Choosing Joy: Evening or Morning

From the Old Testament’s first books through the the New Testament’s last books, God shows His love for us by letting us choose if we will accept His grace as a free gift for our lives. He longs for us to accept that gift and even gave His Son’s life to pay the debt for our sin. Those who do not accept God’s teaching squander the richness of life that He offers for momentary thrills that so often — sometimes immediately and sometimes over time — cause so much pain. With man’s way, the end is grief. With God’s way, the end is life.

Weeping may last for the night, but there is a song of joy in the morning. (Psalm 30:5b GW)

Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! (Psalm 126:5 ESV)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.

WE EXPRESS OUR DEEPEST EMOTIONS THROUGH SONGS AND POEMS.

Here is just one example of how God shows us the difference between His way and our way — it’s captured in the lyrics of these two songs:

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68.Woman_CryingMan’s View:

Maybe the sun’s light will be dim/

And it won’t matter anyhow.

If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned,

Well, it was what I wanted now.

Angel of the Morning

God’s View:

You stay the same through the ages/

Your love never changes/

There may be pain in the night/

But joy comes in the morning.

Your Love Never Fails

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THE STORYLINE IN BOTH SONGS is similar, with the twist coming at the end. In the song praising man’s view of life, the “joy” comes first, but it’s a false joy that leads, inevitably, to sorrow and hurting.

The song praising God’s view of life, however, shows that God’s nature is unchanging — He’s perfect and without blemish. He promises to guide us through the difficulties of life and grant us, in the end, eternity with Him. So, in His view, the joy is real, and it is the reward for faithfulness, and it comes at the end.

Both songs can be applied toward a well-deserved weekend. After five days of commuting, dealing with the difficulties of anyone’s line of work (check out God’s comments in Genesis 3 as to why that is so), and the mounting stress of financial concerns, personal interactions, and possibly fear of drifting through life, here comes the weekend!

68.Woman_Praising_GodFriday evening, and we’re energized to “party” with a capital “P” and just have some fun, maybe get drunk or high, definitely drive our cars fast, and, yes, find some willing gal or guy to “hook up” with.

All of that “fun” will just blot out the hardships of real life and give us some thrills.

The next morning, though, we might fight a headache, could face a painful breakup with a girlfriend/boyfriend, deal with a serious dent in the new car, and wonder what went wrong.

Next weekend comes, and we’re back at it again. In man’s view of life, we never learn.

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WHAT WOULD THE WEEKEND in God’s view look like?

God rested the seventh day during creation, so He urges us to take some rest, too. Since
He created us, He knows we need to pace ourselves. In the Old Testament, He created the Sabbath for the Israelites to worship Him every seven days.

For the New Testament church, that rest, or sabbath, could be any day, but we know we should find time to step away from our tasks and to-do lists.

We would want to worship Him, of course, so there would be church service, with a wonderful opportunity to sing His praises, hear a message based on Scripture, and enjoy fellowship with other believers.68. Nursery

The weekend would not just focus on our worship, though. There should be an opportunity or two for service projects.

For some people  during a particularly hectic time of life, that service could be confined to helping out at church — parking lot ministry, or volunteering in the nursery, or being part of the collection team that passes the plate — are just some examples.

As our schedules ease up, maybe we find more time to volunteer in a homeless shelter or distributing canned food to those in need.

Instead of a headache, guilt feelings, and a dented car, we’re more likely to feel energized, especially if we felt the Lord’s nudge to serve His Kingdom in some capacity.

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SO WHAT IS OUR LESSON from all of this?

God does not promise us a carefree, stress-free life — not after we rebelled  against Him in the Garden of Eden — but He does promise to help us through the pain of life, if we let Him.

Unfortunately for us, most people are still rebelling against Him. They want to “do” life on their terms, ignoring the rules and guidelines put in place by their Creator.

In a world of sin, an offer to spend a Friday night with our peers, mixed with plenty of alcohol and a zest for adventure beats out a weekend of Bible study, soup kitchens, and prayerful meditation.

But once we let God into our hearts — we confess our sins to Him and acknowledge our need for Him — that calculus changes.

The script is flipped.

68.Circle_Against_DrinksThe booze party with a roomful of strangers, all acting weirdly, no longer sounds attractive. We start to see the party with a big circle around it and a diagonal line drawn through it.

Instead, we find real joy — authentic joy — in helping a poorly dressed stranger to a hot meal or to help a young child learn a Bible story or just raise our arms in praise during a worship song.

The fellowship of saints begins to look more inviting than the fellowship of drunks.

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OF COURSE, THERE IS ONE MORE scenario to work through. That’s the one where the weekend is neither the hipster party nor the worship service, but just a suburban family of 4 or 5, with a small dog and a minivan and soccer games and barbecues and friendly neighbors.

Jesus pointed out the rebellion here, as well. It’s the story recorded in Mark 10:17-25, where the rich young man who bragged to our Lord that he had obeyed all of God’s laws since his youth yet wondered what more, if anything, he should do to merit eternal life.

When Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give the money away and come join Him, the man chose, instead, to hang onto his possessions, regardless of the eternal consequences.

Don’t be fooled. The Bible clearly tells us that the only way to God’s Paradise is through Jesus Christ. (Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” — John 14:6, NKJV)

Those weekends with the drunken friends are soon outgrown, but how sad when people substitute for them the pleasant day at the beach or gathering of family — without any invitation to accept the outstretched hand of their Savior.

No matter how pleasant it may look on the outside, man’s view is always hollow on the inside.

God’s view is solid inside … and it lasts forever.

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PRAYER: O LORD GOD, how it must pain You to watch Your Creation  rebel so often and 68. Holy_Bible_Crossso thoroughly against You. Yes, You created us in Your image, yet we constantly push You away in favor of our walk, our own values, our own joy. Lord, would You please come into our hearts and transform them in hearts that hunger for Your love and Your way. In Jesus’ name. Amen

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you find Jesus’ invitation to come to Him as the only way of salvation too limiting and not quite right, that maybe there’s more than one way to get to Paradise?
  2. Do you chaff when confronted with the possibility that your choices in life are not good ones for you or even more so that the Creator has a plan for your life and you might not be following it?
  3. Having read this meditation, are you more willing to consider that God’s view of our lives can be more rewarding than our own view is … in no small part because He made us?

Doctrine Vs. Unity: A False Choice?

The evangelical brand of Christianity is splitting, perhaps beyond repair, into rival camps. While the fabric was being torn for decades, the rip is more noticeable as a large voting bloc supported the presidential election of Donald Trump over rival candidates. Only Trump selected an evangelical running mate and promised to support policies the bloc supports. Other candidates actively opposed those policies. Recently, the anti-Trump evangelicals held a conference bemoaning their minority status. Where does this brand of Christianity go … and will there be a healing balm?

“But as for you, speak the things that are consistent with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1 BSB)

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22 NLT)

Find blog posts at LoveAndGracetweets at Twitter.

Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.

ARE CHRISTIANS TODAY TO CHOOSE between sound doctrine or a unified church?

Is that a real question or is it a false choice? Can we have both? Have we ever had either?

Where do you stand?

67.Conference_LectureRecently, some 50 evangelical leaders gathered at Wheaton College in Illinois to discuss the fate of the evangelical religious movement.

The impetus for the meeting, according to organizers quoted in various media accounts, was to assess the spiritual health of the evangelical community after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, especially in light of polling that shows 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him.

(The definition of “evangelical” was not mentioned in most media accounts, but generally it encompasses four basic beliefs: inerrancy of the Holy Bible, Jesus’ redeeming work on the Cross, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus, and a call to evangelize.

(Also, there is an apparent discrepancy in the poll survey in which news organizations that commissioned the poll were more interested in the subset of “white evangelical” than in “non-white evangelical.” Finally, the term “evangelical” was not defined in the survey.)

Therefore, 20 percent of white evangelicals did not vote for Trump. Of that number, some voted for one of his opponents, while others declined to vote at all.

Conference organizers — let’s call them “the 20 percenters” — expressed dismay and frustration with the vast majority of their fellow believers — let’s call them “the 80 percenters” — who voted for Trump.

They drew the conclusion that the 80 percenters were destroying the brand, that evangelicalism had reached a “crisis,” and that something must be done to restore its tarnished image.

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ATTENDANCE WAS INVITATION-ONLY. So if your name wasn’t on the invite list, the organizers did not want to hear from you. 

67.SocialMedia_globeProminent names that were not invited included Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, both supporters of the Trump presidency, although not necessarily of the man. Their writings and public utterances have been supportive of Trump’s policies when they line up with traditional evangelical values.

Prominent names that were invited included New York City megachurch pastors Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard. At one point in the proceedings, Keller characterized the divide among evangelicals this way: “We are being driven apart because there’s now a Red and a Blue evangelicalism,” thus imitating the political divide within the secular world.

What, then, about the 20 percenters? What values does their testimony support, especially since the winning candidate not only selected an evangelical running mate but not one other presidential candidate even sought the evangelical vote or promised to meet the voting bloc’s social policy goals.

Evangelicals have been strong supporters of religious liberty, marriage between one man and one woman for life, sanctity of life from pre-born through physical death, and support for Israel’s right to exist, among other concerns, but how do the 20 percenters defend their vote for another  candidate either lukewarm toward those values or outright opposed to them?67.MyWay_MyWay

Not said.

It didn’t come up.

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WHAT IS THE STATE TODAY of the body of Christ? As of now, more than one month since the two-day conference ended, no “statement” has emerged summarizing its findings, leaving the public without a sense of how conference organizers would respond.

Members of the president’s faith advisory council noted that the conferees held more “progressive” views on social issues than does the president and his evangelical supporters.

Some evangelical organizations, such as Focus on the Family, are dialing back their political involvement, believing it can interfere with the Gospel message they want to promote, while other groups are ramping up their efforts to preach the Bible to a world in darkness.

But those nagging questions just won’t go away: Should Christians — in particular, evangelicals — promote the values they believe God has laid out in the Holy Bible regardless of secular world pushback … and now pushback from within the body of Christ?

How does the secular world, eager to discredit God’s Word, view the apparent split within the evangelical community?

You know those complaints:

  • 55.Holy-Spirit-Descends-BibleYou claim to love the sinner but not the sin, but do you really love the sinner?
  • Can words written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago really be valid universally for all time?
  • How can you claim to know the ultimate truth? Who made you the arbiter of what’s right and wrong?

Should the evangelical movement split into rival factions, each representing its version of truth, or should the various factions find a unifying message to heal those divisions?

Belief over unity? Unity over doctrine? Engage in the world; retreat from it?

Are evangelicals becoming the religious-based arm of the secular fight between “conservatives” and “progressives,” between Republicans and Democrats?

For those of us who believe the Holy Word of God is the Almighty’s love letter to us, that He is perfect and unchanging, our conviction rests in His eternal truths. We believe that He has told us clearly what He expects of us, and the expected criticisms from non-believers lack impact.

Fair enough, but now it’s reached a new level: much of the invective comes from within the body of Christ.

Witness the meeting at Wheaton College.

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THERE ARE TWO SIDES to this story, as there are to so many stories.

Those who organized the conference downplayed any anti-Trump messaging, 67.Agree-Disagreeemphasizing the discussions, the prayers, and the “painful conversations” that took place, according to one religion writer for a secular newspaper.

Yet those “painful conversations” were how the evangelical movement  could continue
unstained when 80 percent of their fellow believers voted for  a candidate they all conceded was flawed morally, but who was the only candidate who pledged to honor biblical values in his policies.

On the other hand, news reports showed that several attendees left the conference when it became clear to them the proceeding was not just to express dismay with the election results but, more alarmingly, a roasting of the 80 percenters who voted for him.

Those defectors said the conference by its very nature was political and was not an attempt to unify the faithful.

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AS THE SUMMIT ENDED, one of its the organizers reportedly said that in future meetings, evangelical leaders will “fan out in all kinds of directions,” as Christians recognize diversity within their movement.

However, the non-invited Franklin Graham said on FaceBook that he is “not interested in fanning out in all kinds of directions” but wants to focus on one direction only: “reaching lost souls” and “calling people to cross the line from death to life, in Him [Jesus Christ].”

He further said the word “evangelical” should not be used in a secular political context but only in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Apparently, there is a deep split within the evangelical body of Christ, just as there are fissures growing within Christendom’s denominations. Each faction claims to be following Jesus Christ while questioning the faith commitment of the other side.

The Bible tells us what to expect in the future … and it isn’t pretty.

Listen to the apostle Paul counsel his young friend, Timothy:

You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.  (2 Timothy 3:1 TLB)

Yes, and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him. In fact, evil men and false teachers will become worse and worse, deceiving many, they themselves having been deceived by Satan.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13 TLB)

Is everyone in the evangelical community looking to the Bible for guidance … is only one side … if so, which one?

Paul, again:

For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)

Are those 20 percenters — the ones who supported a candidate opposed to biblical values, as well as those who declined to vote — are they substituting their own values for the ones laid down in Scripture?

The prophet Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)

God warned us through Paul what He will do if we disobey Him:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

Whether the evangelical movement is irrevocably split or can reconcile in Christian unity may be less important than where we are in our individual walks with Christ.

In the end, He will call us to account for our words and deeds, not hold us responsible for the larger church movement.

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PRAYER: O merciful and mighty Father God, our hearts break for the failure of our witness. You called us to be light to a fallen world so that men  and women would see our 44. Cross_on_Biblegood works and give You the glory, but we’re stumbling about in the dark ourselves. Lord, speak into our hearts with Your words of wisdom. Forgive us our pride and self-importance and recast our gaze to the road You light for us, to that straightened path You’’ll make for us, through the narrow gate You told us to find. Lord, you’ve given us a choice: help us choose life. In Jesus name. Amen

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you see doctrinal splits within the various Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) and even within the ranks of evangelicalism? Do they matter to you? Does this matter to you, or do you toss it off as “inside baseball,” just the stuff for the full-time paid Christians? Has this event stayed under your radar?
  2. What effect do you think conferences and forums, such as the one held at Wheaton College, have on the body of Christ and its internal connections? What effect do you think they have on the external world when their deliberations are covered extensively by secular media?
  3. Do you think discussions about the divisions within Christendom (whether among evangelicals or within denominations) weakens our fellowship? Do you believe the body of Christ should refrain from such discussions and focus solely on the spiritual matters that bring us together?
  4. Jesus Christ prayed for unity in His church. He also said His mission was to proclaim the Truth. Has His church remained unified, and does it proclaim the Truth? If you could pick one quality or the other — “unity” or “truth” — which would you value more? Why? Can you understand why your neighbor might disagree with you?