Trying to be morally perfect is a fool’s game, although it is a typical mistake made by newer Christians. As new Christians, we want so much to please God and are so self-conscious of our failings, thinking that we lose God's favor and displease God by our sin and mistakes whether by omission or commission. Over time, though, as we mature in God’s character through the process of sanctification, we realize that being perfect is impossible, and trying to keep track of it is a worthless endeavor. It is about that time that we realize, first, that we are already acceptable and loved completely by God (John 6:28-29). Of course, our relationship with God can only begin by our faith in the only doorway to God, Jesus (John 10:9). Without faith in Jesus, we can never be pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:6). But once we have that faith, we have an unbreakable covenant with God sealed by the blood of Jesus.
Nothing will ever be able to separate us from His love from that point forward (Romans 8:35-39). Additionally, He further seals us as His property by placing the Holy Spirit within us as His marker of ownership (2 Corinthians 1:22). From that point onward, there will never be a day, never a moment of a day, in which we are not acceptable before God, thanks to the love of Jesus. Christian author Jerry Bridges wrote so eloquently about God’s love in his 1988 book Trusting God: “God's unfailing love for us is an objective fact affirmed over and over in the Scriptures. It is true whether we believe it or not. Our doubts do not destroy God's love, nor does our faith create it. It originates in the very nature of God, who is love, and it flows to us through our union with His beloved Son.” Moreover, God's love is infinitely personal. As Saint Augustine wrote, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
That said, there can be days or phases in our life in which we are not fully submitted to Him and not walking in the center of His will, but if we have broken fellowship with Him and are walking a path of sin, He will continually pursue us just like Francis Thompson’s (1859-1907) “Hound of Heaven” until we are back in right fellowship with Him. This loving, persistent, and tireless pursuit by God of any of His lost sheep is an unshakeable, unassailable truth from scripture and is illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). It is hard for us to comprehend just how much He loves us because His God-sized love is too big for us to grasp in our limited human understanding, and we have nothing to compare it to in our earthly existence, yet it is, nonetheless, true and has been proven not just in the cross, but in so many countless individual situations in the lives of His children over the vast sweep of the centuries. God’s love is the greatest story of the ages and should be the greatest story of our individual lives.
I pray that you would experience God’s tremendous and profound love for you in every part of your life.
Although I have read, studied, and memorized the Bible extensively for a few decades now, I have always been reluctant to read the writings of various theologians, believing that it is so easy to get tied up in unsound doctrine when you simply don’t have the wisdom to know the logical or spiritual flaws in any particular person’s complicated sounding doctrine. And getting bogged down in someone else’s foolish philosophy is a waste of our time in the search for truth. However, it is too easy to become ensnared in someone else’s complicated rhetoric when we are unschooled, and we sometimes confuse that complicated rhetoric with actual wisdom. It is an easy mistake to make when we are unlearned and have no immediate answers to what seems to be unassailable logic. But, the only way we can find our way out of ignorance is to ask for God’s guidance directly in prayer, with God subsequently either telling us the answer directly in His still small voice or with Him sending us to someone (or them to us) who has the answer.
Or, we may find the answers we are looking for, still being spiritually guided, when we do what Jesus admonished the legalistic Jews to do: “search the scriptures” (John 5:39). Basically, Jesus was telling them to go see for themselves, to personally delve into the scriptures, to earnestly search and struggle for the truth. Second Timothy 2:15 puts it another way: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So, we are taught in this passage to study the word and to study it in an exuberant and diligent way so that we will not be ashamed about our effort expended to seek His Truth when we stand before God for judgment (the “Bema” seat judgment of Christ where all Christians are rewarded for our works done in Jesus’ name – 2 Corinthians 5:9-11).
If we are always earnestly striving to do our best for the Lord, to know Him more, to understand our responsibilities as a child of God more, and to change our character to be more like Him every day, then, even when we fail, as we will all do, He will still know that we gave our best effort. And after all, it is the heart that He is after, the commitment of the very deepest part of our being as well as a complete commitment of all that we are and have – loving Him with our emotions, will, intellect, and strength. Of course, when we are young and inexperienced, what we think is our best effort is often far short of what we are truly capable of, but we are all, unfortunately, ignorant of what is right and what is our best until God reveals truth to us. But God does not mind showing us. He is a gentle, compassionate, and patient teacher, so long as we are really trying our best. May the light of His truth and the warmth of His love penetrate to every corner of your life.
As noted in yesterday’s blog, Benjamin Franklin wrote in his Autobiography about his experiment with trying to achieve moral perfection. In time, he would find out the same thing that Paul found out and reported in Romans 7:19-23: that we often fail in our attempts at doing the right thing because of the weakness in our flesh.
Franklin reported, “I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined;...And I believe this may have been the case with many, who, having, for want of some such means as I employed, found the difficulty of obtaining good and breaking bad habits in other points of vice and virtue, have given up the struggle…”
Still, he found some comfort in the attempt to strive for something higher, seeing that he at least was more aware of his own personal flaws upon reflection and careful observation of his personal behavior: “But, on the whole, tho' I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it…”
Personally, I think that it probably is a good thing to attempt to be a good person, consistently choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. But I am very skeptical of our own ability to figure out what is wrong with us and needs our attention. Most of us would either judge ourselves too harshly or too leniently in any given area. This is when we need to seek out God’s wisdom and ask Him to examine us and tell us what our flaws are. The Psalmist said it best: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
I pray that you would be guided by God in all your ways and that He would help you to know your flaws, your infinite worth in His eyes, and your immeasurable value to this world and to your part in God’s plans for you and for all of humanity.
If you’ve read Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, you might remember this one passage where he attempts to execute a plan to perfect himself morally. He describes the project as follows:
It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping, and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.....My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro' the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view, as they stand above.
Of course, if Mr. Franklin had read Romans 7:19, he might have saved himself a lot of trouble: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” Paul discovered that moral perfection was not something that could be achieved. He found that he was constantly fighting against the flesh that his spirit was bound in: “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
Paul discovered that the flesh was and always would be fighting against the Holy Spirit living within him, but there was a good reason for God leaving us in this flawed and dependent state: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (1 Corinthians 4:7). God could have perfected our bodies when He planted His Spirit within us, but He chose in His Infinite Wisdom to leave us in a state of weakness. In this state, we will be constantly striving toward perfection through the lifelong process of sanctification, but never quite arriving at perfection so that we might be ever more dependent upon Him and draw ever closer in our relationship to Him.
But it is not within our own power to grasp perfection. We need His power to change us. And we don’t even know what is important to focus on, what our flaws are, what our purpose is, or how we might best proceed in this work of sanctification or what steps we should take in His work. For all these things, we need Him. It is somewhat comical to read about Mr. Franklin’s program of perfecting himself, as if he were as wise as God, knowing his own character, knowing what was important to God, and being wise enough to foresee all things and never make any errors. When we draw closer to God, we get less and less impressed by our ability to be good, to assess ourselves accurately, or to always know right from wrong in every single situation we might encounter. Over time, as we see God clearer and clearer, we also see more and more of our own flaws. Moreover, as we draw closer to Him over the decades, we become more and more convinced of our inability to get anything right in our lives apart from Him.
More on this tomorrow. I pray that God will bless you, keep you, fill you with His peace that passes all understanding, and fill you with His immeasurable love.
When you are completely committed to walking in the center of God’s will, making love, humility, and service to others your highest aspirations, you will find that God will use you more and more often in His plans for all of humanity. If your heart and will are immediately and humbly compliant with the Master’s promptings, you will constantly and increasingly find yourself in the most unusual situations for service to people who are in dire need of God’s love. Over the course of a few decades, I have gotten in the habit of yielding to God and to loving service of others in His name. I habitually and instinctively live out the highest and holiest principle of love in all things in my life. I yield without hesitation to provide the most humble services in the most terrible conditions many times, like helping a young enlisted troop at West Point dig his car out of a snow bank one very cold, windy, snowy evening so that he could make his way home.
This young soldier could not believe that a lieutenant colonel would be doing such a humble service, the hard work of shoveling heavy, packed-down snow in the biting cold wind and hard-whipping, blowing snow in a dark parking lot. He did not understand my feelings of kinship with all my brothers and sisters who serve in the military no matter how high or low in rank. He also did not understand how I desperately wanted to emulate my Sweet Loving Lord Jesus who would have done the very same thing if He had been there in that dark parking lot on a cold, winter, night at West Point.
Another time, I answered my doorbell at our house in Alexandria, Virginia, on a dark, stormy night to find a confused and distressed Chinese woman who spoke no English and had run out of gas right in front of our home in a driving rain storm. I imagine that, had she knocked on the wrong door in this neighborhood, she might have gotten a poor reception, because we were in the Washington, D.C., metro area which, I have found, has got an unusually high density of arrogant, uncharitable, callous, and malicious people. Thanks be to God that He was in control that night and directed her straight to our front door because He knew that we were living the principles of His Agape love in all areas of our life and that we would, subsequently, take good care of this poor woman in dire need of help, even though we didn’t know her, couldn’t communicate with her very well, and had no idea about her character and whether she might be hiding some ulterior motive to get into our home for unsavory purposes.
But being guided by the Holy Spirit, and being given discernment about the situation from the Holy Spirit, we did not hesitate to welcome her into our home where she could be dry and warm. Then my sweet wife sat with the woman, trying to talk with and comfort her while I tried to solve this woman’s dilemma. I didn’t hesitate or grumble in this service of love because I already felt the heart of compassion that my Awesomely Loving God would have for this poor stranded woman, a stranger in a strange land on a dark, rainy, scary night, in an unknown neighborhood. My heart went out to her, seeing the terrible situation she was in, and I wanted nothing less than to give her my full effort at ameliorating her problem. As such, I felt no burden for driving out in the heavy rain several miles down the road to fill a gas can from a service station with enough gas to get this poor woman back to the safety and comfort of her home and family. After I procured the gas and returned to our home, I patiently poured the gas into her car’s tank as I got ever more drenched by the second, and I stood patiently by, watching, to make sure that she could crank her car and proceed back down the road. I would never see her again, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was loving like my Master would love, and in loving this young woman in a bad situation, it was just like I was loving my Sweet Lord Himself (Matthew 25:40).
There was another time when I stopped to help a stranded family who was lost and had just bought a brand-new car which mysteriously stalled in a very inconvenient place without access to a phone or any other help. Others driving by didn’t stop, but out of love for my Amazing God, I could not in good conscience pass by one of His children who was in need. I have had many other amazing stories over the years. These things happen on a regular basis. I am honored to know that my God wants to use me to show His Boundless Love to these poor people in need, and I am humbled to know that He trusts me for doing this important work as He knows my tender heart of compassion for all people I encounter in life, no matter what they look like, how they are dressed, not even if they have a hard, prickly exterior, gruff manners, or profane language. God has given me the gift to see past all the unimportant surface things and straight to the heart of the person. But to bring the discussion back around to the original point, all these things are important in developing God’s Spirit within us. The small things throughout the day build up into big things over time and set the path of our life and the quality of our character. May God's loving light of truth shine upon you and fill you with His limitless joy.
I was remembering back to the times of my early Christian growth, when I was a young man. I can remember my frustration and anguish when I was unable to keep myself from sin, no matter how much I might detest it. There was just something in my flesh that was too strong for even my iron will to overcome. But this was not just my experience. God led me to a passage in Romans 7 that spoke to this very situation. Even Paul the Apostle, who is so revered among Christians, apparently struggled with sin and the resulting frustration when he could not control his actions. “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19-25).
What Paul was feeling was the power of his flesh in his embryonic Christian walk while the Holy Spirit, the grain of mustard seed, was just beginning to grow in his life. But that tiny seed would grow every bigger bit-by-bit through God’s training program which He applies to all Christians, the process of sanctification. Of course, not all Christians proceed through the lessons at the same rate. There are many variables that stunt or delay Christian growth, such as pride, fear, unwillingness to relinquish control to God, obsessive, secret sin and/or desires, unwillingness to let go of something cherished in life (perhaps a dream, a possession, or even a person), or even anger and bitterness that we are not willing to let go of. I’m sure there are many more such obstacles that we put up within ourselves, resisting the work of God. But God is tireless, patient, and persistent. He does not give up on us and never will, no matter how hard of a nut we are to crack. Every Christian is different, and we all mature in different areas of our lives at different rates than others, but one thing is for sure, the pit-bull persistence of God in training and teaching us is a relentless, unyielding, and unstoppable force. As He promises in scripture, He WILL complete the work that He has begun in each of us (Philippians 1:6).
I take no pride in my walk with God. All the glory goes to Him. All the work and power to change me into the man I am is due to His miraculous intervention in my life. But I believe that Paul, like me, probably experienced a steady growth of God’s Spirit within him over the years which gradually and eventually overpowered the weak flesh. But he would have had to do as I did, yielding to God in all manner of training, teaching, and serving situations, and spending constant time in fellowship and meditation on His word. God builds up His Spirit within us bit by bit in countless small situations, decisions, services, etc. that follow His footsteps on the path of love. All these tiny things build up over a lifetime to solidify the character of our hearts and to determine how much work God will be able to do within our hearts, minds, and spirits.More on this tomorrow. May you walk in the sweet joy of His love this day and may His perfect peace fill your heart.
I wrote previously about our search for a good, sound church in the early 1990’s when we moved to Mississippi where I would be stationed at the Jackson Military Entrance and Processing Station. After visiting a few churches, we received visitors from those churches, usually deacons or pastors. In one particular visit, I had asked the visiting pastor whether he would speak about abortion from the pulpit when it was appropriate (such as the Roe vs. Wade anniversary in January of each year). As he seemed to be fuddling for words to answer me, I was not getting a good, comforting feeling about his moral courage or his dedication to preaching all the truth of the Bible, even the inconvenient parts that step on people’s toes. To my surprise, when he found his rhetorical legs and launched into an answer to my question, he framed the issue as simply one of those unimportant, legalistic issues that prevents us from our main mission (in his eyes) which is to preach the gospel. I was a little miffed that he had the audacity to accuse me of being a legalist, when, ironically, he seemed to be taking a legalistic stance, i.e. dismissing major sections of scripture and then distilling them down to only one message: the great commission.
I know that the so-called great commission was one of the last words that Jesus spoke, but He spoke so many amazing, profound words of wisdom that I am always befuddled when pastors try to say that this piece of scripture is more important than any of the other countless truths that can be found throughout the Bible. This, of course, is a prideful stance that sounds suspiciously like legalism, the cherry picking of certain verses and obsessing over them to the exclusion of the rest of this amazing book. While the message of the cross and the redemption and reconciliation of man back to God is an incredible story, it is only the beginning of the much longer story of an entire life lived in daily sacrifice to God’s service, as we work out our salvation in the process of sanctification, accumulating ever greater glory to our Amazing God as we lead lives of living sacrifice to Him by His Power, by His Wisdom, and by His Love.
The great commission is not just pimping the product of the message of salvation. The other parts that many pastors forget to talk about are the baptizing, the discipleship, and “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). This latter part, of course, refers to the entire rest of the laws, prophets, songs – the entirety of Scripture. The things that Jesus commanded are not merely the teachings in the New Testament. Since Jesus was preexisting in Heaven before His incarnation on this earth, He probably worked with the Father and the Holy Spirit to inspire men to write all the words of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. Furthermore, since Jesus is Truth itself, then all of the words of the Scripture proceed out from Him, and lastly, He came to be the completion of the law in His crucifixion, so all the law is important to Him – not just the great commission.
A lot of evangelical churches became obsessive about the great commission to the detriment of the real work that God wanted them to be about. They became like this pastor that visited me in Mississippi who was neglecting the works of service, not speaking the hard Scriptural truths and not speaking for those who could not speak for themselves. If you read Matthew 25:-31-46, you find out how Jesus really discerns between His people and those who just give lip service to His commands. Jesus doesn’t use the criteria of how many times they shared the gospel message. Instead, he judges them by the acts of loving service to those who were in need and were suffering: “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’… ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”
Additionally, in the Old Testament, the Lord confronted His people who were just playing at religion and were not living out the lives of loving service that God has always desired of His people. In Isaiah 58:6-7, God teaches His people what really exemplifies those who are serving God completely: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”
I think that modern evangelicals took the path of least resistance by obsessing on just one piece of the great commission, making the same mistake that so many legalists have made ever since Jesus started His church. They allowed Satan to deceive them into the enticing easy lie which would keep them from doing the much harder daily work of sacrificial service to the community and the world around us. But those who take the easy route get their reward. They live an easy life with very little accomplishment on behalf of God, accruing very little glory to God, and when they come into the kingdom, they will have very little to show for their lives to their momentary shame. Fortunately, our God is so infinitely loving that even the least and the worst of our numbers will still receive a great reward in Heaven far beyond what they and we deserve.May God bless you with His wisdom in knowing how best to serve Him and others.
I am often reluctant to share my troubles with others, perhaps partly because I have been trained throughout my military career to avoid at all costs even the hint of a suggestion that I am “whining.” In the military environment, you are practically brain-washed with this constant message that you can do almost anything without limitations and that you are ready in a moment’s notice to take on any challenge, no matter how difficult. Any suggestion that you are reluctant, lack confidence, or are even afraid is looked upon as a major flaw in your character. So, you learn not to ever voice any doubts or misgivings you have – unless you can find a way to couch it in sharply ironic wit, which shows that you are not cowed by the problem, but rather have the courage to laugh at it. Of course, in a military environment, often leaders are expected to epitomize a courageous and upbeat personality so that his or her subordinates in the unit never lose courage or motivation for the overall mission. It is certainly true that the leader sets the tone of the unit.
Of course, there is a fine line between appropriate, upbeat, courageous leadership, and maniacal, type-A, callous, insensitive leadership. At a certain point, leaders must also have a heart and should be able to listen compassionately to their subordinates’ problems. They should also develop wisdom to know when the subordinate does not have a real problem but has been approaching the problem wrong, needs advice on how to conquer the problem, or has not put in enough effort to conquer the problem. But a good leader is able to discern those situations from valid concerns that really are beyond the scope, capability, or experience of the subordinate conquer without a little additional help or without the authority of the leader to remove someone or something that is an obstacle. In any case, I have learned throughout my adult years not to complain or to show any sign of anger, skepticism, or pessimism. While this may be good for the unit, it is not always very healthy in the individual to never have an outlet for such problems.
Such is the state I found myself in for a period in my career, facing frustrating problems that seemed insurmountable and never seemed to let up. I was working in high pressure jobs for demanding, micro-managing, constantly critical bosses that were obviously not good leaders. They were not very inspiring, they only played half-heartedly at the role of being upbeat leaders, they clearly had no compassion for their subordinates, and they were not very talented men (they had somehow faked their way through various jobs and had now risen to their highest level of incompetence in accordance with the infamous “Peter Principle.”). Of course, I’m not as pessimistic as the Peter Principle about the chances of people to develop into good leaders, but as I found out in the Army, many such bad leaders get to the level beyond their competence because they don’t grow in their wisdom or their skill sets. Most of the ones who become stunted in their growth and turn into bad leaders have a very limited philosophy or a very small bag of tricks which they use long after they have lost effectiveness. They don’t change, they don’t adapt, and they don’t listen to others because they think they already know it all.
In any case, working for such difficult, bad leaders while in a demanding, thankless job, I was increasingly stressed out and frustrated. Unfortunately, I had very few outlets to keep the building powderkeg of emotions under control. At the time, I was a long-distance runner. That was one of my escapes. I would take off down various trails in the German community where I lived and would run for an hour or two at lunchtime or at the end of the day and sometimes longer runs on the weekends of between two and three hours. When I finished, I would be much calmer and would feel more at peace. Plus, I often used the time running to commune with God in the solitude of the beautiful German forests where I felt much closer to Him. This time with God also brought me some peace.
Over time, however, even these outlets did not seem to be enough. As I have written about in the book I am working on, and pray to get published sometime soon, this period of two to three years before my deployment to Iraq were a continually building time of emotional turmoil without much release. I kept packing away and packing away the stress and pain until my emotional and psychological cup was so full that I thought I was going to lose my mind or that I was headed for a mental-emotional break-down. I was most definitely not emotionally sound when I deployed to Iraq, but I went anyway out of a sense of duty. Given my state going into Iraq, it is really no surprise that I succumbed to the symptoms of PTSD within the first few months which developed into full-blown PTSD by the end of my tour. The emotional turmoil of separation from my family in the middle of that emotional-psychological whirlwind almost broke me. I think it is only by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit sustaining me during those days that I made it through and was able to fully function during the day without anyone knowing what a horrendous struggle I was going through to barely keep it all together.
Many of the worst, most painful times of those difficult years occurred during this time of year. This is why I usually go through some “anniversary trauma” at this time of year, dark, depressing feelings that sometimes come over me without warning that don’t seem to have anything to do with what is going on in my life. I’ve talked to other veterans who have had the same experience at certain anniversaries of bad things that happened in combat, perhaps an attack of some kind that wounded them or took down some of their comrades, perhaps a day of seeing the gory results of such an attack, perhaps a day of learning about the death of a friend – it can be virtually any traumatic event associated with combat or the results of combat. Moreover, I would not be surprised to find out that non-combat PTSD sufferers also have these feelings of "anniversary trauma" each year when the day or time of year rolls around in which they originally experienced their trauma.
That’s why I would appreciate any and all prayers for me at this time. And may God bless you with His perfect peace on His day of worship and rest.
As noted previously, during the early 1990s, we were seeking a doctrinally sound and activist-servant church (Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25) in our new home in Brandon, Mississippi (suburb of the state capital Jackson). As we visited several churches, looking either for the signs that the church was the type we wanted to be involved in, or looking for signs from God that, regardless of the condition of the church, this was the place He wanted us to be for His perfect plans, we would inevitably receive visits from the ministers, deacons, or other church members of the churches we had visited. Our visitors would usually arrive on a Monday or a Tuesday, but in one instance, we got a visit that very Sunday afternoon, which showed the earnest diligence of one particular church. Although my memory is a little fuzzy on this period, I believe it was that visit by that one church which resulted in the most interesting, yet confusing, exchange of doctrinal ideas I would have with any of the myriad of visitors over the course of several weeks.
As it turned out, our visitor that day was the pastor of the church, and he was able to fill us in on a lot of the information we were seeking about the state of the church and its orientation on scriptural obligations. As the conversation proceeded, I asked at one point about the issue of abortion and whether he, the pastor, was willing to speak out, as directed by the Holy Spirit, to tell the truth about abortion and what the Bible had to say about it. The reason why I asked the question was because God had convicted me deeply years earlier about my responsibility as a Christian to speak out for those who are weak and powerless. We are taught in Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” When I became aware of the issue of abortion as a young man, God revealed to me that the unborn are the weakest and most powerless, and in our modern, heartless culture, too few were willing to speak out on their behalf. However, I also believe in our duty as Christians to be a voice and a compassionate heart for those women who falsely believe that they are in an impossible situation. I believe that we, as guided by the Holy Spirit, can be involved in these women's lives and help them to see that there is a real truth and that they are not trapped into the morally problematic and logically false decision to have an abortion. And where we cannot help them or make them see truth (it's really all God's work anyway -- we are just bit players in His grand sweeping work for humanity), then at the very least, we can pray for them and be a compassionate heart, a non-judgmental ear listening to their problems, and a humble servant offering what little resources we have to help them through what, to them, is a seemingly impossible situation. This is the real work of Christianity, where we really show the character of the God who has saved us and dwells within us. We really show that we possess God's heart, not when we "pimp the product" doing the flashy, easy work of mass marketing the message of salvation in Jesus, but rather, when we do the harder, daily work of humble, difficult, sacrificial, sometimes humiliating, service to anyone and everyone who comes into our lives at each moment of the day, no matter how lowly they may be, always yielding our own rights and desires, never giving into judgmental opinions of them or their actions, loving them as best we can, always being convicted with humility that the Creator of the Universe and all living things does us honor by using us in His grand plans for humanity, showing us how we can fit into those plans for our humble part. And we give so sacrificially and completely without question, reacting instinctively out of the character that God has built within us over the years, and loving with all that we have within us and all that we possess, holding nothing back, because we know that He, who first loved us and gave Himself for us even while we were yet His enemies, held nothing back from us, giving absolutely everything that He had, for each one of us, individually.
As I found out in my walk with God, too many, even in the supposedly Christian world, are willing to overlook the struggles of these women that go into these abortion mills. And, too many are willing to define away the “personhood” of these tiny, innocent human beings growing within these women in order to make a decision for convenience. We often found out, over the years, that many of these women were being pushed into the decision of abortion by others around them who did not have the best interest of these women at heart. Rather, these selfish people were often pushing these young women into morally problematic decisions with worldly thinking in order to control these poor women or to avoid unpleasantness or responsibilities in their own lives that these pregnant women would bring upon them. Still other women may not be pushed by others but may feel compelled because they think they are in a corner where they have no choice, but there is always a choice, even if we cannot see it in the blindness of our ignorance or our pain. It is in those moments that we should cry out to God to save us or to show us the way. Satan would have us believe that we are forced into certain choices with his enticing lies, but if we call out to God and yield to His wisdom, he can always show us a way out of what we think are impossible situations. That is why I cannot conceive of a situation where a mother has no other choice but to harm her unborn child. This is an “either-or” logical fallacy which Satan traps us into in our human ignorance. With God, there are always more choices, always more possibilities. Nothing is impossible with God, but we have to let go of our prideful desire to control the situation or to do things our way in order for God to fix it. This is true of all moral conundrums we may find ourselves in, not just the decision about an abortion. I pray that God will guide you in His perfect truth and making the impossible possible in your life.
As I noted a couple of blogs ago, we moved to Mississippi in early 1992 and began looking for a good church, busy doing the Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25 acts of loving service in the community around them. I didn’t want one of those “salvation factories” which became so prevalent in modern evangelicalism which reduced the amazingly endless lessons of the Bible and boiled them down to just pushing the message of Jesus on the cross. Don’t get me wrong. That message of Jesus on the cross is a very important message which allowed us to be reconciled to God. But God was working in people’s lives before the incarnation of Christ, and He has been working in people’s lives after the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. The moment of salvation is only the beginning. The message of God is not just the rebirth. It is also about how God changes lives, working His work of sanctification the rest of our lives, walking with us in close fellowship (as close as we permit Him and as close as we seek to be near Him).
If the entire story of Christianity stopped at that moment of salvation, it would be an amazing story, but it would not be what the world really needs. Just getting their Jesus ticket punch does not change their lives. The amazing, constant, and persistent work that He does every day of our life thereafter as He changes our character to be more like Him is the really amazing story. This is what the world really needs. You may think I’m off base here, but I have lived long enough to see and attend some of these “salvation factories” that preached nothing but Jesus and salvation. Sure, they had impressive numbers of baptisms, but because they did not give the rest of the story in discipleship and loving service to the community around them, their members tended to be very immature Christians, and their membership was very volatile with just as many people going out the back door as coming in the front.
Think about it. If a hospital were run the way these “salvation factories” were run, they would have everyone working down in the maternity ward and would not have people taking care of the plethora of functions that a hospital performs that address the many other problems people have. The same is true of our churches. We don’t need every one hanging out in the maternity ward, just preaching the message of new birth and leaving the people without the meat they need for growth the rest of their lives in order to develop into effective servants of God, performing loving acts of service that God wants us to do every day in accordance with Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25. Then, when we have served people, they will want to know the message of Jesus and they will take us more seriously because we live the love of Christ instead of just giving it lip service. Remember the old saying, “They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”
I pray that God will fill you with His wisdom and that you will draw near to Him so that He may also draw near to you.