Friday, August 24, 2012

Discerning God's Direction

One question many people ponder is "What is God's will for my life?" This often can be found in the mind of the high school senior as he or she nears graduation. Throughout our lives we struggle with how to apply this question to specific situations we face. The question becomes "Is it God's will for me to take this new job?", "Is it in God's will for me to move and buy this new house?", "Is it God's will for me to marry this young lady or this gentleman?" Several times our concern over these questions, which are asked with the best intentions as they convey our desire to please God in the decisions we make in our lives, lead to unnecessary worry and anxiety. They may also lead to ridiculous ways to try to find the answer. However, the best place to find guidance on God's direction in these important decisions is always His Word.

Bring the Book!
The good news for us is that God's will for our lives is not hidden. We do not need to look all over creation to find it. We do not have to perform certain rituals or search high and low for a certain sign. We just need to look in His Word. You can throw out your Magic 8 Ball and put your quarter back in your pocket! God has expressed His will to us in His Word. He has told us His plan to redeem repentant and believing sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to new life three days later. And while it is true that there are certain aspects of His will He has chosen not to reveal (Deuteronomy 29:29), everything we need to know about Him and His plans He has not withheld from us. (Part of our problem is that we THINK that we need to know more than we are given but God does not owe His creatures an explanation for anything He has determined to do.)

God explicitly tells us His will for us in His Word. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). God's will for believers are that they continue to be made into the image of Christ. That is what He has predetermined for them. He commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and promises to work within us for us to be able to do so (for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure) (Philippians 2:12-13). This is what we refer to as "sanctification," the process where God works in and through the justified sinner to make him or her righteous. ("Justification" is God's declaring the sinner righteous through his or her faith alone in Christ alone and in "Glorification" Christ presents the sinner as fully righteous before God's throne.) So our goal in everything we do should be to strive toward holiness as Christ is holy. What does a holy life look like you may ask? Well God shows us what it means to walk in holiness throughout His Word. Just look at passages such as Romans 12:1-15:13; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Ephesians 4:17-6:20; Colossians 3:1-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; 5:12-22. What this means is that one of the first things you should do when dealing with a major decision, is to take the time to bring the book and study the book!

Using the Book

Some of you may still be scratching your heads and still wanting more help. How can I go about to see if this is a direction that God may be leading me for the purpose of my growth in holiness? To help myself when disputing over certain decisions that I have faced, I have put together the following questions taken from God's Word. These questions should aid you to examine the different possibilities that have been placed in front of you that you need to decide upon as to whether they are in God's plan for your growth in holiness. May God use these to lead you into following His perfect will for your life in all matters.

Have You Prayed About This?
One thing God says that serves as His will for every believer is that they pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The first step to discern where God may be leading with a certain decision is to ask for His help and guidance. Ask Him to help you evaluate whether it is part of His work in your life to aid in your growth in holiness or not. We know that we cannot trust ourselves and our knowledge due to our sinfulness (Proverbs 16:25) so we need the Spirit to direct us. As James reminds us, You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).

Are You Focused on God? Perhaps the biggest problem we have in discerning God's direction for our lives lies with our very own direction. Far too many times we have taken our focus off of the very One who is leading us. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. The path you should be on God will make straight for the ones who acknowledge Him in all their ways. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). To test (the literal Greek) what God's will is, Paul says that we need to have a mind that is not conformed to the way the world thinks but that is renewed in thinking God's thoughts after Him. This can only occur by studying God's thoughts as He has revealed them in His Word. If we are not focused on the One who is leading us in the perfect direction, we will never be able to find our way in that perfect direction. Make sure that you are focused on Christ and then examine where He may be leading. You will find that you may see God's direction a lot more clearly when you are looking towards Him. In fact, David tells us Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). If you are delighting in God, then the desires of your heart will be things that are desiring to Him. If you are desiring things that are not desirable to Him, then clearly you are not delighting in God but in yourself and your carnality. Take some time to evaluate your focus before even considering where God may be leading you in your decision so that you can see clearer His direction.

Is It Biblical? Since walking in holiness entails being obedient to God's commands, ask yourself if what you are considering goes against specific instruction found in Scripture. This will eliminate any unbiblical decisions right away that will hinder your growth in holiness. For instance, if the new job offer you received has some unfair practices or ones that would require you to cheat someone, you can quickly rule it out. A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight (Proverbs 11:1). If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9). If the woman or man that one may be considering marrying is an unbeliever, then the answer to whether they should marry him or her certainly is no as God clearly states Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). So set aside the necessary time to see if God's Word prohibits such a decision before acting upon it.

Is It Wise? So if you discover that the decision does not go against any explicit teaching of Scripture, another question you must ask is if it is a wise decision according to God's Word. Perhaps we each would do well to study the book of Proverbs more often as Solomon distinguishes between wisdom and foolishness. If the new job you may be considering means spending very little time at home with your family then you may want to rethink that job, especially if it takes away from your primary work as a husband to your wife and father to your children (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). On the flip side, if the new job offer enables you to better provide for your family than you are able to in the current job, that may indicate the wisdom in accepting such a position. Weighing the wisdom of the decision by God's wisdom taught in Scripture can very well help in seeing the direction in which God may be leading in regard to your growth in holiness.

Does It Glorify God? Scripture teaches us that our every motive for our every action should be to glorify God. Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17). The Westminster Confession of Faith states it well when it says, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Ask yourself whether this decision will glorify God or not. Will the new job allow you to glorify God better than your present job or would you be able to glorify God more where you currently serve? For the couple considering marriage the question that should be asked is "can we glorify God more together than apart?" Will the decision maximize the glory you can give to God?

Will It Aid In My Sanctification? While all of these questions we are looking at deal with examining the direction that God may be leading for one's growth in holiness, I don't think it would hurt to specifically evaluate whether the decision may or may not help one in their spiritual growth. For the person considering a move, have you checked to see if a local congregation that is committed to the sole authority and inerrancy of the Word of God and the exaltation of Christ can be found close by? Too many times those who contemplate a move fail to consider such an important question. Is this an area in which you and your family will have opportunities to grow spiritually and share the gospel? For the couple seeking God's wisdom pertaining to marriage, does your boyfriend or girlfriend encourage and challenge you spiritually? Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, asks the important question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Is the person you are dating or courting one who continually directs you to God which will aid in your holiness or do they pull you away from God and thus hinder your growth in holiness? Such a question can help one decide whether such a direction may be God's will for their life.

Has God Been Opening Or Closing the Doors In This Direction? After seeing whether the decision you are grappling with is biblical, wise, glorifies God, and will help you grow spiritually, then take some time to notice God's providential work in the situation. The Bible is clear that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Has He been opening a door in a certain direction you are seeking or continuing to close the door to the opportunity? In Acts 16:6-10 we read about how Paul heads one direction towards Asia to preach the gospel and was forbidden by the Holy Spirit (v. 6). Then the Apostle tries to go to the area of Bithynia to preach and Luke reports the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them (v. 7). We are not told exactly how the door for ministry had been shut in these two areas but just that clearly God redirected him. It very well could have been through different situations ordained by God's providence. God then makes it clear that He has been directing Paul and company to go to Macedonia to preach to the people there (vv. 9-10). (For a more thorough look at this passage and its application to God's guidance, see my previous post, "The Guidance of God.")If God is leading you down a certain path towards a certain direction, He will make it clear by the doors He sovereignly opens and closes. Try as you may, if God wants you to make a certain decision, you will eventually do it. Just look at Jonah to find out how well things went when he decided to go against God's will for him to preach to the Ninevites. God made it very clear for him what His will for him was in that situation. (Of course Jonah had God directly tell him right away where God now speaks to us primarily through His Word.) God stopped the prophet in his tracks heading away from Him and His will. King Saul was deadset on killing David out of his jealousy of his young successor but God did not deliver him into his hand (1 Samuel 23:14). How is God providentially leading you with the decision you are wrestling with?

So take your Bible and head off to a place where you will not be disturbed for a while. Take time to pray and ask for God's guidance, examine whether you are focused on Him, see if the decision you are mulling over is biblical, wise, maximizes the potential for you to glorify God, aids in your growth in holiness, and whether God appears to be opening or closing the doors in that direction. Then go do it (or as the case may be don't do it)! May God use His Spirit through His Word to lead you to where He would have you to be for the glory of His name!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Crazy Controversy Over Chick-Fil-A

I have to admit that I have been following all of the hoopla over the controversy that has erupted concerning the recent statements made by the president of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, with amazement. Much of what I have read and heard have just been unbelievable. Coming from my background in philosophy (part of my major in my undergraduate studies), seeing so many logical fallacies in public debate is just abhorrent. Though I do believe that much of the reaction to Mr. Cathy's statements supporting the biblical definition (and thereby God's definition since Scripture is His Word) of marriage does reveal much of how the pro-homosexual agenda operates. This controversy has been telling in more ways than one.

What began as an innocent statement of the values of the president of a successful restaurant chain have escalated into an all out war with people siding in favor of Chick-Fil-A (those going to eat there today for "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day") and those opposing by boycotting the company (either by refusing to eat there again or choosing to no longer provide toys for their kids meals). Much manipulation was used by the pro-homosexual agenda to get to this point. First of all, how surprising is it that Mr. Cathy, a professing Christian of one of the few restaurants that are closed on Sundays to articulate a Christian view that the Bible unambiguously teaches and in which the Christian church has held for 2000 years? What else would one expect? (But then again I am constantly amazed when couples planning for marriage meet with me in my office to ask me to conduct their wedding and appear surprised when I address the issue of them living together to be a sin according to Scripture.) That in itself technically is not controversial. I actually find it more controversial when a professing Christian who claims to take the Bible as God's Word supports so-called same-sex marriage despite God's clear definition of marriage given in Genesis 2:24 and affirmed all throughout the Bible, and by Jesus Himself (Matthew 19:4-6)!

Also, how did we go from a statement that Chick-Fil-A "are very much supportive of the family unit-the biblical definition of the family unit" and pointing out how a movement to redefine God's institution of marriage basically is man raising his fist to God in rebellion and claiming that he knows better than God (a claim I myself have made several times) to Mr. Cathy hates homosexuals and Chick-Fil-A discriminates against gays and lesbians? Mr. Cathy never said anything about homosexuals in any of the statements in which I have read. He actually spoke on what constitutes a marriage and a family. It appears to me that what we have here is deliberate manipulation to promote an agenda. Mr. Cathy's statements on marriage would not create such a firestorm but if the American public could be convinced that homosexuals are once again a victim of unfair treatment, more attention and sympathy may be gained to their cause. A similar tactic can be noticed by the pro-homosexual agenda in regards to their claim that they are the new "civil rights" movement of the 1960s; comparing themselves to the unjustifiable unfair treatment of African Americans. (Dr. Voddie Baucham reveals how erroneous and manipulative such a claim is here in his very well written article.) Such manipulation appears common by many in this group pushing for the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and a redefinition of marriage to suit their carnal desires. The facts of Mr. Cathy's statement probably would not have generated as much buzz nor aided their cause as well.

A New Definition of Tolerance and A Double Standard
Not only does this controversy show some of the manipulative strategies that many in the pro-homosexual lobbying groups are willing to use, it also reveals what they really mean by tolerance. This group over and over again preaches tolerance. "You must tolerate my lifestyle even if you don't agree with it." To promote their cause they have redefined the historic understanding of the term tolerance. Erwin Lutzer explains this well: "This word [tolerance], which at one time meant that people should be free to believe whatever they wished, now meant that they could do whatever they wished, and it was improper to judge their conduct. Tolerance now demands an affirmation of virtually all behavior, no matter how immoral, unnatural, and bizarre" (20; emphasis in original). However, the kind of tolerance that this group demands is not the same kind of tolerance we are witnessing them give. Many within the pro-homosexual lobby certainly are not tolerant of Mr. Cathy's perspective concerning the family (and for that matter much of America at this point, including almost all of the US presidents with Mr. Obama being the most notable exception). Two leaders in Chicago, Proco Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel do not seem to be espousing such a tolerance but threatening to deny Chick-Fil-A a permit to establish restaurants in the respective area they serve over. So much for acceptance of that in which one disagrees. It almost makes one wonder if much of the redefinition and talk of tolerance serves more as rhetoric to promote their agenda.

This is not the only example of a double standard that we see in this squabble. The Mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, stated that "Chick-Fil-A doesn't belong in Boston" because "We're an open city. We're a city at the forefront of inclusion." Interestingly enough, by saying that "Chick-Fil-A" does not belong in an "open city . . . at the forefront of inclusion" actually shows that such a city is "closed" to this restaurant and desires to "exclude" it because of its views. As I have noticed in the denomination in which I serve, "openness" and "inclusion" serve as buzz wards to promote this pro-homosexual agenda. Those who use them seldom are "open" and "inclusive" to those who disagree with them. The current Chick-Fil-A incident stands as a case in point.

Now I won't be joining the many who decide to support Chick-Fil-A today by having my lunch or dinner there. I personally am not a huge fan of the food at the restaurant and prefer unhealthy burgers over the chickens (Sorry cows, I know you tell me to 'eat mor chikin'!) and McDonalds and Taco Bell are cheaper. However, I can't help but point out some of the common methodology used by the pro-homosexual agenda that we notice in an example like this. They do have an agenda and are working relentlessly to push it. I don't think that this is an agenda that we should try to stop by using similar tactics. But we must be aware of it. The question for us believers is: Are we just as dedicated in sharing the gospel, with both heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners alike? The way to combat this sin, as with all sins, is with the faithful proclamation of the gospel. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Works Cited
Lutzer, Erwin w. The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Must Know About What's Really At Stake. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010.