Time for God in a Warp Factor 9 Schedule

The past couple of weeks have been beyond ridiculous for my schedule.  We have a word for when something is beyond ridiculous: ridonkulous.  This week especially I have felt the power of ridonkulous in my schedule.  Wednesday looked something like this:

  • Up at 5.  Check in with my news and Facebook, have coffee, read and pray a little.
  • Run at 6.  4.3 miles.
  • Shower and get ready for the day at 7.
  • Mentorship meeting at 8.
  • Teach Acts-Revelation from 9-noon
  • Lunch meeting 12-1
  • Teach Capstone 1-3:30
  • Drive to church
  • Marital mentorship with a couple 4-5
  • Premarital mentorship 5-5:30
  • Family night at church starts with dinner at 5:45, cleanup at 6:30, teach class 7-8.
  • Go home, get the kids to bed, CRASH on the couch at 9.

I got a whack upside the head from one of my mentors this week when I told him that I am trying to mentor 5 marriages in crisis, do all my other pastoral duties, teach 4 classes, yada yada yada.  He asked about my daily routine, so I shared and he got concerned.  He started really getting after me about my schedule and whether I was being the husband and father that I need to be.

More importantly, he reminded me, I need to make sure that my relationship with Christ is strong and vibrant and growing.  When it is me who is doing everything all kinds of stuff can go wrong.  When it is Christ doing the work through me, then life is smooth.  So he really asked me about my prayer life and devotions and whether I was living for me or for Christ.  It is so easy to get so busy with life that we don’t make time for God and make a concerted effort to allow Him to be the center of our existence that we can quickly and easily lose sight of Him in the busyness.  (as a side note, this is why mentorship is critical.  Mentors give us insight into who we are and how we’re doing in love)

That really, really hit me when I sat at my desk on Thursday afternoon.  I have a big white board across from my desk that has a list of weekly prayer items, arranged by day.  On Monday I am reminded to pray for my staff, for our worship team, for my sermon prep, and for my wife.  Tuesday I pray for our college group, for an ESL school that meets in our facilities, for our homebound, and for Elizabeth.  The list continues through the week.  On Thursday I realized that I had not prayed AT ALL for my list this week.  How quickly these good habits can slip away!!

I felt really bad about that when I noticed it.  I mean, if the pastor can’t keep his prayer life in order then who can? Is this indicative that my devotional life is out of whack?  Am I neglecting my soul or my family?  It was time for a little soul searching.

Funny enough what helped me more than anything was looking through my bonkers week.  For my devotions I read through Galatians twice this week, asking God to show me His face and help me see the text to teach it.  Laura and I talked about Galatians a couple of times for a Bible study she is doing.  I got to pray with Laura several days this week, and over the marriages in crisis at least twice.  Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night I got to pray with and for my kids as they headed to bed.  I got good reminders from the Lord as I prepare for this Sunday’s message about the necessity of persistent and humble prayer from Luke 18:1-14. 

1 Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,
2 saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.
3 “There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’
4 “For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man,
5 yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’ ”
6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said;
7 now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?
8 “I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” 
9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:
10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be 1merciful to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That passage says nothing about the length of prayer, just that it needs to be humble and persistent.  It doesn’t say that I have to spend an hour of continual prayer for God to hear me.  I just need to keep coming and come humbly. (there’s lots in this text to discuss, but I don’t want to steal God’s thunder for Sunday’s message!)

I think that prepping for this Sunday’s message made me really lament my failure to follow my prayer schedule this week, but then made me come back to the heart of following Christ and praying.  There were so many other places where I am having an opportunity to pray other than my office time (which has been very limited) that I was encouraged rather than discouraged.  I focused at first on the places where I am struggling to find time for God, but then saw the places where He was allowing me to pray significantly and openly:

  • I’m getting good time to pray with Laura on a consistent basis, and praying for her needs and having her pray for mine really builds my marriage.
  • I’m getting good prayer with the kids on a regular basis.
  • Devotionally I am getting a chance to read large sections of Scripture, usually in the early morning and for discussion in class.
  • I’m getting to pray with the couples I am mentoring, too.

At this point you may be reading and thinking, “Okay great John.  You’re getting prayer time and some devotions through a crazy schedule.  So what? Why do I care?  Is your blog turning into a typical narcissistic gab fest?” (let’s hope not)  The point in me sharing all this is not to toot my own horn in any way; in fact, you’d be right to chide me for a lack of balance in my life. (that’s another post) 

Rather, the point is that I bet that you’re almost as busy or as busy as I am.  I bet that you’re running to and fro in your life as well.  You’re too busy to have 15 continuous minutes a day to pray over your regular stuff, too busy to have big chunks of time for God.  So find the little bits of time for Him! 

  • Find the 2 minutes you can spare from your internet time in the morning. 
  • Make the kids come and pray before they head to bed and open your heart to God with them. 
  • Put your Bible where you can get it when you’re idle.  For me (GROSS ALERT!! SKIP IF YOU’RE SENSITIVE!!) that means having a Bible in the bathroom.  Hey, it’s a guaranteed 5 minutes every day, right? (don’t even go there that this is inappropriate…one of my favorite blogs seems to revolve around poop!)
  • Have a friend or coworker who knows Christ to pray with.  Taking time in your appointments to address God for even a few seconds of focused time adds up in a hurry.
  • Redeem your everyday life.  If you’re in a place that you can, take the opportunities that present themselves for 5 minutes or whatever of focused time with God.
  • Make meal times more than meal time prayers.  Take another 60 seconds and pray for someone in your family or a friend. 

For me, I need to get back to praying my weekly prayers.  If I can find all of these nooks and crannies I can certainly find time to pray over these as well.  After all there is time for stuff like blogging, isn’t there?  Likewise, finding time for Bible reading, for mentoring, for the Spirit to change me this week will mean redeeming the small spaces between appointments rather than having long periods of solitude.

So redeem the week along with me.  I’d love to hear how you find those moments and redeem them to make them count in your growth in Christ.

Whose Responsibility? (Part 3-My Responsibility For Others)

One of the hardest parts of living an authentic and transparent life of following Christ is living within community.  It sometimes seems like we are in a catch-22 when it comes to living with other Christians.  We have liberty in Christ but can’t use that liberty for fear of offending someone or putting a foot wrong.  Authentic Christian discipleship can very, very quickly devolve into Christian legalism and fear-mongering if we are not careful.

So how much responsibility do we bear for other people’s walk with God?  And how do we live in a community of Christians where everyone has different comfort levels with particular practices that aren’t necessarily sin but could delve into sin?  I think that this discussion, at least as much as any other if not more, is the most difficult part of having a truly biblical family of fellow believers in Christ around us.

To get the context for this discussion, you really need to read part 1 and part 2 of this series before reading this post.  You must understand the brouhaha  that sparked this discussion, and especially our individual responsibility for our own holiness before God, to understand how the last part of this puzzle fits together.

Probably the most significant biblical texts dealing with the issue of my responsibility toward others are found in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 and Romans 14:1-18.  While other texts might speak to the issue obliquely, Paul gets right to the heart of the matter of matters of conscience in these texts.  There is no better place to start a discussion of our responsibility for others in a biblical sense.

I think that this issue might have been such a big deal to Paul for a couple of reasons.  First I think his background made this issue large.  He started life as Saul the Pharisee, the king of legalism! (Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14)  He knew how to put a fence around the law, which was a very Jewish practice. (see this explanation from a Jewish source)  Also, his congregations seem to be made up of diverse groups of Jews and Gentiles, young and old, slave and free.  These differences would be magnified in the church and would cause division and dissension then just like they do now!  So Paul addresses this issue in a very straightforward way.

23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake;
27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake;
29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience?
30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?
31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;
33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.

Paul’s overriding ethic in 1 Cor 10 is concern for others.  In verse 23 he is clear that in issues of conscience he is open to others’ needs, in that nothing by itself is unclean.  The particular issue in Corinth was meat, particularly the truth that some meat sold in the meat market was from animals that were sacrificed in the pagan temples of Corinth.  No doubt some of the believers there were bothered by that idolatry and therefore avoided that meat.  In verse 28 Paul says that he abstains when he knows there is someone with him who it would bother.  This isn’t for his own conscience (verse 30), but for the sake of others (verse 29).

The other side of the coin is also presented here.  In verse 27 Paul does not cause offense with his conscience to others either!  If an unbeliever offers him meat sacrificed to idols unknowingly, he realizes that it is not a spiritual issue (verses 25 and 26) and partakes with thankfulness.  It would have been a grave insult to turn down a host’s offering, so Paul does not make a big deal of it.  He makes the important issues important (like thankfulness to God and the ability of his friends to live holy lives according to their own consciences) rather than the unimportant issues (like meat).  He restrains his own desires for their benefit! 

Note the significant issue though: this sword cuts both ways.  Even if it bothers him that he could have a leg of lamb because it is clean, still if it bothers his host he will abstain.  Likewise he may be a little concerned about the source of the roast beast before him, but if his host offers it he will gratefully accept it.  This is NOT a one-way deal!  Instead, Paul thinks of others before himself.  This is the same ethic that he prescribes for believers in Romans 14:1-23:

1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself;
8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11 For it is written,
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.
14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.
16 Therefore ado not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil;
17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.
23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

This is a long passage but the basic message is pretty clear.  First we must be firmly convinced in our own mind as to what is acceptable to ourselves in matters of conscience and what is not.  Whether we decide that a matter of conscience is acceptable or not for our own lives is an issue between us and God.

That said, we also have a responsibility for others in this arena.  Verse 3 is the key!  When our conscience is weaker than someone else’s, we must not judge them for participating.  Likewise, if our conscience allows something that a friend’s conscience does not then we must not treat them with contempt for their more sensitive conscience.  Rather, Paul explains in verses 15-21, it is better to love them and restrain ourselves in their presence so as not to tear them down.

It’s important to see these issues in real life, so let’s consider a couple of situations.  I know some people who love the Harry Potter books, and others who believe that they are a gateway to ungodliness and witchcraft.  First Paul says that each must be firmly convinced that what they are doing (or not doing) is right before God.  Then he says that the one who is a fan mustn’t look down their nose at the one who is a muggle.  The one who doesn’t like the books mustn’t pass judgment on the fan, either. 

This same ethic applies to all types of matters of conscience.  Just a few of the more common ones include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Entertainment choices (movies, TV, books, etc. that are not overtly sinful)
  • Choice of occupation
  • Clothing preferences
  • Music
  • Smoking (yes, smoking…it won’t send you to hell I promise, though it may make you smell like you’ve been there), though this one is more complicated by the nicotine addiction factor

So what’s the bottom line?  My responsibility is to live a holy life before God first and foremost.  In matters of conscience I first and foremost have to check my heart and make sure that whatever I do I feel good about before Christ.  Then I must check my own liberty around others to make sure that I am taking every reasonable precaution to keep from putting stumbling blocks in their way.  Some of the ways that I find myself on both sides of this issue:

  1. I have a very sensitive conscience when it comes to sexual purity.  I get defiled easily!  I can’t watch movies with ANY nudity in them, so I avoid them.  I have friends with no such compunction, though, so we agree not to see those movies when we go together.  And when they go without me I do not stand in judgment over them.  They stand before Christ, and just because I couldn’t do it doesn’t mean they can’t!
  2. I have a very strong conscience when it comes to violence.  I love martial arts and am quite a gun nut.  I love firearms!  However, this is a touchy subject so it is one I am usually quiet about around other Christians.  I don’t want them to stumble, so I don’t share too much before I know that their conscience can handle it.  And for those bothered by firearms I work very hard to allow them to live out their conscience.
  3. With alcohol I am middle of the road.  I come from a family that struggles with alcohol so I have to watch my consumption, but I enjoy a glass of wine every so often.  However, I know a lot of people struggle with this and have more than a few friends who have battled alcoholism.  Needless to say I don’t drink around them!  Likewise I don’t talk about alcohol with them either, because it might be too much for them to bear.
  4. In the fantasy book genre our home is divided.  I am a huge fan of Robert Jordan, Tolkien, David Eddings, and other writers of fantasy.  My kids love the books too!  Laura, though, has a harder time with it.  So in our home she gets to set the standard.  If she is okay with a book then it can stay, and we all agree to respect one another’s consciences. (see this post on Halloween for another issue we have worked through)

I would encourage you to look through Paul’s lens on matters of conscience with respect to others.  Realize that you have liberty if your conscience allows but a responsibility to respect the weaker consciences of those around you.  Life is filled with give and take, so make sure that you’re willing to give for their sakes and be ready to make requests to take for yours.  If we do that in love with one another, looking out for each other without judgment or condemnation, then we will have the Christian community that makes a HUGE impact on our world.

Ladies, allow me to boil this down a little farther for you.  There are a few issues that are major, up-front issues in our society, including sex.  You’re not as visual as men for the most part, so know that and know that they are.  The way you dress is very hard for our weaker consciences to handle.  So when in doubt, please do us a favor and be cautious. (this brings us full circle to the Facebook bra color thing…)  Likewise, fellas, the ladies need us to choose not to ride roughshod over their consciences when they are offended.

A Decade of Perspective

January 16th, 2000.  It’s a day that will forever be etched into my memory.  I went to help a friend who was hurting on the evening of the 15th.  I went to coffee with him and we talked late into the night.  His parents were divorcing and he needed a listening ear.  We shut the coffee house down at 1AM, and I drove home.

At 2:10 AM on that Sunday morning I was about 3 miles from home, contemplating snuggling up into bed and church in the morning.  I was less than 5 months from my commission as a Naval officer, and life was great.  I had accepted Christ 18 months previously and was on fire for Him.  Everything was going as it should, full of blessing and positive change. 

That was the night when life changed forever. 

Driving down a dark and deserted road, a car came flying up behind me at 85 mph.  I was doing 40 and barely had time to see him before he hit me; when all was said and done he was convicted of DWI and a host of other offenses.  The spin into the ditch was only the beginning of the tailspin my life went into that night.  I ended up having to decline my commission as a Naval officer because of my injuries, and was ultimately removed from military service because of back problems from the wreck.[1]  I went from the highest of highs to the darkest lows in the months that followed.

I remember the pain of those months following the wreck.  The physical pain was certainly no fun, as two bulging discs in my back made movement painful.  I ended up with two surgeries to try to put myself back together, though they didn’t come for over a year and a half.  Many nights I laid on the couch in pain.  Putting on socks was an ordeal, and sometimes a week would go by before I could muster up the courage to bend over to wash my feet in the shower.  I played sports in high school and college, so living in constant pain simply stunk.

Worse than that was the emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain.  I prayed many nights, asking God why in the world He allowed this to happen.  I had worked hard to get into a very competitive and prestigious program in the Navy and the wreck took it.  I had two kids who needed a dad to roughhouse with; I couldn’t even pick my 7-month-old son up if he was crying.  I had a bright future in the military and in politics after that, serving God and shining His light in a place that all too often is dark.  I had come to Christ 18 months before, and now my military service had real meaning!  Why take it away now?

Why God?  Why?  What good could possibly come of this?  I remember cursing the crutches I had for 3 weeks, the badge of a displaced pelvis that went undiagnosed for a long time.  I had great resentment for superior officers who thought I was malingering.  I saw the effect of my pain on my marriage and lamented what I was doing to my wife.  I saw my daughter not understand why daddy couldn’t play on the floor and again I thought, why?

The following is an excerpt from Laura’s journal from this time (thanks, dear, for allowing me to share):

“Dec. 12, 2000
  … John’s definitely at his worst point that he’s had, physically.  The 2nd MRI done in Nov (late) shows 3 bulging discs and a tear in the last.  It would take pages and at least an hour to put down all the feelings and emotions that we’ve had, both individually and as a family, with this progression.  I know I’m struggling to hold myself together- I almost had a nervous breakdown last week…
We only have about 5 weeks of medical coverage left and we had hopes of a relatively new procedure called IDET being done.  However, we only have $5k left of coverage, and the procedure’s $18-20K.  Today I really saw anger and fright in John’s eyes, wondering if he was ever going to get better.  Seems unfair that he should have to worry about cost caps and deadlines to get better when it was no fault of his own.  Helping out a friend, no less.  I can’t help but wonder what we’ll see from this when we look at it 20 years from now.  I’m fighting depression every minute…
The [pending settlement] money’s so unimportant now, even having the severe financial struggles we’re having.  And yet, if we had that $ now, we could do the surgery.  Of course, we wouldn’t need the surgery if he’d never have gotten hit!!!  Oh Lord, what do You want us to learn from this?  I feel so defeated.  I’ve occasionally gone through this, but it breaks my heart to see John depressed and hopeless at times- I’ve never seen him that way.  I know he’s never been depressed….
It’s a vicious cycle because his depression, anxiety, anger, helplessness and bitterness reflects to me, which makes me fall apart which is hard on him… you get the picture…
Trying to hold on to my faith that God has great things for us in spite- because of- this. “

There is no way you could have ever convinced me in the months after my wreck that God was using it for His glory and my good.  Romans 8:28 seemed more of a taunt than a comfort.  God uses all things to work together for my good?  I’m going to be from Missouri on that one.  Same thing on January 16th, 2001.  I had just been removed from the ship I was serving on, headed out of the Navy through a long process of doctor evaluations, surgeries, and pain.  By January 16th, 2002 I was out of the Navy, a disabled veteran retraining for a new job because I couldn’t do what I trained to do in the Navy.

Fast forward to January 17th, 2010.  clip_image001The day after the 10th anniversary of my wreck I ran a race.  It’s a miracle of God that my back pain is largely gone.  (He used surgeons and physical therapists in that miracle, though I have no doubt that it is His hand at work through them that healed me)  It is gone so far that on this day I was able to run a half marathon!  On January 17th, 2000 I was asking my doctor if the pain I was feeling would be there for long and he was considering ordering an emergency MRI to check for internal bleeding.  On January 17th, 2010 I knew that the struggle would last for 13.1 miles!  My perspective today about my wreck is completely different than it was right after, or even at a year or two after.  Today I count this (at the time) seeming  great evil as one of the greatest blessings He has ever given me.

At about 9.4 miles into the half marathon on Sunday I got very emotional.  I cried out to God right before, asking Him to help me finish the race for His glory.  My mind flooded with the images of 2000, of the sleepless nights and pain medication, of the anger at the man who hit me and the struggle with my military career ending.  Now here I am, living a dream.  I am one of less than half of one percent of Americans who will run a half marathon this year.  He has healed me so thoroughly that I can run!  I can lift my kids over my head. [2]  I don’t work on nuclear reactors anymore, which is a blessing beyond belief for me.  Instead I get the incredible privilege of pastoring a church and being an instrument that God uses in the preserving of families and souls.

Today, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that what God says in Romans 8:28 has become a reality in my life.  I met the man who would become an incredibly important mentor in my life during the trials of my back surgeries.  He is the one who helped me see that God would be pleased if I pursued vocational ministry, who helped me pursue a seminary education.  My wreck led me to the mentors who currently help me live life with Christ.  It led me out of the Navy and into the life I live today.  It paid for my seminary training.   It led me to the opportunity to help others who are struggling with understanding why God does what He does, and how He can redeem circumstances that seem beyond comprehension.

God didn’t keep me from an incredibly difficult trial.  He didn’t prevent a great evil coming into my life.  Instead He chose in His sovereign will to make me the man that I am today through it.  He used that car wreck to get me to give my life completely to Him, to trust Him in the unknown and with the pain of my life.  He got me away from my plan and closer to His.  And now, a decade later, He has even redeemed my body to the point that I can train for and run a half marathon.  He made me dependent upon Him with my wreck, and the dependence I learned there has spilled into my marriage and my parenting as well as my job.  To Him be the glory, because there is no way I am where I am today without the crucible of pain I went through.

What about you?  You might be struggling right now, wondering how in the world God could be there if you’re going through what you’re going through.  How can He care if He allows situations like you’re facing?  I’ve known people who have lost parents, spouses, children, and others who have shared my cry.  Why, God?  Why?  I know many who are out of work through no fault of their own, having their homes foreclosed on.  Why, Lord?  I know marriages struggling through real trials and hurts.  How can God allow godly and good people to go through this?  Where is He, and why doesn’t He stop this? 

Though I can’t see into the future, I can see the past clearly and how it influences the present.  Though you may not see the redemption of your trial or your circumstance, I can say unequivocally that God is at work.  He can redeem even situations that look bleak if we will continue to trust Him.  While I can’t say exactly how or when, I can say that I am evidence that God redeems bad situations if we allow Him to by trusting Him when times are tough.  Where are the challenges in your life today that in a year, five years, or ten years God wants to use to bring about His glory and good in your life?  Those very same struggles, pains, trials and troubles may not be what is standing in the way of you being who God wants you to be.  Instead, they may be the instruments that He can use to mold you into that person, if you will only walk with Him through the fire.

Now I know why Job could say, “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10)  That adversity builds in those who trust Christ a depth of conviction and trust in God that can’t be built through prosperity or ease.  So if you’re struggling today like I was in January 2000, I can’t tell you enough to trust Christ through all that pain.  Stay with Him!  Allow Him to transform it in your life, to use it as a tool in His perfect hand to build you into the person He can use.  Though the path is not always easy, He is a Redeemer.

Blessed be your name, Lord.  Thanks for my healthy body that I may use to run for your glory.  Thanks for a wife who loves me through the pain and the trial.  Thanks for the many blessings that you taught me are your gracious gift.  Thanks for your love when I am unlovable.  Thanks for days when I have no pain.  You have given back what was taken away, and I will choose to bless your name through it all. 

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

[1] I call it a wreck rather than an accident on purpose. An accident occurs when someone makes an honest mistake and cars collide. The man who hit me blew a 0.24 BAC 2 ½ hours after the wreck. Getting that inebriated, and then getting behind the wheel of a car, is no accident. (he had a DWI 5 months prior as well…) So I don’t call my wreck an “accident.”
[2] Okay, only the little ones. My 12-year-old daughter might object if I tried, and my son would judo chop me on the way up.

Whose Responsibility? (Part 2-My Responsibility to Me)

Who is responsible for me?  Who takes the blame when I goof something up, and whose responsibility is it to make sure that I have everything I need to be successful?  This question has a lot of traction in the current political climate, but is a timeless question that every Christian must answer about their walk with Christ.  How much responsibility to the other people in my life and periphery bear concerning how I respond to God?

In my first post on this issue I brought up the big concern surfaced when a Facebook status I wrote brought a huge reaction among my friends.  (Go read the first post to get a synopsis of the issue)  Where is the intersection of my responsibility for myself and the responsibility of my friends, family members, acquaintances, and associates for helping me? 

While the second part of the question can be a little murkier, the first part is not.  Without putting too fine a point on it, allow me to state a theological truth about our spiritual lives:

I, and I alone, am responsible for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him.

We might be tempted to pick up our current cultural preference to blame others when we fall short of the glory of God, but God will not have it.  As a culture we seemingly are incredibly good at shifting the blame onto others.  When kids shoot up a school our first thought is to blame the violent video games they are playing rather than blame their own choices.  When a politician fails morally we tend to push aside their own culpability in their actions to the corruption of power.  Naturally Hollywood stars in America get a free pass, because of course stardom causes lunacy. 

This is nothing new.  People have been passing the buck for millennia!  In Genesis 3, right after the fall, no one was willing to take the fall for sin. (ba-dum, CHA!)  When God asked Adam why he knew he was naked, Adam replied in Genesis 3:12, “The woman You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”  He passed the buck.  “It was all HER fault that I sinned, God!  Don’t blame me!”  When God turned to the woman and asked her what happened, she passed the blame along as well in Genesis 3:13 by saying, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  Basically her answer was, “It wasn’t my fault, God!  I was deceived, so I am not at fault.  It was all the serpent’s fault!”

Notice, though, that God punishes not only the serpent (in Genesis 3:14-15), but also the woman (in Genesis 3:16) and Adam (in Genesis 3:17-19).  No one got off the hook because someone else talked them into it!  Neither Adam nor Eve were excused for their sin because they were influenced by someone else.  God held them accountable for their own responsibility in choosing to disobey Him.  Adam could have told Eve no.  Eve could have told the serpent to take a hike.  (or a crawl I suppose)  Since they gave in, God held them accountable for their own actions.

He reiterates this same concept in Ezekiel 18:4-20, where He reminds the people that each person is responsible for themselves before Him.

4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.
5 “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness,
6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period—
7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,
8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man,
9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully—he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord GOD.
10 “Then he may have a violent son who sheds blood and who does any of these things to a brother
11 (though he himself did not do any of these things), that is, he even eats at the mountain shrines, and defiles his neighbor’s wife,
12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore a pledge, but lifts up his eyes to the idols and commits abomination,
13 he lends money on interest and takes increase; will he live? He will not live! He has committed all these abominations, he will surely be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
14 “Now behold, he has a son who has observed all his father’s sins which he committed, and observing does not do likewise.
15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife,
16 or oppress anyone, or retain a pledge, or commit robbery, but he gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing,
17 he keeps his hand from the poor, does not take interest or increase, but executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes; he will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live.
18 “As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was not good among his people, behold, he will die for his iniquity.
19 “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.
20 “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.

God is pretty clear in Ezekiel that we are each accountable for our own actions.  When a friend puts a temptation in my way (like, say, something random like posting their bra color on Facebook) it is still my responsibility if I sin.  I can’t get away with it because someone else put me up to it.  Likewise I can’t say “well, my dad drank too much and beat me so I drink too much and abuse my own children.  It’s his fault I am like this.”  No, the Bible very clearly says that I am responsible for myself and my own behavior, thoughts, and inclinations.

So how does this affect my life with Christ?  First and foremost it means that I must take ownership of my choices as a Christian.  I can’t blame the women in my life who dress in a way that I find provocative for what my mind dwells on; if I lust after them in my heart, I have sinned against God without help from anyone. (Matthew 5:28)  Even if a person goads me into it, for me to hate them or speak angrily of them is sin that I am accountable for. (Matthew 5:22)    Within the same sermon that Jesus makes these statements in, He also points out that when I cause myself to sin I need to deal swiftly with that and remove the source of temptation in my own life. (Matthew 5:29-30) 

It is me that makes me sin, not someone else.  I must not give into the temptation to blame others for my own choices, instead owning them and recognizing that there is always a way not to sin if I will only choose it. (1 Cor 10:13).  I also have to realize that when I do sin (and as a fallen Christian I will; cf. Romans 7:14-25) that God’s stunning grace allows me to confess my sin and receive restoration (1 John 1:9).

Secondly, understanding that I am accountable for my own sin should make me take a long, hard look at my life of discipleship.  If I am not following Christ well or being the person He wants me to be, I can blame no one for my condition.  He will not allow me to blame my spouse for my shallow spiritual life, or my job, or my parents.  It’s my choice, so I can choose to take my walk with Him seriously and follow Him.  Only I can obey the commands of Hebrews 12:1-2 for my life:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

To put a pretty fine point on it, with my status update on Facebook the other day I could never tell any of the ladies posting their bra color that they were making me sin.  They couldn’t!  Only I can choose for me to sin.  Only I am responsible for my own personal commitment to Christ and for walking in His grace.  Only I can choose to resist the temptation to indulge my flesh, whatever the area is.  Allow me to say it again: I, and I alone, am responsible for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him.

The same holds true for each of us.  Just because your spouse is not following Christ in a given area (or at all) does not give you the right to follow suit, no matter how hard it might be to pursue holiness by yourself.  Just because your dad was (or is) an alcoholic does not give you a free pass to be one.  When your peers pressure you to take drugs it does not mean that you’re excused.  When your boyfriend pressures you into sex it does not mean that you’re off scot free.  When your friends buy a new car and you feel pressure to keep up, whatever their involvement the decision is yours alone.

I, and I alone, am responsible for for the quality of my walk with Christ, for my personal commitment to Him, and for my personal holiness before Him.  Where would your spiritual life be in a week, a month, or a year if you truly and completely adopted this attitude, allowing the Holy Spirit in grace to give you the strength to walk with Christ and please Him with your decisions?

In the final post, the question we will address is what my responsibility for others and their walk with Christ is.  While I know that I am 100% responsible for me, does that relieve me of any responsibility toward others?  Not at all, as we will explore.

Whose Responsibility? (Part 1-The Issue)

Man oh man did I start a tempest in a teapot on Friday.  I logged in to Facebook in the morning and saw a lot of women’s statuses were just a color.  Then I saw several (like 3 or 4) that said why this was happening: they were posting the color of the bra they were wearing.  A couple said that they were supporting breast cancer awareness, while a couple of other ones just said that it was a fun girl game.

After seeing about a couple dozen status updates it got old.  So I posted this status update at 10:13AM:

Hey ladies, do us all a favor and stop posting your bra colors. No, really, I mean it. I know it’s breast cancer awareness day, but many of your guy friends on fb strive to honor God with their thought lives, and you talking about your lingerie is not helpful…

That status was supposed to be quasi-funny and just a bit of a nudge, because the part at the bottom is true.  Men receive a good bit of their sexual gratification through their eyes.  Don’t believe me?  Then why is pornography such a huge problem in our society?  Why do strip clubs exist?  They exist only because men receive sexual gratification through their eyes. (and unfortunately in our depraved state seek ways to receive that gratification without any work on our part…)  And whether the ladies in our lives like it or not, when a woman tells a man what kind of undergarments she is wearing it is almost a guarantee that he will picture her wearing those undergarments. 

Even more, would you do this in real life?  Can you imagine a woman just walking up to her friends and announcing “I am wearing a black lace bra”?  Or even just “polka dot,” then when they look at her funny explaining the funny joke and then saying that she was wearing a polka dot bra?  Would you announce to your workplace what color undergarments you are wearing?  I would FREAK OUT if my wife did that to another man, or if my daughter did for that matter.  Inappropriate!  (link for the Conan fans out there) I know that Facebook is a social network and not the same as work, but there are still rules of decorum!

So this was a request to the Christian ladies out there who hadn’t thought about the other side of the coin.  I thought that I might get a response or two, but what happened really shocked me.  Before it became passé, I had 38 responses to that status.  More than one or two affirmed my sentiment, but I got more than a little pushback too.  I started quite a debate!  I had people tell me that I was insensitive and hurtful to all breast cancer survivors.  (note to all: I have a grandmother who is a survivor and an aunt who is currently battling breast cancer…so aloof I am not)  I was told how judgmental I was and how it was all an innocent game, a fun thing that perverts had, well, perverted.  I even got a message from someone I didn’t even know telling me how this whole thing is men’s fault, saying:

…if someone doesn’t like it or is offended by it they can very easily block the post from the “offensive people”, or can delete those temptresses all together so that their weak minds won’t wander. However, you may want to also suggest they stay out of department stores and off of beaches since the the first sells the tempting garments and the latter has such scantily clad women that said men may not be able to control themselves.

I had to chill out on this one for a couple of days because it got under my skin a little.  (and not just me…check out this story in the Chicago Tribune for a similar sentiment)   I talked it over with my home fellowship because I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t off my rocker. (well, more than usual anyway)  They all agreed that this is a big issue and worthy of discussion

The big question that comes out of this debate is this: whose responsibility is it for my holiness?  Whose responsibility is it for the walk with Christ of those around me?  Do I bear responsibility for myself or am I a product of my inputs?  Am I responsible for others and their reactions to what I do, or am I free to pursue my desires as long as it is not actively hurting others?  Where do my liberty and my responsibility intersect as a follower of Christ?  When I look at it from that angle this issue is not about undergarments but about how we live out our consciences as Christians in a community where others are more or less sensitive than we are to particular issues.  This, then, is a chance to examine how to live out our freedom in Christ without ruining others’ walk with Him.

There are a good number of instructions on this issue in the New Testament, particularly in the writing of the Apostle Paul.  This guy started life as Saul the Pharisee, educated at the feet of the highly respected Gamaliel (Acts 22:3) and zealous not to stumble in any way under the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:14).  Since God has a sense of humor, He made Mr. stickler-for-the-law into the one He sent to those who didn’t even care about the Law of Moses! (Galatians 1:16)  He had to try to bring together communities of Christians who were Gentiles (and therefore whose consciences were less sensitive) with those whose background was Jewish (and therefore whose consciences were likely to be more sensitive).  Sparks had to fly, and because they did we get a lot of instruction on how to be toward one another.

To begin, it helps to remember that Christian consciences can differ in non-essential areas.  Paul says in Romans 14:14, “I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”  In matters of conscience, how we view the issue matters spiritually.  A few verses previously in Romans 14:2 Paul uses food as a barometer of our conscience’s sensitivity when he says, “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.”  (Note: while American usage equates “weak” with “bad,” this isn’t the issue here.  Sensitive or not sensitive is the issue)  Some of us have sensitive consciences and some not so much.

What about you?  When you look at your walk with Christ do you find yourself on the “more sensitive” side or the “less sensitive” side?  If you’re like me you probably have some of each.  For me, stuff like language and violence don’t bother me a bit.  In fact, I rather enjoy some violence (like MMA).  I have found, though, that in order to walk with Christ I must be very careful with sexual imagery and situations.  For instance, I can watch war movies all day long…action is great.  One nude scene, though, and I am wrecked for a week in my thought life.  So I am strong in some areas, weak in others.  I think that God made us that way on purpose, knowing that in community we would have friends stronger and weaker than us in various areas.

Simply recognizing that is a victory, because it says that in my community of Christians there are others dealing with the same weaknesses I am, and others weak in places where I am strong.  That realization alone is a victory, because it shows that what I have is a bad case of the normals.  However, if we are not thoughtful we can either become so laissez faire that we don’t help one another live holy lives, or so dictatorial that we do not allow others the liberty that God does.

Next we will look at what my responsibility is in dealing with temptations brought about by others.