Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, October 31, 2013 0 comments
When I was growing up in my home, my parents had a little sign on the wall which said “marriage takes three”. Obviously, I didn’t understand it much as a child, but as I got older I realized that the third “person” needed to make a marriage work is God. After all, He IS the one who created marriage in the first place (see Genesis 2:24). But it was still more of just a “Christian cliché” than anything else until I began to realize why God is so necessary in a marriage. I’ve heard multiple Christian couples over the years say that they had gotten to a point where they were willing to throw away the vows they made to each other, and that the only thing that kept their marriage together was the vow they made to God. I bet you didn’t know that in the Bible, according to William Mounce, there is no word that translates to our word “vow” except the one that specifically refers to a vow made to God or another deity. So in those days, you didn’t make a vow to someone else. You could swear an oath before another person, but a vow was taken much more seriously. It makes sense when you think about it. Why vow to another person, who essentially can do very little if anything to hold you to it. We have evidence among both Christian and non-Christian couples of how seriously we take our vows with the divorce rate for both being right around 50%. By nature, we do a lot of things based on how we feel at the time, including making promises we really won’t fully understand down the road. This is why the marriage vow has to be viewed as being made to God, and not your partner. God is really the only one who can do something about it if you break your vow, and a healthy fear of Him is the best accountability there is! Two very prominent members from the history of the Christian church were in their positions mainly because of vows made to God. Martin Luther feared for his life in 1505 when he was about four miles from his home and was caught in a horrendous storm. Terrified, he vowed to God, through calling out to a saint as was typical, that he would become a monk and serve Him only if he was spared. After his life was saved, Luther held to that vow by quitting law school and entering a monastery. God would use him to begin the Reformation of the Church. Likewise, John Wesley was used by God as a preacher and helped create the Methodist denomination. Many don’t know he was in a terrible house fire when he was a boy that destroyed his family’s home. He was the last one out and was pulled from the home just moments before it collapsed. His mother made the declaration that he was “a brand plucked from the burning”, signifying that he was not just saved from death, but “plucked” by God for a specific purpose. Wesley’s vow was in response to what God did for him. Making vows to God out of desperation is nothing new. Take a look at 1 Samuel 1. Hannah was the wife of Elkanah, but she was not able to bear him children, so he had another wife. Even though he loved Hannah, Elkanah had children with the other wife, Peninnah, which essentially gave her bragging rights over Hannah. By the way, the fact that these people made these choices DOES NOT mean that God condoned them. The boasting, bitterness, despair, and family strife prove that the choices were not godly ones. But our God is big enough to work His purposes in the midst of our sins. Rather than bless Hannah with children as soon as she wanted them, He allowed her to become so desperate that she finally cried out to Him. “And she made a vow, saying, ‘O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head’” (1 Sam. 1:11). Do you really think that is what Hannah wanted, to finally have a child only to give him over to the Lord’s service? That would mean she can’t be in control of what happens to him pretty much from day one. How many of you parents out there willingly and happily sign up for that? The point is that, regardless of what Hannah wanted, the Lord had a plan for Samuel’s birth and his life, and He used the circumstances of Hannah’s desperation that led to a vow to carry out that plan. You can read the rest of the first chapter to see how Hannah kept the vow, and the rest of 1 Samuel to see how God used Samuel from the time he was a boy to speak truth in Israel. It all really comes down to whether or not you truly fear God. It’s another “Christian cliché” you’ll often hear in churches, but I assure you it is definitely real. To know who God truly is and what He can do is to have a healthy fear of Him. Knowing that He can hold us to our vows and that the consequences for not doing so are in His control is a motivating factor for us to only make vows we plan on keeping. Whether it’s your marriage, your children, your calling, or something else, you MUST know that any vow that you make is really made before God. He’s the one you have to deal with should you choose not to follow it. Let that be a warning in truth and love!
A woman wears a veil at her wedding day, which shows the virtue of her virginity, while reciting her vows. If you’ve been reading this month’s blog posts, you may have noticed that all of those “v” words are the words for this month, which all relate together. This week’s final “v” word is vows. As in the opening sentence, we most often hear of vows at weddings. The vows are the verbal commitment that the bride and groom give to each other, to express their love and devotion for one another as husband and wife. But really, a vow is a promise, and it doesn’t have to do only with weddings. In the book of Acts in the Bible, we read a story about a couple named Ananias and Sapphira. I encourage you to read their whole story, in Acts 4:32-5:11. We see in Acts 4:34b-35 we read that, “For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” A bit later in Acts 5:2, we read that, “With his wife’s full knowledge [Ananias] kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.” Ananias and Sapphira had made a vow to give the full sum of money from the sale of their land to the believers, but they broke that vow by withholding some for themselves. The direct outcome of breaking that vow was death for both of them. Breaking a vow does not always result in death, but we are sternly warned against such things. James 5:12 says, “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Otherwise you will be condemned.” The NASB version of the Bible has slightly different wording of this same verse: “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” We are warned against making vows that we cannot keep, because vows are not meant to be broken. Breaking a vow clearly means we will face judgment for doing so. We can trust God to always keep His vows. But we are sinful human beings, and unfortunately it is more likely that we will break a vow than to keep it. But I encourage you try your best to keep your word to others in every circumstance, especially if you have made a vow before God and others.
“Did God REALLY say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 [CAPS mine]) Ever since that moment in the Garden of Eden, the enemy has been trying to get us to question God’s Word to us. And it often works! While Eve was able to declare the serpent’s quote as incorrect, she then also misquoted God, saying that he told them they will die if they “touch” the tree in the middle of the garden when he did not. He told her husband they would die if they “eat” of it. So the enemy’s plan worked, even if his quote of God was also wrong. I can picture Eve standing there desperately trying to remember God’s words as they are questioned (by the way, she didn’t even exist when the command was given, so it was Adam’s FULL responsibility to accurately speak God’s Word to his wife – see the story for yourself in Genesis 2 and 3 if you want). Even the slightest confusion about God’s truth opened the door for Adam and Eve to be tempted, which resulted in their disobedience and sin entering the human race. So you see, friends, this trick of the enemy is nothing new. But make no mistake about it, it IS a trick of the enemy, and the only defense we have against it is to know and believe God’s Word. Perhaps there is no greater area of our lives where the enemy tries to introduce confusion and deception than our sexuality. He does this in a variety of ways. Some people are taught from a very young age that “sex is evil”, which causes huge internal conflict when they mature and are unable to reconcile their feelings with what they’ve been taught. Look it up, folks. In that same Genesis 2, you can see that God created man and woman and gave them the gift of sex BEFORE sin entered the world. So if you’ve taught or believed that sex is wrong, please reconcile your views with the truth. But for the majority of us, the enemy’s tactic has affected us a different way. We’ve been taught God’s truth regarding sexuality, but the enemy and our own temptations have caused us to question what he REALLY said. In other words, we look for ways to justify and believe “what our itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 3:3). I remember reading years ago that something like 62% of teenagers IN THE CHURCH admit to being sexually active by 12th grade. That was a staggering statistic at the time, but I wonder if the number has risen. As both a man who went through the time of questioning myself and one who has worked with youth and young adults for many years, I can safely say there’s been no greater battlefield for the souls of young people than sexuality. Rather than submitting to God’s truth wholeheartedly, we are tricked into seeing how far we can “push the boundary” that God has set. What if it’s love? Am I still a virgin if it’s only oral sex? If God wants me to wait, why hasn’t he provided a spouse yet? If we know we’re going to get married, what’s the point of waiting now? Is lusting without actually having sex still wrong? These are just some of the questions you may have asked or heard others ask in an effort to justify their feelings so they don’t have to continue resisting the temptation. If you’re trying to find a loophole in Scripture that allows you to be sexually active and still follow Christ, I have bad news and good news. The bad news is you won’t find it (even though that’s actually good news because God’s commands are there to protect and bless you). Scripture is actually even more restrictive than you might think. I once heard someone say “there’s no such thing as premarital sex in God’s eyes”. In our culture and even in ancient Jewish culture, marriage involves a ceremony, a certificate, and the sworn oaths of the parties. While I can’t say that comment is completely true because of the possibility of forced sexual activity, I do agree with the point. The Old Testament laws about marriage and sex in Deuteronomy practically assume that if two people are agreeing to engage in sexual activity, they’re willing to make the marriage commitment. You’ve heard people refer to it as “consummating the marriage”. You can’t have one without the other! Regarding lust, Jesus says to look at someone lustfully has the same affect on your heart as actually sleeping with them (Matthew 5:28). As far as sexual activity separate from intercourse, Song of Solomon is really the only book in the Bible that even vaguely references this and it’s all within a marital relationship. Furthermore, while marriage is not a sin, both the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 7:32-38) and the Book of Revelation (14:3-4) indicate that to not get married and remain a virgin is better than getting married because it allows one to be FULLY devoted to God. As you can see, our culture, and many in the church, have more than crossed God’s boundaries regarding sexual intimacy. But there is great news. While the enemy loves to use your past sexual sins to make you feel like there is no benefit of changing because you can’t get your virginity back (another example of confusion and deception regarding God’s Word), God wants to show you that hope is not lost. In our culture, the bride usually wears white on her wedding day to symbolize purity. But even if she is not a virgin, I’ve always looked at it like the groom’s love for her and disregarding of her past allows her to be presented as pure. Christ does the same thing for us. Paul tells the church he wants to present “her” as a “pure virgin” to the groom, which is Christ (2 Cor. 11:2). If that were based on our own deeds, it’d be impossible. Thankfully, Christ’s sacrifice allows us to be presented as “holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22). This is true for all who simply believe and confess that his sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for their sins, and who walk in freedom from them based on that faith. In the end, we’re told that those who overcome, meaning those whose faith causes them to resist temptation and live in purity despite their pasts, will be “dressed in white” (Revelation 3:5). Once sin, death, and Satan have been defeated, the church will be “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). So friends, no matter what you have done, know that trusting in Christ makes you a pure virgin in his eyes.
This week’s word is virginity, which is potentially one of those most awkward words for teenagers. Virginity can be a hot topic so to speak; are you a virgin, or have you lost your virginity, and how? In case anyone reading this is very sheltered and has no idea what I’m talking about, a virgin is a person who has not yet had sexual intercourse. Anyone who is no longer a virgin probably has a story to tell about how they lost their virginity - though leaving out every detail is probably a good idea! For some, it may have been something they did not intend at that point in their life but it just happened. For others, it may have been an intentional decision at the time that they regretted later on. For still others, it may have been a plan for their wedding night to give the gift of their virginity only to their spouse. You have probably heard of a woman in the Bible named Mary. She was a young girl, and still a virgin at the time, though she was betrothed (think “engaged”) to a man named Joseph. Still having her virginity, it’s impossible for her to become pregnant, right? Well, nothing is impossible with God! God chose Mary to be the woman to give birth to His Son, Jesus, into the world. We don’t know the details of how this happened, but essentially God’s Spirit impregnated Mary, while she was still a virgin. Naturally, Mary was curious about it too; in Luke 1:34-35 we see her conversation with the angel about what would happen: “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’” Why was it important that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus? To fulfill God’s plan to redeem His creation, someone who was fully God and fully human had to die for the sins of all mankind. Being born from a human woman, Jesus was fully human; but being conceived by God’s Spirit, He is fully God. If Mary had sexual intercourse with a man, then that man’s genetics would also be in the mix, which wouldn’t work for God’s plan. Because of Mary’s virginity and her willingness to be used by God, we can receive God’s grace and be saved from our sins. While every person’s virginity is an important aspect of their life, you could say that Mary had the most important virginity of all, since it helped bring us our salvation.
I’m going to tell you right up front that, because I think it is so important to do so, I’m going to focus this writing on a specific gender, as you might have guessed from the title. Of course, it will be just as important to you ladies out there because some of you are the leaders in your families, your schools, and your jobs. Even if you are not, every one of you knows a man. You may look up to one, marry one, or raise one, and your influence regarding his virtues is obvious. However, I believe that men are largely failing when it comes to the virtues God had intended for them. In my job, I see broken families every day that are mainly due to the failures of men, especially those who have manipulated, abused, and abandoned women and children. Our country experienced a “government shutdown” mainly because a group of elected officials, the large majority of whom are men, could not, and sometimes still cannot solve problems as they were elected to do. God intended for men to bless, love, and serve others, not to hurt or lead them astray. Earlier this week, I watched a segment on ESPN that illustrated my point perfectly. The segment was about the connection between Steve Gleason, a former linebacker for the New Orleans Saints who now suffers from the disease ALS, and Eddie Vedder, lead singer for the band Pearl Jam. The disease has rendered Gleason, a husband and father to a 2-year old son, incapable of talking or moving. He is only able to communicate through a machine attached to his wheelchair. He talks about how the music of Pearl Jam has always inspired him and does so even more now in his tragic condition. In the segment, he gets a chance to interview the band first as a whole, then Vedder individually. The interview between Gleason and Vedder was particularly touching. Gleason talks about how the experts say he only has 2-5 years to live and he is making a video for his son so that when he grows up he will know what kind of a man his dad was. He asks Vedder, who did not know his dad, what he wishes he knew about his father? Vedder instantly tears up, and then says two absolutely critical things. First, he says he wishes he had gotten to know his father and to know if he loved him. Second, he says he would’ve loved to have his father there to teach him how to be a “good man”, because his dad’s absence has forced him to try to figure it out on his own. This is a grown man who is the lead singer of a popular and successful band, yet none of his success could overshadow the tragedy of not knowing his father and never learning how to be virtuous. I may not remember much about the three years I spent in high school studying Latin, but I certainly recall that “vir” means “man”. The word “virtue” comes from the Latin “virtus” which means “strength, manliness”, according to Webster. I apologize if that offends anyone, but I didn’t create the definition. I believe that God created all of us in his own image and likeness as Genesis tells us, but that our sin has defiled what He created in us. While I believe that is true for all humans, I believe that men in particular have failed to lead as God created and commanded us to do. The story of Steve Gleason and Eddie Vedder shows me that, because of sin, virtues are now taught more than they are inherent in us. The question is what is the source of what we teach? The answer to the question is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. In Chapter 2, Paul tells Titus what must be taught to various groups of people in the church. Of particular interest to me is what he says about older men in verse 2, and then younger men in vv. 6-8. These verses are essentially lists of virtues, including being “temperate, self-controlled, worthy of respect, sound in faith, love, and endurance, and teaching with integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech”. The only virtue that is mentioned for both older and younger men is “self-control”, and Paul mentions it again later in the chapter when he says that the “grace of God” has taught us to resist worldly passions and to “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives” (vv. 11-12). The source of what men are taught regarding living virtuously MUST be the grace of God. Yes, sin took away the inherent virtues God created in us. But the grace of God through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the strength and power to resist temptations and live according to the virtues modeled by Jesus himself. Paul’s letter was to Titus, who was being put in charge of the Christians on the island of Crete. He knew how critical it would be for the growth and sustenance of the Church to have virtuous living being taught to the various groups of people BY the various groups of people. For you women, my challenge is to model virtuous living for each other and for those around you, including men. You have the ability to hold us accountable and to encourage us toward our virtues. For you men, my challenge is to step up and be who God called you to be by His grace. You are leaders, and your virtuous living or lack thereof will be passed on to others. The past is irrelevant, so make a choice today to teach, encourage, and be an example of virtuosity to the other men around you.
I’ve often heard it said (and said myself) that “patience is a virtue.” But aside from knowing that patience is an example of a virtue, what exactly is one? According to my theological dictionary, a virtue is, “A disposition that creates passions or habits which dispose one ethically to do the right thing.” Essentially, if you have a particular virtue, it creates habits in you which guide your decisions and allow you to do the right thing. Using the example of patience, if you have the virtue of patience you will not be habitually short-tempered; you will be able to do the right thing and be patient when needed. We read a list of virtues in 2 Peter 1:5-8: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” All of these things are virtues; they are dispositions or character traits that we can have that allow us to make right decisions. As it says in verse 8, having these virtues will keep us from being ineffective in knowing Jesus. In my study for writing this blog post, I came across an interesting link. Last week’s post was on the word “veil.” One Biblical Hebrew word that means veil or covering (kessot), also means a declaration of virtue. I started the post on veil discussing how the tradition of a bride wearing a veil on her wedding day is a symbol of her purity; it declares a virtue that she has in her life, that of remaining pure for her husband. Referring to the list in 2 Peter 1 referenced above, what virtues do you have in your life? Which of those character traits do you possess, and which of them do you need to ask God to help you work on? I encourage you today to strive to become a more virtuous person with God’s help in your life.
One of the most powerful tricks that I constantly see the devil using on people is making them feel like there is no way they can get away from their past mistakes. I work in a profession where parents who mean well and truly love their children are often caught in a terrible cycle of abuse and neglect. Most of the parents who intentionally or unintentionally harm their children were harmed themselves as children. The combination of being victimized and having unhealthy coping abilities has led them down paths of substance abuse, anger, promiscuity, and bitterness. I and my colleagues often see the joy in our clients when they begin to take positive steps toward wholeness and redemption, only to see their return to devastation and hopelessness when one wrong decision sets them back. Many seem to accept the lie that they aren’t worth any more than their bad choices and that they’ll never be able to escape the vicious cycle. Maybe you’ve felt this way before, or maybe you’re even feeling this way right now in your life. We all have made mistakes and are all equal as sinners, regardless of the scope of the consequences we have faced. I recently spent several months pouring into a Christian friend who was battling alcohol addiction. But that wasn’t even the biggest stronghold in his life. He had months of beating the addiction, relying on accountability from others, and working hard to better himself. However, there was one stronghold he never shook. Every time he faced a setback, he would remind himself and me how many years of his life he had wasted and how much of a “screw-up” he was. This lie from Satan would lead my friend right back to the bad choices he was escaping because it convinced him that he didn’t deserve anything better. As Christians, we know that the veil has been torn and we can have a relationship with the Holy God. Yet, we so often live as if the veil is still there! The purpose of the veil was to protect sinners from God’s holy presence, which could literally kill them. We can say it was to keep the inner place holy, but I think we know what prevails when man’s sin meets God’s holiness. Let’s just say that God isn’t the one who is in danger of death! When the veil in the temple was torn, it symbolized that Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us and makes us holy, so that we no longer need “protection” to be in the presence of God. It also means that we don’t have to live as miserable, hopeless sinners. Yes, we will still sin. But we know that God sees us as “holy and without blemish” (Colossians 1:22). The only reason you would continue to need to be protected from God’s holiness would be if you have not accepted Christ’s sacrifice for your sins! For those of you who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice and made him Lord of your life, Scripture tells us that you can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that (you) may receive mercy and find grace to help (you) in (your) time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The writer of Hebrews tells us just before this that the reason we can approach God with confidence is because Jesus is our “great high priest” (v. 14). This is important because only the high priest was allowed beyond the veil in the temple. When he went at a specified time and place, he went as a representative for all those who would never be able to follow him there. But friends, that’s where Jesus is different. He didn’t enter the presence of God as a mere representative, but as a forerunner for you and me to follow. Later in the letter to the Hebrews, the writer again encourages the believers. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” (10:19-22a). He urges them to “hold unswervingly to the hope (they) profess, for he who promised is faithful” (10:23). If you read earlier in Chapter 10, you see that many of the early Jewish Christians were still hanging on to ritual sacrifices to cleanse them before God. But the writer says that all those rituals do is “remind” us of our sins, “because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:3-4). You probably don’t practice animal sacrifices to “get right with God”, but is there something else you DO in order to feel like you deserve to be in God’s presence? Do you go to church each week because you feel it’s a duty? Do you feel guilty if you don’t pray before every meal? Do you feel hopeless every time you fall back into a sinful choice that you have walked away from? I urge you, if you have accepted that Christ died for your sins and entered God’s presence ahead of you, to live beyond the veil. There is no reason and no time to waste beating yourself up over your failures. You have nothing to hide from God. He invites you into His presence through Christ’s blood, and it’s His presence that brings everything into the light and allows you to pursue righteousness boldly and freely, beyond the veil!
Today, the most common time people come into contact with a veil is on a bride at a wedding. Historically, the veil represents the bride’s virginity and purity on her wedding day. In cultures where a woman is considered the possession of her husband, the groom lifting his bride’s veil is symbolic to him taking ownership of her. Veils have many different meanings in the various religions of the world. Women of the Islam religion are often seen wearing various types of veils or head coverings. The reason for this is to cover the parts of a woman’s body that men find attractive, so that only a woman’s husband sees them. Most Christians, aside from nuns, do not wear veils, but various types of veils can be present on the altar to cover sacred objects in formal worship settings. The most significant veil is the one that was in the original Temple. The people of Israel were instructed by God to make this veil a certain way, as recorded in Exodus 26:31-33: ““Make a curtain of blue, purple and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim woven into it by a skilled worker. Hang it with gold hooks on four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and standing on four silver bases. Hang the curtain from the clasps and place the ark of the covenant law behind the curtain. The curtain will separate the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.” Back in Old Testament times, the Most Holy Place was where God’s presence lived. Only the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. Because of their belief that no one can see God and live, it was a dangerous job; so dangerous, in fact, that the high priest would wear bells on the bottom of his robes and a rope around his waist. If the bells stopped jingling (meaning that he died), those outside would pull him out by the rope. It was extremely important to have the veil to separate this area from the rest of the Temple. The next significant time we see this veil is on the day that Jesus died. Luke 23:44-46 records, “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” The job of the veil in the Temple was to keep God’s presence separate from the people. When Jesus died, there was no longer a need for that separation! Through Jesus’ death and resurrection three days later, we can now be in relationship with God. The veil separating us and God’s presence was no longer needed, so it was torn completely in two. When we accept the free gift of God’s grace in our lives, we can freely come to God and do not need to have a veil in between us. Is there something that is acting like a veil in your life? What is separating you from coming to God’s presence? Is it fear? Is it a busy schedule? Whatever is keeping you from experiencing God, I encourage you to tear it in two like the veil of the Temple so it will no longer cause that separation.
Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, October 3, 2013 0 comments
One of the things that I always find laughable is how much people rely on weather forecasts. I’d be willing to bet that you have at some point in your life and so have I. But isn’t it funny that we make our plans based on a forecast, which is really just another name for a prediction of an event that has not yet happened? I’m not dismissing the value of modern science because I know that God has created incredible ability within the human mind and has also ordered certain things within the universe. But there has never been a forecast that was truly 100% certain, no matter what the meteorologists have said. There was recently a “rain delay” at a baseball game in Pittsburgh for rain that never happened! They decided not to start the game because of the rain they KNEW was coming, but never actually came. On the flipside, I have physically sat through a three-hour rain delay in the same stadium because they KNEW the rain would stop at some point and let the teams play, only it never ceased and they called the game after three hours of making the fans wait. It’s frustrating when we rely on predictions that end up being wrong. We get angry about the circumstances and usually look for someone to blame. Think about what happens regarding our national security. If the government “intrudes” on our privacy in order to prevent potential threats to our safety that turn out not to be credible, we get mad. However, we get just as upset and blame-hungry if an attack happens that our intelligence did not predict. The reality is that we as a society have become obsessed with the illusion of control and the belief that we can predict the future so that we know how to act ahead of time. This obsession is my biggest problem with the theory of utilitarianism, which says that we should make decisions on which actions to take in certain ethical dilemmas by determining what will result in the greatest good to the greatest number of people. How do we know that without considering every factor in the situation? And how can we include every factor in a situation that hasn’t happened yet? We do have a God who has set in place certain natural laws, but that doesn’t mean he has left everything to run on its own. The God we serve is living, which means at any point he can work in a way that we would consider “supernatural”, so that what we expected to happen does not actually occur. The Bible is filled with such events and we should continue believing that they are just as possible today. In the very small book written by the minor prophet Haggai, we can read about the group of Jewish exiles who returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The Lord was disappointed with them and even cursed their land and their work because their priorities were out of whack. Through Haggai, God asks the people, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (v. 4) The context of the passage tells us that he is referring to the people’s decision to put their money, materials, and efforts into their own home renovations while the temple that is supposed to be honoring God remains in ruins from its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians many years earlier. Instead of listening to what God was telling them, they simply decided among themselves based on what they knew (and more importantly what they desired) that they should delay the rebuilding of the temple. History reveals what some of their reasons may have been. The land was desolate due to 70 years of neglect, the work would have been hard labor, they suffered crop failures and drought, they remembered easier times in the past, and they had hostile enemies who resisted their work. Based on the principles of utilitarianism, doing the Lord’s work made no sense. But God was calling them to abandon what they felt, to do away with their limited understanding and short-term focus, and to continue in their faith in the One who brought them out of slavery in Egypt by constantly doing what neither they nor their enemies predicted. The challenge for each of us is to take a good, hard look at our lives and to see where we may be living with a utilitarian mindset. I highly doubt that any of you refer to it as such or that you even think of it that way. But where are you relying on predictions, which are merely educated guesses? In what ways do you seek to know the future so that you can have more control rather than so you can do God’s will and speak his truth and love? “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight” (1 Corinthians 3:19a). Only God truly has 100% certainty regarding what tomorrow holds, and if tomorrow will even get here. Only he can decide what is good for the greatest number of people. Let’s stop trying to be him, because it’s NOT possible!