Being Christian In The Era Of “Gay Marriage”

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This post is not a rant about how the country is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s important for the church be aware of the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s recent invention of a constitutional right to gay marriage. These changes will affect how Christians live and engage our society and culture.

The Lord rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees because they could forecast the weather but not discern the signs of the times. I think it behooves us as Jesus’ disciples to be spiritually vigilant.  I hope you find this informative and helpful as you observe the trends in our culture.

Firstly, Christians should understand that the fight over “gay marriage” is over, at least legally. It’s not likely the Court will overturn this decision in the foreseeable future. As far as I can tell there is no desire even among marriage advocates to launch a campaign of resistance similar to abortion. That doesn’t mean, though, that everything is settled.

Christians must prepare to face a society that will become increasingly hostile towards the gospel and the church. We will continue to see efforts to push a biblical worldview and its adherents out of the public square. There may even come a day where churches are directly threatened if they don’t conform to the prevailing view on marriage. This may take the form of a regulation that requires clergy to officiate “gay weddings” or lose their tax-exempt status. The church’s faith and resolve will be tested.

I’ve seen many Christians I know on social media who have rainbows as their profile photo or twitter avatar. At first I was irritated but then I remembered Barna’s research showed that only 19% of born-again believers have a biblical worldview. Maybe this is just a confirmation of that finding. Christians should also be aware that our new moral categories of nice and mean have replaced good and evil. What’s worse than appearing to be offensive? We will be pressured to abandon biblical teachings so that cast a negative light on our family, friends, and colleagues.

As important as the spiritual challenges are I think Christians should also appreciate the constitutional, and legal, ramifications. A decision on marriage is controversial and will grab headlines, I get that. But what’s also disturbing is the Court’s abuse of its own power, which has been a problem for decades. The Supreme Court has long since abandoned the notion that the Constitution’s words mean what say in favor of interpreting the document in light of their own personal beliefs. Well, that puts all of our rights in jeopardy. As Justice Scalia wrote:

Those civil consequences—and the public approval that conferring the name of marriage evidences—can perhaps have adverse social effects, but no more adverse than the effects of many other controversial laws. So it is not of special importance to me what the law says about mar­riage. It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me. Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Consti­tution and its Amendments neglect to mention. This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extrav­agant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most im­portant liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.  

This overreach for power on this issue can be repeated on other issues. Being aware of that is the difference between a mature Christian and one who simply gets agitated over “culture wars” issues. It’s about understanding that the courts are one of many fronts in this spiritual war we fight. We contend with spiritual powers and forces as we seek to transform our society with power of the gospel.

Where do we go from here? In one scenario I see the launch of a new culture war that will last for decades. Another possibility is that this all blows over as we discover that there’s no groundswell of gay couples signing up to get married. We will have learned that the notion of gay families as an alternative lifestyle was just good storytelling for a campaign. It’ll probably some combination of the two.

We must ever be vigilant, prayerful, and hopeful. This isn’t the first time in church history that things have gotten worse and we know that our Lord will be victorious in the end.

The future is here and it is pre-modern

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We often hear conservatives (both the political and religious kinds) lament the decline of civilization caused by the abandonment of Judeo-Christian “values.” Every year we witness battles in the culture war over Christmas songs in malls, monuments to the 10 commandments, or students praying at football games. These controversies seem to indicate a growing hostility towards Christianity, if not religion in general. I’d suggest, though, that we have moved well beyond the post-Christian and into the post-secular.

New Age may have ended as a phenomenon of the 1960s and 70s but it ushered in an alternative spirituality that has continued to gain momentum. Yoga, mantras, meditation, and various pantheistic beliefs and practices have become mainstream ideas, accepted without question. The increasing number of Americans who identify as spiritual but not religious is a testament to its success. People have rejected Christianity (the goal of New Age) while avoiding the skepticism of a secular worldview that is hostile to any belief in the supernatural.

Next came the Age of Interfaith Religion with its central belief that there is one truth, which speaks in many tongues. Oprah is probably the most well-known advocate of this view and you can watch an interesting video of her on YouTube arguing with an audience member about whether there is only one way to heaven. This worldview compels us reinterpret our beliefs in light of other religions. No less than the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church has said that we must no longer consider sin an operative notion in the modern life. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni says that Christians need to get over their antiquated hang-ups about homosexuality:

The drama in Indiana last week and the larger debate over so-called religious freedom laws in other states portray homosexuality and devout Christianity as forces in fierce collision. They’re not — at least not in several prominent denominations, which have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree, of what people can and cannot divine in regard to God’s will.

See the problem emerging for Christians? We face increasing pressure to change our beliefs to accommodate the prevailing moral beliefs of the culture. For them, it’s not enough to win the debate. They must bring everyone into submission. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened…

Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Romans 1:21,25

Add to this mix a growing unfamiliarity with the Bible and Christianity and my belief is that we are heading into a time not that different from ancient Rome or other pre-Christian societies. I think that the early church will serve as a model of how to engage a culture that views Christianity with belligerent hostility and fear.

It’s a future that inspires concern but one that should drive us to look to the cross as the symbol of the ultimate victory we have in Jesus.

 

Resurrecting Paul’s Gospel In Our Day

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I was recently invited to a Christmas “service” at a local megachurch. The performance was at a professional caliber, except with cheap ticket prices. The musical performances, dances, light show, and transitions are smooth and polished. It was choreographed to perfection.

And they also talked about Jesus.

I put service in quotes because I think it was a service in all but name. I didn’t leave thinking that I had worshipped God. I was entertained and hyped up but I wasn’t invited to the throne of grace.

The sermon I heard told me that I am “inadequate” for a “transformed” life without Jesus. One of the pastors did mention a survey of Americans’ inflated perceptions of self-worth, showing us that we are narcissists. But that’s about as bad as the description of our condition got.

Consequently, the gospel I heard was a message that God can give me a purpose in life that will fulfill me. If I put my faith in Him then there will be so many more things that I can do. Yessss!

I’m sure that I was especially sensitive because I had been listening to R. C. Sproul sermons all year. I felt like an Amish person sitting through mass. With bad news that good who needs the gospel? I realized that we need a bestseller book that redeems the doctrine of sin. As I thought about it more I realized that we need to resurrect Paul.

Paul gives us a comprehensive and concise understanding of the gospel, especially in his letter to the Romans. He gives us the bad news of our condemnation and he also gives us the good news of His salvation, justification, and sanctification. If twitter was a microcosm of the U.S. you’d think that half the church has never read Romans 1. God is more of a therapist rather than a judge.

The most popular gospel today is a message of reconciliation for a broken world. We’re supposed to speak to gays, drug addicts, and skeptics and stress God’s love for them. The idea is that they will cling to the cross because they are so desperate for healing, peace, meaning, etc. Like the sermon I heard, it was about what you stand to gain.

But how can the unbeliever be prepared to respond to the gospel if he does not become aware of his guilt? We do live in a broken world and part of what makes people broken is that they find the gospel offensive. That includes people who know that they’re hurting, not just those who are in no need of a religious crutch.

Moreover, how can the church speak prophetically if it decides to tickle the ear rather than prick the heart? The prologue to John’s gospel tells us that the world is condemned because it has rejected the light. The church’s most important responsibility is to bear witness to that light and remind people that God will hold them accountable.

We need this gospel: a balanced message that carries the bad news and the good.

If I Had To Preach At A Wedding…

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Weddings are like graduation ceremonies in that your expectations for the sermon/speech are pretty low. The speaker has the impossible task of captivating an audience that is impatiently waiting to get to the fun part of the event. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with my brother’s sermon at a friend’s wedding last week.

He highlighted the couple’s admirable commitment to their relationship by guarding their purity before the wedding. They did what seems to be rarer these days by not hooking up and shacking up. They trusted God with each other and their relationship and they’ll be blessed for it.

It got me to thinking: what would I say if I had to give a message at a wedding? What should a wedding sermon sound like?

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 1:27

We start at the beginning, creation. He made us male and female, equal in His eyes and yet distinct from each other in how we manifest the meaning of humanity. I think of a loose connection with the unity and diversity of the trinity, where we affirm that there is one divine essence and yet three distinct persons. Male and female are both humans and yet they bring something unique to the human experience.

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

Or, to quote the theologian Wayne Fontana, “The purpose of a man is to love a woman and the purpose of a woman is to love a man. So come on baby, let’s start today, come on baby, let’s play the game of love, love, la la la la la love.”

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

We read in Malachi 2:15 that the Lord created marriage to establish a Godly seed in the earth. He wanted all men everywhere to call upon the name of the Lord. Your marriage has no higher purpose and it will primarily be fulfilled through the fruit of your union. This basic idea seems to be lost on almost everyone, including Christians. Marriage is not about living or financial arrangements. It’s about pursuing God’s purposes for our lives.

Young people who are single and establishing themselves often have big ambitions to be great or do amazing things in life. Or they may want to simply have the option to go in whatever direction they choose. It doesn’t occur to them that they can effect tremendous change in their own children. No celebrity or famous person will occupy the position you hold in your child’s life. We know the great men of history but we don’t know the parents who devoted themselves to care for their children. If you want to change the world then have children, and lots of them.

Turn, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am married unto you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

Jeremiah 3:14

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Most important in marriage is the symbol of our relationship with the Lord, who is the bridegroom of His people. Husbands are to their wives what Jesus is to His church. Wives are to their husbands what the church is to our Lord. Even the wedding ceremony reflects this as we watch the bride (the Church) coming down the aisle to be presented before her bridegroom (our Lord) whiter than snow.

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Revelation 19:7-9

In this church age we are betrothed to Christ and we await His coming so that we may enter into the wedding ceremony. We will then be joined together in a holy and eternal union of peace and joy.

The Bible is permeated with language about marriage and weddings. Many of the lessons it gives use these examples to illustrate the things of God. In getting married you will come to have a greater understanding about the Lord and your relationship to Him. May your union be like the union of Christ and His bride. May this wedding revive our hope of our coming union with our Lord as a people.

Amen.

How Much Does Heaven Cost?

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I often heard people say that you can’t buy your salvation and while that is true it is also somewhat inaccurate. Jesus put a price on the kingdom of heaven when He gave us two parables to describe what it is like.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

There’s a legitimate point that my parents and other elders had and I get it. But my economic training tells me that we have to qualify that statement. While you can’t buy heaven you can put a price on it. I know. I need to explain.

There are two economic principles that we need to consider. First, the Subjective Theory of Value says that something is only worth what a customer is willing to pay for it. It has no objective price that applies to everyone.

Opportunity-Cost

The next economic principle is opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of a resource is the next-most-valued use of that resource. For example, you are spending your valuable time reading this blog when you could be doing something else. Whatever you could be doing is your opportunity cost. Since you’re still reading this that tells me that your alternative options are not more valuable to you, at least not at the moment.

We now see some things in Jesus’ parables that weren’t apparent at first glance. When the man found the treasure he sold everything he owned to buy the field. He was also willing to give up any alternative use of his time and the field to acquire that treasure.

The same is true for the merchant who found valuable pearls. He was willing to part with everything he owned to get that pearl.

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How many stories can you think of about people who take drastic measures to pursue a dream? There’s Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, etc. They all were on the verge of financial ruin, some even bankrupt, at one point but they took big risks to succeed.

There’s no doubt about their commitment. If we can risk it all for something as fleeting as business then we can see the value in the everlasting kingdom of heaven. Jesus is clear: in exchange for the kingdom He wants all that you have.

Jesus said that those who look back when they put their hand to the plow are not fit for His kingdom (Lk 9:62). For those people the opportunity cost is greater than following our Lord so they prefer the alternative. He wants followers who prefer the kingdom more than anything.

If someone looked at your bank account would they see that your priority is the kingdom? How about if they looked at your schedule? What’s the kingdom worth to you and is it obvious to anyone?

Jesus wants disciples who’ve decided to follow Him, no turning back. The cross is always in front and the world is always behind them. Even though none go with them they still will follow. No turning back, no turning back.

America’s Liberty Is Spiritual

It has been some time since my last post. A heavier load of responsibilities has kept me from devoting time to thoughtful reflections.

I was fortunate to come across a very interesting quote in a daily newsletter I receive by email. It’s from remarks that President Calvin Coolidge gave at an Independence Day celebration back in 1926. I think it’s relevant to all believers today and should shape how we think about and pray for our country.

It’s important to remember (for those of you who are Americans) that we have a heritage passed down to us of a political liberty that rests on a solid spiritual foundation.  Enjoy the blessings of freedom in this land today and throughout the weekend.

Our forefathers came to certain conclusions and decided upon certain courses of action which have been a great blessing to the world. Before we can understand their conclusions we must go back and review the course which they followed. We must think the thoughts which they thought. Their intellectual life centered around the meeting-house. They were intent upon religious worship. While there were always among them men of deep learning, and later those who had comparatively large possessions, the mind of the people was not so much engrossed in how much they knew, or how much they had, as in how they were going to live. While scantily provided with other literature, there was a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures. Over a period as great as that which measures the existence of our independence they were subject to this discipline not only in their religious life and educational training, but also in their political thought. They were a people who came under the influence of a great spiritual development and acquired a great moral power.

No other theory is adequate to explain or comprehend the Declaration of Independence. It is the product of the spiritual insight of the people. We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them.

The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren scepter in our grasp. If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshipped.

– Remarks at the Liberty Bell, July 5, 1926

3 Ways The Church Undermines Marriage

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This is not a post about how Christians are to blame for gay marriage becoming legal. It’s also not a sanctimonious rant by a blogger sitting in an armchair. These observations come from personal experience.

1. Financial stability > Marriage

Many Christians undermine marriage by focusing on the financial obligations. The problem here is that Christians put financial security ahead of marriage. You don’t get married until you’re in a steady job, usually after you graduate from college. I’ve gotten the impression as I grew up that marriage wasn’t worth it if you had to struggle. They’re the ones that like to remind you that love doesn’t pay the bills.

2. Success > Marriage

This one is closely related to the first since financial stability can be seen as a prerequisite for success, if not a success itself. The focus here is on maintaining a certain standard of living that includes a house, car, spouse, two kids, and maybe a pool in the backyard. It’s a chasing after a lifestyle.

People often told me that I should complete my education before getting married. Why get married when you have so much on your plate already, nevermind having to support a family? Even sociologists will tell you that it’s better to graduate, get married, and have kids, in that order. But if you hold off on getting married until after you graduate then aren’t you making education a higher priority than marriage?

3. Fun > Marriage

The culture says that only after you’ve sucked all of the juice out of life should you settle down and get married. It’s where you go to die slowly, like a long-term hospice program. It’s a life full of responsibilities, stress, problems, etc. How dreadful!

What do these three problems have in common?

These perspectives on marriage focus on the short term. Rarely do people talk about the legacy they will leave to future generations. That’s probably because they don’t believe they will have one. Their focus is on this life.

In 1900 there were over 1,000 descendants of the famous preacher, Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the early 18th century. Among them were doctors, lawyers, university presidents, medical school deans, law school deans, senators, and a vice president. The impact they had on this country and the world was possible because Edwards and his wife were faithful. They hoped in that which they could not see and they bore much fruit.

I think it’s inspiring to know that I will be remembered by my descendants hundreds of years from now. It makes me ask myself: what do I want to be said of me and my life?

Pew: Christians Believe Everyone Goes To Heaven

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Christians who are believe the Bible is the word of God and is “literally true word for word” make up 59% of evangelicals. However, 57% agreed with the notion that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Among all religious Americans 70% hold that view.

Mind you, these are evangelical Christians who are saying this. Political correctness has penetrated the church as it has with the society as a whole. Nobody wants to be mean and imply that a lot of people will go to hell. How can my friend/coworker/relative go to hell? I don’t hate him.

Many Christians, myself included, fear that the coming years will bring greater hostility towards the church. Now is the time for believers to prepare for future persecution by establishing their faith in the word of God. Can the church face this challenge if the gospel is merely optional, one of many alternatives?

All worldviews have, at their core, a set of non-negotiable truth claims. Like Oprah, too many people think that they can avoid deciding which belief is true by affirming the conflicting claims. All paths lead to God and it’s silly to argue with each other about who’s right. You’re ok, I’m ok.

Tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing. Just because we are not responsible for creating a theocratic government doesn’t mean that we sanction unbiblical beliefs and practices. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world, saying the unpopular things that no one wants to hear.

Broad and wide is the path that leads to destruction. There’s no room for a bandwagon on the straight and narrow.

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Property Isn’t What You Own

Solo Snatch Consider a peaceful lake. You can go there to water ski, canoe, or just lay on the beach. What you don’t see is the potential energy that is stored in that massive body of water. That is, until an engineer builds a dam. I use this example because it’s a great way of illustrating what capital is. The lake represents an asset like your home or car and the electricity generated is the surplus value, or “capital.” That dam is the mechanism which turns a dormant lake into power that you can use to watch TV or read this blog. Likewise, our legal system of property takes assets and extracts surplus value.

Moreover, property, like energy, is a concept; it cannot be experienced directly.

Economist Hernando de Soto writes in his book, The Mystery of Capital: “Moreover, property, like energy, is a concept; it cannot be experienced directly.” It’s easier to understand property as the physical item that you own rather than as an abstract concept but it confuses the two. The house is what the property refers to but property is about the house’s legal representation. Let’s look at a concrete example. In the cities of Tunisia, where the recent Arab upheaval began, millions of people live and work outside of the legal system. Merchants occupy stores in the market and sell goods but they have no license or title linked to their business. On paper, the businesses don’t exist. So what? I’m glad you asked. The biggest problem is that they have no access to credit because they have no collateral to put up. No one can trust you because they have no way of verifying who you are, what you do, and what you own. You can’t expand your business and thereby increase your income. So you’re stuck and most likely poor. We can see that it’s a social institution because it shows everyone what belongs to you. It provides a way for all of us to know who owns what. I can invest in a firm without ever seeing any of the employees because I can trust the public records. So what does this have to do with the Bible?

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders)…

Numbers 34:1,2 God provided a “deed” to the land for each tribe of Israel. If the people had been faithful to the covenant then they would have been secure and prosperous in the land. Instead, they violated God’s law and each other by stealing from their neighbors. If we also are righteous in how we assign property and obey the rules of that system we will be blessed. Indeed, we know that through free enterprise system billions of people have been lifted out of crushing poverty over the last 200 years. Property is not just about money but also justice and God is certainly just. These laws ensure our well-being. They don’t oppress. Likewise, God’s laws don’t enslave us but liberate us.

I do not turn aside from your rules,
    for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
    sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
    therefore I hate every false way.

Psalm 119:102-104

Your Job Is Not Your Calling

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He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.

Lamentations 3:2

I’ve learned a lot about the meaning of God’s calling in my life last year. That time was the most difficult in my short life. i spent most of 2013 looking for a job and a sense of direction.

Being unemployed with no prospects is a horrible feeling. Every day a door was slammed shut in my face and the failure became unbearable. The only way to avoid it was to not try at all, which didn’t help much.

Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.

Lamentations 3:3

Thinking about the future filled me with despair. My life seemed to unravel the more nothing happened. I believe God was crushing every aspiration. It was as if every desire was on a board and God was erasing them one at a time right in front of me.

In our occupation-centric society we define ourselves by our jobs. It’s usually the first or second question we ask someone we’re getting to know. I felt the pressure to graduate college and find a lucrative job from myself and others.

I asked myself: what meaning is there in life if I could achieve nothing I desired? I began to realize that the only way life can be meaningful is if I am walking in the will of God.

Even though my life was a complete failure God would redeem it. Success is now defined by what He accomplishes in and through me. Only in this way will I understand that He must get the glory.

Success is now defined by what He accomplishes in and through me.

At that point I decided that God had to be in complete control of my life. If I needed it then He would have to provide it. If I don’t get it then it’s because He doesn’t want me to have it. God is good.

I had a new perspective on life but everything didn’t change right away. God kept me waiting and kept pushing me farther out on that limb. Months passed but He provided a job but the transformation already happened.

I learned that God did not call me to be successful. He didn’t even call me to a particular job. My calling is to follow Jesus, to believe on the one whom the Father sent. I didn’t need to find my calling. I needed to do it.

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began

2 Timothy 1:9

Did it matter that Jesus was a carpenter or that Paul was a tent-maker, as opposed to fishing or herding sheep or building boats? While we are called to work hard and be productive the Lord’s main concern is not my job.

Paul made tents to support himself even though his calling was to preach the gospel. His job was incidental to his calling, or his ministry, not central. I had that backwards for a long time.

But then how do I decide whom to marry, which job to take, where to worship, or in which city to live? I’d say that it’s not up to us to fulfill God’s plans. If it were we would be in big trouble.

If I’m trying to find out God’s purpose for me then I’m trying to take back control. Books that teach me how to know God’s calling for me are talismans I use to get what I want. Doesn’t that sound like paganism?

However, if He is going to accomplish anything in my life then it’s up to Him to make it happen. I am totally dependent on Him and incapable of accomplishing anything apart from Him.

This is a huge weight off of my shoulders because I don’t have to worry about anything. I can trust in the power of God. It isn’t up to me to make my life meaningful or happy or successful. The Lord will ensure that. I just have to wait on Him.