• Organize: Collect and choose responsibilities,
• Pray: Recognizing they couldn’t do God’s work in their power.
• Be Accountable: Check one another at intervals.
• Celebrate: Mark what God did every step of the way for them!

Now look at the part of the work they could NOT do:

• Selection: Get the best people in the community to respond (they got who chose to come).

• Guarantee: They could not ensure complete safety nor victory – only that God would be pleased.

Though God does not hold us responsible for what we cannot do, He delights when we do what He has called us to do. We must resist the temptation to spend their energies doing what God has not called us to do.

Don’t forget the prize here… it was an active and vibrant Temple to meet Him daily. It was more time with God! It was intimate, personal relationship with the Creator.

God was delighted. He loves it when we put ourselves in His shadow, and bow to listen to His voice. I watched an IKEA YouTube yesterday that moved my heart. Children were told to make a list to “the three kings” – the Spanish version of the Santa story – for Christmas presents. After that, they were told to make a list of what they wanted FROM THEIR PARENTS. One after the other wrote some version of “time with you, mom and dad”. When the children made their first list, it was filled with toys. When they made the one to their parents, it was time, time, time. Wouldn’t it be great if we wanted that with God?

Following His Footsteps: “Tough Talk about Tenderness” – Luke 17

lombardi-2Anyone who knows anything about the NFL knows the name Vince Lombardi, who took the Green Bay Packers in 1959 and shaped it into the league’s most formidable organization of the 1960s, while he simultaneously fashioned the lives of men that would be a part of the next half century in the history of the sport. On any list of names of the most influential coaches, Lombardi’s name usually appears at the top or near it. He was known as a tireless leader with strenuously exacting standards. It is worth noting that in fifteen seasons of play, his teams never had a losing season. He led the Packers and later the Redskins, before he died of cancer in the autumn of 1970, at the young age of 57. Though that was many years ago, Lombardi still holds the highest playoff winning percentage of all time (.900). He was posthumously inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame, and was universally acclaimed as highly deserving of that honor.

Bart Starr once said that Lombardi “turned men into champions and a rabble into a team”. Here is the thing people don’t say unless you specifically ask them to recall circumstances – it all came at a price. Lombardi pushed his men, expected much, and was known to have a very forceful speaking voice in a locker room. He explained plays to the team in such a way that there was no mistaking of exactly what he wanted. He didn’t mince words and his language wasn’t often appropriate for small school children. Yet, at the same time, he took a special interest in some disadvantaged players, and worked with extra vigor to help them secure a path to their own success. He clearly cared for his players, but he especially cared that there were high standards and absolute fairness on and off the field. By all accounts, he wasn’t a politician and probably learned his motivational speaking at the “General George Patton School of male motivation” – tact wasn’t his best quality.

I do not mention Lombardi for his personal faith (of which I have no knowledge) but rather because he illustrated with his work life the reality that one could be tough for a purpose, and yet tender toward those who had special disadvantages. I imagine that any coach, if he or she wants to transform players, has to find keys to motivating them to give more than they think they can, and yet be encouraged that there is a great purpose behind their talent. Coaches have to be men and women of vision. I suspect the first day Lombardi watched the Packers at practice he wondered if they could ever become a team that could win more than 50% of their regular season games, let alone the Superbowl. Let’s face it: good coaches focus on possibilities and press forward toward them.

If you agree with that assessment, you have to admire another leader who also transformed men – from long before Lombardi – for His toughness in life coaching, even as He offered tender help to the disadvantaged and hurting. I have in mind the greatest life transformer ever to visit the planet – Jesus of Nazareth. Here is the truth the emerges from a look at the Savior in Luke 17…

Key Principle: Jesus was both tough and tender. He showed particular kindness to those who were rejected, hurt and weak – but made clear He detested smugness and stubbornness.

We have been following the “harmonized journey” of Jesus’ life for many lessons, and as we look more carefully at our Savior, we see both aspects of His character revealed more completely – His toughness and His tenderness. In this lesson, we want to examine the interplay between the two character marks as they become plain in His teaching. We will do it by posing five contrasts from the chapter:

First, notice that the tender heart of Jesus toward the young made Him tough on those who thoughtlessly corrupt them (17:1-2).

Luke recorded a teaching Jesus offered to His followers that was more a comment than a fashioned truth. We don’t know what prompted the comment, but Luke remembered…

Luke 17:1 He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.

Whatever the Master saw that day as He traveled, He made clear that “stumbling blocks” would continue to be part of society, though they were terrible. He used the term “inevitable” – the only place in the Gospels that word appears. What
“stumbling blocks” did He speak about?

The term Luke offered was “skándalon” – the word from which we get the term “scandal” – but that is not the best translation of this idea. In fact, the term as used in the sentence at the time was properly “the trigger of a trap” (or the mechanism that caused the closing of a trap on the unsuspecting victim). Lexicons favor a definition like “the means of stumbling” because they more appropriately stress the means by which one is entrapped, i.e. the device used to ensnare them.

Jesus made the point that there will continue to be those who will deliberately bait traps for the innocent in order to ensnare them until the end comes. Human trafficking of young innocents is not a yesteryear phenomenon. The organization Rescue: Freedom provides two year old statistics, which are the newest I could find on the subject, and they note:

• There are an estimated 27 million people in slavery globally (U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2012).
• Globally, there are 4.5 million victims of sex slavery (ILO 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labor).
• Between 100,000-300,000 U.S. children are enslaved in sex trafficking each year (Ernie Allen, President of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).
• In the U.S., the average age of recruitment into sex slavery is 12-14 years old (Polaris Project: Comparison Chart of Primary Sex Trafficking Networks in the U.S.).
• The CIA estimates that 45,000-50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States. Approximately 30,000 trafficked annually from Southeast Asia, 10,000 from Latin America, 4,000 from the Newly Independent States and Eastern Europe, and 1,000 from other regions (O’Neill Richard, A. DCI Exceptional Intelligence Analyst Program.1999).
Approximately 20% of all internet pornography involves children who are victims of human trafficking (National Center for Mission & Exploited Children).

Jesus didn’t normally offer such colorful commentary as “they’d be better off dead” – but in this case that is exactly what He said. The Master made plain that those who deliberately draw in and ensnare the innocent and unsuspecting are a form of low life that will face their just deserts in the end. His tenderness toward the ensnared led Him to offer harsh commentary on the trapper. Make no mistake about it: every pusher who has ever sucked in a son or daughter to their poison, every cultist who has ever tricked and brainwashed a young man or woman, every pornographer who has ever demeaned the beauty of sexuality for a buck – all will be judged by the One Who made plain His disgust at their indifference and uncaring heart. Jesus was tender on the ensnared, but that made Him especially tough on the hunter or the innocent.

In a second teaching, Luke showed the tender heart of Jesus toward the stumbling follower made Him tough on the one who was stubborn about forgiveness (17:3-10).

The record included Jesus still speaking to the disciples…

Luke 17:3 “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus plainly told His followers that the one who did wrong but repented of the wrong and sought to be made right was to be restored, provided they repented of their wrong. This followed a saying on exploitation for a reason. It is very easy to see that if Jesus’ followers are too lenient on forgiveness, it will be easy to take advantage of them. A careful reading of the words of Jesus forces the Bible student to conclude that Jesus told us to be willing to take that chance – because forgiveness was THAT important.

Jesus did not say that everyone was entitled to endless restoration without repentance, but rather that with repentance the restoration had to remain unconditional in the heart of His follower – even if the offender should have known better based on past experiences. There is no way that was or is easy, and the disciples responded…

Luke 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

No one wants, now or then, to be taken advantage of by another person. No one wants to be a “sucker”. Yet, Jesus said we should risk being taken advantage of because we are known as those who will forgive the person who repents. That is hard to hear, and even harder to obey.

The disciples assumed the secret to following this command was the addition of a great “amount of faith” bestowed by God. In other words, they thought something additional needed to be provided by GOD in order for them to take their ego-driven characters and embrace those who were repeat offenders that repent. Jesus told them they were WRONG – God didn’t need to send them anything additional. They had what they needed within already.

First, remember our classroom definition of “faith” is “seeing it the way God says it is”. When I have “faith”, I am walking in trust and belief of God’s record, taking as truth God’s expressed view of the situation. Forgiveness of an offensive but repentant disciple and seemingly endless patience with them was not going to require a special gift from God – but rather the simplicity of “seeing it the way God said it was”. Listen to the words of Jesus…

Luke 17:6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea; and it would obey you.

Don’t get distracted by the way Jesus made His point here. He isn’t interested in having followers do tree removal – that wasn’t the point. If He wanted a grove of mulberry trees in the ocean, He could have put them there. He was being absurd to make a very important point: the tiniest faith could have incredible results. It isn’t simply the AMOUNT of belief that makes us powerful and impacting – it is faith in the right Person or thing. If we believe what God says, even a little bit, that belief becomes incredibly energizing and powerful.

Truth doesn’t get stronger because more people believe it – it simply helps people more effectively when they don’t resist it. Kicking against the right answer not only exhausts the kicker, it can easily deceive them into thinking they are progressing when they are, in fact, expending energy and getting no closer to solving their underlying problems. Exhausted, they end up in the wrong place, sad and often cynical that an answer even exists. Welcome to modernity where the popular is often mistaken as the true. This is the reason that learning to distinguish the truth from contemporary mythology is so vitally important. You don’t need a new amount of power from God – you and I need to trust what God’s Word already says. Even a small amount of applied Biblical knowledge, trust and belief will bear results.

Let me give you a simple example: If you want to be healthy, but you decide that you can eat anything you want as much as you want and never exercise at all – as long as you eat one raw carrot every day before 8 AM – all the belief in the world won’t make that true. If you act on that self-invented truth, under normal conditions you will eventually gain girth and lose health. On the other hand, if you decide that a careful diet and some consistent amounts of exercise will help you be a healthier person, you don’t have to really understand how it all works, you just have to accept it to the point that you are willing to consistently act on it. You don’t need to become a nutritionist, nor do you have to hire a personal trainer – but the more you move into the path of living out the truth, the healthier you can expect to be. It isn’t a sure thing, because in the fallen world we live in, there are other factors that affect your health – but in general the point is the same. The less you resist living the truth, the more powerful the truth becomes in your life. The more you live in the land of your own made-up rules – the less things work out.

This is the fundamental problem in our modern view of things like the family. I recognize that some of our congregation grew up in single parent homes. I recognize that some are raising children in them right now. Yet, in the interest of making that seem less awkward, I will not “normalize” that situation. I want to be clear – God designed biologically, emotionally and spiritually a home to consist, whenever possible, of both a father and a mother for the child. No amount of polling in America will change that truth. The more we resist that and try to make other forms of “family” just as “normal” the longer we will prolong the mythology that will harm children. I am not asking those of you who had one parent to curse the memory of your home. I am not suggesting that those who grow up in single-parent homes are somehow destined to be delinquent. I am ALSO not saying it was the design God intended. It will take greater care, more intense effort to do it in a way it was not designed. It can and should be navigated successfully – but let’s not throw out the clear design of the home so that we can make people feel good about their home. Let’s know the design, and seek the design. When it doesn’t happen – let’s add extra support and care for the child.

I am calling on the men of churches to step out and help single moms with things like their automobile upkeep, physical needs around their property – and especially the care of sons who need guidance and modeling by men. We need to do this with wholesomeness, absolute care in our deportment so that no one is ensnared by sin – but we need to do it. People matter to our Master, and they need to matter to us. It isn’t enough to worship vibrantly, and live Christianity privately – we are part of a city set on a hill that cannot and must not be hidden.

The point here was this: Jesus expected the disciples to recognize that they didn’t need to have a full understanding of all the implications of forgiveness – they needed to trust what He told them to do – and forgive one another when repentance was clear. If they would just do that, God would do powerful things through their life. He also wanted to make clear that what He was telling them to do was not some EXCEPTIONAL THING – but the normal requirement of being His follower. He said:

Luke 17:7 “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 8 “But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and [properly] clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? 9 “He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done [only] that which we ought to have done.'”

In His day, a slave worked all day and then prepared the meal for his or her master before they took in nourishment – and that was expected by both the slave and the master. They both knew the system, and they both recognized the regular expectations. Imagine it is much like what happens when a family with several children in diapers goes on an outing and arrives home after the long drive. Everyone comes in and everyone is famished. The children have slept, the adults have not. Does this mean that the toddlers pitch in to get dinner ready? Not at all! The toddlers plop down on the floor, hungry and start to cry. A tired mom and dad get the children in high chairs and get food in them – the adults can eat later when peace is restored. It is an inadequate illustration, but it may be more understandable, since we don’t have the same situation people did in the time of the Gospel story. Jesus wanted them to know forgiveness, even repeated forgiveness to hard-headed brothers and sisters that keep testing our patience – wasn’t a noble and unusual act – it was the normal expectation of our Master. It may mean we will be taken advantage of, but we have to trust that Jesus will deal with those who make snares in the end.

Third, the tender heart of Jesus toward a hurting stranger made Him tough on those who felt entitled to God’s help (17:11-19).

Apparently the setting had changed, and Jesus was now walking on the way as He came upon ten men who sat along a road leading into the heart of a village begging, for they were lepers. Their leprosy brought them together, though some were apparently Galilean Jews and others were apparently Samaritans (or at least one was!). Luke recorded:

Luke 17:11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine– where are they? 18 “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.

Jesus encountered ten men with needs, but only one that felt the need to return to Him. What makes a person accept such a great gift from God and NOT say thank you? In a word, the answer is “entitlement”. When we believe we DESERVE something, we don’t become teary-eyed at receiving it. When we get a paycheck, we don’t view that as benevolence – because we feel we EARNED the money with our labors.

Look closely at the details of the story. Jesus was Jerusalem bound, heading south on the dividing road between Jewish and Samaritan territory. On the edge of the village were lepers who called out to Him for mercy. Jesus didn’t stop. He didn’t touch them. He didn’t turn and preach or even promise them healing. Jesus simply just replied: “Go and show yourself to the priests.” That is what they WOULD do if they were healed, but they weren’t healed yet. He told them to move BEFORE any healing took place. They got up, probably a bit puzzled, but thought… “Well, why not? We can always say that crazy teacher from Nazareth told us to do it!” Off they went… The text doesn’t say which man noticed first, but AS THEY WERE GOING the leprosy began to withdraw its devastating effects from their skin, and they were made whole. Nine continued to the priests, but one just couldn’t contain himself. He couldn’t go on and walk further from the One Who brought him healing. He burst into praise and returned to Jesus. Can you imagine why?

The Samaritan didn’t DREAM that God would heal him. He didn’t FEEL worthy! He didn’t FEEL accepted. He didn’t believe he was ENTITLED to get from God what God was more than willing to give him. I believe Luke placed this story after the last one about repeated forgiveness of brothers for a reason… people who are overwhelmed with God’s love offer God’s love. People who are stunned by the mercy of God, find it easier to see others through eyes of mercy. Yet, people who believe they are worth more than others, who feel “entitled” to the good life, have little patience with those who stumble about offensively with need for more love and more forgiveness daily.

Entitlement kills love. It kills grace. It crushes mercy. It severs sensitivity like LEPROSY. Nine guys lost their leprosy, but they never got sensitivity – they just felt like they got what others had – health – and that was their right. One man got back sensitive skin and a heart filled with praise, love and wonder. I submit to you that only one man was truly healed that day – the others simply got a body renewed. Jesus made the point that it was worth healing the group, to see the wonder in one restored worshipper. Wouldn’t you have loved to hear the sound of this man’s praise? Was there ever a song sung with more passion, more brokenness and more wonder? I doubt it.

A fourth short remembrance showed that the tender heart of Jesus toward needy made Him tough on those who saw power as more important than people (17:20-21).

Luke told it this way:

Luke 17:20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here [it is]!’ or, ‘There [it is]!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

The short clip from Jesus’ ministry began with a conversation Jesus had with some Pharisees. They wanted to see His “prophecy chart” and compare notes on when the glorious Kingdom of God was going to make them important in the story of history. They wanted to know what was next, what to look for… all the while hurting people were being neglected around them. They wanted to debate theology rather than feed hungry souls. They wanted to air out their theories rather than dirty their hands in the service of God. Jesus wanted them to get their head out of their scrolls and look around. He wanted them to let the Scripture PUSH THEM to a life that mattered, not let it become an artifact that gobbled up their time in endless projections and calculations. Let me be clear: I am a Bible teacher, and I believe knowing the text is the key to understanding God’s heart. I don’t want sloppy Bible study, and I demand that my students take the work seriously – in the study of every part of the Word. At the same time – the Word and its understanding is a tool, a means to an end. The end is relationship with God – not knowledge of a set of books. Yes, they are God’s Word. Yes, they are HOLY. Yes, they offer the key to answers. Yet, in the end, in HIM is life. The Word gets me to Him, but HIS ARMS are the destination for which I must long. The bottom line is this: Prophecy is not more important than people. Study should lead me to compassion, to witness bearing, to loving – or there is something wrong with my study. I want to deliberately encourage study of the Word that leads to a what Tozer called “a mighty longing after God”.

Finally, the string of stories in the chapter end with how the tender heart of Jesus toward those who would long for His return made Him tough on those who wanted to “talk theory” about the coming day of judgment (17:3-10).

Because our study of the Word should lead us back to people, gathering them to the Savior, the cold-hearted study of the Pharisees prompted Jesus to explain an important truth to His men. Luke wrote:

Luke 17:22 And He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.

The Pharisees anticipated the Kingdom, but not the Tribulation that would unfold on the way to the Kingdom. They anticipated the special nature of the Jewish people, but overlooked the special judgment they would face in the days leading up to that moment. Prophets had promised it, but they didn’t take it as seriously as they should have. Jesus told His followers there would be days ahead that were painful, and they would long to have the Kingdom arrive. He went on:

Luke 17:23 “They will say to you, ‘Look there! Look here!’ Do not go away, and do not run after [them].

Hearkening back to the theme of entrapment earlier in the passage, Jesus said that His people will become desperate in the days ahead, and be tempted to be drawn out of hiding to chase after promises of peace and Kingdom. The Master made it clear: Don’t go. Then He added:

Luke 17:24 “For just like the lightning, when it flashes out of one part of the sky, shines to the other part of the sky, so will the Son of Man be in His day.

The cryptic reference was to say something quite simple: When it is really ME, it will be as obvious as the lightning across the sky. Jesus doesn’t plan on a quiet “manger entrance” next time He comes to stand before the Jewish people… Jesus went on:

Luke 17:25 “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

Jesus made the point that first came rejection, then personal suffering – and only later Kingdom rule…

Luke 17:26 “And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: 27 they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

This isn’t a reference to a rapture of the church. Look closely at the metaphor. Jesus said that like those TAKEN in the days of Noah (that is KILLED) while they were not ready, so will His coming to His people be. People will be killed, but a few will be preserved as it was in the ark. He made the same point in the story of Lot:

Luke 17:28 “It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all.

His warning was straightforward – most people won’t be ready or watching…

Luke 17:30 “It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

Those who are watching, those who are regarding this warning of Jesus know what when trouble comes, it will be a sign that the return of the King is drawing near, and they must hide and wait. People who obey will make it to the cave. People who don’t will end up like a salt pillar. He said:

Luke 17:31 “On that day, the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house must not go down to take them out; and likewise the one who is in the field must not turn back. 32 “Remember Lot’s wife. 33 “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses [his life] will preserve it. 34 “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. 35 “There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. 36 [“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.]” 37 And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body [is], there also the vultures will be gathered.”

Jesus ended the story with a simple: “Watch the vultures, that is where the bodies are!” If you pay attention to the signs, you will see where they point. For Jesus, these weren’t theories or stories. Every person crushed in judgment wounded Him. He wasn’t hungry to judge, He was hungry to save. He warned. He cautioned – because He doesn’t WANT people to ignore the troubles that are ahead – He wants them to recognize the days for what they are – signs of the end.

Jesus was both tough and tender. He showed particular kindness to those who were rejected, hurt and weak – but made clear He detested smugness and stubbornness.

Because you know that is true when looking at this whole set of stories, should we not look at our days carefully and measure the tenderness of our hearts more carefully?

Pastor Jimmie Hale wrote: “During a terrible storm at sea that threatened every moment to carry the ship to the bottom, one of the ship’s crew was doing something on the deck when a great sea struck the ship and went fairly over the deck, striking this man with great force, disabling him and carrying him into the mad waters. Although he was a good swimmer, he was so disabled that he could only keep above water. They saw him lifting up his imploring hands through the white foam, signifying his desire for help. But the Captain said, “Don’t lower a boat, for no small boat can live in this sea, in this terrific storm. We cannot save the man. The most we can do is to save the ship.” The vessel was bearing farther and farther from the helpless man. Once more they saw his imploring hands come up among the white caps further off, which moved all hearts that witnessed it. Still the Captain said a small boat must not be lowered, as it could not live a moment among these wild billows. But one man who was an expert swimmer, was so moved by the imploring signals of the drowning man, that he threw off his loose garments, saying: “I will save that man, or die with him.” So plunging into the surging deep, he struggled so bravely with the mad waters, that he reached the poor man just as his strength had gone; he had given up and was filling with water, and sinking down unconscious. He grasped him, and strange to tell, he brought him so near the ship that a small boat was lowered, and both men were taken up and laid down upon the deck. The one that had been swept overboard, entirely unconscious and his deliverer nearly so. Appliances were used and both were brought to consciousness. As soon as the rescued man opened his eyes and found he was not in the ocean, his first words were: “Who saved me?” He was pointed to his deliverer still lying on the deck in his wet clothes. He crept to his deliverer, and putting his arms around his feet, and in the most tender and heart moving tone of voice cried out: “I’m your servant, I’m your servant.” He felt that he could never do enough for him. Let me ask all who read this incident, would you not put your arms about the bleeding feet of your great Deliverer and say from a full heart: “Jesus, I’m your servant, I’m your servant. Ask anything of me, Jesus, and I will do it the best I can.” (From a sermon by Jimmy Haile, My Father’s Business, 9/29/2011).

When God Looks Mean – My Youth Conference Speaker Notes

angry-god1Many students are finding it difficult today to represent Jesus in a loving way on campus, when their faith is being increasingly framed as “hostile” to those who identify themselves as “gay”. Christians don’t want to be unkind, but they don’t want to surrender their Bible to popular review, either. Add to that, the compounding influence of misquoted Scriptures by both those who think they understand the Bible in its context, and those who have no interest in fairly portraying it… and flawed Bible materials flood the internet for any who will look for them. The result can be a confused teen who desires to live a life of passionate surrender to Jesus Christ – but is feeling beat down and doesn’t want to come off as mean spirited at all.

Some guidance may help. I want to offer three things that may sort out some of the issue for you:

• First, I will seek to briefly pose the “clashing world view” problem that all of us are facing as the moral climate of our nation changes – I want to explore specifically “Why God looks mean” to an unregenerate world. The critique of our faith from the school classroom to any discussion on Facebook or comment on YouTube is obvious and unavoidable –a collision Christians cannot elude in the modern world without leaving civilization and moving to a desert monastery.

• Second, I intend to address some sample cases of: “When God Looks Mean” in the Bible that are often cited by people as examples of the “mean God of the Bible”. I want to offer a few thoughts and a bit of Bible context to each.

• Finally, I want to offer specific action steps to help Christians address this  argument – offering practical ideas as to how to live in an environment increasingly hostile to the Biblical world view – and still have love for lost people and a passion to walk with God.

Guard your heart

First, a warning is in order. To begin with, it is essential that we recognize the now open attack on the Bible without losing our understanding heart for lost people. We have to recognize the reality that when we uphold a Biblical standard some will feel we are personally attacking WHO THEY FEEL THEY ARE. When we read of a standard of behavior in the Bible, our same sex attracted friend may think that we are speaking words of hate, when that isn’t what we are saying at all.

Biblically speaking, their feelings started with a lie – that “I was BORN a certain way” and that justifies behaviors that I choose to engage in. That isn’t entirely false – the Bible agrees that all of us were born BROKEN, and it agrees that my desires are strong within me. Yet, the ancient text goes on to explain that my choices, apart from the moral parameters of the Word, will not lead me to true and lasting fulfillment. The Bible says my heart is not the barometer of TRUTH and RIGHT – no matter how moral I feel I am or who I feel attracted to sensually. The idea that man is a sinner is at the foundation of our Christian message. That idea has been muted and changed in the modern world to blame SOCIETY and ENVIRONMENT for the “ruining” of “innocent” people. When man isn’t viewed as essentially depraved, too much faith is placed in his ability to act in a “good” or “moral” way.

I am continually amazed at the inability of thinking people to grasp the basic Biblical notion that evil dwells powerfully within us – even in the “good people” of our community. I know of no one who does not have the capacity to do incredible harm, no matter how long they have lived on the planet. Even the most pious among us, if they tell the truth, will note moments of a most vile thought that pops up inside and must be forced back down to the pit from which it came. Demonizing people because of attraction isn’t the point – telling men and women they are all broken is. That is in the heart and soul of the Christian message. I am not condemning a same sex attracted person more or less than I am condemning any other person. From the standpoint of the Bible, my friend’s main problem isn’t being gay – it is being lost – separated from a holy God. I wasn’t attracted to the same sex, but I was every bit as lost. I needed a bridge to God, and so do they – but that message is offensive. The Cross offends – the Bible declares that it will, so I need not be surprised.

What that means is that I don’t want my heart to be angered by the attacks, but to love people in spite of the sniping they will do at me and at my faith. I want to recognize that THEY feel attacked by the Bible – as I did when I wanted to live life on my terms. I am a lifelong, card carrying member of the fallen club – but Jesus saved me. He did so, not because I am good, but because I am not. I was drowning – and that is the only kind of person the lifeguard makes the effort to swim out and rescue.

Think clearly

Let me place two world views in contrast. If I believe I was born broken – a sinner – as God’s Word says it… then I cannot trust how I was born and any desires that come from that state as the absolute rule of right and wrong.

On the other hand, in a world that rejects the total depravity of man, they will press to find scientists to offer evidence that people are “born with certain desires” so that they can ingrain that lack of acceptance of a behavior is like hating a race – standards of behavior, then, form a sort of “bigotry”. One problem is the premise: Men and women are basically born good and their instincts reliably determine proper moral standards. That is modern thinking, but it isn’t Christian thinking – because it is built on a premise the Bible calls “false”.

A second problem with making sexual behavior choices equivalent to race is this: Being a person of color is not a choice of any actions the individual engaged – it is a statement of identity. Being a person with the DESIRE to behave in any certain way is NOT THE SAME THING. All of us have desires that have the potential to lead us in harmful ways. To license behavior as equal to a racial statement may look like a “civil right” – but it is constructed on a morally relative premise. The fact is, whether I feel a desire or not is not the issue – morality is about chosen actions. I can’t choose to be another race today than the one that I “am”, but I can choose not to exercise a desire sexually – no matter what I desire to do. Race and chosen behavior cannot be logically lumped together. All races must have equal rights in a moral environment – but not all preferences, feelings or longings need to be accepted by a community as equally valid or morally correct to avoid incivility.

Believers aren’t saying we don’t recognize the value of a person who feels attracted to the same sex– because the Bible forbids people to demean or devalue other people. As the Creator, God holds the sole right to judge man’s intrinsic value. Every person ever made, according to the Bible, was made by GOD, and on that basis alone has great worth – no matter whether they love God and agree with me, or don’t believe in God and hate me. At the same time, the Bible constantly addresses the BEHAVIOR of people – choices they make to DO THINGS. If God offered a message of condemnation to someone, it was always framed from His knowledge and for His purposes – not those of His followers. I am called to love people, but not to bend morality to ever changing popular sentiment. For a Christian, morality isn’t democratically determined – it is God revealed.

Christianity teaches that God is God and I am not. I am the clay; He is the Potter. In the end, that makes His Word more important than my feelings and His glory more important than my comfort.

That won’t matter to my friends who care nothing of God or the Bible, but it should stand uncontested among people who recognize Jesus is Lord. Believers don’t make our own rules. Maybe an example will help…

An Absurd Illustration

Let’s look at the world, for a moment, as a godless man or woman who has decided that how they feel is the standard of right and wrong. Let’s imagine that we have dismissed a Sovereign Creator, and replaced Him with ourselves as the standard of morality and truth. Now let’s apply that thinking to a cause we have decided to be against.

I have chosen GRAVITY. I am hereby announcing that I am against GRAVITY. I feel it may be seen by some as the norm, but we have been able, with extreme effort, to break it’s strangle hold on our lives. We can fly, albeit with a propulsion system. We can even blast off and find places where weightlessness and gravity are not an issue. That proves that gravity is not universal, and therefore is a made up standard… so here’s what I have decided:

• First, I don’t think gravity is good, and I think that those who think it is don’t understand how it limits us. I call gravity EVIL, and people who accept that it is something from some sort of “god” are small-minded, and don’t see the benefits of our newfound “freedom”.

• Second, I have formed groups across America, and even around the world that have committed to stand with me and “take a stand for atmospheric and magnetic freedom”. I pose my message in such a way as to make those who disagree with me look like THEY are negative and restrictive, while I am for FREEDOM and MAGNETIC EQUALITY. If you try to get in the way of our message, we will hack your websites, protest your businesses and demean you with open vulgarity, all for the sake of “freedom”. Of course, our freedom to believe is more important that your freedom to disagree. We frame the problem as though YOU are against freedom, while we try to limit what you can say about our position.

• Third, we have begun legislation to mandate all people to believe the limitations of gravity are morally wrong, and are going to forbid anyone from teaching that gravity is good. They are freedom haters. If they think gravity was created by a “god”, they are religious bigots, and we won’t allow bigotry (that is, unless it supports our position).

• Fourth, we will embed in one television show after another the notion that gravity is evil and freedom from it is good. Comedians will make fun of anyone who believes that gravity is a good thing, while we make one movie after another highlighting the “freedom of weightlessness”. Any celebrity who does not agree with us will be attacked relentlessly and pushed aside – they are freedom killers and bigots and they don’t deserve to be paid entertainers.

• Fifth, when people accept our premise and fling themselves from high places destroying their lives, we will make sure to bury any data that doesn’t support our freedom. Medical data, insurance and economic impact data will all be set aside in service to our freedom. Anyone who points out the drag on our economy and the dangers medically will be castigated and ridiculed as a freedom hater.

Now, come back to reality.

Look at the premise. It is based on the idea that truth is formed by our opinion – not by an Intelligent and Personal Creator and His revealed truths in His Word. Let’s flip the gravity problem over:

• Let’s first assume there is a Sovereign God who created all things in the world, and in Whom all things consist.

• Let’s further stipulate that this Creator has set rules about how He wants His created beings to operate, and He has made GRAVITY as part of a protective covering and system that pleases Him.

• Let’s assume thirdly, that He has made known His deliberate love for us, and the intention that we would follow Him and know TRUE FREEDOM. We are to do so accepting His rule of His universe.

• Finally, let’s listen to His Word as it says that even our lives, and our freedoms are not our own. We were redeemed – bought with a price. We belong to Him. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus faced Satan and offered the words: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word of God.” He made the simple point that it is God’s Word – not man’s hunger – that is supreme. What a statement! Jesus literally said that what was more important than what He wanted at that moment (something to eat and drink) was subservient to the Word of God. That is Christian thinking put succinctly and powerfully. Christian thinking is thinking that recognizes His Word moves me to place second my desires.

Step back for a moment. Can you understand why someone who doesn’t believe in the Creator cannot accept moral constraints on their behavior, but rather views them as something created by other people and designed to limit their freedom?

Here is how God revealed what you see happening around you:

Romans 1:18 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Romans One Follows the Seven Steps from Light to Darkness:

1. Don’t take God and His Word seriously. God became agitated and revealed our foolishness because we: 1) increasingly took him less seriously; 2) acted in injustice toward others and did not correct it; 3) deliberately held back on the truths we knew about unrighteous and unjust activities. (1:18)

Romans 1:18-32 “For the wrath (or-gay’: anger, movement or agitation of the soul) of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (as-eb’-i-ah: want of reverence towards God, impiety, ungodliness) and unrighteousness (ad-ee-kee’-ah: injustice, a deed violating law and justice, act of unrighteousness of men) who suppress (kat-ekh’-o: to hold back, to restrain, hinder the course or progress of) the truth in unrighteousness,

2. Blame God for making thing so unclear and hiding from us – even when you know it isn’t true! We attempted to make it God’s fault that He was not clear, but we knew Who He is, and no such excuse is or was valid (1:19-20).

Romans 1:19 because that which is known about God is evident (fan-er-os’: apparent, manifest, plainly recognized) within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

3. Dismiss serving God and actively take His place as the Lord of our desires. Our self-willed nature, our desire to control everything and be responsible to no other drove us to displace God and any corollary truths, and left us empty, uncertain about everything and covered in darkness (1:21).

Romans 1:21 For even though they knew (ghin-oce’-ko: to learn to know, come to know, to perceive) God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (dox-ad’-zo: to think, suppose, be of opinion to offer praise, to honor), but they became futile (mat-ah-yo’-o: to make empty, vain, foolish from mat’-ah-yos: devoid of force, as a result useless) in their speculations (dee-al-og-is-mos’: the thinking of a man deliberating with himself – inward reasoning; deliberating, questioning about what is true), and their foolish heart was darkened (skot-id-zo: to cover with darkness, as heavenly bodies as deprived of light).

4. Find experts that will espouse the truth you made up. We became experts and followed experts that acted like fools, creating an alternate “truth” that celebrated the created things and drew from “natural observation” (1:22-23).

Romans 1:22 Professing to be wise (sophos:experts) , they became fools (mo-rah’-ee-no: to be foolish, to act foolishly), 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

5. Allow any practice that matches what people want, no matter how costly to the society and how perverted it once seemed. Fully committed to divesting ourselves of truth and of any God that we should worship or serve, in judgment God turned custody of us over to the prevailing animal instincts of our bodies that strongly pressed us to do things before thought to be degrading and insulting (1:24-25).

Romans 1: 24 Therefore God gave them over (par-ad-id’-o-mee: to give into the hands (of another); to give over into (one’s) power or use; to deliver up one to custody, to be judged) in the lusts (ep-ee-thoo-mee’-ah: desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden) of their hearts to impurity (ak-ath-ar-see’-ah: uncleanness in physical or moral sense), so that their bodies would be dishonored (at-im-ad’-zo: to dishonour, insult, treat with contempt whether in word, deed or thought) among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

6. Create one golden rule: Do what feels good to you – not what makes sense for society or fits what has been in the past. Once our enlightened and unrestrained selves denied the truths that held us from unbridled self-centered behaviors that we were not designed for, we became subject to disgraceful fallen passions – women no longer seeking men; men now deriving sensual pleasures from other men – an error that is paying due dividends in many of their bodies (1:26-27).

Romans 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading (at-ee-mee’-ah: disgrace) passions (path’-os: passionate deeds); for their women exchanged the natural (foo-see-kos’: inborn; agreeable to nature; governed by the instincts of nature) function for that which is unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

7. Open the flood gates as the values of the society plunge into darkness. Caught in this lie, they did not seek the God of the Bible, but He turned custody of their minds to base and self centered thoughts and unleashed the restraining influences across society that kept “decency” in place (1:28-32).

Romans 1: 28 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, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 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.” NASB

Let’s summarize what we have seen with just two thoughts:

• Our feelings about gravity does not change the fact that gravity does exist, and flinging ourselves and our children into the air is ultimately dangerous and destructive. That will still be true even if people say it isn’t.

• Even the most conservative among us would not argue that there are times we can avert gravity within obedient principles of God – but ignoring God’s rules is morally wrong if God communicated those rules – and the Bible doesn’t “skimp” on details about morality.

Remember this: in a conflict between pagan thinking and godly thinking – pagans will chop away at God’s Word and eventually frame the God of the Bible as both limiting and morally evil. Let me say it this way:

“When WRONG is licensed as RIGHT in a society, in very short order RIGHT will be outlawed as WRONG.”

We are facing three problems, then, as it relates to the MEAN GOD:

First, America has another god, the “Santa god” and the God of the Bible looks mean when set next to the Santa god. Our God does what we want, blesses us, and expects no obedience that offends whatever we happen to feel strongly about right now. Morality is like nailing jello to a wall – it is slick, changing and never certain. What is wrong today, might be a civil right tomorrow.

Second, we have deconstructed truth and exalted feelings in our culture. We have come to believe that our feelings are the most important faculty for decision making in areas of right and wrong. “How can it be wrong if it feels so right?” Seriously?

Third, the Bible is undergoing critical attack of the modern algorithms that make our arguments look antiquated and falsified. Google is not a friend to the Bible because the best articles on the Word were written long ago – while the “trending” articles of today are written to free our culture from the restraints of things like the Bible.

Five Examples from the Bible

Let me offer just five quick selections from the Bible as examples of the places where God looks mean to the average American non-believer:

Job and the problem of modern arrogance: Sometimes God is working on a level that far exceeds our ability to understand the whole problem, let alone the answer. Yet, we have been trained to believe that because technology is advancing, we are actually smarter, and can grasp everything from origins to destiny.

Most any believer knows the story of Job. In the opening chapters he was a good man doing right things, but Satan was given permission to wreak havoc in his life and reduce him to a boil infested pile of dirty humanity scraping his skin while sitting in ashes. He was made pathetic. Most of the book recorded a series of three discussions between three companions and Job. Three debates are 1) Job 4:1-14:22 First Debate; 2) Job 15:1-21:34 Second Debate; 3) Job 22:1-26:14 Third Debate (incomplete – missing Zophar!). Throughout, Job’s spoke on his own defense (Job 9-10; 12-14; 16-17; 19; 20-21; 23-24; 26-31). Finally a young servant named Elihu weighed in (Job 32-37). At that point God stepped in and revealed the truth (Job 38:1-39:30). The end of the book is the key to understanding a God who looked mean enough to let a faithful man get beat up by Satan. God’s answer: You wouldn’t understand what I am doing, because you don’t understand enough to frame even the question properly.

When we believe we know what we need to know to understand the boundaries God places on our behaviors and the results of our temporal efforts, we betray our arrogant spirit within.

Genesis 6 and the problem of evaluation: Sometimes what looks like cruelty is actually a saving work of God.

Genesis 5 contains a selected genealogy that offers important clues about what God was about to do among men. The names: Adam – Seth – Enosh – Kenan – Mahalalel – Jared – Enoch – Methusaleh – Lamech –Noah when strung together offer a Hebrew sentence. Translate all ten names and the sentence reads as follows: “Man (was) appointed mortal (and) sorrowful. The blessed God He shall come down. With the commencement by His death He shall bring the despairing comfort.”

Why a flood? There appears on the scene a group referred to as the “sons of God” (bene Elohim: sons of the strong ones). Various understandings have been offered about who these are, but in my view the oldest understanding still makes the most sense. In the same way that the enemy used the body of a serpent in the Garden of Eden, the evil spirit hoards of the enemy began impregnating beautiful women of the human line for the purpose of destroying God’s plan to redeem mankind through a woman, as revealed in Genesis 3:15. When people were spread out and didn’t all live together and know each other, the enemy devised a plot to destroy the blood lines. They began to take the women as they chose, a violation of their own place of habitation in the spiritual dwelling. Satan did it imitating an animal, and his followers did it embodying the human form, at least in respect to sexual characteristics. The flood killed off an infected race, and saved humanity by eliminating the compromised ones. It wasn’t cruel, it was necessary to save us!

1 Samuel 15 (Saul) and the problem of perspective: Sometimes the test of obedience has far bigger implications than we can recognize at the time we are taking it. Our window may be too small and our ability to excuse ourselves from the standard too large.

Saul killed the people as instructed, but did not kill Agag the tribal chief, nor the best of his animals (15:8). Little did Saul know that the enemy of the people of God would use this time to revive the battle between God and Satan in the people. Agag evidently used the time in captivity to procreate and leave a line on the earth that would come back to haunt Israel in the future (Esther 3:1). The delayed obedience nearly cost Israel elimination in the end (15:8-9). Not following instructions that looked mean nearly cost the Hebrew people their future, and the world their Redeemer.

Ruth (Naomi) and our problem of poor judgment: Sometimes the problem is that we only see a small slice of the truth – but we are ready to judge a God that is too large for us to understand.

God took Elimelech and Naomi from their farm by a drought, then took Mahlon and Chilion (“wasting” and “puny”) in death. Returned to Bethlehem with Ruth the Moabitess, Noami (“my sweetness”) felt God dealt bitterly with her. Yet, the emptying of her hands led to the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, which led to King David…whose line led to King Jesus. Naomi didn’t live long enough to get the full picture of what her experiences were FOR, but God was at work!

1 Samuel 1-3 (Hannah) and the problem of mismatched timing: Sometimes what we long for is right, but mistimed for God’s purposes.

All Hannah wanted was a child, and she wept before God. He wasn’t saying, “No!” but rather was saying, “Wait!” It was a matter of timing, not cruelty. Samuel was born at the perfect time for the story of Eli, Hophni and Phineas – as well as for his hurting nation. God knows timing issues we cannot comprehend.

The Crucifixion and the problem of replacement: The meanest God could ever look to a pagan mind can be seen in God wanting to KILL His Son to “make a sacrifice”. What kind of God would be so cold as to kill a child of His – even if it was to help others. Such a god is cruel, and either morally clueless – because He doesn’t have the love of a Father, or tiny – because He couldn’t find another way to save men. This is a prime example of modern thinking: God is subject to my sense of morality, and follows rules that suit me.

I want you to recall that Philippians 2 calls a believer to BE LIKE CHRIST, Who surrendered even His life to His Father’s will. It didn’t matter what Jesus wanted – He wanted to please His Father MORE.

I don’t want to seem indifferent, but in light of how Christians are called to live: “What difference does it make “what you feel attracted to” if it conflicts with the Word of God?” Why would I spend my time trying to carefully dissect and discern my feelings instead of simply asking what the Master has said will please Him? Is not greater sacrifice the platform for greater joy in the time of reward? Are we not told to be like Jesus Who surrendered His desires, blessings and comforts to serve His Father’s end? With that in mind…Does not God have the right to call you to celibacy if he chooses? Can He not call you to childlessness – regardless of what you feel you desire? When did God give up being in charge of His own plan? Self-centered Christianity isn’t Christianity at all – it is a religion cloaked immature selfishness – and we need to see it for the bankruptcy it is.

My point is that it is ONE THING for a pagan to reject denying their desires for a God they do not know and love – but quite another for a Christian to do so.

Five Practical Steps to Seeing God’s Work and Person Correctly:

Break the World Mold: Learn not to trust my sensual faculties of feeling and experience. Learn the pattern of prayer Jesus showed us in John 18.

Romans 12:1-2 warns believers that they are being pressed into the mold of the world, and that their mind can and must be renewed by the transformation of the Spirit through the Word. John 18 offers the pattern of surrender in prayer in the illustration of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane – tell God what we want, then tell God we want whatever He wants.

Know the Word – it will instruct you on the character of God. We will always need to trust the character of God – especially when we cannot understand the actions of God.

The paganization of education has corrupted the modern mind at its core. Instead of using God’s Word as the foundation of truth – many have deliberately replaced the truth with unending questions and bold assertions that such truths do not really exist. As we quadruple our social services budgets and clog the system with an unending number of dysfunctional people, we will see the error of that way. People cannot get life together when they don’t have a truth foundation to put it on. When any nation is taught to focus on fulfilling their desires without the balancing truth of taking joy from wholly serving their Creator – they lose their way.

Reshape my expectation: Life isn’t FOR me, but for me to serve Him! When Satan tempted Jesus in Matthew 4, he didn’t try to change WHO Jesus was, but rather tried to focus Jesus on Himself and His needs rather than on His Father – for Whom the whole mission was conceived. Jesus was here for His Father’s joy – and focus on Who He is was a distraction from that chief end. Satan is a master at pulling our eyes from the MOST IMPORTANT to the LESSER THINGS – and once our eyes are following his prompting, he will pull our attention into rebellion. Jesus would have none of it. Even as the Eternal Son of God – He knew His call was to serve His Father, and keep His attention on that as His chief joy.

I wonder how many believers have been trained to think this way. Have we really instilled in those we disciple that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him in the process? The message of modern Christianity often sounds like the tempter’s voice: “Come to Jesus and YOU will find fulfillment and happiness.” Even though the words are true, can we not see that they beckon us to get Jesus for our own purposes – and not to surrender our lives to HIS? We must be careful about this, for how we motivate people will show up later in the discipleship process.

Don’t expect a self-oriented world to understand the first three – they don’t live for the same purposes as a real Christian. They don’t get you – but that doesn’t mean you are wrong!

We shouldn’t be surprised when the world opposes us. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 1 John 3 reminds: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.”

Don’t accept false Christianity as legitimate – live distinctly.

I strongly believe we are living in a day of delusion -even within the community of the Christian faith. The foundation for many is the flawed foundational idea that God’s chief interest is their happiness (not holiness). Because of that, anything that would curtail their ability to express their inner desires and feelings could not be commanded by this “reshaped” god they now follow. If they feel they were “made with certain desires”, they cannot imagine a god that would tell them to deny their feelings – because their true god is their appetite. We live in a time where even believers have been subtly convinced that the center of the universe is how they feel, not Who they serve – and that separates the modern church from the message of its past.

Jesus made clear to Satan at the temptation the issue wasn’t simply what we DO, but for WHOSE GLORY we do it (Mt. 4:7). A man who lives with the chief goal of making himself happy doesn’t live for God’s glory… period. When I live for my Master, I can and WILL enjoy life – but that cannot become the goal or I am changing the essential message and purpose of my faith.

Stop for a moment and see if you can recognize one of the great issues of our day at this point in our study. For many in the modern church, personal experience too often dictates the determination of truth. If you are younger than 30 years of age, there are two critical lies that have been subtly introduced into many serious discussions of moral behavior. They have often been introduced by educators and further reinforced by modern entertainers.

• First is the idea that moral premises can be decided on the basis of your personal feelings alone.

• Second is the notion that your life experience is the best guide for truth. True Christian thinking, i.e. Biblical thinking stands opposed to both ideas.

To the first, a Christian acknowledges that how I feel about things needs to be subjected to how GOD feels about them, and that is clear only when I understand what the Bible truly says about the issue at the center of my decision. I cannot be “taking up a cross daily and following Jesus” while openly opposing God’s right to set the standard of behavior for His Creation.

To the second, followers of Jesus must reckon that our grasp of experience is grossly limited because we only perceive PART of what is truly happening. We are passing through an experience that we will only truly understand much later.

Here is the key: Decisions about truth and reckoning of moral behavior are not reliably decided based on feeling and experience apart from the Biblical record. Such standards of behavior are not Christian, they are pagan, ungodly and strongly applauded by a fallen world. When the whole fallen world is for your “boldly tolerant” decision, you should not be impressed. Open your Bible, therein is the standard for the follower of Jesus.

The fact is that Bible believers, when living Biblically, confound the modern way of thinking because they can both love the person they see as living in an immoral way and yet reject their life behavior as wrong. I don’t hate people who oppose the Biblical view; I see them as victims of the Fall of man, held in the embrace of a fallen prince doomed to destruction. They aren’t the problem to be solved; they are the sinner to be loved and a victim to be rescued. At the same time, I will not embrace their standard of behavior no matter how bigoted they evaluate my faith to be. Why? Because if there is a God (as the Bible purports) and if this IS His standard (in the Bible), how they feel about my evaluation of their life is not more compelling to me than what HE has said about their behavior. If I surrender that ground, I have surrendered the Bible to the modern sense of toleration, and I have no message for the sinner but this: “God loves you, but do what you want, or what seems good to you.” That isn’t Biblical at all, and it robs the church of a message that God will save you from your fallen state.

The point is simple: How I feel about things needs to be subjected to how GOD feels about them.

• Do I feel sex outside of marriage is wrong? The Christian answer is “Who cares what you feel about that?” The believer may feel it is perfectly acceptable in their heart (“because I really love them”) – but the Bible makes it clear that it is NOT God’s standard. When weighing the deciding factor, Christian thinking dictates that God’s Word is the standard of both my faith and my behavior.

• Do I feel that because someone says: “I have always felt this way”, that acting on that feeling is ok with God? The Biblical answer is “Your feelings are from a fallen heart that will deceive you.” That is what the Bible teaches.

Let me say it again: God is God and I am not. I am the clay; He is the Potter. In the end, that makes His Word more important than my feelings and His glory more important than my comfort.

He isn’t mean, He is good.
He isn’t angry, He is loving.
He isn’t begging me to love Him; He is telling me the truth about how I was made, and where true happiness comes from.
He is no less God in an atheist convention; He is still our Sovereign even when people don’t believe it.

It is also important that I remember…I am also not God.
His will is more important than mine.
His plan is the tapestry of my life.
His glory is the reason for my breath – and I am glad that is true.
That surrender is what makes me a Christian.