Should You Try to Find God’s Will for Your Life?

Should You Try to Find God’s Will for Your Life?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes.

Next post, right?

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Because there is often confusion over what’s meant by “God’s will” this question must be explored more thoroughly. A simple yes / no answer is not sufficient.  Scripture speaks of the will of God in multiple ways. There are at least two ways which bear on this discussion: God’s revealed or moral will, whereby He shows us what He considers to be good and just and His secret or decretive will whereby He determines all things that come to pass. This dichotomy is laid out for us in Deuteronomy 29:29 which says “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

So,  before we can answer the question posed here, we must know with which aspect of God’s will we are dealing.

God’s Revealed or Moral Will

This is what we see in the commands and precepts of scripture. We absolutely need to know His will here. It’s here we learn how we are to relate to God and to one another. That we are to love our neighbor as ourselves or to be faithful to our spouses in marriage. It’s where we learn we are to work as unto the Lord and support our families. It’s where we learn about the gospel. Human beings can resist God’s moral will – that’s called sin.

This is why one of the most important things a Christian can do is read, study and meditate on the word of God. The Psalmist says “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:9).

God’s Secret or Decretive Will

As true as it is that God has given us in His word all we need to know to please Him and lead godly lives, it’s also true there is much He’s chosen not to tell us – for example, when He will return at the end of time to consummate His kingdom.

The Bible is clear that God ordains all things that come to pass from the rising and falling of nations to the death of a sparrow. However, nowhere in it’s pages are we told to try to figure out what will happen when for things like this. In fact, divination, trying to determine what will happen in the future, is associated in the Old Testament with witchcraft and pagan religious practices – the antithesis of godly behavior. Human beings cannot resist or thwart God’s decretive will.

Practical Application

So how does this work in our day-to-day life? Say you want to get married. That’s a big, life altering decision so you want to be sure to get it right! Can you go to God’s word for guidance? Absolutely. We know from from the Bible that in order to be in God’s will for marriage we must marry another believer of the opposite sex. Beyond that, the Bible gives us no specific direction. Therefore, if we marry another Christian of the opposite sex, we can be comfortable that we’ve married within the boundaries of God’s will.

The Bible does not tell us, nor should we expect extra-biblical revelation to tell us, who specifically to marry. We have the freedom as Christians to marry whoever seems best within the boundaries set by scripture and once we’ve done so we have the obligation to cherish and care for our spouse as commanded by scripture. There should be no second-guessing that we perhaps picked the wrong person or missed out on “God’s best” because we didn’t figure out that God was really telling us to marry Susie instead of Jill.

So, should we seek God’s will for our lives? Yes, but how we do that will differ depending on the issue at hand.  Where scripture is specific, we are to obey.  In areas not specifically addressed by scripture, the Bible gives us general guidelines and God gives us the freedom to decide within those guidelines using the resources, intelligence and gifts He’s given us. That is, after all, why He blesses us with those things.

For further reading on this topic, I recommend Decision Making and the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by Gary Friesen

Roundup of Stories On The Gosnell Horror

Roundup of Stories on the Gosnell Horror
Buchenwald Corpses 07511 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much has been written recently about the goings on in the blood spattered house of horror known as The Women’s Medical Society run by “Doctor” Josef Mengele Kermit Gosnell in the city of Phillidelphia.

Here are some I think are particularly insightful:

Gary DeMar points out the contrast between the way Kermit Gosnell has been treated in the media as opposed to Michael Vick: If Baby Killer Kermit Gosnell Had Been Dog Killer Michael Vick.

Douglas Wilson notes that what Kermit Gosnell was doing to babies outside the womb is no different than what other abortionists do to them while either partially or fully inside the womb: Our Gosnell Gulag. 

Though not addressing the Gosnell case specifically, Jack Minor writes about the efforts of those in the abortion industry to protect child rapists: Why are Rape Charges Missing in Child Sex-Abuse Cases?

An editorial in “Investors Business Daily” argues that “a squirming infant on a table outside the mother’s womb is as worthy of protection from harm as children in classrooms in a school in Connecticut:” Newtown In The Clinic: Media Ignore The Gosnell Trial

Finally, even “The Atlantic,” wonders why this is not a front page story: Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story.

We can no longer say we didn’t know. That we had no idea what that smoke drifting up from the ovens in the camps each day meant. The curtain has been pulled back. I pray the Lord will use this case to open the eyes of this nation to the carnage and horror that has been happening right under our noses, and with our approval, for for 40 years and that we will finally say “enough.”

Update on Calvin’s Institutes Reading Challenge

Update on Calvin's Institutes Reading Challenge

Back in December, I published a post called Read Calvin’s Institutes in 90 Days (or less).  Following the schedule I set up, I should finish in ninety days. I’m still going to finish in ninety days, it just won’t be ninety days in a row.

What happened? The ebb and flow of life. My father passed away in January, I’ve been busy with family, work, church, etc. As a result, I let myself get out of the habit of reading the daily passage at the time I’d set aside for it and got off track for a while.

However, I’ve now gotten back in the groove and am pursuing the reading again. Currently, per my Goodreads status, I’m 48% complete. While it’s important to approach long or weighty  works like “Institutes of the Christian Religion” with a plan for reading them, it’s also important not to give up if you get off track. View your plan as a map guiding you to the next step and encouraging you to keep going, not as a taskmaster accusing you with how far off course you are. You may get sidetracked for a few days in Chicago on your way from New York to LA but as long as you get back on the road you’ll eventually get there and at the end of the journey, you’ll be glad you finished it.

If you’d like a copy of the guide I developed to plan my reading of The Institutes you can download it free here:

90 Day Reading Guide for John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion”

Why Did Jesus Teach Using Parables?

Why Did Jesus Teach Using Parables?
Parable of the Sower (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

There are questions we have about the scriptures that simply will not be answered this side of eternity. We can speculate about them, within reason, but in the end, we must realize God has chosen not to reveal the answer to us in His Word and be content with not knowing.

Things in this category range from “What was Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’?” to “When will Christ return?” We get in trouble when we answer questions like these definitively when Scripture has not. For example, enough egg has landed on the face of American Christianity from well-meaning people telling us when Christ will return to make an omelette the size of (The Late Great) planet earth.

By the same token, there are questions scripture does answer directly. Where we go wrong in those cases is to either pretend scripture doesn’t address it or to dislike scripture’s answer and substitute our own answer instead.

So where does the question in the title of this post fit?

I’ve seen this question addressed with a variety of responses, most of which  view the use of parables as some kind of teaching technique we should emulate or some learning strategy Jesus is employing.  But is that right? How can we know for sure? If only someone had asked Jesus this question during his earthly ministry and one of the gospel writers had written down His answer!

Oh, wait…

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ – Matthew 13:10-15

 

Did you get that? Jesus didn’t teach in parables to make things more clear or to help simple people understand complex theological topics or any number of other reasons commonly given. He spoke in parables to hide His message from those who were perishing, those to whom the Kingdom of God had not been given. Jesus teaching in parables was a form of judgment on the nation of Israel.

The Old Testament passage Jesus quotes is from Isaiah 6:9-10. It occurs immediately after the Lord asks who He can send and Isaiah responds “Here I am, send me.” The Lord sent Isaiah to the people as a judgment. Isaiah was to deliver a message that the Lord had already ordained would not be believed by many, a message that would further harden their hearts and would leave them without excuse before almighty God. Isaiah wasn’t preaching to his contemporaries only about judgment to come in the future. His presence among them preaching a message they were unable to understand was also God’s judgment on them in the present.

Jesus is doing the same thing for the Jewish leaders and many others in the nation of Israel during His day. He preached a message of salvation to those with “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15) but for the rest His words were designed to prevent them from understanding and coming to repentance. Mark says this even more directly:

11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” – Mark 4:11-12

 Jesus spoke in parables to cloak His message from the reprobate because they had not been given to Him by the Father (John 10:28-30) and therefore were not citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Wow. There’s no denying that’s a difficult teaching. And that’s why I think so many people answer this question wrong. They don’t like Jesus’ answer so they come up with one of their own that’s more palatable.

But, no matter how difficult the teaching, we must present it as the scriptures present it. We’re called to be the King’s messenger, not His editor or His spin doctor. As Augustine said: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

How Should Christians View A Culture of Material Abundance?

How Should Christians View a Culture of Material Abundance?

Discussing the materialism of the church in the western world is all the rage. I remember a conversation a while back with someone who’d just returned from a mission trip to a third world country. They talked about how, upon their return to the United States, it made them sick to visit a mall or a grocery store because of all the material excess on display. This was proof to them that Americans, even American Christians, were hopelessly materialistic and needed to repent. At the time, I was inclined to agree.

This reaction is not uncommon after seeing the depths of poverty in some parts of the world, perhaps for the first time. However, is this a legitimate reaction? Should we be “sick” at the sight of a shoe department with hundreds of choices for the consumer who already has several pairs of shoes, especially when in some parts of the world children don’t have even one pair? Should we recoil in horror because Americans spend more on pet food in a month than many people in the world earn in a month total?

This may surprise you but my answer is “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I believe materialism is sinful and Christians should repent of it should they be in its grip. I just don’t believe materialism can be measured by the number of pairs of shoes one has or the prosperity of a nation. There’s a difference between material (goods and services) and materialism (making an idol of our possessions). Certainly an overabundance of “things” can be a sign that someone is materialistic, but it’s not a given.

In the middle ages, it was thought that asceticism was, not only a sign of holiness, but a way to achieve it. Unfortunately, many believers today still subscribe to that philosophy. Scripture, however, says otherwise:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. – Colossians 2:20-23

No amount of asceticism will change the heart, which the Bible tells us is the source of all unrighteousness (Matthew 15:18-20).

So what should our reaction be to the abundance of goods and services available in the western world? I think three things:

  • Thankfulness. To look at the many blessings we have in this country and not be thankful for the Lord’s unmerited favor is working on being sinful.
  •  Thoughtfulness. These goods and services don’t just appear out of thin air to tempt us. They are produced by men and women whose labors put food on the table for their families. At the risk of helping someone justify over-spending, it’s not a far stretch to say that when we patronize businesses that produce or sell quality products we help others – and in a better way than outright charity does. Like it or not, the capitalist system of providing the goods the market demands has been the largest creator of wealth in the history of the world. That should lead us to praise God for his provision, not weigh us down with guilt.
  • Generosity. Having said that, there is still plenty of room for realizing we have more than we need and then sharing that with others out of the overflow of a generous heart. And not only sharing goods but more importantly helping others tap into God’s plan for provision by helping make it possible for them to work and succeed so they too can provide for themselves and their families as scripture requires (II Thessalonians 3:10).

The apostle Paul tells us:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4:12

This should be our goal as well because the truth is, if we have a problem with materialism it’s not abundance that is the cause but our idolatrous hearts.