Tuesday, February 24, 2015

NBA #23, 24, 25: Living our Faith!

(This advice starts at #1, beginning of February)
New Believer Advice #23:  You will face persecution and criticism for being a Christian!
            The very fact that we choose to live differently than other people will make us stand out.  And since we are choosing to not live as the world lives, it will make them feel like we do not approve of their lives and choices.  This will make them want to lash out at us, criticize us, mock us, and discredit us in any way they can. 
            Not everyone will do this, but just look at the way the media portrays Christians and those with a strong sense of right and wrong.  The very fact that we say there is “right and wrong” will make us unpopular in this day and age of moral relativity. 
            You may have to make difficult and uncomfortable stands.  (If everybody loves you all the time, you may be doing something wrong.)  But always do this in quiet confidence, gentle strength, and graciousness towards the other person.  They are not the enemy, even if they have chosen to launch attacks on us.  They are God’s dearly loved creation and we want to draw them to Him, not push them away farther.  So if they engage you in a conversation about your faith, be gentle and loving but stand by your convictions and the truth. 

            But do not make yourself a target.  Some people do not really want to hear what you have to say or to have a mature conversation about your beliefs.  They just want to launch an attack on anything you say and set you up to be torn apart.  And when they ask you questions, they wait for your answers with foaming mouths, like hungry hyenas waiting to tear apart an animal that leaves its hiding spot.  Do not engage in these kinds of blatant set-ups.  They do not want to talk.  They just want to attack.  Do not make yourself a target.  Simply tell them, “When you want to really talk about this, I’ll be happy to share what I believe and think.” 
            And speaking of persecution, resist the urge to call every little slight by someone “persecution.”  Keep in mind that Christians in other countries are being crucified, burned alive, and beheaded.  And we cry “foul” when Starbucks makes their Christmas cups less Christmasy.  Not everything is an attack on you.  Not everything is worth being called “persecution,” even if it’s uncomfortable.  Sometimes, it’s just the natural result of living among people with a lot of different values, beliefs, and outlooks.  (And sometimes it’s because we brought it on ourselves by breaking a rule, egging someone on, or acting out in such a way that someone has to say something about how we are living our faith.  Do not define self-induced criticisms or scoldings as “persecution.”  That’s just not cool!)  So once again, be gracious!  And do not turn people into enemies who are not enemies.

New Believer Advice #24:  Likewise, pick your battles!
            Society will do many things that we don’t like.  We need to pick our battles.  We need to figure out what is worth standing up for, what is worth standing up against, and what is worth fighting for.  Pray for wisdom to know which battles are worth engaging in and which you should just stay out of. 
            And remember that it is not our job to defend God.  Yes, we need to live for Him, to stand up for His truth and His values and for the things that matter to Him.  We need to push back against the unjust ways that society tries to silence Christians and make Christianity illegal.  We need to be His hands here on earth and to care about the things that He cares about.  But we do not need to get offended that people reject Him and His ways. 
            We need to live for His glory and His honor in our own lives, but we do not need to defend His glory and honor by fighting against people who reject Him.  Yes, there are issues we need to stand up for and fight for, but we don’t need to be living out a constant battle against everyone who is opposed to God or who does something He doesn’t like.  They are not the enemy.  They are people He loves and wants to reach. 
            And He will do a great job of defending Himself in the end.  Other people are accountable to Him – not to us - for the way they respond to Him.  So we need to be more concerned with the way we live before the Lord than we are with the way others are living before Him or if they offend Him.  He is the judge!  And He is still on the throne!        

(New stuff for this post.)
            These two points come from several different instances that I have heard about or experienced.
            For one, I heard about a young man who was “persecuted” for his faith, kicked out his college class for standing up for his beliefs.  I think he even got a lawyer involved and went to the media with his story of “persecution.”  But later it was found out that he got kicked out because he was being belligerent and aggressive about “sharing his belief.”  He was yelling and throwing things (or something like that).  So basically, he brought the “persecution” on himself but then went to other Christians and bemoaned what a “victim” he was and how “bullied” he was for his faith. 
            This should never be the case!  We should not act in such a way as to repel others or bring punishment on ourselves and then go out and call it “unfair persecution.”  What a way to turn unbelievers off to Christ!
            Another instance: I have talked to people before who I realized did not want to talk.  They just wanted to bait me, to get me to say something so that they could shoot it full of holes.  I could tell that they were going to tear apart anything I said, no matter what it was. 
            And I think the tendency of a Christian is to feel like we have to give an answer to everyone, to share our beliefs with anyone who asks or will listen.  But even the Bible talks about the importance of being cautious and guarding yourself when around hostile people.  It warns us to not to throw our pearls before swine – not to throw precious truths at people who just want to attack them
.           Jesus warns, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)
            It also instructs us to leave a city that resists our efforts to share the truth with it and to “shake the dust from our feet” when we do, meaning basically to give them over to their hard hearts and to leave them alone in their rebellion.
            Matthew 10:14, 16:  “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. . . .  I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
            Sometimes living our faith needs to be more about shrewdness, about knowing when to refrain, than about zealous evangelism.  We do not have to engage in conversations with people who just want to tear apart anything we will say.  Pray for them, but do not make yourself a target for these people. 
            (“Turning the other cheek” does not mean “become a doormat” or “let people abuse you.”  It means “do not return an insult for an insult.”  So don’t feel that you have to “turn the other cheek” to abuse, that you have to take it.  You don’t have to put yourself in those situations.  You can walk away and not engage.)
            And then there’s this time: Once, an aunt asked me why I didn’t do something that everyone else did.  And I gave her my reasons.  As I talked, she got more and more upset, lashing out at me for my reasons.  And I became more and more confused about what was going on.  After all, she asked me for my reasons.  And all I did was answer her.  But later, I realized that – to her – my reasons to not do it were an inherent criticism against anyone who does it, including her.  Even though I didn’t say anything against those who choose to do it. 
            This opened my eyes to the need to be very cautious sometimes in how we present our opinions and positions.  Because the very fact that we chose A means that we rejected B, and so all of those who chose B will feel criticized, even if we didn’t say anything bad about B.  Does this make sense? 
            My point is, be careful when presenting your view to be respectful of other people and their right to hold a different view.  You don’t have to like or support or respect their view, but you need to respect their right to hold their own view.
            While other Christians might disagree with me on this, I think it’s the right way because I think that even God Himself gave us the right to decide what we want to believe and how we want to live.  It doesn’t mean that whatever we choose or believe is right or proper, just that we have a right to believe and live the way we choose.  (And we will be held accountable for it.)
            I think one of the biggest problems we face in society today is the idea of “tolerance.”  In our society (and this really, REALLY bugs me), we have completely misconstrued what tolerance is.  In our day and age, if you do anything less than fully accept, support, and condone someone else’s choices and views, they cry out, “Intolerance!  Intolerance!  You offended me!  Intolerance!” 
            The labels of “intolerance” and “you offended me” are being used as clubs to beat others - especially Christians or those with strong moral views about right and wrong - into agreeing with questionable, controversial, and immoral choices/beliefs.  To make them ashamed of their differing viewpoints and to shut them up.  Which is especially damaging now that “intolerance” and “being offended” are becoming the basis for lawsuits. 
            But this is not what tolerance is.  Tolerance is not about forcing others to agree with our beliefs or to support our choices, whether it’s the world forcing Christians to agree with them or Christians forcing others to see things their way.  Tolerance is about agreeing to disagree.  It’s accepting that someone else can make up their own mind about something and that we can keep our own views about something, and yet we can still live alongside each other.  (As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.) 
            The way I see it, God has built into all of us the ability to choose Him or to choose against Him.  He allows us to obey or disobey, to see things His way or not.  This does not mean that all choices are equal in His sight or that all are right and acceptable.  It just means that God gave us the right to sin or to live according to His standards. 
            Tolerance is accepting responsibility for our choices and letting others accept responsibility for theirs, knowing that we will all stand before God someday to give account for them.  God will judge in the end, and we will all face the result of our decisions.
            Christians should not bash people over the head with the Bible and force them to abide by God’s laws.  (Yes, we need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows respect for other people’s right to agree or disagree.  We need to love!  But it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work in other people’s hearts and to call them to faith or to correct a bad choice or belief.)  And society should not force Christians to hide or go against their faith.  I really wish we could all do a better job of tolerating each other more.
            And this whole tolerance thing brings me to two more illustrations that led to the New Believer Advice above.
            This past winter, I heard that Christians were complaining about the fact that Starbucks made their Christmas cups less Christmas-y, less honoring to Jesus. 
            What the!?!  Seriously!?!  Christians are complaining that a non-Christian business made their non-Christian cups less Christian-y?  Why is this even an issue?  Why are we complaining that a non-Christian business is acting non-Christianly?  How can we draw non-believers if we are making moral mountains out of Christmas-cup molehills?  If we are acting like a non-Christian business is our enemy for failing to please us?  If we fail to have grace for those who don’t do things exactly the way we want them to do it?  Do you think God is as concerned about Starbucks Christmas cups as those Christians are?   
            Last I read in my Bible, Jesus ate with sinners and reached out to sinners.  He did not scold and persecute them for living the way non-believers live.  He had grace for them and gently, lovingly reached out the them.  And He was more concerned with what’s on the inside of the cup than what’s on the outside (pun intended). 
            But He did scold and condemn the religious “high-and-mighties.”  The religious snobs who thought they were better than everyone else, who didn’t have grace for the lost, who thought they earned their way to heaven because of how right and proper they were, and who judged people for their outsides, for how well they obeyed the rules and how well they looked the part of a “proper Pharisee.”
            No, no, no, and NO!  Not cool at all! 
            While I don’t want to see our society sliding into godlessness or anything like that, I do not think it is right to demand that society pleases us Christians and that they look more Christian on the outside.  Our job is not to demand that others appear to be more Christian; it’s to do all we can to reach their heart and souls, to reflect Christ’s love and grace so that they want to know Christ, too.  And then, if they choose to come to Christ, the Holy Spirit will convict them to change their outsides. 
            But God does not demand that people polish themselves up first before they come to Him.  Or that they play the part of “Christian” before they are actually Christians.  Let’s not put the cart before the horse here or make it more about pleasing us.  We need to learn to live in and be lights in this world, to be in the world but not of the world.  We need to reach out to the lost instead of making them reach out to us.  “Starbucks Christmas cups” is not a battle worth picking!  It will only hurt our efforts to reach the lost, to show God’s love and grace and peace and joy!
            When I was a young Christian, I thought it was my duty to “defend God.”  To force Him on other people and to force people to see the error of their ways and the wisdom of God’s ways.  It was all about “force.”  About making others fall in line.  I wanted God to see what a good Christian I was by my strong, bold efforts to force people to see things His way. 
            But as I have gotten older, I now see that it’s more about gently drawing others instead of forcefully pushing them.  It’s more about living Christ in my own life so that they might see something they want, instead of pushing them to admit that “God is right.”       
            The thing is, they are accountable to God for how they live and what they believe, not to me.  They will answer to Him, not to me.  God allows us all to choose how to live and believe.  And we will all stand before Him. 
            So I think we need to focus more on ourselves - on how we are living, on cleaning up our own lives, on taking the log out of our own eyes – before we go out and tell everyone else how to live.  Let’s draw others by our love and by the gentle-yet-firm way that we live truth in our own lives, instead of trying to force them to fall in line with us and with God.  We don’t need to force Christ on others; we need to live Christ so that others are drawn to Him.
            Yes, there are battles we need to be involved in, things we need to stand up for.  But we don’t need to “defend God,” to force everyone to admit He is right and to do things His way.  God Himself allows us to live our lives.  And God Himself is the judge.  And He will defend Himself and His ways in the end.  So let’s be careful about the battles we pick and the way we “live Christ”!
            One example that I think illustrates the dilemma of how to balance standing up for God’s truth while tolerating different views is the issue of gay marriage.  I think this is a great example to help us think about how to be “in the world, but not of the world.”  How do we hold to biblical truth in a country that is drifting so far from God’s ways and that is pressuring Christians to fall in line?  How do we set ourselves apart and yet love our neighbor?  Where is the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning godless choices?  What should a Christian’s response be to gay marriage now that it has become legal?  (And this can be applied to other sorts of moral dilemmas.) 
            While this is a long repost from other places on this blog, I think it’s worth repeating.  So here is my idea of how Christians should handle issues like gay marriage.

1.  For starters, don’t panic!   
            “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short?’”  (Numbers 11: 23)
            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)
            God has not lost control.  He is still on the throne.  Nor has anyone changed His laws and truths.  It bothers me when I hear Christians freaking out and saying, “Man is changing God’s laws!”  No, we aren’t.  Call it what they want, it still doesn’t change the fact that God decided that marriage is between one man and one woman.  And God’s laws still stand.   
            Just because society redefines "marriage" doesn't mean that God has.  Just because some churches are going against the Bible and claiming that now certain lifestyles are acceptable doesn't mean that God has.  We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture do not need to be terrified of or confused about the "changes" that society makes.  Because it doesn't really change anything.  God's laws still stand, no matter how puffed up and proud people get, acting like they have made great "improvements" to God’s Truth.  God's laws still stand.  And we will be judged by them in the end. 

2.  Pray for our country!  Pray for revival!  Seek righteousness and humility before the Lord!
            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)   
            I fear that Christians (and “Christians”) in America are so focused on and bothered about the ways other people fail to live rightly before the Lord that we fail to focus on and be bothered about the ways that we fail to live rightly before the Lord.  We are so busy wagging our fingers at others, saying, “No, no, no, don’t do that,” that we are not taking the time to examine our own hearts, to consider if we are seeking righteousness and truly humbling ourselves before Him. 
            We have grown lukewarm, comfortable, and lazy in our spiritual lives.  Enamored with this world instead of being enamored with God.  Focused on our priorities instead of God’s.  Worshipping a god that we created instead of God as He is.  (That way, we don’t have to feel convicted or guilty).  Overlooking sin in our lives but finding it in everyone else’s.  Examining everyone else but ourselves. 
            But we convince ourselves that we are doing okay as long as we are trying to get everyone else to live as God wants them to live.  But sometimes our passionate efforts are just a cover for our lack of passionate heart-devotion to the Lord.  We are so busy doing for the Lord that we fail at truly being with the Lord.   
            But our biggest concern shouldn’t be worldly non-believers who live worldly lives, but the ways that we live worldly lives without being bothered by it.    
            “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.”  (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
            If we started to focus less on how others are living and more on how we are living, and if we focused on truly humbling ourselves before the Lord and on seeking righteousness, we might see a serious revival and God would turn toward us and hear our prayers. 
            Notice what the verse said . . . “If my people, who are called by my name . . .”  This is not a verse for the world, but for believers.
            “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  (1 Peter 3:12)
            Definitely, we need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival.  But I think it needs to start with ourselves.  I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living Christ as much as we can and seeking His help through prayer, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to fight against society, by trying to change them and to get them to believe as we do.  Because then God would be fighting the battle for us. 
            We will all stand before God and give an account for our lives, not for someone else’s.  So let’s start by examining our own hearts and lives, humbling ourselves before God and seeking righteousness, and see what God does.     

3.  Look for open doors and opportunities to take a stand for God’s truth!
            But do not do this if you are not doing the first two things.  No one wants to hear a panicky, haughty Christian preaching about what everyone else is doing wrong and how they should be living their lives, without first having calmed down, taken a look at themselves, and humbled themselves before the Lord. 
            But for those believers who are seeking to be humble before the Lord and who are seeking righteousness in their own lives and who are trusting that God is still in control and that He is listening to our prayers, we also need to be alert for any open doors that God brings for us to share about the hope that is in us and to stand up for His truth in appropriate ways.
            “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”  (1 Peter 3:15)
            We need to get involved in politics, in the public, in conversations, etc., to do what we can to protect our religious freedoms and to stand up for God’s truth in a humble, respectful way.  And we need to be willing to be persecuted for it more and more, if even only just mocked by everyone else. 
            But we always need to share the truth with love and gentleness.  We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows respect for other people’s right to agree or disagree.  Even God has given people the right to agree or disagree with Him.  It doesn’t mean they are right in every way, just that they can rebel against Him if they want to.  (And face the consequences of it someday.)  It is not our job to force others to agree with God’s truth, but it is our job to stand by it firmly in our own lives and to live accordingly. 
            And as we seek to stand up for His truth and to protect religious rights, we need to remember that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s.  So we need to be on our knees before Him, asking Him to guide our country, to protect believers and our religious rights, and to show us the ways that we need to think, act, respond, change ourselves, and be involved.

4.  Get to know Scripture deeply.
            It is all-too-easy to be led astray about God’s truth if we don’t really know God’s Word for ourselves.  And this will happen more and more as more and more churches fall to societal pressure to redefine God’s truths and to cut out sections of Scripture that make them uncomfortable. 
            I’ll be honest here, I really wish I could say that it doesn’t matter who you love – homosexual or heterosexual – as long as you are loved and are loved by someone else.  I know that many homosexuals have faced abuse and heartache, either when they were young and it led to them becoming homosexual (research shows that many homosexuals have either been abused in the past or have over-bearing mothers and distant fathers) or they were mistreated after coming out as homosexuals.  And I don’t want to add any more pain or heartache by claiming that homosexuality is wrong. 
            But really knowing what the Bible says is why I can – why I have to - say that God does not condone homosexuality in any way.  It is always spoken of in the negative, never in a positive or ambiguous way. 
            [“But wait,” you might say, “what about the fact that most levitical laws don’t apply anymore?  I mean, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore or have to keep a woman’s head covered.  We wear clothes with more than one kind of fabric.  And in the New Testament, we learn that we don’t have to circumcise anymore and that we can eat pork.  Doesn’t this show that the restriction against homosexuality in Lev. 18:22 shouldn’t apply anymore either?”
            If this is all there is to it then it would stand to reason that the laws against having sex with your close family members or with animals (Lev 18) or that the laws against stealing, lying, practicing sorcery, and defrauding others (Lev 19) shouldn’t apply either.  But would we ever say this?  No.
            The thing to keep in mind here is that there are three different kinds of laws in Leviticus. 
            There are civil/cultural laws which have to do with Israel at that time, such as owning land, how to treat slaves and animals, etc.
            There are ceremonial laws which have to do with how to properly approach God, how to  perform the ceremonies, how to do the things that religiously set Israel apart from its neighbors, etc.  Things like circumcise the boys, don’t eat pork, how to behave in church, sacrificing animals, etc.  But these kinds of strict laws are the laws that Jesus came to fulfill.  This is why they don’t apply anymore, why we don’t sacrifice animals for our sins, why we are not prevented from eating pork anymore.  Jesus’ death paid the price.  Tore the curtain.  Jesus fulfilled those laws and they do not necessarily apply anymore.
            And then there are moral laws.  Laws about how God expects everyone of all time to behave and live.  And these will always apply.  This is where the laws about sexual relations, homosexuality, stealing, lying, sorcery, etc. fall.  Would we toss out the 10 commandments just because they are “old” and from a different culture? 
            These moral laws still stand.  Yet it doesn’t mean that we take it in our hands to punish people for these things (i.e. stoning them) because Jesus came to offer grace and forgiveness.  And He is the judge.  He will judge us for our sins.  But don’t be misled, these laws will always stand.]
            It is very clear from the whole Bible that practicing homosexuality goes against God’s laws.  And the churches who are now embracing it are straying from the clear teaching of Scripture.  It might give them major favor with the world, but not with God.  And they will be held accountable for it.
             “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
            It is also all-too-easy to back-slide as a Christian, to excuse sin, and to nibble our way lost if we don’t read God’s Word regularly to see what He has to say about how we should be living.
             “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, emphasis is mine)    
             “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2: 15)    
            And it is all-too-easy to miss out on the kind of relationship we are meant to have with our Heavenly Father if we do not meet Him in the pages of His Word.  When we look at the Bible as just a “To Do” or “Don’t Do” list, we miss out on drawing near to His heart and letting Him draw near to ours.  The Bible is not a “To Do” list.  It is God’s heart poured out to us.  An invitation to draw nearer to Him and to get to know Him and ourselves better.  And we will miss out greatly if we treat it lightly. 
            And if we fail to get to know God as He really is in His Word, we end up substituting our own ideas of who we want Him to be.  And then we will find someday that we have drifted far away from Him and from where we should be in our spiritual lives. 
            Immerse yourself in God’s Word daily.  Drink from it deeply.  And get to know it well so that you know what you are talking about when it comes time to take a stand for God’s truth.  In love and gentleness, as we are called to do.  As more and more churches begin to tickle the ears of people, telling them what they want to hear, we are going to need Christians who really know what God’s Word says.  And who live it themselves!

5.  And lastly, love and be tolerant!
            “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)
            We need to love our fellow humans!  We need to be loving when we are sharing truth.  We need to be loving when they disagree.  And we need to be loving when we are mocked, persecuted, and scorned.    
            And when it comes to interacting with people who do not hold to God’s Word, we need to remember that God loves all people and wants all people to come to Him.  God is kind to those who hate Him.  Jesus ate with sinners.  And God sends rain on the unrighteous as well as the righteous.
            “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:45) 
            I don’t think this means that God the Father and Jesus condone their lifestyles and choices.  Providing for and visiting with worldly people does not mean that They agree with the way they live.  It only means that They care about and value them as people.  Jesus looks beyond their lifestyle and choices, their sinfulness, and He sees the person deep within, just as He does for us.  The person worth getting to know and worth loving. 
            This does not mean He overlooks sinfulness or that the unrighteous will not be held accountable for it, but He sees them as more than just their sin.  He sees them – He sees all of us - as people worth dying for, worth rescuing from themselves.  Should we believers treat un-believers (we sinners treat fellow sinners) with any less respect, kindness, and love than that? 
            I fear that we Christians, in an effort to stand firmly on God’s Truth, can fail sometimes at seeing and loving the person behind the sin.  But I don’t think that we have to be overly concerned that our kindness will look like we are condoning godlessness, for even God shows kindness to all without partiality.  And He knows our hearts.  He knows if we are trying to honor Him and to hold to His truth and to love others as He does.  So I don’t think we have to be overly concerned that our kindness might cause godlessness to spread.  It might just be that our kindness causes people to see Jesus in us.
            I remember when the “Gay Olympics” was coming through our town and how people were talking about picketing, holding up signs about how homosexuality is wrong and all that.  But our pastor got up one Sunday and suggested a different idea.  He said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if, instead of picketing, we showed the love of Christ by handing out bottles of water to the participants?”  I thought that was so beautiful.  It didn’t have anything to do with condoning or supporting their lifestyle, but with loving them and being kind to them, in Jesus’s name. 
            Of course, something like that walks a dangerously thin line between showing Jesus’ love and looking like we are supporting their lifestyle, so it would have to be balanced somehow with God’s truth, maybe by making little Bibles available for the taking or by offering to pray with (or silently praying for) each person that takes a water-bottle.  We don’t have to force truth on people, but we do have to share it and stand firmly on it ourselves. 
            For one reason or other, we never did end up passing out bottles of water.  But I still loved that our pastor had a different response than “Let’s go hold up signs condemning those gay people for how sinful they are!”  I tell ya, if there was someone there with a sign every time we all sinned, we would always have a sign waving in our faces reminding us of how we break God’s laws.
            We are called to spread the truth in love and gentleness.  But sometimes we focus more on truth than love (the angry, fist-waving sign-holders).  And sometimes we focus more on love than truth (the churches who are editing God’s Word to please the people).  But there is a balance there somewhere, a way to share the truth while still being loving.  And that is when people will see Jesus in us. 
            I don’t know how I would handle the “pass out or don’t pass out water bottles” dilemma or the “sell or don’t sell them a wedding cake” conundrum.  I really don’t.  But I don’t know if there is just one “right” way to handle it.  Scripture does not spell out how to “love your neighbor” while “having nothing to do with godlessness.”  So it will probably look different for each person.  Take time to pray over it, if ever you face a situation like that.  There is a line for each person, a balance.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you to know where that line is for you.  (And of course, I am not just talking about or picking on Gay Olympic picketers or wedding cake-makers, but I am using these as examples of all the different ways we Christians have to discern the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning their lifestyle.)
            We need to live the Word, stand up for His truth, and do our best to draw – not push – other people into the kingdom of God, being living examples of His love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, and gentleness.
            “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed it’s coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11-14)    

            It’s not always easy to know which battles to pick and how to live out our faith.  This is one reason it’s so important to abide in Christ, in the Word, and in prayer - so that we can grow to know Him more, to be more like Him, to know His priorities, to reflect Him more, to see people the way He does, and to better reach the people He so dearly loves and died for. 
            As Christians, we will all “do it wrong” at times.  But if we are growing in the Lord, we will be maturing in our faith and becoming better examples of Him and better witnesses for Him.  So don’t be too hard on yourself when you do it wrong.  You’re human, too.  Just keep picking yourself up and following after the Lord.  And if you are teachable and humble, He will help you on your journey to become more and more like Him.  Always remember that the Christian walk is a journey, not a destination.  Not until eternity!                        
New Believer Advice #25:  Know what God’s Will is!
            To boil it down, God’s Will is that we humbly and transparently walk with Him in this life, that we abide in Him through His Word and prayer, that we grow to be more Christ-like daily, that we get in touch more with His love and grace, that we reflect His love and grace and forgiveness to others, that we obey Him as He leads, and that we take each day as it comes and faithfully do our best with whatever job or blessings He gives us, working at it with all of our heart and for His glory.  And as long as we are doing this, we will be on the path He wants us on.  We will be right in the middle of His Will for us.
            The problem is that we think knowing His Will means knowing the future or what the next 10 steps are or what decision He wants us to make.  And while there is a time for knowing what the next step is, I think His Will is mostly about how He wants us to live each day, not some secret path He wants us to take or decision He wants us to make.  And as long as we are abiding in Him daily and being faithful with today’s job, He will make the next step clear and our path will be straightened out.  As we humbly walk with Him! 
            Do not seek His plans.  Seek Him!  And His plans will become clear when the time is right!
            And do not make the Christian journey about more rules or traditions to follow or more restrictions to put on yourself.  The Christian journey is about getting to know Him better, about letting Him more and more into your heart and life, and about living in the freedom, joy, and peace that His love and grace makes possible.  As you do this, you will grow to be more like Him and your faith will grow stronger and you will become the person that He wants you to be.  Do not complicate it!  
            “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”  (James 4:8)