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Monday, November 30, 2015

Reconciliation in a Polarized Society

Do you recall the old song by Buffalo Springfield – There’s Something Happening Here?  Remember the lyrics?

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Buffalo Springfield - Somethings Happening Here Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Perhaps that song was a bit prophetic.

The world – or at least the US - has become a polarized realization of that song.  Right and wrong have become second fiddle (or perhaps third or fourth fiddle) to me and mine.  We are far more likely to oppose someone simply because of how they associate themselves rather than for what they actually say or do.  We have put ourselves into buckets of civil and political association and if you are not a part of my group, then you are an outsider to be opposed – if not completely crushed.  We are either black or white or Hispanic or native or Asian or something else.  We are either straight or gay or transgender or something else.  We are either Democrat or Republic or something else.  We are either liberal or conservative or something else.  How sad it is that I actually have to say “or something else”?  Our polarized and segmented ethnic, political, and self-identified associations have become so important that we get offended if we are somehow excluded.  We expect offense when it was never intended.  We look for offense where it doesn’t exist. In fact, it is because of this that 2015 has been labeled the year of being offended – or rather (if I were to be more politically correct) – the year of political correctness.  We cannot even say “male or female” anymore and it causes a political and civil uproar when someone stands up and says “no, you cannot take your male body parts into a public restroom where my little girl is.”  Political correctness has been taken to such an extreme absurdity that those who have been caught up in it cannot even see their own folly.   In fact, they think it is enlightened and right for such extreme sensitivity to exist.  Lest we forget – in the medical world, when a part of the body is extremely sensitive, it is a sign that something is not quite right.

The term “American” has no meaning any more – and “yes” I realize that the very word, American, is offensive to Canadians, Mexicans, or people from South America.  That, however, is my point.  Society cannot stand when it is so divided.  It is not just a proverb or motto to say “United we stand, divided we fall” – it is truth that goes back as far as Aesop's fable of the bundle of sticks - and it has been part of what has made America strong since the Revolutionary War.  However, today we cannot even say that it is truth because doing so would be stating an absolute, which is a sign of intolerance. There was a time in which the “United” States understood the meaning of the term collectivism.  We understood the importance of community and the strength of unity.  However, the ideals of individualism have so taken root in our society that they have been taken to their most absurd extremes.   Concepts of community and togetherness have been replaced by the concepts of rugged individualism and the narcissism and megalomania that have grown (ironically enough) from “social” media.

It is time we embraced collectivism again for the sake of reconciliation.  Unfortunately, I have little faith in our political, social, or civil systems of sociological drivers to bring about this type of reform.  In fact, I am fairly certain these are destined for failure.  Democrats and Republicans will never get along.  Conservatives and liberals will never agree.  And the number of self-identified groups (whether it be racial, sexual, gender, or something completely new we haven’t seen before) will continue to divide us until the very fabric of society crumbles into anarchy.

There is only one way in which true reconciliation can occur and that is through the ministry of reconciliation brought about through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Before our society can be reconciled one to another, we must first be reconciled to our creator – the God of the Universe who created all things.    And the only way we can be reconciled to him is through the blood of Jesus Christ.  Never before has our “American” society been weaker, but that means we are ripe for reconciliation through Christ.  As it says in Romans 5:6-11

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (ESV)

Yes, our society is at war with God right now.  Yes, our society is His enemy, but that is right where we all were when God reconciled us to himself.  Therefore, the same power that reconciled you and me can reconcile our crumbling and decaying society.  But in order to make that happen, you and I are going to have to step up to the place and begin aggressively pursuing the ministry of reconciliation.  Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others…
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh….
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (ESV)

It is our responsibility to see the world the way God sees the world (not according to the flesh) and so to introduce the concept of reconciliation to the world… reconciliation of men to God and men to men... but it is God’s responsibility to actually do the reconciling.  Our responsibility is to “persuade” and to “implore” them to be reconciled to the God so that they can be reconciled to each other.

Unfortunately, even within the church, we have failed to complete the ministry of reconciliation.   The church is probably the last segment of society that is still – by its own choice – racially segregated.  There are so many denominations and sects to the church that it is hard to know who believes what anymore.  We have forgotten something very important – and it is exemplified by one of the verses in the above passage that was (intentionally) left out – verse 17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

There can be no reconciliation until we let go of all the earthly things that divide us and acknowledge who we are in Jesus Christ.  We are one people, a “chosen race,” a “holy nation,” chosen by God (1 Peter 2:9).   In Christ, there is racial divide, no gender divide, no socio-economic divide because we are all the same in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:28).  We have to begin living out this truth in our churches and spreading this truth to our society.  I am not talking about compromising truth; I am talking about living in unity, which requires humility and effort on the part of each and every one of us.  As Paul says in Ephesians 4

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (ESV)

Reconciliation can only come when we live and breathe and act as one and this can only happen in the context of the church living as the body of Christ.

I urge us – the church – therefore to ignite a spark of reconciliation within ourselves and to do everything we can to fan that spark into a flame that will bring reconciliation to the whole world.  Make it a point to do something every day that brings people together rather than tearing them apart.  Invite someone completely different than yourself to church.  Go talk to that neighbor who is unlike yourself.  Even if you consider them an “enemy” remember that it is the enemy that God is reconciling to himself.  Be, therefore, the ministry of reconciliation in this broken, un-reconciled world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Paris, ISIS, and Syrian Refugees - The Christian's Response

One of the most difficult things for a Christian – and for a pastor in particular – is to separate the issues of human rights and self-preservation from the issues of Christian ethics and morals when faced with such an ominous event such as the Paris bombings and the ISIS threat.  In many respects, it is a matter of comparing that which is good and acceptable to that which is righteous and better.  It is also a matter of distinguishing between the responsibilities of the state and the responsibilities of the individual Christian.

Before addressing the issue of how our nation and we, as individual Christians, should respond to the threats facing us today, I need first to address the growing displeasure and dishonor that I see being directed at our national leaders.  Do not get me wrong.  I am in complete disagreement with the direction our country and its leaders are heading and I am praying for them to repent and turn before God judges them as he judged the unrighteous leaders in the Bible.  I am also praying that God will send us new leaders who will honor him.  However, I want us as Christians to be very careful about our own response to what we perceive to be their injustice and unrighteous actions.

Without question, God has established our government to protect and to serve its people.  As individual Christians, we must take seriously what God’s word says about our government and one of the most important such passages is in Romans 13.

13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

This passage reminds us that no matter what we may think of our government or its (current) leadership, it is still an institution established by God, to do God’s will, and deserving of our respect and honor – even when in our minds we do not think they are being faithful to that commission - or deserving of that honor.  Keep in mind that even the Apostle Paul, standing before evil and wicked religious leaders who had killed and crucified his Christ, showed respect to them and quoted Exodus 22:28, which says, “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.”  Let us not forget what Paul says in Colossians 1:16, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”  In other words, all authorities and all rulers are put in place by Jesus Christ himself to accomplish his purposes.  That may seem like a difficult thing to grasp or even accept – especially when we know that some authorities – such as ISIS - are well beyond evil.  Before we jump to conclusions, however, thinking that there is no way our current leadership or ISIS or whatever other government leadership we may disagree with can possibly be a part of God’s plan, let us not forget that even some of the Kings of Judah and Samaria (the Southern and Northern kingdoms of Israel, respectively) were considered to be amongst the most evil men who ever lived.   Yet the Bible is very clear that they were in leadership because God put them there, and let us also not forget that each and every one of them ultimately experienced the full wrath of God’s judgment for their evil doing. Let us also not forget that one of the most pagan kings in history, Cyrus of Persia, was called "the anointed of God" because God used him to return the exiles to Jerusalem.  And let us keep in mind Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Despite what we may think of them as individuals, our leaders are still God's instruments, appointed by Him to rule over us.

Christian ethics tell us that it is the responsibility of the state – as God’s divine instrument – to carry out justice.  That can mean punishment to the wrong-doers within its borders and it can also mean engaging in a “just” war.  More importantly, though, it can also mean protecting its own people – which is one of the key elements of entering into a “just” war (for a good summary of St. Augustine of Hippo’s original just war theory, try this link:  In other words, it is the State’s responsibility to protect its people from evil and aggression by whatever means necessary, even – as a last resort – going to war.  From that perspective, it is absolutely appropriate for the state to consider closing its borders to anyone or any group of people it believes may be a threat to the safety and security of its people.  If the state believes that Syrian refugees pose a threat to the nation’s security, it is the state’s obligation to protect its people against that threat.  If the threat of ISIS meets the criteria of a just war then by all means the state ought to do its duty.  However, no action taken by the government should be based upon hatred, bigotry, the desire to hurt or punish the aggressor, or even to avenge the dead.  That is neither righteous nor just.  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Deut 32:35, Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30).  In other words, be careful in praising the Godless leaders of other countries who are promising vengeance.  That is not God's way even for a government.

On the other hand…

How the state responds has nothing at all to do with how we respond as individual Christians and together as the church.  We are under a completely different set of rules and ethics than is the state.  We are under the rule and authority first and foremost of King Jesus – and while we are to be subject and submissive to the God-ordained state authority, our ultimate authority is Jesus Christ.  Jesus is Lord.  That means we heed the words of Jesus when he says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).    We must respond appropriately to Paul’s words in Romans 12:20 (where he is actually quoting from Proverbs 25:21-22): “To the contrary, ‘if you energy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’”

What this means to us as individuals is that we are to reach out in compassion and mercy to those who are hurting as a result of this conflict – even if they are our enemies – even if they ultimately intend to do us harm.  Does this potentially place us in harm’s way?  Well, remember I said it was an issue of good versus better.  If the state chooses not to let in the Syrian refuges then we will be safe and that is good.  Our responsibility will be to pray for them and even to seek out ways to help them if we are able.  On the other hand, if the state chooses to let the refugees in, then yes, we might very well be in harm’s way, but we are to be compelled by Christian love and charity to still seek out ways to help them.  This may even be “better” since then we will have a more direct means of showing them love and compassion - and more importantly the hope that it is in Jesus Christ.

The irony is that regardless of what happens, it is unlikely that you and I (well, most of us individually anyway) will personally be able to provide direct, hands on, help to any of these refugees and so our primary and main course must be to pray for them.  Then again, you never know and so we must be ready and prepared to render aide as necessary.

What then, do we do about the threat of terrorists claiming to be refugees if the state decides to let them in?  We trust in God.  We rightfully expect the state to be diligent to screen the refugees as they enter the country, but we rely on God for protection.  He is our rock, our refuge, our fortress.  He is our defense and our strong tower.  But at the end of the day, we know that we are safe in the arms of Jesus.  We remember his words from Matthew 10:28 – “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  We remember the conviction of Paul in Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  And we consider the possibility that some of us may be called to live out Paul’s words in Philippians 1:29 – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”  Or 2 Corinthians 12:10 – “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Or even Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:11-12 – “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Whatever may be our situation, our response must be Christ-like.  We must seek the good even of our enemy - and by "good" I mean the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Elijah's Close Encounter With God

James, the half-brother of Jesus, said that Elijah was a man just like you and me.  Yet, when I consider the many things that Elijah did I can’t help but wonder about that. Elijah had more courage than I could ever imagine myself having.  Would I have the faith and courage to approach the President and say that God was bringing judgment upon the country because of his leadership – the way that Elijah did to King Ahab?  Would I have the faith and courage to stand before the entire nation and challenge them to choose between God and The American Dream? Would I have the faith and courage to call out 450 of the Enemy’s most powerful agents for a spiritual showdown?   Could I invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to call down fire from heaven? To defeat those agents of the Enemy?  To outrun the President’s motorcade on foot?  These are all things that Elijah did.  I would like to think that if God specifically called me to do those things that I could and would do them, but they seem so far beyond anything that I would expect.  So how can Elijah be a man just like me?

The truth is that despite doing such amazing things, Elijah was a man just like me and he had the same fears – and the same failures that we have.  Maybe he was physically, spiritually, and emotionally spent (I’ve been there), but after doing the great things that he did, Elijah fled for his life at the threat of the king’s wife, Queen Jezebel.  Now maybe there was something special about Jezebel – certainly she was a very evil woman – or maybe Elijah’s well had just temporarily run dry.  Nevertheless, in a way that I certainly can and do empathize with, Elijah found himself alone, sitting under a broom tree (whatever that may be), running from the Queen, wondering whether God and everyone else had abandoned him, and wishing that he would die.  Now that, my friends, is more like the man just like me.

But it was in that moment of weakness that Elijah had his close encounter with God.  The story is found in 1 Kings 19.  First, God sent an angel to strengthen and encourage him.  Then, he sent him on a 40-day pilgrimage into the wilderness, where he ended up in a cave at Mount Horeb. Now, in case you have forgotten, Mount Horeb was a special place.  It was in the land of Midian east of the Jordan river.   It was the place that God appeared to Moses in a burning bush.  It was the place where God gave the people of Israel water by having Moses strike a rock with his staff.  It was the place that, after wandering in the desert 40 years, Moses gave his final speeches and exhortations to the people Israel before he died (i.e., the book of Deuteronomy).  In other words, God was present at Mount Horeb.

It was there in that cave on Mount Horeb that God spoke to Elijah: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  To which Elijah gave is very weak response: “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” That is when God commanded Elijah to leave the cave and go stand out on the mountain.  The LORD (that is, Yahweh) passed by, causing a great wind that tore apart the rocks, but the LORD was not in the wind.  An earthquake followed, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  Then came a great fire, but the LORD was not in the fire.  If I had experienced these things all in succession, I think I would have been terrified and would have run for cover, but Elijah stayed – that is when the sound of a quiet whisper came – and it was in that quiet whisper that the LORD spoke to Elijah.  So imagine in your head a soft whisper… “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (or just fill in your name instead).

There is so much that can be learned from Elijah’s close encounter with God.  For instance, we can learn the fact that all the noise and commotion of the world can keep us from hearing God’s voice.  We can also learn that to hear God’s voice, sometimes we need to be still and quiet.  As it says in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” - and again in Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”  We can learn how faithful God is to us when we are weak and in despair.  But I think what may be the most instructive to us is what God said to Elijah AFTER he spoke in a still, small, voice.

Elijah responded to the whisper with the same, weak response he did before, but God’s response to his weak answer changed the course of Elijah’s life.  It says in 1 Kings 19:15-18

“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria.  And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

God’s response to Elijah was, if I may paraphrase, “Pick yourself up; I still have work for you to do.”  Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and had confronted the whole nation with their sin, but that would only be one battle in a long spiritual war.  Elijah would be leading the efforts in a war on behalf of Yahweh that would ultimately result in the complete annihilation of the house of one of the most evil Kings Israel ever saw.  In that war, he would not be alone.  He would have an appointed captain, an appointed successor, and seven thousand allies scattered among the people.  Elijah would go on to do all that God appointed him to do, but it was his close encounter with God in his moment of greatest weakness that made the difference in his life.

In our moments of greatest weakness we, too, feel alone.  We feel, like Elijah felt, that despite all of our efforts, everything just seems meaningless and without benefit.  It is in those moments we need to seek out a close encounter with God.  God can nourish us and strengthen us.  God can help us remember that we truly are not alone.  And most importantly, God can remind us that we still have work to do.

Now I would suspect that God doesn’t want you (or me for that matter) to topple an evil empire (did anyone else just have a Luke Skywalker moment – sorry I couldn’t resist) – but you never know.  Never discount the possibility that what God has in store for you is anything but extraordinary. Be open to whatever plan God may have for you.  But whether it is bringing down an empire or something much less daunting, there is without question work that he has appointed for us all.  That work may change as our life circumstances change, but it never goes away.  Don’t be afraid of that work.  Don’t remain mired by your weakness – or tiredness. Remember that in the end, it is really God’s work that he will do, not you doing it in your own strength.  You are just the willing vessel empowered by an Almighty God.  So instead of despairing, earnestly seek your close encounter with God.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

To Fleece or Not to Fleece...

Picture Credit: (15th Century German Lithograph as taken from "Biblica Bible Atlas")

…that is the question.  Is it appropriate – or let’s tone that down a bit – is it OK for a Christian to lay a fleece before the Lord the way that Gideon did?  With any background in church at all, you probably know the story of how Gideon tested God not just once, but twice, by asking him for a miraculous sign concerning whether he should lead Israel in a battle against the Mideanites by placing a wool fleece on the threshing floor.  The first time, he wanted the fleece to be full of dew while the surrounding ground was bone dry.  The second time, he wanted the fleece to be dry while the surrounding ground was wet with dew.  And while God was gracious to answer Gideon’s request both times, the story of Gideon’s wavering confidence is not a promise that God will answer us likewise.  Is it a sin to place a fleece before the Lord?  Probably not.  However, speaking as one who in the past has done just that, I would strongly advise the Christian of today not to embark upon such a dangerous venture for a number of reasons.   Give me a moment to explain why, and then I will follow that up with an alternative that hopefully you will find superior to Gideon’s fleece.

First of all, the fleeces that we place before God are typically nothing like Gideon’s fleece.  To begin with, as I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday (audio here), one can debate whether or not Gideon’s test was the result of a lack of faith.  He had already demonstrated faith by tearing down the altars of Baal and he had already mustered 32,000 soldiers to go to war against the Mideanites, so clearly he was willing to do what God had asked.  His fleece was not testing God, but rather seeking clarity from God. By contrast, most of the fleeces we place before God are a mask of either our own fears or our lack of faith.  When we place a fleece before God because of fear or lack of faith, it is displeasing to God. 

Second, we have no guarantee that God will respond to our fleece request.  Just because God was gracious to respond to Gideon’s request doesn’t mean that he will respond to ours.  Perhaps he will – or perhaps he will not.  Placing a fleece before the Lord is paramount to an ultimatum and placing an ultimatum before God is a risky proposition. Doing so is a little bit like your child giving you an ultimatum. You are under no obligation to respond to it all and you are likely to ignore it altogether just to teach them a lesson.  We could be making a big mistake if we give God such an ultimatum and then make a big life decision based upon that.

Third, placing a fleece before God is dangerously close to testing God. Deuteronomy 6:16 says “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”  Massah is where the Israelites quarreled with Moses because they had no water, questioning whether God was with them.  Our fleeces are much like that, questioning God’s providence and provision in our lives.

Fourth, the nature of Gideon’s fleece request was supernatural.  A wet fleece with a dry ground?  A dry fleece with a wet ground?   For God to answer affirmatively required nothing less than a minor miracle.  Most of the fleeces we place before God are not supernatural in nature.  In fact, we tend to give God multiple, perfectly plausible choices in our fleece requests. “God, if they offer me this job, then I will know you want me to take it.  However, if they don’t offer me this job, then I know it is not your will.”  Have you ever prayed that prayer?  The problem with that approach is that either result is equally plausible.  How do you know that God is answering your fleece rather than just a natural outcome of circumstances and free will?  A true fleece like Gideon’s requires a  supernatural sign.  Unfortunately, that leads me to the last reason we shouldn’t do it.

Jesus says asking for a miraculous sign reflects an evil heart. On two different occasions in the gospel of Matthew Jesus says “an evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign” (Matthew 12:39 and 16:4).  Now I realize that in those instances, they were looking for proof that Jesus was really the messiah because they did not want to believe – which is a bit more extreme than our typical fleeces.  However, those are strong words from our Lord and do you really want to risk being placed in that same category?  I would think not.

So if we shouldn’t place fleeces before the Lord, how do we – like Gideon – get clarity concerning God’s will in our lives?  One of the reasons we feel that we need a fleece is because we do not truly understand the nature of God’s will in our lives.  We misunderstand what it means to seek and know God’s will and think it is all about specific actions and choices.  While there is a small thread of truth in that, God’s will is far deeper than that.  God’s will is more about the state of our heart and our willingness to obey.  Fortunately, there is a way we can be confident about God’s will for our lives in a way that Gideon (absent his fleece) could not.

We have two advantages that Gideon did not.  We have the full and complete revelation of God through the Holy Bible and we have the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Most of God’s will for our lives has been revealed in the scripture.   Scripture reveals to us the attitudes and character traits that God wants for our lives that will lead us to live in his will.  That means God’s will for our lives is first and foremost to be saved, but then to bring glory to God, to live as Christ lived, and to be holy.  Therefore, many of the decisions about which we typically place fleeces before God can be resolved simply by asking this one simple question: “Which of these choices is more likely to make me more like the person God wants me to be?” 

It will never be God’s will for us to make a choice that either directly or indirectly contradicts his revealed word in scripture and it will never be God’s will for us to make a choice that will cause us to be pulled further away from him.  So, should I put a bid in for that job in Las Vegas as a BlackJack dealer?  Ummm… no.  That one is easy.  Should I take that job that requires me to work on Sunday?  Hmm. That one is a bit tougher.  I could put out a fleece… or I could ask the question above – paraphrased for the specifics here:  Is it necessary for me to feed my family because I have no job?  Or is it just a promotion that gets me one step higher on the corporate ladder and more money that I don’t really need?  Should I spend $60K on that new, 2016 Chevy Corvette? Why do I want it?  Why do I need it?  I will let you answer that one for yourself.   You see, the beauty is, if we know and understand scripture, then we know and understand our decisions in the context of God’s revealed word – and that gives us insight into his will for that situation. 

Then, in addition to that, we have the Holy Spirit living within us.  God himself – the third person of the Trinity – who is our helper – will guide us in our decisions if we are only willing to listen to his voice.  Consider what it says in Romans 12:1-2.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Allow me to explain what I think that means.  Unlike Gideon, we have a direct promise that we can discern and know God’s will for our life.  When we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice – that is, when we give ourselves completely to Jesus Christ to follow him and surrender to his Lordship and leadership in our lives; when we commit ourselves to be different from the world – that is, when we commit ourselves to becoming like Jesus Christ rather than like the rest of the world; when we renew our minds by focusing on God’s perspective rather than on the world’s perspective; then we have the promise that every decision we need to make can be tested against God’s leadership in our life and we can KNOW the right thing to do.

You may say that sounds a bit too lofty and supernatural.  Well perhaps it is, but allow me to explain in closing how this works in practice.  First and foremost, you have to be right with God.  If you are not right with God and in close fellowship with him, there is no way you can discern God’s will.  But assuming you are in right and close fellowship with him, then seeking his will is a matter of evaluating the decision against what we know from scripture and then engaging in earnest prayer – and possibly fasting.  The litmus test question I suggested above is a good one.  There may be others with more direct scriptural application depending upon your specific decision, but often just a search of principles and doctrines from scripture will answer our questions.   Then, as we pray – and perhaps fast – over the decision, knowing what principles from scripture apply in our given situation, God gives us full and complete confidence in his will regarding that decision. 

I have seen this principle work over and over in my life and – with the caveat that I was in a right standing with God, being a living sacrifice, and being heavenly minded – it has never failed me.  God is faithful and his word is true.  On the other hand, when I was out of fellowship with God, not being a living sacrifice, and not heavenly minded, then my own thoughts and convictions have betrayed me and I have made very costly mistakes.  They key is to LIVE Romans 12:1-2.

We may not have a wet (or dry) fleece to pick up, but what we have instead is a peace that passes all understanding.  And then based upon that peace, we can be confident and act in faith on that confidence.