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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Finding the Love of Your Life

Romance. Listen to music, watch a movie, or just listen to your friend at Starbucks and you’ll quickly learn that people believe if they find that one true love, all problems will subside and true happiness will abound. A young, hopeful 34 year-old Beyonce describes this perfect person in the song Halo: “Baby I can see your halo. You know you’re my saving grace. You’re everything I need and more.” On the other hand, 89 year-old Tony Bennett seems a bit disillusioned with the search for satisfaction in the words of I’m Always Chasing Rainbows: “Why have I always been a failure? What can the reason be? I wonder if the world’s to blame. I wonder if it could be me. I’m always chasing rainbow.”

There’s a belief in our culture that true love will satisfy the deepest longing of your soul. This not an ideal restricted to today’s world. In Genesis 29, we read of a love triangle between Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. To fully understand the situation, we need to understand the background of Jacob. The son of Isaac, Jacob was a twin to his brother Esau. Esau was the eldest and preferred by his father. Jacob was favored by his mother and always desired his brother’s birthright of more of the estate and more privilege. Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing of the eldest. Esau was so angered by the deceit that he threatened to kill his brother, so Jacob fled.

When you pick up Jacob’s story in Genesis 29, he comes across his cousin, Rachel, as she tended her father Laban’s flock of sheep. Laban greeted Jacob, his sister’s son, with joy and invited him to stay. After working for a month, Laban asked how he could pay Jacob. In Genesis 29:16-18 we learn how strong Jacob’s desire was for Rachel: “Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, ‘I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.’”

The description makes it clear. Rachel was preferred for her beauty. Leah was the undesirable sister – the one no one wanted.

Laban agreed to the terms and Jacob worked for seven years expecting to have Rachel, his one true love, as the reward. After those seven years, Laban held a great wedding feast. At the end of the evening, he brought Leah – the undesirable one – to Jacob’s tent. Jacob was probably quite drunk and Leah was probably heavily veiled. When Jacob awoke in the morning, he was shocked to see that it was Leah he had been given. Jacob was disappointed; it was Leah, not Rachel. Laban explained that, in their custom, the younger daughter couldn’t be given before the older daughter. So strong was his desire, Jacob agreed to work for seven more years and Laban agreed to give Rachel to him after Leah’s bridal week.

Jacob sought Rachel as the love of his life – certain that he would be satisfied once he had her. Leah, the undesirable one, dreamt that she would one day marry the love of her life. Though she married, she found herself unloved as she watched her husband be more excited about Rachel, the beautiful one. Leah thought becoming a mother while Rachel remained childless would change Jacob’s affection. After the birth of her first son, she thought “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” (Genesis 29:32). Still seeking satisfaction through the love of Jacob, we read in Genesis 29:34, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.”

Anytime you elevate something to be primary above God, it will disappoint. Even if you really love your family, you may still end up disappointed. American Pastor Tim Keller observes it like this: “It’s always hard and often devastating to be married and it’s always hard and sometimes devastating to not to be married.” Though marriage can be wonderful, even marriage is not ultimate.

You can put all your hope in the idea that one person who loves you fully will be enough to satisfy you for the rest of your life. But it’s more like filling a crack in blacktop. It works for while, but after a season or two, the filling shrinks away and the crack begins to reappear. Your soul was created for more than human love. It was created for divine love. If you seek an earthly love to fill your void, you’ll be bitterly disappointed. You’ll wake up one day like Jacob and realize it’s Leah. You’ll realize it wasn’t what you thought it would be. It isn’t satisfying. In Mere Christianity, author C.S .Lewis describes this search to fill avoid:

Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am not speaking now of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriage, or holidays, or learned careers. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.

C.S. Lewis is basically saying that In the morning, no matter what we expected or what we received, it’s always Leah. It’s always a disappointment.

Genesis 29:35 points us to something greater: “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, ‘This time I will praise the Lord.’ So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.” Instead of hoping this child would result in the love of her husband, Leah called out to Yahweh, the covenant name for God. He is the one she praised. Leah was saying that she would not be defined by what her husband thought of her. God rewrote her story with the birth of this son, Judah. It was through the tribe of Judah that Jesus was born. Once Leah was able to praise God, God took her unloved situation where she felt unmet, and God himself met her instead.

Stop looking for what you’re looking for where you’re looking for it. It will always be Leah. It will always be disappointment. This isn’t just in romance. It’s anything in life that you deem as ultimate. Financial security, the desire for notoriety, and countless other endeavors can become the things that you seek to fill your void.

Understand that you were wired for something more. What you are looking for in romance is actually the arms of Jesus Christ – the ultimate bridegroom. He is the One who will love you unconditionally and perfectly like no human being ever could. The security and financial wherewithal that you seek through working endless hours is a shadow of the ultimate security you can only receive from Jesus Christ. All your desire to be known as good at something and receive the praise of people is really a longing for the approval of your heavenly Father.

Even the New York Times validates the fallacy in seeking another for fulfillment. In a recent OpEd, we read, “We need to swap the romantic view for the tragic awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden, and disappoint us and that we will do the same. “ The New York Times answer is just realize that you’ll be disappointed in life. The Christian answer is to be satisfied in the love God has given you through Jesus Christ. Jesus knows you through and through. He loves and accepts you completely as you are. Seeking anything else will only fill the cracks in your soul for a season.

We tend to think that once we marry, that we can change that person and help them become what we want them to be. Instead we need to live the reality of Jesus Christ for our imperfect spouse. Understand that we are all deeply flawed, yet deeply loved because of who God is. Therefore we can love one another with all of our flaws because God first loved us. Finding Jesus as the center of the love of your life allows you to find the love of your life. It frees you from putting so much weight on your relationship that you crush it. Instead you can enjoy romance as wonderful but know you are identified by more than the romance.

Jacob, Leah, and Rachel were all longing for something to fill the void. It was Leah who turned to praise God because He had shown His love to her. God doesn’t love us because you’re lovable; He makes you lovable because He loves you. The message of the Gospel is that you have significance and security because of what Jesus has done for you. This is where your real standing comes. This message gives freedom and points you to your one true love.

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What God Has Against Christians: Part 8

Is it worth it? That’s one question that most of us ask hundreds of times each week without even realizing it. The way you answer this question shapes your decisions, your attitudes, and your experiences. We constantly make a cost/benefit analysis. Is it worth taking a sick day today? Should I eat the salad with lite dressing or order the French Fries? Is it worth it to get up off the couch or should I just let the kids keep fighting? Each interaction requires a decision.

This question goes farther than everyday life decisions. We make the same cost/benefit analysis around spiritual matters. We see this in God’s final charge against His people in Malachi 3:13-14:

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?‘ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

When the people asked “What do we gain?” they were asking what their ‘cut’ will be. They wanted to know if it is worth it to serve God. We often ask the same question today. Is worth it to spend an hour in church when there are so many other things I could do? Is it worth it to remain pure when everyone else does what they please? Is it worth it to give my income back to God? Is it worth it to guard my words when I am so angry at that person who wronged me?

“What do we gain?” in verse 14 also reflects an expectation that if we give something to God, He should do something for us in return. We feel that our performance will lead to God’s goodness in our lives. We tend to think if we do our part, then God should do His part. God owes us something in return. Soon this logic gets reversed when we feel that we’ve done our part but God hasn’t met His side of the bargain. We begin to question why other people have a better marriage, more successful children, better career, and no problems in their lives. Malachi calls out this arrogance toward God.

In The Message of Malachi, Peter Adam talks about the danger of comparing ourselves to others: “Envying other people’s happiness is fatal to our confidence in God…. Comparing ourselves with others will always leave us either discontented or arrogant. It’s an unhealthy approach to life and always makes us unhappy. We can choose people who have more than we have, and this will make us discontented. We could choose people who have less than we do, and this would make us arrogant.’ It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking at what others have or experience and question why God does not do the same for us. There are two answers to that question.

A Distinction Will Be Seen

“On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” Malachi 3:17-18

A future day is coming when God will judge. A day is coming when God will act and a distinction will be seen. You will see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked. If you are asking if it is worth it to serve God, a great day is coming when all things will be set right as He warns in Malachi 4:1: “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble.”

The idea of dividing the wicked and the righteous is not comfortable for most people. Malachi 3:16 refers to the source of this delineation: “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.” The idea of a book of remembrance is found throughout the Bible. In Esther 2:23 and 6:1 we see references that the king would record the things that people did as a way of remembering them. God himself also keeps a book of remembrance as seen in Exodus 32:33-34, “The Lord replied to Moses: “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book….when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.” Psalm 56:8 also tells, “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?”

Revelation 20:12 brings the meaning of the book to culmination: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” The book is a record of what you have done or not done throughout your life. Followers of Jesus Christ believe that He paid for sin and therefore gives an imputed righteousness. But the book records actual righteousness; God sees everything and does not forget. What nobody else sees, what no one else knows, the ways you have honored God are all seen and recorded by Him.

All of us are evil and deserve nothing from God but because of grace we receive eternal life through Jesus Christ. He works on our behalf. We are no better than any other person, yet somehow there is a part of us that compares what others have and feels that God should give us the same or more. But God is telling us that the day is coming that the distinction between people will be known. God knows and never forgets.

Healing Will Be Seen

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty… He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:2-3, 6

Malachi is describing that day when He will make all things right and the world will be as it should be. You may ask “Is it worth it?” to honor God instead of running another person down. You may wonder if it’s worth it to be faithful to God when everything and everybody around me says it’s not. God wants you to know that the day is coming when the distinction between people will be seen and He will bring healing to all that is wrong. The picture of a frolicking calf in verse 2 is the picture of a young animal running free without care or concern – a day of healing when things will come easily.

There is a day coming when the parts of you that have been deeply hurt, abandoned, frustrated, anxious, fearful, and angry will be touched by God and changed in a moment. Malachi 4 answers the “Is it worth it?” question by reminding us of the law in verse 4 (“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him”) and then looks ahead to the coming day of healing in verse 5 (“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”) He wants us to look back and understand that His precepts are worth it and look ahead to the day where the distinction will be known by all.

When you ask the “Is it worth it?” question, you need to be reminded that you can’t always see the outcome, but it is worth it. You were created for more than just this world. You must come to terms with the reality that God is a worthy pursuit and He will take care of what you cannot see and don’t understand. The real question isn’t “Is it worth it?” The real question is “What side will you be on?” Will you recognize God as the Lord Almighty and give Him your life, your attitude, your obedience, your worship, your praise, and your grievance? When you give Him everything, you worship and honor Him. Surrendering all to Him is an acknowledgment that He is worth it. God is worthy of all that you have and all that you are.

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