Monthly Archives: November 2012

Compartments

Throughout the recent campaign, an argument arose that has perplexed me. The essence of the concept is that we can hold divergent views on a moral question in our public and private lives.

During the vice presidential debate, the candidates squared off on the issue of abortion. Both of the men are Catholics. Congressman Paul Ryan said, “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.” He added, “Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.”

Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that he’s been a practicing Catholic all his life and his faith informs his social doctrine.Yet, Biden responded that while he accepts the church’s doctrine when it comes to abortion, he refuses to “impose that on others.” President Obama shares a similar belief and explanation for his stance on the abortion issue.

Vice President Biden explained, “With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

“I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere.”

At the heart of Vice President Biden’s statements is the idea that we can hold one view in our private lives that is guided by our faith and yet support a completely different view in a public role, setting or sphere of influence. And this is not just any old issue — it is the concept of valuing and protecting life. It is answering the basic question that Cain asked God after the first murder. He asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

This is a foundational question that is moral, cultural and scientific in nature. Moral in terms of the need to protect the life of the unborn and limit late term abortions. Cultural in terms of responding to public pressure to keep abortion safe and legal. And scientific as the country debates when life begins.

A key aspect of the debate is that we can have various compartments in our lives that are distinct and don’t need to interact or correlate. If you are a Christian, can there be any part of our life that is not under the lordship of Christ and the rule of life outlined in Scripture? Are we obligated to honor the Church’s leadership on moral issues of high importance over public opinion?

It is one thing to be a staunch atheist who disagrees that life starts before birth or the third trimester of pregnancy. It is quite another to be a Christian who privately opposes abortion and believes it should be rare although publicly defends abortion rights, including partial birth abortions. The first view is very consistent. The second view is not for a number of reasons. For starters, why should abortion be rare if there is nothing wrong with it? Why not have abortion as a normal part of birth control? The fact that people suggest it should be rare shows that many people feel it is wrong even though they don’t want to limit the rights of others to take this life before it is born.

Secondly, the atheist doesn’t believe in God nor has any reason to recognize the authority of the Church. A Christian on the other hand must be submitted to the highest authority, which is the voice of God. Also, a Christian should error on the side of protecting life and those who can least defend themselves.

If something is a sin, then it is wrong for a Christian to do. Scripture is quite clear that murder is wrong, and if you believe the unborn child is a life worth saving then it would be a sin to take the life unless you are trading a life for a life. I can somewhat understand the viewpoint of a Christian who believes that life doesn’t starts until birth and as a result is pro choice. But if you believe there is something wrong with abortion in your private life, why is it okay in public policy? Doesn’t this suggest that you really think abortion is the taking of a defenseless life?

If Christ only guides the private side of your life, what does that say about your relationship to Him? 1 John 5:9 suggests that “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” Whose opinion should reign supreme in our most important decisions — the Word of God or the thoughts of men?

It is our deeds that matter as much as our words when it comes to saving faith in Christ. As James 2 suggests, words without deeds are useless. In the same way that Christian abortion rights advocates make little sense so do Christian capitalists who take advantage of their fellow man and cheat people in the name of making an extra dollar. Our conscience as Christians should be held captive to Scripture in all areas of life. This includes the abortion issue as well as taking care of the poor and the senior citizens, protecting the environment, and support equality for all under the law.

I don’t believe that siding against abortion on religious grounds goes against the idea of freedom of religion. You can hold a staunch pro life position and still be open for the free exercise of religion. But pro choose advocates like to make pro lifers look like people who oppose religious freedom. In actuality, the only thing pro lifers really oppose is playing god with somebody else’s life.

It is clear that an unborn child starts to develop unique features within the first 22 days of birth if not earlier. For example, most babies have a unique heart beat within the first 22 days. Upon conception, all the unique chromosomes are present for that individual life.

By the end of the eighth week, every organ is in place, bones begin to replace cartilage, and fingerprints begin to form. Is this not a distinct and separate life from the mother? So when people talk about a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body, when does an unborn child get a voice in the process?

Ultimately, it is not my place to judge the faith of another person. They are responsible to God alone. But I tend to believe that Jesus is either Lord of your entire life or you can have no part in Him at all because the Lord is a jealous God. He does not want His people to have split allegiances. Christ calls for us to surrender everything in our lives to His will and purposes. This includes our day job, our politics and even our bedrooms.

Sorry I Said That…

The most recent election has produced some very strong feelings and words by many Christians. Some people have really said things that are hard to reconcile with what I know about those people. Ultimately, we are only responsible to God for what we say. But we must remember that our public witness does reflect on the cause of Christ.

I believe that we can state our opinion and even enter into political discourse without getting into name calling, yelling or being rude. Some of the best posts that I have seen on Facebook suggest that any Christian who acts like all is either won or lost just because of an election has put too much faith in people and politics. I certainly agree although I believe it is perfectly fine to either celebrate or mourn depending on your opinion.

I personally am mourning the fact that I believe this nation is swinging further away from the heart of God and at the same time both political parties refuse to do anything about pressing issues such as a skyrocketing debt, immigration concerns, boosting the economy, education, regulatory reform, etc.

As I was reading the Word today, I was challenged by these statements made in the book of James…

James 1:19-21: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Sometimes we need to think twice before we hit the “send” button on the email or Facebook post. Our first reaction, may not be a Biblical one. I was hit hard by the statement that the “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Wow! If what I desire is righteousness, then me torching somebody in an argument may not be the best way to accomplish what I say that I want.

James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

Ouch that just hurt so good! We should not think more highly of our own moral high ground than we ought. We should be careful what we say. Or else we can become deceived and produce a life that is worthless in God’s eyes.

The last thing I want is to have a “worthless religion.”

Lord, help me to speak only Words of life not doubt and fear. Yes, I may even need to say a hard word at times. But may everything that I say and do be rooted in love. May I be quick to pray and slow to  speak. May I have eyes to see through the lens of mercy and grace. Help me to love and live like You did — Jesus.

Hearing the Voice of God

Through the years, I have definitely struggled to know the heart of God and understand when He is truly speaking to me about something. I wonder, “Is that really God or is that just bad Taco Bell that I ate last night?” I have even asked, “Why does God sound sarcastic?” I have also thought, “That must be God because I would never think something like that.”

I recently spoke at the Mix  youth group retreat on hearing the voice of God. And as the Lord frequently likes to do, He gave me an opportunity to practice what I preach the morning that I was supposed to speak. I woke up and spent some time listening and praying. The idea kept coming up that I was supposed to sing “Jesus Loves Me” over the middle school and high school students at the retreat as I started my talk. But I wondered why that would be a good idea. After all, these are teens. They will think Jesus loves me is for little children. Plus, I thought, “What does that have to do with my topic?”

Sure enough, the Lord used another Christian to confirm what He had spoken to my heart. A good friend and brother in the Lord walked up to me and said that he felt impressed to remind me that many of these teens struggle to hear God’s voice because they have the wrong notion of who God is. They believe that God is angry with them or is a harsh, demanding Father. This friend said that they need to know that Jesus loves them before they can listen to the voice of God.

This was the confirmation that I needed to hear. I explained my struggles that morning and set up song. I told the crowd that this was a demonstration of hearing the voice of God and taking a small risk. As I sang, I believe that something broke over the hearts of many in the room that morming. One student came up and said what I did was liberating. Others said they just felt God’s love all over what I was saying.

Here are some of the key points that I shared that morning. May these little insights help you discern whether the voice in your head is really from God or some other source.

Things to consider when testing a voice….

1.) Does this sound like something Jesus would say? Does it line up with the Bible?

2.) God speaks to us through someone us. Many times this is to confirm or put perspective on what God has already been laying on our hearts.

3.) God isn’t usually urgent or in a rush. Jesus even took His time when it came to healing Lazarus.

4.) God’s voice may surprise us. It might unsettle us. Just ask little Samuel, the first time that he heard from God, the Lord spoke a harsh word about Samuel’s spiritual mentor.

5.) God may not work in us or speak to us in the same way that He does with other people.

6.) God’s voice will prepare us for the future although He doesn’t usually give us all the details.

7.) Does this voice agree that Jesus came in the flesh? (1 John 4:1-6) The voice of God will lift up Jesus as the source of live and God’s revival power. Jesus came down as a man and can relate to your experiences.

8.) The voice of God never calls us to do something that only God can do.  For example, God will not push you to change your heart. Instead, He will ask you to yield to His power and then maybe go act in a way that aligns with this heart change.

9.) God knows where we are and won’t test us beyond what we can bear in Him.

10.) God’s voice will always be calling us to Himself never driving us away. God’s voice may  sound harsh at times, but it is always inviting us to greater relationship and truth.

11.) God may convict us of sin, but He won’t condemn us for it.

12.) God’s voice frequently will call us to action or rest. God may call us to take a leap of faith. Or quite the opposite, He may tell us to rest from our labors and trust in Him. Both of these require faith because we have to let go and trust God with the situation.

Tool Kit

God does not leave us empty handed to fight battles against sin, evil spirits and darkness.

No, God gives us tools.

But if you don’t us those tools, you will lose battles that really should be won. In reality, the hard work has been done. After all, Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished!” And Jesus meant what He said.

So if you have just experienced a breakthrough or victory in your life, don’t be surprised if sin, temptation, lies and demonic influences come back. But if you use the tools in your tool kit, the enemy doesn’t stand a chance. The Bible says, “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

So, what you waiting for? Open up that tool kit and get busy…

Here are the tools that Jesus has given His Church …

1.)    Listening prayer – By quieting the noise around us and taking authority over the influences in our lives, we can position ourselves to hear from God. Too often our prayers focus on talking and don’t involve enough listening. If you listen for the “voice” of God, He will reveal His will as well as His love and affirmation. The Holy Spirit will identify areas you need to surrender, things you need to repent of and actions steps you should take in faith.

2.)    Confession and repentance – If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. The Lord also helps us repent by His power. Repentance is sweet although too many people think of it as something to be avoided or feared. Repentance frees us from the power of sin and gives us hope to be different.

3.)    Surrender – By letting go of the things that hold us back, we can be free to become who God always intended us to be. Surrender helps us come to the point where we rely on the power of Jesus to change our heart. It is the launch pad where we ask for the Holy Spirit to empower us to develop godly character and values. Surrender is the path to success in the kingdom of God because it recognizes our weakness and taps into God’s strength.

4.)    Break Agreement with Foundational Lies – You are not your sin. You are not the sum of your thoughts. Actually, many of the thoughts that pop into your head don’t reveal your real mind about a situation or person. This thought doesn’t become yours until you accept it as truth and make it part of your worldview. If you make agreement with a
lie, you look at yourself, God and the world in a skewed way
. Many times we make agreements with lies about our identity, which robs us of the dignity that God has given us. We are beautiful and beloved in God’s sight. What lie have you believed about yourself? Break your agreement with that lie, deny it and speak the truth over your life. This is more than just the power of positive thinking. It is the power of having a Christ-like mind.

5.)    Forgive Again – When we forgive others, we set ourselves free and provide the potential for future reconciliation with that person. By holding a grudge, we sit in judgment on the other person. Even if they have wronged us, there is power in forgiving that person in our hearts. That doesn’t mean we trust them or allow somebody to hurt us. But it does cancel the debt and allows us to view the person without having the feeling that we are owed something. Jesus told His followers to make a habit of forgiveness because the measure to which we forgive impacts the freedom of our heart to receive God’s forgiveness.

6.)    Life Together – You are not in this battle alone. God has positioned people around you to help. While we should first rely on God to be our source of strength, there is nothing wrong with calling in some reinforcements. Sometimes we need other peoples to listen to us, give a shoulder to cry on, provide advice, serve a need or pick us up when we are down. You may need to reach out to other believers because your need may not be obvious to others. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Admitting you need help is a sign of strength not weakness.

7.)    Worship – The best kind of worship comes when we are facing a trial or recently experienced a loss. We could give up or curse God. But instead, we worship Him in song or prayer. That is the revelation of a heart that truly values and glorifies God above everything else. Worship causes our hearts to soar and helps build faith. It also positions us to receive from God and stand firm despite opposition. It fills our love tank and honors God. This mindset realizes that we praise God because He is worthy. We shouldn’t praise God just for all the things He had done to bless us. Even if all the blessings from God evaporate, we should still worship God alone. Worship will calibrate your life to focus on God and others.

8.)    Serve – It is hard to be down about your problems when you are helping other people with whatever hardships they face. Instead of looking inward, we can find strength, purpose and stress relief when we reach out to help others in the name of Jesus. May you find somebody who is worse off and bless them. That will keep you busy and help you avoid the trap that can come when boredom leads to sin.

9.)    Develop Spiritual Gifts – Rely on supernatural gifts to help you battle evil spirits and darkness. This requires believers to request gifts from the Holy Spirit and step out in faith to activate them as prompted by God. These gifts are to be grounded in love and should be used to glorify and bless the Church.

10.)                        Practice Generous Assumptions/Speak Words of Life – Your words can land you into trouble or liberate your situation. Speaking kindness to somebody who is angry can soften their wrath. It can position their hearts to forgive and seek reconciliation. Also, if we assume the worse, we tend to get bad outcomes. The reverse happens if we think good thoughts and practice generous assumptions about others. This calls us to look for the good and hope for the best. But thinking the worst drives you to look to be offended and ignores the good things about a person or situation. This attitude blocks hope and sows seeds of further disharmony.