Purpose

A blog that focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Make Me a Blessing

As I contemplate the new year, my thoughts have turned to a hymn by Ira Wilson, "Make Me a Blessing" (or "Out in the Highways and Byways of Life"). The first and third stanzas read as follows:

Out in the highways and byways of life,
Many are weary and sad;
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
Making the sorrowing glad.

Give as 'twas given to you in your need,
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
Unto your mission be true.

The hymn refers to a believer's ministry to the unsaved. The needs of unbelievers are deep; lost people are indeed "weary and sad," "sorrowing," and "helpless." They need the sunshine, the love, and the help that Christians can provide by sharing the gospel message.

While this focus on unbelievers is the primary intent, the expressed aspiration of being a blessing certainly is appropriate also when fellow believers are considered. Their level of hopelessness is by no means as profound, but at times even Christians struggle with the burdens of life and are in need of encouragement and help. The chorus makes no distinction as to recipient.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

These words make a wonderful prayer and focus for the believer. In reality, a day in which a Christian has no positive impact on anyone else is a sad day indeed. Those who do not have regular interaction with others should not be discouraged by this statement. Even an isolated person can be a blessing through the testimony of his life, through his written words, and especially through prayer. The fact that the impact is not observed does not negate its reality.

Stay-at-home moms could easily sense that they have little opportunity to be a blessing to others. This thought is a colossal error. As they shape little lives on a constant basis, these dear mothers have the potential for the greatest possible impact. So many children are leaving the Christian faith, and mothers have perhaps the most influential position from which to make a difference, thereby impacting a much broader sphere.

Whether at home, at work, at church, or elsewhere, every believer has both the ability and the opportunity to be a blessing to others. The desire to have such an impact is aptly expressed by the hymn writer in the words "out of my life may Jesus shine." That is the key. In himself, no believer has the capacity to make a much of a difference, but when the love and care of Jesus shine through him, he can be a true blessing and can have genuine impact.

Today, this week, and this year, may others see Christ reflected in me. May they see "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). May I look more like my Savior so that others can be drawn to Him or can be encouraged to become more like Him.

The only way that I can look like Jesus is by being changed through the power of His Word. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18).

In the Bible, I see His glory, His majesty, His brightness, and His perfection; God works to produce a measure of those same qualities in me. Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life" (John 8:12). The influence that I have then is merely God's light shining through me. "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

This is God's mission for me, and I desire to perform it faithfully and effectively. Oh, to be able to hear His words of commendation, "Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21). Father, may I make a difference for You.

Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
Out of my life may Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What Herod Didn't Know

When Jesus was born, wise men followed a star and came to Jerusalem, desiring to worship the King of the Jews. Herod became aware of this quest and took action. He researched to find out where the Messiah was to be born. He called the wise men to gather information, and he enlisted them as informants. When his surreptitious plans failed, Herod took drastic action, killing all male babies in the entire region.

Herod involved himself in this situation because he viewed Jesus as a threat. He did not understand all that was going on, but he had heard the disturbing news that a king of the Jews had been born. Placing some credence in this frightening report, Herod took steps to protect his position as king, probably believing he was saving his own life as well as those of his sons. It is not at all surprising that a king who felt threatened would take action, but Herod did not realize that his fears were baseless. Jesus was not a threat to him. Sadly, many babies died as a result of the perceived threat, and decades later Jesus Himself was killed because the idea of a threat persisted. The irony is that in contrast to being a threat, Jesus actually came to conquer the greatest threat known to mankind: death as the penalty for sin.

Jesus was not a threat to Herod's kingship at the time of His birth, nor was He a threat to Pilate or the Herod who ruled at the time of Jesus' death. Although there were people who wanted Jesus to be a revolutionary, He was not trying to take over any earthly position of leadership or government. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting . . . but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm" (John 18:36). Only one of Jesus' followers made any attempt to defend Jesus with a sword, and Jesus promptly put an end to that (Luke 22:51). Jesus did not come to overthrow an earthly kingdom; rather, His reasons for coming were spiritual.

Jesus came not to harm, but to heal.
"For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:56). "I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47). "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17).

Jesus came to perfectly fulfill the Law.
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

Jesus came to do His Father's bidding.
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).

Jesus came to bring light.
"I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness" (John 12:46).

Jesus came to bring grace and truth.
"For this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth" (John 18:37). "Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).

Jesus came so that man can know God.
"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true" (I John 5:20).

Jesus came to preach the message of salvation to sinners.
"Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God" (Mark 1:14). "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Timothy 1:15).

Jesus came to give His life as a sacrifice.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). "But for this purpose I came to this hour" (John 12:27).

Jesus came to give eternal and abundant life.
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever" (John 6:51).

Jesus came to reconcile man to God.
"He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12). "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law" (Galatians 4:4-5).

There is only one aspect of Jesus' coming that could seem threatening. Jesus said, "Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Luke 12:51-53). Even in this scenario, Jesus is not a threat to any government or even to any individual. The negative consequences are not toward those who oppose Jesus, but rather a statement of realistic preparation for those who follow Him.

Far from being a threat, Jesus is the source of hope, life, redemption, freedom, and all that is good. Herod was unnecessarily frightened, but the coming of Jesus to earth ought not to bring any fear. Rather, with the knowledge believers have of Jesus' true mission, they can abundantly rejoice in the coming of the promised Messiah.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Don't Give Up

Anyone who ministers to others will at some point get discouraged. It will seem (and probably be true) that those people aren't listening, aren't following advice, aren't trying, aren't changing, and certainly aren't maturing fast enough. Doubtless many of them are taking one step back for every two steps forward. It is frustrating and discouraging to put sacrificial effort into any endeavor without seeing results - perhaps more so when one realizes the eternal significance of the endeavor. In light of the possibility for discouragement, consider this verse:

"Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary" (Galatians 6:9).

We do not know when the harvest will come, but we know that it will come. Prayer, God's Word, and the Holy Spirit will do their work. As we continually allow God to use us as part of those efforts, we will see a harvest. We might not see fruit in every single endeavor. Some plants will be choked by thorns, will wither and die, or will have a delayed harvest, but some will bear fruit. Therefore, the minister of God cannot lose heart. He cannot give up. Eventually there will be fruit as God blesses faithful labor.

It does matter what we do with our lives and how we invest our energies, because the type of harvest reaped will reflect the nature of our labors. Spiritually intentioned and spiritually relevant labor will yield spiritual fruit. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

It matters how much we labor. Those who labor little will understandably harvest little, but those who labor abundantly will harvest in proportion. There are servants of God who pour their lives into God's work (whether vocationally or less formally), and they will have a resulting harvest by the gracious hand of God. "Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure - pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return" (Luke 6:38).

Because of the promise of spiritual reward for spiritual labor, we ought to take advantage of opportunities to minister to others. This is particularly true of our ministry to fellow believers, but definitely extends to the unsaved also. "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10).

Effective ministry to others is possible through a single motivating factor: love. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). I Corinthians 13:1-3 reveals that even the most noble and sacrificial ministry, if it is devoid of love, is worthless and meaningless. Service based in love, however, is quite effective.

Love is the correct motivation for service to the unsaved as well. In the context of reaching the lost, we read, "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (II Corinthians 5:14). When we understand that all men are condemned and spiritually dead, love prompts us to share the truth.

We are incapable of ministering effectively without love, and we are capable of love only because we have already experienced the love of God. "We love, because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Without God's love, we would not know what love looks like. Without receiving from His stores of love, we would have no love to offer to others. Because God loves us, however, we are able to show His love to those around us.

In this Christmas season, we are particularly reminded of God's love. God expressed His love with the greatest gift ever, sending His only Son, His holy Son, to live on a sin-cursed earth, to serve selflessly, to suffer incredibly, and to die cruelly just so that sinners can be reconciled to Him. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16). When we realize and remember the intense love of God for us, we ought to be motivated to show a measure of that love to others.

Mom, are your young children unruly and hard to manage? Dad, does your grown child resist all encouragement to return to God? Grandparent, are you burdened by the inclinations you see in your grandchildren? Sunday school teacher, do the children seem more interested in playing than in listening? Church worker, does that unsaved person argue with the gospel? Christian school teacher, is this year's class one of the most challenging you've ever seen? Pastor, does that infant Christian seem hopelessly mired in the world? Pastor's wife, does the one you are counseling ignore your advice? Don't give up. God does not call on us to produce the harvest; He simply asks us to labor faithfully. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6). Trust Him to do what He says.

Keep correcting, keep encouraging, keep guiding, keep teaching, keep sharing God's truth, keep extending yourself, keep reminding, and keep counseling. Determine to be faithful, planting and watering for another year and for as long as God gives opportunity. Be faithful, and then watch God give the harvest in His time. Share the Word, live the example, encourage the needy, and pray, pray, pray.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Bible Marking

The Bible is special, and I have heard numerous guidelines for showing it proper respect. For example, the Bible should not be placed on the floor. Other books or items should not be placed on top of the Bible. The Bible should not be thrown around or handled carelessly. To avoid spills, one shouldn't eat or drink with an open Bible. These are all good ways to give the Bible respect.

Another guideline is to never write, draw, color, or in any other way mark the Bible's pages. I agree that one should not carelessly doodle or scrawl messages in the Bible, but I definitely believe there are appropriate and even beneficial ways of marking the Bible. In essence, I believe deliberate Bible marking can enhance a believer's study of the Bible and can benefit his Christian walk.

Before sharing ideas for Bible marking, I want to acknowledge some objections people may have. In recognition of the Bible's special status, some people would refrain from marking anything in their Bible, wanting to keep it neat, clean, and unblemished. Others might determine that no input from humans, possibly fallible, should appear on the pages of God's truth. Some make no markings so that each time they read, they can discover the truth anew. Others hesitate to mark the Bible out of concern they might write down an erroneous thought, something that a few years of maturity will contradict or refine. Additionally, some could fear a cluttered look that would detract from the actual words of God.

I can have sympathy for each of these reasons, and I would not want to argue with anyone who sincerely believes them. I would suggest, however, that the Bible is a book designed to help its readers. I believe careful and thoughtful marking of the Bible can enhance the help the Bible provides. When this is the result, the person marking has not shown diminished respect for the Bible. On the contrary, he has demonstrated his desire to progressively grow into a deeper understanding of the Bible he admires.

Following are what I consider to be some appropriate methods of marking the Bible.
·         noting a cross reference, a verse elsewhere in the Bible that gives increased understanding of a verse/passage; or another passage with a similar message
·         underlining key words/phrases that clarify a passage's message
·         marking a repeated word or phrase in a passage, thereby noting something clearly taught with intention by God; including words translated differently but with a common root
·         making a note that links parts of a Bible narrative (perhaps a decision and later consequence)
·         making notes that clarify the structure or outline of a passage
·         noting the application of a passage
·         writing down the theme of a book or passage; or listing verses that reveal the theme
·         noting background information (author, setting, audience) about a book
·         writing a definition or retranslation of a confusing word
·         writing down a date when a verse/passage had significant personal impact
·         writing down a well-stated quotation from a message

Because these types of notations require thought and focused comprehension, they can be a helpful part of personal Bible study. Whether done during personal study or public instruction, the notations serve the purpose of facilitating and enhancing future reading of the same passage. With a visual reminder of some key truths already discovered, the reader can move forward to achieve even greater understanding; he can also be protected from following erroneous thoughts that might surface if he did not see the truth he had previously noted.

There are some cautions for Bible marking. One should not write something down just because he thinks it or because someone else says it. To be helpful for proper future study, notes must be accurate; a discriminating Bible marker will note something only when he has a high degree of confidence in its accuracy. Notes should be brief, a single word or just a few words, so they don't clutter the Bible. Markings should be neat, both for clarity and so the Bible does not appear to be carelessly treated. As much as possible, notes should be made in the top, bottom, or side margins rather than within the text. (Quotations or sermon outlines from special events can be written in blank pages at the front or back of the Bible.)

Finally, one should not go overboard. Simply from the perspective of space on the page, it is not practical to write down every interesting quote, every sermon outline from a passage, statements of personal application, or prayers of response. Neither are some of these likely to yield much future profit. (A spiritual journal would be a great venue for these thoughts.) In short, each person should determine what best helps him to profit upon later reading of the same passage without being distracting.

I recently started the new practice of highlighting in my Bible. I did this because over many years of studying, I have begun to see more clearly some common themes of the Bible, themes I want readily accessible when I open my Bible.

There are highlighters (or pencils) especially designed for the thin pages of Bibles; many come with a recommended legend. The set I bought suggests different colors for blessings, growth/new life, the Holy Spirit, and salvation. I recommend each person make his own legend so he can highlight and easily reference what is important to him. This might include Bible promises, God's character, God's names, trials, eternal security, temptation, or other topics.

I chose yellow for key verses, allowing me to easily locate frequently sought verses. I chose blue for common themes of books or passages so I can quickly see and effectively track concepts taught in a particular book. I chose pink for God's love which fills the pages of Scripture. I chose green for the frequent concept that God gives man a choice whether or not to follow Him. I am enjoying this project in the present and look forward to the future profit it will provide.

"The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:130 NASB).

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bezalel

Bezalel was one of the most talented people in all of the Bible. His work was tremendously important to generations of Israelites and has  been talked about throughout the ages of history. He was a prolific craftsman whose work was truly worthy of admiration.

"Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah" (Exodus 31:1-2). God had a big job for Bezalel. Along with his assistant, Oholiab, Bezalel was basically commissioned to make everything for the tabernacle. The amount of work, the variety of work, and the quality of the work were incredible.

Consider the amount of work. Although Bezalel and Oholiab did train some helpers, essentially the entire work of making the tabernacle rested on them. This included the actual curtains that formed the structure. In creating the structure, they had to prepare hooks, boards, bars, pillars, sockets, poles, curtains, screens, hangings, pegs, coverings, gratings, clasps, and bands. They also had to make all the furniture for the tabernacle, including the ark of the testimony, the mercy seat, the table for the bread, the lampstand, and the laver with its stand. Additionally, they had to make all the utensils that were used in conjunction with these furnishings: dishes, pans, bowls, jars, snuffers, trays, pails, shovels, basins, flesh hooks, and fire pans.  These men had to make the priestly garments, the anointing oil, and the fragrant incense for the holy place (Exodus 31, 38, & 39).

Consider the variety of work. These were true Renaissance men, gifted in multiple areas of creativity. They were sculptors of precious metals (gold, silver, and bronze). They were jewelers who cut and set precious stones. They were engravers of precious metals and gems. They were woodcarvers, upholsterers, and furniture makers. They were clothing designers, weavers, embroiderers, and seamstresses. They were perfumers (chemists). On top of all this, they were also teachers who instructed others in their vast knowledge.

Consider the quality of work. What these men did had to be "according to all that I have commanded you" (31:11). They were creating the extremely special place in which God chose to meet with man. By no means could their work be slipshod, careless, or mediocre. This was not a matter of merely throwing a few simple things together or just making a functional structure.

They prepared the furniture with gold overlays, golden moldings, and golden rings for transporting the furniture. They crafted golden cherubim with outspread wings. The incredible six-branched lampstand, adorned with bulbs and flower blossoms, was all hammered out of a single piece of gold. The altar featured horns. The curtains were made of finely twisted linen of several colors, apparently with pictures of cherubim worked into them.

When they made the priestly clothing, they hammered gold into sheets and then cut it into threads to be woven into the clothing. They set engraved onyx stones into shoulder pieces. They mounted rows of engraved precious stones into gold filigree settings in the breastplate. They made chains of gold like twisted rope to hold the pieces together and added a special binding to protect the openings of the robe from tearing. The hem was decorated with pomegranates of fine twisted linen of various colors alternated with golden bells that actually tinkled. They created decorated caps and sashes and an engraved crown.

In all of this work, Bezalel and Oholiab met God's expectations. God said they did everything just right. "And Moses examined all the work and behold, they had done it; just as the LORD had commanded, this they had done" (39:43).

Where did Bezalel's talent come from? God said, "I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftmanship" (31:3-5). Bezalel and Oholiab were described as men "in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary" (36:1).

These men apparently had some natural talent, and even that talent came from God, who said, "In the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill" (31:6). Each of these men was a "skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill" (36:2). God took their natural (God-given) skill and raised it to levels far beyond what these men would have ever had without His continued purposeful interaction.

What is the point? First, talent clearly comes from God. God gave these men talents and increased their natural talent to incredible levels. Any talent that a believer has, whether large or small, comes from God. Even if someone works to develop and perfect his talents, he can never boast in his own efforts or insinuate that he has made himself great. Every talent is a gift from God and an enablement by Him.

Second, a believer must be willing to serve God with his talents. Moses gave a proclamation seeking workers: "Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the LORD has commanded" (35:10). Bezalel came not because he was forced, but because he was willing. "Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came" (35:21). Bezalel and Oholiab were included in the group of willing workers. "Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person, . . . everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it" (36:2). Talents are not to be used for personal glory, for personal ambition, or according to individual preference; rather, they must be offered freely to God  to be used fully for Him and according to the direction and guidance that He provides.

"Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee." (Frances Havergal)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Medicine, Construction, and Travel

Although the Christian life often proceeds without a great deal of reflection regarding spiritual status, sometimes God focuses our thoughts on His personal work in us. Recently He has been doing that for me.

Over the years I have gone through times of serious spiritual struggle in which I have been desperate and needy. I have often considered these times of struggle by using comparisons.

For example, the spiritual struggle has seemed like a physical illness in which I was so weak and so far from health that it seemed I would need thousands of doses of medicine before I could reach a level of even reasonable health. At those times, I doubted I could ever be healthy again.

I have also compared the struggle to a construction project in which I couldn't make any progress in forming the building because I couldn't even get a foundation that wouldn't crumble and fall apart. It seemed that I would never be able to get even a simple building framed and under roof.

A third comparison is that of a lengthy journey which I could not undertake because I was stuck in quicksand. It seemed impossible to extricate myself from the bog, let alone conquer the rugged terrain that stretched beyond.

In these struggles I knew I needed God's help through the Bible, but my need seemed so immense and my attempts to find that help pitiful and insufficient. It seemed total disaster would come before I could ever take enough doses of medicine, add enough bricks, or take enough steps to get from my current state to a reasonable level of health, development, or progress.

In spite of those pessimistic evaluations, I can now see that God did in fact lift me from those helpless situations. In recent weeks I have realized anew that He has strengthened me. I am more grounded in the Word, more knowledgeable about the specific help I need for particular challenges, and more inclined to turn quickly to God for help. Beyond increased personal maturity, I am amazed at the multiple opportunities God has given me to minister His truth to others - opportunities that I would not have imagined possible.

This growth is certainly not because of me. "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (I Corinthians 15:10). "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). I am not capable of making myself what I ought to be or of changing myself as I need to change. That is God's work.

It should not be surprising that God does the work. His intent is to transform me. "He who began a good work in you will perfect it" (Philippians 1:6). "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image" (II Corinthians 3:18). "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (I Peter 5:10).

Of course, I still struggle, sometimes intensely. However, by God's grace I am not so lost, helpless, and hopeless as I have been at times in the past. As I remember to look to Him, He gives me help from His Word and through His Spirit.

I am very aware that God's work is not finished. God continues to give me medicine, build His structure, and guide me on the journey. I see that my spiritual health has improved, my building is going up, and my path has covered many miles. I am thankful for this progress, but by no means would I consider myself a mighty athlete, a magnificent skyscraper, or a world traveler.

Though not achieved yet, those levels are possible as God continues to do the work that He desires in me. In fact, He wants me to be just like His own Son. "Until we all attain to . . . a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).

I intend for this personal testimony to have two purposes. First, I want to express thanks to God and give Him glory for His gracious and incredible work in my heart. Second, I want to encourage anyone who is discouraged at his or her own spiritual condition. What God is doing for me, He has done for many other Christians, and He can do for you. If you see poor health, a disastrous building, or an impossible journey, and if your Christian growth seems helpless, take hope. Keep taking the medicine, keep adding bricks, and continue taking deliberate steps forward - no matter how slow or small the progress seems. Most often the change is gradual. You may not see the improvement this week, this month, or even this year, but God will do it. It may be a long time before you reach the level of the spiritual role models that you admire, but God can lead you to that level as you seek His help.

What are the doses of medicine, the construction materials, and the steps? They are not necessarily as simple as just reading a new verse or passage from the Bible each day. Rather they are steps forward in understanding and submitting to God's truth. Those instances of understanding work gradually. Every dose of medicine contributes to improved health. Every brick and board contributes to a more developed structure, and every step carries the traveler further down the path. Over time, the consistent accumulation of these will bring maturity.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us" (Ephesians 3:20).

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Habakkuk

The book of Habakkuk records a conversation between God and Habakkuk. In essence, Habakkuk questions his troubling context. God's somewhat unexpected answers result in Habakkuk's wonderful conclusion.

Habakkuk: "How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, 'Violence!' yet You do not save" (1:2).

Habakkuk lists the troubles he sees: "iniquity," "wickedness," "destruction and violence," "strife and contention" (1:3). Because of all this, Habakkuk concludes, "Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted" (1:4).

God: "I am doing something in your days - you would not believe if you were told" (1:5).

God challenges Habakkuk, "Look . . . ! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder!" (1:5), because God's unbelievable work will amaze Habakkuk. God explains that He is raising up the Chaldeans, a people "fierce and impetuous" (1:6), "dreaded and feared" (1:7). In their arrogant wickedness, "their justice and authority originate with themselves" (1:7). They "come for violence" (1:9), "swooping down to devour" (1:8). Their one purpose is to conquer other nations. They "seize dwelling places which are not theirs" (1:6), "collect captives like sand" (1:9), "mock at kings" (1:10), "laugh at every fortress and heap up rubble" (1:10). Most shocking is that God is the One "raising up" this nation (1:6) and giving them power to "sweep through like the wind" (1:11).

Habakkuk: "Why do You look with favor on those who deal treacherously?" (1:13).

Habakkuk doesn't understand how God can do such a thing, knowing that God's "eyes are too pure to approve evil, and [He] can not look on wickedness with favor" (1:13). Habakkuk asks, therefore, "Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?" (1:13). Habakkuk compares the vulnerable nations to fish swimming aimlessly, with no leader to direct or protect them (1:14). He says the Chaldeans have a net in which they "drag them away" and "gather them together" (1:15) quite successfully. "Their catch is large" (1:16), and they "continually slay nations without sparing" (1:17). Of course, the Chaldeans attribute this to their own strength, and accordingly "offer sacrifice to their net" (1:16).

God: "The vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail" (2:3).

God clearly declares that what He has predicted will in fact happen. "It will certainly come, it will not delay" (2:3). God then gives several comparisons for the Chaldeans. They will be like a drunk man who is emboldened by wine to go out and conquer unrestrainedly (2:5). They will be like a creditor who makes exorbitant loans, becoming rich at others' expense (2:6,8). They will be like a builder who takes advantage of others to make his house great (2:9). They will be like a leader who uses violence to build a town for himself (2:12). They will be like a party host who makes his guests drunk so he can take advantage of them (2:15).  

For each illustration, however, God also declares judgment. Chaldea's victories will be only temporary; in time the oppressed will rise up. Those conquered by his drunken boldness will "take up a taunt-song against him, even mockery and insinuations" (2:6). Those crippled by his outrageous loans will "rise up suddenly," and the Chaldeans "will become plunder" for them (2:7). The very parts of the house built by the wicked "will cry out" against the builder (2:11). God declares woe on the wicked town builder (2:12), and the party host will become drunk himself and will be at the mercy of the guests (2:16).

Chaldea's error was being a "proud one" (2:4). Chaldea made its own strength its god (1:11), and God reveals the folly of this belief. "What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it . . . ? For its maker trusts in his own handiwork when he fashions speechless idols" (2:18). Chaldea was foolish to trust in itself, and there was no hope that its victories would endure. God was in control, and He would make His glory known (2:14). "The righteous [would] live by his faith" (2:4). God concludes His speech with the reassuring challenge, "The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him" (2:20).

Habakkuk: "LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear" (3:2).

Habakkuk fixes his eyes on God. He recognizes God as "the Holy One" (3:3). He considers God's "splendor" (3:3), His "praise" (3:3), His "radiance" (3:4), and His "power" (3:4). He recognizes God's eternal ability to control nations through pestilence, plague, or any other method (3:5-7). In verses 8-15, Habakkuk graphically recounts God's judgment, perhaps past judgments or perhaps foreseeing the future judgment of Chaldea. In short, the very earth and heavens obey and yield to the hand of God, as will men and nations; there is no stopping His chastisement.

Habakkuk sees that God "went forth for the salvation of [His] people" (3:13). Because Habakkuk's salvation remains in the future, however, he admits, "In my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us" (3:16). Nevertheless, because he has reminded himself of truth about God, Habakkuk concludes, "Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation" (3:17-18).

Habakkuk recognized that things might be really bad for a while; it might seem like the wicked are winning. God might even intentionally use wicked people to execute His plan, but their success will last only as long as it coincides with and accomplishes His purposes. Ultimately, God will bring His followers victory.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

II Chronicles: Conclusion

In relating the story of Judah, II Chronicles shares moments of glory, incredible victories, and times of spiritually sensitive revival. It also reveals moments of pain, momentous defeats, and times of rebellious abomination. Although God gave forgiveness, second chances, and extensions of mercy, the kings and the nation moved progressively toward rebellion and evil, ultimately bringing destruction through God's judgment.

Because of the grace and promises of God, however, the story amazingly continues past destruction. It seems impossible that this story could end on a positive note, but the verse describing judgment also hints at a future: "until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths" and "until seventy years were complete" (II Chronicles 36:21). God's judgment was not permanent; the final two verses of the book reveal that God's interaction with these rebellious people was not over.

God still wanted to bless them, and He again gave an opportunity. Cyrus, the foreign king over Judah's captivity, humbly recognized God's blessing on his reign and acknowledged his mission from God. God directed Cyrus to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and Cyrus issued an open invitation to the captives of Judah, "Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!" (36:23). Cyrus thus initiated the return of the Jews to their land.

This result should not be surprising. God had made promises to the patriarchs and to David. Having chosen this people for Himself, God had promised they would be a great multitude and would never be annihilated. He had promised David an unending royal line. As surely as God kept His promise to destroy Judah if they rebelled, He would keep His promise to restore them.

Solomon, the first king described in II Chronicles, prayed, "When they sin against You . . . and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive . . . if they . . . repent and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity . . . then hear from heaven . . . their prayer and supplications, and maintain their cause and forgive Your people" (6:36-39). God responded, "[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land" (7:14).

God also shared the negative consequences: "If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot you from My land" (7:19-20). This response is consistent with how God has historically dealt with His people. Throughout Scripture, God promised either blessing or judgment based on how His people responded toward Him, and He consistently followed through.

II Chronicles is not at all secretive about why God blessed or judged at specific times. Over and over again God overtly states His reasons for blessing (humility and obedience) or for judgment (rebellion and disobedience). The two outcomes are extremely different. God's blessing was rich - land prospering, military strengthened, amazing victories. God's judgment was harsh - losses in battle, captivity, serious illness, political upheaval. The sober message is this: When God's blessing is so great, why would someone not want to be clearly on His side? When God's judgment is so heavy, why would someone ever want to turn against God? When God is so ready to forgive, why would people not turn to Him and repent?

II Chronicles reveals God's grace. Understanding the weakness of sinful man, God declared kings to be good even when they were inconsistent. Some kings failed greatly, but rather than demanding perfection in order to give blessing, God looked for a heart inclined toward Him and generally seeking to please Him. God was quick to reverse His dealings when evil kings repented. Despite a lifetime opposing God, it took just an instance of humility to change everything. If men were willing to turn to God, He was waiting to embrace them.

The biggest challenge to good kings remaining faithful was pride. Several kings who were great followers of God and experienced His blessing failed in their later years. Perhaps they attributed their success to their own efforts, forgetting it came from the gracious hand of God. Their pride marked the end of blessing and produced blemishes on the records of otherwise godly men. When they forgot how much they needed God, they fell.

God's blessing did not mean the absence of problems. While life is peaceful at times, every life has problems. The godly kings faced serious military situations and serious health issues just like the ungodly kings did. The difference is that the godly kings had God's help, and they experienced His miraculous deliverance. In situations far outside their control, their faith in God allowed them to see His mighty power in control. God's blessing doesn't guarantee total bliss, but rather assures of God's help through the problems.

The Old Testament was written for admonition and encouragement; the principles of God's interactions, revealed repeatedly in Scripture, remain true today. God wants to bless obedience and promises to punish disobedience. Historically, many Christians and unbelievers have focused on the angry, judgmental side of God, even using II Chronicles as proof. These stories actually heighten and enhance the understanding of God as loving, gracious, merciful, kind, longsuffering, and gentle. If God were primarily angry and looking for a reason to send judgment, He has failed to take advantage of innumerable opportunities. Instead His love has made Him longsuffering and merciful, demonstrated as He repeatedly delays judgment, offers reconciliation, and seeks restoration.

"Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust." (Psalm 103:13-14 NASB)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

II Chronicles: Final Four Kings

Without doubt, the story of Judah's final kings is sad. After Josiah's inspirational searching, his three sons and one grandson showed no godly inclinations. Collectively their reigns lasted less than twenty-three years, brief years that marked Judah's final descent toward God's judgment.

 Joahaz (Jehoahaz), Josiah's son, ruled for only three months. The passage shares no actions or accomplishments. Perhaps he wasn't in power long enough to do anything significant, but the truth that God's promised judgment was hastening is clear. Beginning with Joahaz, every king was taken captive. The same king of Egypt who was involved in the battle that had killed Josiah now entered Jerusalem and removed Joahaz from the throne. Egypt's king imposed a fine on the land and transported Joahaz to Egypt.

 Eliakim, renamed Jehoiakim, was Josiah's next son to reign. "He did evil in the sight of the LORD" (II Chronicles 36:5 NASB). The specific manifestations of that evil are not revealed, but the intensity is. The man did "abominations," and charges were "found against him" (36:8). Again, no specific actions are recorded, but the abominations that God found against him were so great that God again brought judgment. Jehoiakim's refusal to follow God predictably resulted in his demise. This time Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was the executor of justice; he carried the king away as a chained prisoner and also appropriated "some of the articles of the house of the LORD" for use in his own worship (36:7).

 Jehoiachin (Jehoiakim's son and Josiah's grandson) became the next king. At the young age of eight, it is nearly inconceivable that this king "did evil in the sight of the LORD," but he was sufficiently evil in his brief reign of three months and ten days for God to make note of the evil (36:9). God judged Jehoiachin by again sending Nebuchadnezzar, who took the king captive and removed additional treasures from the temple. All people, even children, have the opportunity to do right and make their own choices. "Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right" (Proverbs 20:11 KJV). Jehoiachin's heart was already bent toward evil, and in light of God's rapidly approaching judgment on Judah, God did not delay in removing this young king who was doing nothing to deter that judgment.

 Zedekiah (Jehoiachin's uncle and a third son of Josiah) was ten when his father died. In the ensuing eleven-and-a-half years, he had watched as each of the three kings who preceded him was taken into captivity. His brothers and nephew had rebelled against God and had been harshly judged. No king had any stronger warning or greater motivation to do right.

 Nevertheless, as the time of God's judgment rushed toward its culmination, God gave abundantly more warning. Over and over again, God gave Zedekiah opportunities to turn to Him. He was the focus of much of the ministry of "Jeremiah the prophet who spoke for the LORD" (36:12). Additionally, "the LORD . . . sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place" (36:15).

 In spite of these multiple warnings, Zedekiah "did evil in the sight of the LORD" and "did not humble himself" (36:12). He "hardened his heart against turning to the LORD" (36:13). Zedekiah was not alone. "The priests and the people were very unfaithful following all the abominations of the nations; and they defiled the house of the LORD" (36:14). "They continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets" (36:16).

 Zedekiah was a proud man. In addition to his rebellion against God, he also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who by this point controlled the throne of Judah and "who had made [Zedekiah] swear allegiance by God" (36:13). Zedekiah determined to succeed where his brothers and nephew had failed, and he refused to yield to anyone. In asserting his own might and his own ability to control his life and nation, he rebelled against God's authority and rejected God's opportunities.

 Zedekiah was not necessarily more evil than previous kings, nor was God's judgment based on the king's response alone, but the wickedness and rejection of God during Zedekiah's reign reached the limit. After so many spurned chances and so many rejected warnings, "the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy" (36:16). God's wrath had been stirred often in the past, yet He had always delayed the outpouring of that wrath through merciful responses to expressions of humility. This time God saw no humility, so He did what He had always said He would do - He brought decisive judgment on a nation that had rebelled against Him for far too long.

 The long-impending and oft-delayed judgment was severe. The Chaldean army arrived, killing indiscriminately of age, sex, or physical condition. God "gave them all into his hand. All the articles of the house of God . . . and the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king and of his officers, he brought them all to Babylon. Then they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem, and burned all its fortified buildings with fire and destroyed all its valuable articles. Those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him" for seventy years (36:17-20, emphasis added). Zedekiah's end was worse than the end of any previous king, because it was the end of the kingdom. All was lost. God had said He would do it, and He did.

 The conquest's devastation is heart-wrenching, yet even this sad story reveals the merciful longsuffering and compassion of God. He remained willing to forgive if the people would only humble themselves, and He initiated multiple opportunities for them to do so. To both individuals and groups of people, His invitation still stands: "Come back to Me."

Saturday, October 29, 2016

II Chronicles: Josiah

Josiah "did right in the sight of the LORD . . . and did not turn aside" (II Chronicles 34:2). Who influenced him to walk that way? His very wicked father (mercifully) may have had little impact. Josiah's father was only sixteen when Josiah was born and died at age twenty-four when Josiah was only eight. Josiah's father was king for only the last two of those years; for the first six years of his life, Josiah would have seen his repentant grandfather rule. It seems likely that, even at his young age, Josiah saw the difference between the two men and was influenced toward righteousness by his grandfather.

Nevertheless, Josiah's spiritual journey was gradual. With his limited understanding, he apparently did right from the beginning of his reign, but as he grew in understanding over the years, he accordingly took progressive steps of obedience, developing a heart increasingly devoted to God. This progression can be seen by observing that it was eight years into his reign when "he began to seek the God of his father David" (34:3). Four years after that, "he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places . . .  and the molten images" (34:3). It was another six years before he repaired the house of God (34:8).

It seems uncertain that Josiah knew precisely what to do in following God, and no helpful godly advisors are mentioned. The steps Josiah took in his early years were good; he thoroughly destroyed the false gods (34:3-7). It is a bit of a wonder, however, that he didn't do anything with the temple until his eighteenth year as king. Only when he finally took this action was the book of the law discovered, and only then did Josiah really have clear guidance for how to proceed.

His amazing Passover celebration took place within the same year that the temple repairs started and the book of the law was found. When Josiah knew what God said, he acted quickly, but he could have followed God more thoroughly if he'd found God's written words sooner. Josiah's experience mimics that of so many Christians today. Too many Christians acknowledge that they want to follow God, but they have little idea of what that means practically because they do not read God's Word to see what He wants. In the absence of such knowledge, they do what Josiah did; they do what they think is right, probably even doing some good things, but they leave other very important things undone, simply because they haven't read the Bible to know what they ought to do. Their service to God is shallow because, frankly, they don't know what God wants, so they settle for their best guess of what a Christian should be like.

This lack of knowledge does not question the sincerity of modern-day believers any more than it did for Josiah. Josiah truly sought God, and he had a heart that was very tender to God, evidenced by his response to hearing the Word of God (34:27). Josiah was appalled at his and the people's sin in failing to obey God's instructions. He sincerely humbled himself before God and immediately sought God's prophet for spiritual guidance. These responses demonstrate what a truly seeking heart does when confronted with truth.

Josiah continued his progressive spiritual growth by responding to this new truth. In addition to humble repentance and purposeful inquiries of the prophet, Josiah shared God's truth with those around him (34:30). He then took an additional step of commitment when he "stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD to walk after the LORD . . . with all his heart and with all his soul" (34:31). Josiah continued what he had already been doing right (34:33) and showed such strong spiritual leadership that "throughout his lifetime [the people] did not turn from following the LORD God" (34:33).

As in the lives of so many kings before him, Josiah's life also reveals the balance between God's anger and His mercy. Josiah realized, and the prophet confirmed that Judah's ongoing disobedience would bring God's impending judgment. "Behold, I am bringing evil on this place . . . because they have forsaken Me . . . that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands" (34:24-25). Once again, however, God responded to humble repentance, delaying His judgment when He was entreated. "Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself . . . when you heard His words . . . behold, I will gather you to your fathers . . . so your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring" (34:27-28).

While Josiah gradually grew closer to God, he did have one significant failure, which ended up costing him his life. King Neco of Egypt passed through the area with his army, and Josiah decided to fight him. Neco neither intended nor wanted to fight Josiah and warned Josiah not to come out against him. Josiah's insistence on fighting could have been just an error in judgment, but it became more serious when Neco informed Josiah that he was on a mission for God and that Josiah was actually hindering God's work by coming against him (35:21). While Josiah (perhaps understandably) did not trust that warning, verse 22 makes it clear that Neco was telling the truth. His caution really was intended as a warning from God, and Josiah did not heed it. In this sad conclusion to Josiah's life, he died in a battle that he should not have fought and also hindered God's work in the process.

In spite of this final failure, Josiah provides a wonderful example of life-long spiritual growth. As he learned new truth, he consistently embraced and followed that truth, rising to increasingly higher levels. His story also highlights the necessity of accurately knowing what God expects by actively seeking guidance and truth in the Bible.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

II Chronicles: Amon

The brief reign of Amon is recorded in a mere handful of verses. His story is explained by relating it to his father Manasseh's story. The two verses that describe his life contain three connections or comparisons to his father.

The first statement is a comparison, stating that Amon "did evil in the sight of the LORD as Manasseh his father had done" (II Chronicles 33:22). While Manasseh dramatically turned to God in his later years, the sad truth of his evil reputation lingered. Manasseh's early years had been incredibly wicked, and those were the years that Amon chose to emulate, even though he had probably not been alive to see any of them.

The second statement reveals a consequence: "Amon sacrificed to all the carved images which his father Manasseh had made, and he served them" (33:22). Manasseh had tried to do the right thing after he turned to God. He had removed idols and destroyed altars, but apparently his work was not thorough. Whether Amon found those idols in a warehouse or a rubbish heap or some other place, he chose them as his objects of worship. He undid the spiritual reform that his father had initiated, and he re-established the false gods that his father had rejected. Manasseh's days of evil had a lingering effect that the reformed Manasseh would never have wanted to see.

The third statement is also a comparison. Amon "did not humble himself before the LORD as his father Manasseh had done" (33:23). God always offers the possibility of repentance, as had been powerfully illustrated in the life of Manasseh. Amon likewise could have turned to God. He could have humbled himself, but he chose not to. Amon did not give even a moderated show of repentance. Instead, he "multiplied guilt" (33:23). His stubborn rebellion and his insistence on walking away from God brought an abnormal increase in the level of guilt. Amon had grown up under a father who must have exuded the excitement of a changed life and who had enjoyed the spiritual refreshing that accompanied a humble, repentant heart. Amon had been given a golden opportunity to choose righteousness; he rejected that advantage and chose the way of evil instead. The passage suggests that in light of his potential, his blatant rejection yielded guilt that extended beyond the ordinary.

Amon's wickedness is not described in detail, but then he was king for only two years, so there weren't a lot of details to share. What is clear is that even his servants recognized the danger of his evil ways and were unwilling to endure a prolonged wicked reign. Amon's reign was apparently so unpleasant and was viewed so negatively, that after a very short time people realized his reign was going to be miserable and disastrous if allowed to continue. "Finally his servants conspired against him and put him to death in his own house" (33:24). The word "finally" is telling. Amon's reign hadn't lasted very long at all, but apparently it seemed like it. By the time two long years had passed, these servants had endured as much as they were able to endure. They had put up with this king's wicked ways long enough, and they assassinated him at the cost of their own lives.

The brief life of Amon illustrates that parents do have an influence on their children, but that ultimately each child must make his own decisions. Manasseh's life offered two possible models for imitation: the evil lifestyle of Manasseh's early years and the repentant lifestyle of his later years. While Amon did imitate his father, he made the wrong choice. He chose to imitate the wrong segment of his father's life, and did not follow that up by also imitating the right segment. Like his father, Amon could have turned God's anger away, but by his choices, Amon increased that anger instead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Election Perspective

Even non-Christian Americans are troubled by the Presidential choices and are deeply dissatisfied with the two major candidates. There seem to be three options. First, vote for the lesser of two evils. Second, vote for a third-party candidate. Third, don't vote at all. Which is correct?

The answer will not be the same for everyone. However, some proponents of each option are so dogmatic that they seem to condemn anyone who does not share their position. As Americans, we have the right to voice our opinions, and even as Christians it is appropriate to share insights that can be helpful to others, but we must maintain a proper perspective. While Romans 14 treats the specific examples of diets and holidays, it teaches an underlying principle that easily applies to the election dilemma.

This dilemma comes down to a matter of conscience. One person's conscience tells him to follow option one of the opening paragraph, while another's conscience directs him to option two or three. This difference leads to contention, arguing, and rebukes. In the Biblical example, "One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him" (vs. 2-3). Also, "One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God" (vs. 5-6).

If one person's conscience allows him to do something that another person cannot in good conscience do, the two are neither to regard each other with contempt nor to judge each other. (As a point of clarity, this principle refers to situations that the Bible does address either directly or by clear principle, and the election falls within that undefined realm.) Verses 5-6 provide an important perspective. Whichever decision one makes, it must be for the Lord. In other words, "voting my conscience" is not an excuse or a cop-out, neither is it something to be taken lightly. It is not based on political preference or on human logic. Rather, it is based on a careful and prayerful consideration of what one knows about God, how one understands the Bible, and how one believes he can honor God.

It is indeed God to whom each person will answer. "So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God" (v. 12). Each person is responsible for carefully considering the situation, seeking God's guidance, and then following through with what God shows him. Any lesser response would be sinful. "But to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (v. 14b). "All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense" (v. 20b). "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin" (v. 23). (emphasis added)

The first application is that each individual must earnestly seek what God would have him to do. Then, in spite of the opinions and pressures of others, he must steadfastly follow through. If God directs him to option one, two, or three, then he must not do anything else. "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves" (v. 22).

The second application is that each Christian must be sensitive to his brothers. Another's belief of conscience can be just as strong as one's own. It is appropriate to present (in a humble spirit) one's insights, and even to gently try to persuade, but when someone argues that a Christian cannot possibly have an opinion different from his own, he has crossed the line. I have seen and read statements that in essence say, "My position is the only correct position, and if you disagree, you are dead wrong." Because of the weight of their opinions, those in positions of respect must be especially careful, never trying to impose guilt or sway someone from following what he believes is right before God.

God reveals how serious such intimidation is. "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way" (v. 13) "For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died" (v. 15) "So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food" (vs. 19-20 emphasis added).

Some will recall that Romans 14 refers to a "weaker brother"; they might protest, "Why should America be destroyed because weaker brothers are voting for the wrong person?" Let us not be so confident to believe that we are the stronger brother. Might not those who condemn others as being wrong actually be the ones who are weak? Indeed the dilemma is complex enough that any one of us could, if we tried, successfully argue for either of the other two positions. Allow me to illustrate.

Option one: Vote for the lesser of two evils.
Only a vote for a major-party candidate will count, and I cannot waste my vote when God has given me a responsibility to fight for righteousness. I want to be salt and light and want to influence my government as much as I can and protect my country as much as I can, so I must cast a vote that will matter. While both choices are undesirable, one will cause a greater threat to Christian values and freedoms, so I must vote for the other choice. Inasmuch as rests in my power, I cannot allow a more precipitous decline for America and cannot allow America to be a harder place for my children to live in and a place that will threaten their faith.

Option two: Vote for someone other than those two options.
I cannot make a choice based on human reasoning, but must think of what would honor God. I am a Christian first and an American second, so if at all possible, I will not vote for a candidate whose entire life mocks God's righteousness. Instead of a short-term view that assumes this is America's and Christianity's last chance, I will take a longer-term view that raises a cry for morality and decency both now and in the future. Even if my candidate does not (or cannot) win, I believe that God will still be in control and will carry out what He intends in America. Many Bible characters were called upon to stand for righteousness, even if it meant loss or death, and voting for an honorable candidate is more important than seeing a political victory.

Option three: Don't vote at all.
Neither candidate is worthy of the office and therefore I cannot vote for either of them. The situation is so confusing that I really don't know what God wants or what would be best. On the one hand, it seems that God could not possibly be honored by either choice, and on the other hand, regardless of who is elected, God can do what He intends to do in the hearts of people and in America as a whole. Neither candidate is beyond God's grace, so it is possible for either one to be truly saved and begin to rely on God's help. Since human understanding is so incapable, I will leave the decision entirely up to God and His sovereignty. After all, God (through various means) sets up and takes down rulers, and maybe it is best to allow God to do so without getting in the way.

I earnestly believe that God will legitimately direct individual Christians to each of the three options given, and that He will do so in the proper combination to work out His plan. If each Christian considers the questions and arguments above and in earnest prayer asks God to direct him, he can know what action to take. Additionally, a believer who considers the truths above will not condemn, revile, or insult his brother who comes to a different conclusion. One thing is certain; whatever outcome results, it will be the one that God has ordained. Therefore, after the election, no one should cast blame at those who "ruined" the election by choosing the wrong option. "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven  and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’" (Daniel 4:35).