Make Every Effort: To Add to Your Faith

When I was young, my parents did what many parents do. They forced me to take piano lessons. As I watched my friends playing basketball and football outside, I sat angrily with a 30 minute timer as I practiced the piano. Three years and thousands of dollars later, I was not much further ahead than when I started. I hated it and though I put in the time, I didn’t put in much effort. I was just dabbling.

Writing toward the end of his life and his experiences, Peter encourages those who have faith in Jesus Christ to do more than just dabble with their faith:

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:5-11

Peter says those who are devoted to Jesus Christ need to make every effort to add to faith – to give it everything you have. Once you’ve established faith Jesus Christ, out-do yourself to add to your faith. But people often just dabble in their faith when it’s convenient to them and suits their needs. American Pastor A.W. Tozer made this observation about those who are casual in their approach to spiritual matters:

Probably the most widespread and persistent problem to be found among Christians is the problem of retarded spiritual progress. Why, after years of Christian profession, do so many persons find themselves no farther along than when they first believed?… Every man is as close to God as he wants to be; he is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wills to be.

Peter tells us to add to our faith – a faith that Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, died on a cross for your sins and, as a sinful person, you need a Savior. Here is the list of building virtues that Peter shares in verses 5-7:

  • “Goodness” was the same word used for God in verse 3. It means excellence. This was a virtue to contribute to human good and flourishing in every aspect of this world.
  • “Knowledge” is defined as wisdom and discernment for a virtuous life. Researcher George Barna came to this conclusion “60% of people today can’t name a single commandment of the 10 commandments. One out of three people who call themselves church-going Christians cannot name the four Gospels. 75% of people think that ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is in the Bible. 12% of people believe that Joan of Ark was Noah’s wife.” Doing good in the world is not enough. In addition to being invested in this world, you must also have a knowledge that you are controlled by the Word of God.
  • “Self-control” is the ability to take control of oneself to avoid temptation. Once you know God’s way, you won’t give in to things that are contrary to what God desires. It’s important to resist temptation in the first place because are brains are chemically wired in a way that once we give in to an action, it is easier to do it the next time. If we excuse sinful things, it becomes easier each time we give in. Whether it’s the path to lust or fantasy or a different path of verbally running down others, your own heart shrinks for people and your own self-justification gets stronger and stronger.
  • “Perseverance” is a patient endurance, the willingness to endure in hard times or courage in hardship. When facing illness, broken relationships, or financial pressure, you don’t give up.
  • “Godliness” refers to reverence, piety, and awe. This isn’t a facade, but a real reverence for the things of God. This means examining what thrills you in this life and being more excited about the things of God than the things of this world. 2 Timothy 2:16 says, “Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.” In other words, the more you talk about inane things, the further from godliness and the more inane you will become.
  • “Mutual affection” is a thoughtful consideration of others. It’s prioritizing others needs above your own. We often put our own feelings first and choose to assume the worst of others. We move from facts to presuming stories behind the facts. We add a ‘because.’ to reality. She didn’t call me back because… He didn’t go with us because… Once we add a story to the facts, we assume the worst about another. Mutual affection chooses to treat others with affection and not expect the worst.
  • “Love” is seeking welfare of others above ourselves. This is not the last virtue. It is the most important one that encompasses all the other virtues that Peter identifies.

“Make every effort” may sound like a lot of work. Peter compels us by giving specific reasons that you would want to add to your faith:

You Will Be Productive

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:8

You will be unproductive if you don’t add to your spiritual life. You won’t grow in your experience. You may grow in your years of faith, but marking time is not growing in faith. You won’t really know who God is unless you “make every effort to add to your faith.”

You Will Be Discerning

But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 2 Peter 1:9

Peter offers three images in this verse: nearsighted, blind, and forgetting. Nearsighted is an ability to see a hopeful future. Blind refers to an inability to see currently and having discernment. Forgetting is an inability to look back and see the significance of what has happened in the past. If you aren’t growing spiritually, you won’t be able to see things clearly.

You Will Never Stumble

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:10-11

Beyond an assurance of eternity, if you make every effort to add to your faith, you will be stable in your life. You will be rewarded in how you are welcomed into the Kingdom.

If you’re going to make every effort to add to your faith, you must have a vision for what God has done. He has given you everything you need and He has called us by His own goodness. When you see and embrace the goodness of Jesus Christ, it will transform and change you. When you add to your faith, you will do it because you have started to see the beauty of Jesus Christ.

If you try to get in physical shape and get into a physical discipline, there are two approaches. One is a checkbox approach to just check off the list to make sure you get specific activities down. The other is a maintaining a vision for where you want to go and doing whatever it will take to get there. The difference between these two approaches is in the second, you maximize your effort because you know what you will gain in the end. Spiritual dabbling is just checking the box for church, Bible, prayer, and study. Adding to your faith is putting your whole heart and soul into each moment because you have seen the beauty of who God is and what Jesus Christ has done on the cross on your behalf. You are so taken by His glory that you want more of Him in your life.

When you are in the early days of a dating relationship, you do more than schedule time to get together and talk things through. You do things together over an extended period of time to get to know the heart of the person. You are all in because you are captivated by who that person is.

Adding to our faith isn’t about doing things to get God. It’s doing things to discover the beauty of God. When you dabble spiritually, you turn it into a technique. Instead, your heart should be captivated by who God is and what He has done. Once that’s true, you won’t be able to do anything else but add to your faith. You will no longer feel compelled to do these things as part of a checkbox list. You will be compelled to be recaptured by the glory of God.

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Make Every Effort: To Embrace What You’ve Been Given

The truth is, I can be disappointed in myself when I see the gap between what God has created me to be and what I sometimes am. But reading the words found in 2 Peter, I know there are ways to close that gap.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:1-3

These verses tell us that God has granted you everything you need to be the person that He has called you to be. For those who have received faith in Him, He has already given everything you need to you and the results are continuing even now. With all God has given, there is no need to live in a chronic state of disappointment.

To avoid disappointment, some approach life looking for a ‘magic bullet’ – the idea if you could find that one thing, then you would be able to be all that God called you to be. It can become a lifelong quest. But these verses in 2 Peter tell us that there is no experience, no book, no practice, no church, no guru, no teacher, no relationship, and no worship style that will ultimately give you exactly what you’re looking for. You have already been given everything you need to live the life that God has called you to live.

Others may question that all we need is found in God. They look at the Bible as a spiritual guide that doesn’t help in the here and now. They put it into the moral compartment of life and hope for eternal life, but search for what they perceive they need right here and now – a better job, more money, a bigger house, a relationship, more control. God and the Bible don’t seem to address those kinds of things. Some conclude that we have to be the source of our own security, our own approval, and our own control. If we aren’t our own source, then what does 2 Peter say that we’ve been given?

Security

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises… 2 Peter 1:4

When we have faith in God, we have a promise about His character, your future, and what He will do in our lives. Many approach life as if we need our own security. One author described the vastness of the universe. Traveling at the speed of light, you could circle the earth seven times in one second and pass the moon twice in two seconds. Yet it would take 4.3 years to reach the nearest star and 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. It would take two million years to reach the next galaxy. Despite the vastness of the universe, Isaiah 40:12, tells us that God holds the universe in His hand: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” This is the same God who promises in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God promises ultimate security to those who have faith in Him. There is no need to live in fear. British missionary William Carey, once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God.” God has promised to be with us wherever we go. When all is said and done, He has prepared a room for us in His mansion. That is where we can find complete security.

Status

He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature… 2 Peter 1:4

God has given us a status, but not based on anything we could ever do. 1 Peter 1:1 explains that it is “through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Some people spend much of their time seeking approval from other people. But the status that God confers to His people transcends what everyone else thinks. In his book When People are Big and God is Small, author Ed Welsh discusses the fear of man symptoms which lead to concern over what others think:

These are the symptoms. We are susceptible to peer pressure. We end up needing something from our spouse. We have a concern with our self-esteem. We end up over-committed because we can’t say no. We have a fear of being exposed. We’ll tell small lies in order to make ourselves look good. We look at people and we end up becoming jealous, angry, depressed or anxious. We avoid people because of our own pride. We’ll compare ourselves with other. We’ll have a fear of evangelism.

When we haven’t declared that our status is in Jesus Christ, we seed our status to people in our lives and we become enslaved to what people think.

Strength

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him… 2 Peter 1:3

We have God’s power. But often in the Christian experience, we often don’t use what we’ve been given. It’s like having the latest technology at your disposal for your musical experience, but still resorting to the use of cassette players or CDs. Or it’s like having a car and trying to push it around instead of turning it around. We have been given the divine power to use everything, yet we still us the equivalent of cassettes, CDs, or a powerless car. God’s power has given all we need. We just need to tap into the power that is available to us. But how can we embrace it?

Stop Blaming and Minimizing

We are called to live with urgency and expectancy because we have been given everything we need. If we continue to fall short of what God has called us to be, then we are simply making excuses. We add a ‘but’ to put the blame on others or circumstances. But you don’t know my spouse. You don’t understand my circumstances. I get angry because of what they did. It’s because of the way my parents treated me. It’s my biology. It’s just the way I’m wired. If we want to stop being disappointed with ourselves and become all that God intended us to be, we must stop blaming ourselves or our circumstances. We must stop minimizing the importance of our personal choices.

Start Cultivating a God-Directed Desire

The word “desires” at the end of 2 Peter 1:4 connotes everything we want: “ so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Conference speaker Elyse Fitzpatrick made this observation:

Our choices are predicated on what we think is good -what we delight in and what we find most desirable. The truth about our choices is that we always choose what we believe to be our best. We choose what we believe will bring us the most delight.

Below the surface of all the things we want, there is something that we’re really worshiping. We often don’t think of it as worship. But our worship can be seen in the need for security, approval, power, or control. If you are going to make progress in being all that God intended us to be, we must desire the things of God more than things of this world. God has already given you security, standing, and strength to do what you need to do. But if your desires set themselves, God becomes secondary. It will consume you. When God is the object of your faith, affection, and worship and He is prioritized over everything else, then you will experience transition and change. When you embrace the life that you’ve been given because you understand what God has done for you through Jesus Christ, it will change the way you live in this world. You’ll no longer worry about your own security, approval, or control. You’ll live as one who has it.

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High Consequence

I recently had the chance to travel to Seattle with a group of friends to climb Mt. Rainer. Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest peaks in the United States that can be climbed without the technical expertise of repelling. I was anticipating that this climb was all about strength and endurance training. We spent three days on the mountain, climbing into the snow fields of this glacier covered mountain to learn all the basics. As we prepared, they kept repeating a phrase that was unfamiliar to me, “high consequence terrain.”

I had a moment of pause as I kept hearing that phrase because I was expecting a non-technical climb. But I soon learned that climbing a glacier was more than taking a long hike with my friends. We faced three types of high consequence terrain: a crevasse in the ice that requires you to walk across a snow bridge or ladder, steep terrain with a danger of falling, and loose rock or ice which could cause an avalanche. If you get it wrong when navigating high consequence terrain, the result could be devastating. The experience reminded me that we sometimes feel comfortable about faith and think we know what to expect but, in reality, we can face some high consequence terrain. If we get it wrong, the consequences are substantial.

In our country today, very few people believe there is high consequence terrain when it comes to faith. Most people think it’s okay to let everyone believe whatever they want about God. There isn’t one truth. Everyone can establish their own truth. But God does give us a definition of high consequence terrain in Matthew 7:13-14:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.

The Bible is clear that there is a wide gate and broad road that leads to destruction. The gate that leads to life is a narrow one. There are two ways we can easily miss the narrow path:

We Miss the Narrow Path through Unbelief

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves…
Ephesians 2:8

Grace through faith just seems too easy to many people. It seems like God wouldn’t work that way. But that’s exactly how He works by extending undeserved favor to His people. Faith is trusting in what God does and not what you do to achieve eternal life. Putting grace and faith together is the essence of the Gospel. God will save you through Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can do to earn it.

But we can miss this grace by an unwillingness to believe in God. Unbelief is sometimes rooted in thinking we don’t need God’s grace. Still others think that they are good enough and only a few diabolical people won’t make it to heaven. People want to feel everyone is basically good. But Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 tell us that the path is wide and many will enter into destruction.

Unbelief isn’t just intellectual. It’s not just rejecting the information. Even in the Bible, we see there is something else behind the questions. In Matthew 11:2121-23, we read as Jesus chastises cities where He had taught, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.” These people had seen great works but still didn’t believe.

Jesus shows us what’s at the root of their unbelief earlier in the same chapter in verses 16-19: “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ‘’We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Jesus took a common occurrence that the people would understand to make a point. For entertainment in that day, children would sit out and mock the city events which were primarily weddings and funerals and taking it further in the comparison of Jesus and John. No matter what was done, whether abstaining or enjoying food and drink, the people didn’t accept it. It didn’t matter which song was chosen, like the city children, the people weren’t going to like it. Jesus was saying that unbelief isn’t just an intellectual issue; it’s an unwillingness to give up control to God. Romans 1 20 echoes this unwillingness to yield to God:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

In Romans we see that they didn’t worship God because they just didn’t want to. Even those who grow up in faith often reach a time when they want to establish their own control. They don’t want anyone to tell them what to do with their time, their body, their money, or anything else that is part of their life. A convenient agnosticism sets in, basically leaving them not knowing what to believe or if they can believe. This type of convenient agnosticism reflects an unwillingness to bend a knee to who God is – to choose not to believe.

We can navigate this stage of life by seeing something about Christian faith that is striking. Christianity has a message that is different from every other religion. It is simultaneously the most pessimistic and most optimist of worldviews. It is pessimistic because it admits that all people are sinful and deserve eternity in hell because our sin is so offensive to God. Yet it is a highly optimistic view that we are created in the image of God and can be renewed because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. We are loved in spite of our own sinfulness.

We Miss the Narrow Path through Self-Reliance

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

In your own self-reliance, you may feel you are good enough when God grades on a curve. He will look at you compared to others and deem you as being good enough. It’s a way of saying your works are enough to make you acceptable to God. An indication that you’re relying on works is when you divide people into good and bad columns. This is easily seen in political discourse as each side points to the other side as being the source of the problem. This same finger-pointing translates spiritually. We tend to classify good people as those who think and do the same way we think and do. People who think and do differently than ourselves become the problem in the world.

Another indication that we’re relying on works appears when we believe that if we do the right things, then God will accept and reward us. If we follow this concept, then when things go wrong in our lives, we feel God has let us down because He owes us. We will either redefine what it means to be good or we live with a sense of ongoing guilt. In our faith journey, we often get it right at first, knowing that it is by God’s grace alone that we are saved. But it is easy to return to living by our own works. Paul made this same observation in Galatians 3:2-3:

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?

Paul saw the tendency to start down the path correctly but then revert to works. We get the theology right and start down the path correctly, but then we revert to works because it feels better to us. We know we are saved by grace but we feel God will like us better if we do certain things. Instead of living by grace, instead of experiencing joy, instead of living with confidence that Christ righteousness is credited to us, we end up living life believing that God will accept us if….

We often evaluate the quality of our faith rather than the object of our faith. If you stand on a sturdy crate, it really doesn’t matter how much faith you have that the crate will hold your weight. Even if you have only 5% faith, the crate will hold your weight without collapsing. In the same way, if you try to stand on a paper cup, it doesn’t matter how much faith you have that the paper cup will withstand your weight. Even if you have 100% faith in the paper cup, it will be crushed as soon as you step on it. The object of the paper cup is not strong enough.

Spiritually, we confuse the quality of our faith with the object of our faith. Instead of maintaining a faith based solely in the strength of God alone, we but our faith into the weakness of our works. This focus on works takes our entire experience and turns it into religion. We try to garner God’s favor based on what we do rather than basking in what He has done. If we don’t live in the reality of grace alone, we live with a constant voice of accusation. This internal voice calls us back to every mistake we’ve ever made and every wrong word we have ever spoken. We start to give in to that voice and feel a need to perform to be accepted.

Understanding grace in all its fullness means you will approach life differently. You will no longer strive to earn God’s favor. You will approach life knowing that through Jesus Christ, God has lavished on you what you do not deserve. This is only available by grace, never by works. Once you run to the cross of Jesus Christ, there is nothing you can do or say that can make God like or accept you any more than He does today. And there is nothing you can say or do that will cause God to say you are unacceptable. When you move past self-reliance, you’ll begin to live with the joy and freedom that God intended.

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Misquoting God: As a Person Thinks

People are often fast to claim, “This is what God says.” But often what they think the Bible says isn’t reality. The words are often twisted or taken out of context. It would be similar to quoting John F. Kennedy’s famous statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Reverse the words and you have quite a different meeting. If you read this statement alone out of the whole of Kennedy’s words and work, you might conclude that Kennedy opposed all social programs.

Sometimes the message if the Bible can become misquoted by comparing different translations. In the King James version, Proverbs 23:7 reads, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Many take this verse and claim, if you think it, it will happen. The same translation in the New International Version reads quite differently, “for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost.” Though this is the same verse, the meaning when taken out of context seems quite different. In context of Proverbs 23: 6-8, the meaning of the single verse becomes quite clearer:

Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
do not crave his delicacies;
for he is the kind of person
who is always thinking about the cost.
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the little you have eaten
and will have wasted your compliments.

How is This Verse Misquoted?

One author extended the meaning of this verse:

Sometimes we just need to stop and think about what we’re thinking about. The Bible tells us that what happens on the inside of us – our thoughts, our attitudes, our motives – are more important to God than what happens on the outside. You can fool people all day long by saying the right things, but Scripture tells us that God is looking at our hearts. He wants our thoughts and attitudes to come into alignment with His word so that we can see His promises come to pass in our lives… I am what I am totally because what I believe about myself yesterday.

At first pass, this author may seem reasonable in his comments, but the giveaway comes in this phrase, “so that we can see His promises come to pass in our lives…” This observation is common among many in the Word/Faith Movement who teach that when you think it, then say it, you will get a result from God. This verse is also misconstrued by many who feel what you think drives what you do which drives your experience from God.

Why is This Important?

The difficulty with this approach is the inference that what you think can impact the direction of God. There are clearly verses that indicate faith can move a mountain and God will answer your prayers. But the problem results when the think it, say it, receive it approach becomes a formula. If we don’t receive the outcome we are expecting, then our faith can become shaken to the core. If you believe that if you have enough faith, your loved one will be healed of any type of disease, yet your loved one still dies, you’ll be burdened with the guilt that it was your fault. You will believe that it was your lack of faith that resulted in their death.

As you look at the totality of Scripture, you will see that there are people throughout the Bible who had great faith, yet still faced trials and death. Job was described as righteous, upright, and God-fearing. Job did everything right, but his experience was the opposite of what he hoped for. Jesus lived a perfect life, and cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet He still faced the torture, death, and separation of the crucifixion. Paul dedicated His life to spreading the Gospel but endured great hardship. Many in the early church faced martyrdom even thought they lived their life dedicated to sharing the message of Jesus Christ.

Sometimes God honors faith and responds in a way that we see as positive, but sometimes God allows us to experience trials. If your rubric is if I think correctly and say or do the right thing, I’ll get a good result, then sooner or later you will end up either blaming God or blaming yourself. When the result is not what you thought it would be, then you will say God isn’t worthy, He isn’t in charge, and He can’t do anything. Or you will take the blame upon yourself for having a faith that was too weak to bring about a result. Either away, it will destroy your faith journey. The Word/Faith movement emphasizes a partial truth to the exclusion of another truth leading to an unbalanced and unbiblical worldview. When you are unhappy with your circumstances, you’ll either feel angry that God didn’t come through or guilty that you didn’t believe enough

What Would be Better?

The Word/Faith Movement takes a part of a truth and emphasizes it to the exclusion of another. A better way is to see the whole truth is to think biblically. By seeing the whole truth, we will have a balanced view. Here are a few comparisons

  • Faith Moves God (Word/Faith)
    vs.
    God is Sovereign (Biblical Approach)

When a child wants something, a good parent will sometimes give it to them, but if you give it every time you’ll be a poor parent. A child may want to eat ice cream for every meal, but a parent knows that will be unhealthy. Even though they want it, you know what is better for them and will say no. That’s what God often does for us. He has a bigger picture and knows what is best.

  • You’re a Child of the King (Word/Faith)
    vs.
    You’re a Servant of the King (Biblical Approach)

You are both a child and a servant simultaneously. One cannot be held in exclusion to the other. Both roles need to be held in proper tension with each other.

  • Speak Good to Get Good (Word/Faith)
    vs.
    Speak Truth about God (Biblical Approach)

Over and over in the Psalms, we read words of truth spoken into the situation. Psalm 89 begins with these words, “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever,” The words don’t include a declaration that God will act. These words declare the truth that God’s love stands firm. When we speak words of truth we bring God’s perspective to bear in whatever we’re walking through.

  • God Will Save You from Trials if You Believe Enough (Word/Faith)
    vs.
    God will Save You from Sins if You Believe (Biblical Approach)

Titus 3:4-5 tells us, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Maybe God allows some of the hard things in our lives so that we will know that this world can’t bring everything for us. This world is too broken, too hopeless, and full of hardship. When we understand this, we begin to put our hope in something more than this world has to offer.

There is ultimate damage if you subscribe to the idea that if you think it and then say it, you will get it and enjoy your best life here is now. It reduces God to being our assistant. You believe that if you do everything right that God will serve your purposes and help you get the life that you want on this earth.

But what you see in the Bible is that the God who is ultimately worthy of our worship is not your assistant. Instead, He is a God who came and did for you what you could never do for yourself. If you believe, He will save you from your sin. Though this world is broken, He promises a renewed world. He will make right what is broken. If you focus too much on the here and now, blaming God or yourself when things don’t work out the way you want, then you’ll miss the hope and the reality that God will do something greater.

Real faith isn’t demanding God to do something for you. Real faith is trusting God even when you can’t see His hand, even when you don’t understand His direction, and even if you don’t like it. There is a God who loves each person. He wants more than anything for you to trust in His Son and be numbered among His children in eternity. That is your ultimate hope that transcends anything this life has to offer.

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Misquoting God: If My People

There are some verses in the Bible that are used often and, at the same time, are used poorly. It may be out of ignorance or misinformation. Sometimes it’s more willful, knowing that it means something different, but used to fit a personal agenda. This verse in 2 Chronicles often falls into that category:

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14

Though this message was planned months ago, as I wrote it, our country was faced with extreme tension and difficulty. It began with a shooting in Baton Rouge, another in suburban Minneapolis, and the retaliatory shooting of 11 police officers in Dallas which led to the death of 5 of those officers. Often after a week like this, people will respond with hopeless hedonism and feel that all they can do is to take care of their own family. Others will respond with activism and try to be part of the solution. Those in the church will often spiritualize it by taking this verse and bemoaning the state of our nation or the state of the church. If the church would get their act together and humble themselves, pray and turn from wickedness, then God would heal this land. Isn’t that what this verse says? It’s used as a call to prayer, a call for hope. If we do something, then God will do something in return.

Prayer is a good thing. But there are at least two problems with this approach to repent, turn, pray, and be healed. First it ignores the context in 2 Chronicles 7:15-18:

Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. As for you, if you walk before me faithfully as David your father did, and do all I command, and observe my decrees and laws, I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father when I said, “You shall never fail to have a successor to rule over Israel.”

If we bypass context and jump immediately to the application, we will miss the real meaning. This verse was written not to all nations for all time, but it was written specifically to Israelites. This was written specifically to King David and to a group of people who lived in a theocracy. You must consider what it meant to them before you jump to applying it to your own life.

Secondly, 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often selective in the way it is applied. A selected section will be taken out of an entire passage to say if we want to heal America, see racial tensions healed, see economic disparity addressed, or whatever the personal pressure point is, then we need to turn back to God. Turning to God is a good and noble thing, but it is part of an entire passage. The passage continues in 2 Chronicles 7:19-20:

But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples.

God tells us in verse 14 that if you turn, he will heal the land. That is the selective part we like to read. We seldom look at the admonition if we fail to turn. In verse 19, God tells us that if you don’t turn, He will “uproot Israel from my land.” The ESV translation is written, “pluck you up from my land.” This part is virtually ignored. No one says if you don’t turn, God will make you a Canadian. We just want to know that if we pray, He will heal the land.

Why is context important?

It is good to pray – to turn to God and repent. God does work when people pray. James 4:2 tells us clearly, “You do not have because you do not ask God.” But to take 2 Chronicles 7:14 and apply it as an unequivocal promise to us today and infer that prayer is all we need, we will miss the overall message.

When culture looks at the church today, it says that the church offers no solutions to our culture’s problems. They would say the church is actually part of the problem. After this recent week of turmoil in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas, few are asking what the church has to say or what solution the church proposes. The solution the church often offers is to get together to seek God and pray in anticipation that God will heal the land. Prayer is good, but prayer alone misses something.

Many forget that the civil rights movement for the 1960s was rooted in the church. Martin Luther King, Jr. was first and foremost a pastor. The movement gained sway over culture not just because of a moral idea. It was rooted in the ideals of Scripture and a local church movement from community to community. The biblical imagery in King’s I Have a Dream speech is very clear. The church can have a positive impact on culture.

Being Salt

Jesus offers words about how people of faith can impact culture in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus was warning that His followers can become ineffective and invisible. As you live and move in culture, you can become marginalized and have no impact on society. Salt prevents corruption; salt on meat allowed it to be stored longer. Salt also improves taste and has the affect of creating thirst. Jesus was saying His followers should be people who help prevent corruption in society, improve the taste of the culture in which they live and the lives around them, and create a thirst for something more. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, how do you prevent corruption, improve taste, and create thirst? It is not through arguing a fine point of political views. It is by serving the culture in which you live.

The Civil Rights Movement helped to change culture by showing the injustice, yet show what it looks like to love when treated so poorly. When those images started to be shown over and over again on television, people inside and outside the church became horrified. They no longer wanted to be part of a system that brought such brutality. We still have a long ways to go as a culture, but when people of faith will not discriminate against people or tolerate discrimination of people who don’t agree, look differently, or think differently, then we form an alternative to what society sees.

How does the church become ineffective lose its ability to be salt to prevent corruption, improve taste, and create thirst? Many would say the church is hypocritical – saying one thing and then living no differently than anyone else. The church is often seen as too critical and pushy. Others would see that the church is so huddled together that they no longer have contact with others. Christians may gather for prayer times for their community, but don’t live as salt in their own school, job, neighborhood, or city.

Being Light

In Matthew 5:14, Jesus encourages us to be “light of the world.” Light gives direction, attracts attention, and provides safety. In Jesus’ day, when there was light in a city, it gave people a sense of where they were headed when they traveled at night, it gave safety to be gathered together, and it attracted attention. Theologian Augustine used this verse to talk about two cities: the city of man and the city of God. The city of man is what we see around us. The city of God is an alternate city when God’s people live as He calls us to live.

Light is well seen. But a follower of God can become invisible for different reasons. There may an unwillingness to be seen because you don’t want to be seen as different. Sometimes there is a lack of genuine aid to a hurting world – a lack of doing good in the community around you. Sometimes there is a lack of joy instead allowing the glory of God to move people. Jesus knew joy and wants you to share His joy with others. Author Sheldon Vanauken describes this disparity in the book A Severe Mercy:

The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians–when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.

Jesus calls you to live as salt and light. He wants you to be integral to your community in a way that points to something greater. Prayer is a good thing. But if that’s your whole answer for what is happening in society, then you are not following the teachings of Jesus. You are not living as an alternate city. Others should be able to look at how you live and see that this is what life looks like when the Kingdom of God comes here. It’s a tall order. But if churches all over the land lived in this way, we would see God work to bring people into the alternate city and change even the city and the culture in which we live.

Jesus is the real light of the world as we read in John 8:12: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” The light of Jesus is real because He has no imperfection. There is no lack of sacrifice in Jesus. He went to a cross and gave up His live so that we who are flawed and imperfect can come and claim His perfection on our behalf. We can live as salt and life in the world even though we are flawed. We can live as salt and light right here and now in a way that reflects an alternate city.

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Protecting the Love of Your Life

Till death do us part. This promise is included in traditional marriage vows. It’s a covenant agreement to stay together exclusively for the duration of this life. Despite this promise, the percentage of marriages impacted by an extra-marital affair range from a conservative estimate of 15% to as high as 50%. This is an interesting statistic since 80% of people agree that an affair is morally wrong. Yet only 25% feel that engaging in sexual activity before marriage is morally wrong. The statistics reflect the view of culture; no matter the consequences, there is nothing in the world that isn’t worth pursuing to achieve happiness. You should make love to whomever you want to make love to.

But God has a different standard when it comes to sexual purity:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7

God’s ideal is to say that your sexuality is reserved for marriage. Not in a way to be prudish, but in a way to be celebrated and enjoyed as it was originally intended. There is a cost any time sex is taken out of this context. A prime example of the consequences of chasing after your desire begins in 2 Samuel11 with David and Bathsheba. David, the King of Israel, saw a married woman, Bathsheba, from his rooftop while she was bathing. He called for her to be brought to him, slept with her, and Bathsheba conceived a child. Through their relationship, we see the cost of an illicit sexual encounter and the pathway that leads there.

The Cost of an Illicit Sexual Encounter

Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her… Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” 2 Samuel 11:4-5

Culture will say that there is no cost to sexual immorality. There is a belief that if you think you will be happier, than go for it. After just one encounter, Bathsheba became pregnant creating a dilemma for David because Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, was off at war. In an attempt to cover his indiscretion, David called Uriah back from battle, but being a dedicated soldier, Uriah refused to sleep with Bathsheba while his men remained at war. In desperation, David sent Uriah directly to the frontlines to assure that he would be killed in battle. David basically committed murder in an attempt to cover his failure.

The cost continued for David. After Uriah’s death, David took Bathsheba as his wife and had more children. The children hated each other to the point that one of his sons abused his daughter and another son killed his brother. But with David’s own history, he remained silent – probably feeling he had not moral right to intervene.

David and Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, was a later king who wrote the book of Proverbs. So affected by what he had seen and experienced with sexual immorality, Solomon wrote these words of caution in Proverbs 7:21-27

With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death.

Few people consider all the present and future cost associated with sexual immorality. But few things cause more pain than an extra-marital affair. Sexuality is like fire. It is a beautiful thing when contained as it was intended, but when it runs free in a rampage it destroys everything in its path.

The Pathway toward an Illicit Sexual Encounter

If we follow David’s story, we see four things that put him on a pathway for making poor sexual choices:

  • Emotional Vulnerability
    In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joabout with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 11:1

Kings often had skirmishes in the springtime. David was so successful in warfare that he sent others in his place. David was probably bored. We become vulnerable not only when we’re bored, but also when we’re stressed, angry, or unfulfilled. When there is emotional vulnerability, there is a readiness to respond to anything. If we initially stuff down our negative emotions, they will create an emotional insurrection in a drive to feel good and make us vulnerable to poor decisions.

  • Encounter
    One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing… 2 Samuel 11:2

Not only did David see Bathsheba as she bathed, but she was beautiful. This encounter created an opportunity. Satan will meet you at your place of vulnerability and provide an opportunity for fulfillment. If you are feeling unappreciated, he will bring someone who gives you accolades. If you are feeling unheard, he will bring someone who listens to you. You will be susceptible to anyone who meets an unmet need in your life.

  • Exhilaration
    …The woman was very beautiful. 2 Samuel 11:2

David was exhilarated by Bathsheba’s beauty. He probably realized he was the King and could do whatever he wanted. An encounter doesn’t have to be consummated but once it happens, it can make you feel alive. Then the drive becomes so strong that you won’t feel fulfilled until you act on it. It creates a sense of need. It will cause you to increase risk in order to hide the desire. You may become isolated or make excuses to spend more time with that person. What you flirt with, you will fall to. Anytime you feel the need to conceal something, there is a chance that it is dangerous.

  • Expression
    David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her… Then she went back home. 2 Samuel 11:3-4

David moved from looking and thinking to acting. But damage is done long before physical consummation. It’s possible, by just going down the path, to experience exhilaration that can do damage.

The Protection from an Illicit Sexual Encounter

Understanding the pathway to and cost of an illicit sexual encounter, there are ways you can protect yourself. Proverbs 7 offers insight:

  • Resolve
    My son, keep my words and store up my commands within you. Keep my commands and you will live; guard my teachings as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and to insight, “You are my relative.” They will keep you from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words. Proverbs 7: 1-5

Listen to music, read a book, see a movie, or watch television and you will see the reoccurring theme that happiness is only found through a stirring romance. But Proverbs is clear. Resolve in your heart that God’s way is best.

  • Recognize Vulnerability
    She took hold of him and kissed him and with a brazen face she said: “Today I fulfilled my vows, and I have food from my fellowship offering at home. So I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you! I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning; let’s enjoy ourselves with love! My husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey. He took his purse filled with money and will not be home till full moon.” Proverbs 7:13-20

Solomon writes these verse knowing the history of his parent’s behavior. The woman here recognizes the man’s vulnerability. She indicates she’s available, flatters him with her desire, makes a sensual appeal, and assures that no one will know. Identify those areas where you feel lacking which make you vulnerable.

  • Remember
    With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it will cost him his life. Now then, my sons, listen to me; pay attention to what I say. Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Many are the victims she has brought down; her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death. Proverbs 7:21-27

The image of an ox going to the slaughter or a deer stepping into a noose is a call to remember there is a high cost to sexual indiscretion. It may be tempting to consider an example of an affair that seemed to work out externally, but real internal damage may not be visible. The damage can be hidden and reach to generations. Given the way their marriage began, even Bathsheba was probably never completely secure that David would stay devoted to her.

  • Replace
    Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths. Proverbs 7:25

We need to replace the path to an illicit sexual encounter with a better path. In particular, in Proverbs the path is usually one of two extremes – the path to life or the path to death. The path of an illicit sexual expression is a path that leads to destruction. Replacing that path affirms there is a better way. The God who created sex has a better plan. He is the one who gave this as a beautiful gift. It is a fire to be enjoyed in the right bounds

If you’ve made the mistake of sexual indiscretion, there is hope. Grace can bring beauty when we’ve done things, said things, or been part of things that should only bring devastation. You can never out-sin the cross. Through the cross, God covers, with His perfection, what you have made into an imperfect mess. A perfect Savior will do for you what you could never do for yourself. We are not called to be perfect. We will experience consequences. But God is in the business of bringing beauty into places where we have brought brokenness.

Sex is God’s gift in marriage. When nurtured and celebrated as God intended, it’s like a warm fire. But when it is outside the bounds of the one who created it, it will destroy everything in its path.

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Cultivating the Love of Your Life

Let the wife make the husband glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave.
Martin Luther, 16th Century Theologian

Martin Luther was obviously speaking to a culture in which the wife usually stayed at home, but his basic point was to let your reuniting be something positive and exciting. Too often in today’s culture, people feel trapped instead of excited about their marriage. Like being trapped inside a locked building, they go from door to door to door wishing to find a way out and, instead, finding no way out.

In the Old Testament book of Ruth, we read a story of romance that was positive and exciting. The book of Ruth tells the account of an Israelite Naomi, who became widowed while living in the land of Moab. Her two sons married Moabite women, but Naomi’s sons also died. To be a widow in a foreign country was difficult in Naomi’s day. She was seen as damaged and, being a foreigner, had no one to care for her, so she was desperate to survive.

Naomi wanted her daughter-in-laws to stay in their homeland as she traveled back to Bethlehem. She did not expect them to travel with her. Ruth chose to stay, “don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17) In this proclamation, Ruth invokes the covenant name of God by saying Lord or Yahweh. Ruth, a woman who was outside of the covenant of Israel, acknowledged that she had come to trust in the God of the Israelites.

Once they return to Bethlehem, we learn about a relative of Naomi’s husband – a man named Boaz. In desperation for food, Ruth went into the fields of Boaz to glean from the leftovers from the harvest of the day. Boaz was described as a man of standing – man with good character. In chapter 3, Ruth is described as a woman of “noble character.” The strong character of both Ruth and Boaz is significant. Even though Ruth was in a desperate place with very little and no support, she still trusted in God. In hard times, many people will abandon their confidence in God, but Ruth’s confidence grew stronger. In the same way, Boaz was a man of kindness. He greeted his harvesters with encouraging words, “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4). He instructed Ruth to stay in his field because he was worried about her safety. Boaz went out of his way to be kind.

If you want a window into the character of someone you are dating and considering as a spouse, watch the way they treat other people, especially those who can’t provide any benefit in return. Watch how they treat people who have nothing to add to their life. That is where you will see their real character. Be sure they demonstrate consistency in doing the right thing even when it’s difficult, and not only when it impresses you. They should be a person of consistent character who knows how to express care to others. Boaz and Ruth showed a strong character with others and with each other, even before they developed a personal relationship.

Boaz first noticed Ruth as she was gleaning the fields – picking the leftovers in order to have something to eat. Ruth would have been dirty and worn, so her appearance would not have been the attraction to Ruth. Desiring to find someone who would care for Ruth, Naomi gave these instructions in Ruth 3:3-4, “Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him[Boaz] know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

When Boaz awoke to find Ruth, she told him that he was their “guardian-redeemer” (Ruth 3:9). A guardian-redeemer was someone in the family line who had the responsibility to buy back their family member’s debt and help them out of difficulty. To be a guardian-redeemer required financial resources, a desire to help, and an opportunity to provide assistance. Boaz protected her in the fields without demanding or asking anything from her. Though Ruth was forward with Boaz, she was appropriate in her behavior. Both were expressing care for one another.

Boaz took Ruth as his wife and she gave birth to a son. The women of Bethlehem celebrated with Naomi in Ruth 4:13-14 by saying, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Proclaiming Ruth as better than seven sons was a profound statement in that culture. Sons were able to work and earn and provide. But this son of Ruth was more significant than all of these. Her son, Obed, was the father of Jesse who was the father of David – the lineage of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Ruth was a person who went to a foreign land, who didn’t consider her own agenda and offered herself to save Naomi. God used Ruth to bring about the birth of Jesus Christ, who lived in a foreign land, who didn’t consider His own agenda, and offered Himself to save many.

This may not seem to have a direct connection to cultivating the love of your life. But we love the way we are loved. It’s easy to love if you have enough love in your life. It’s difficult to love if you don’t feel loved. If a person is needy, it will show itself in devastating ways in your relationship unless it is healed by the love of Jesus Christ. Only the love of Jesus Christ can fill the void of love in your life.

When you are young, if people pour love into your life, then you have love to give to others. When you become involved in a relationship, you are able to take from this reservoir and pour love back and forth into each other. Once you’re married, you find there are seasons of giving love to other people: children, parents, in-laws, co-workers or friends in need. In time, as your reservoir empties, it becomes difficult to continue to give out love. If your source of love is not from God, your reservoir will eventually become depleted. You can begin to feel trapped in a relationship when you give and give and get little back. If you embrace God’s love, you can be filled to the point of overflowing with love and always have plenty to give to others.

We see this overflowing love with Ruth. Her words to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17 reveal her trust in God: “Your people will be my people and your God my God… May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Ruth believed in God before she experienced the deliverance of God. Ruth trusted God and gave of herself with no guarantee that she would receive anything in return. It was after she expressed that faith that God gave her a return.

You will only be able to give sustained love if you first understand God’s love for you. You must first embrace that your worth is based on what Jesus has done for you on the cross. Then you can choose love, give care, and act with character even when you don’t feel like it. Even if your current relationship is a strong exchange of love and care, you may be faced with a day when that is taken away – when illness or tragedy strips your spouse of the ability to give and return love. It is only the love of God that is forever guaranteed.

When you trust God, He will often show up in unexpected ways. That is what God did for Ruth and Boaz. You can cultivate the love of your life because you are so compelled by the experience of God’s love that you can love out of the overflow of what He has given you. The couples with the best marriages are the ones with the best relationship with Jesus Christ. His love transforms us to give, care, and serve another in every circumstance.

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