Romans 1:18-25 // Why Feel Guilty?

“18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.

24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.”

Romans 1:18-25

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And so we enter the main thrust of Paul’s first point. When we are confronted with God, we find that there are two differemt reactions. The first is to honor and glorify Him, admitting our own shortcomings, or to be given over to our own pride, denying His righteousness and choosing to serve self instead. That may seem overly simplistic, but it is the truth. 

Every morning when I wake up, I am given a choice. Either I can live for God or I can live for myself, there is no in-bewteen. I can either look at the day and understand that God’s desire for me is best or I can seek to serve myself, following my own path. He has not presented us with an option that says that we can do both of those things, living according to His will and our own. Paul lays it out clearly, the Spirit speaking through him, that everyone is without excuse when we make this decision, as God has made Himself plainly known through creation itself. And when we choose to gratify our own desires, choosing self over service to Him, we have chosen depravity, idolatry and that our minds become darkened & foolish. 

And to an unbelieving world, that sounds harsh. But in reality, that’s what happens when we choose self, we exchange the truth for a lie. There isn’t some magical mid-point between truth & lies, no flex point or grey area. And that is where guilt comes in, and why we can see it as a blessing. If we didn’t feel guilty, if we weren’t convicted of our sin, we would never change. If God just patted us on the head and sent us off while silently shaling His own? That would be cruel & heartless. To see our sin, our shame and the mess we make of our life and to just quietly let us wander into the mire and quicksand of death? There couldn’t be love in His heart if He was to let that happen. And so Paul lets us see that God made Himself clear through creation, that He planted certain things in our hearts that draw us toward Him, even if we don’t know what to call Him or have access to His Word. Creation itself has His fingerprint all over it. And being allowed to experience this wandering, to be delivered over to our sinful cravings, we have the opportunity to experience guilt & conviction, the one thing that will point our hearts back to ward Him and away from self. 

Our hypersensitive society is repulsed by the idea of guilt and shame, thinking no one should ever feel bad for their choices. But in reality, that is the greatest cruelty they could offer their ‘fellow man.’ To refuse to say that something is wrong, is to willingly watch another person wander directly into death. To say ‘live and let live’ is to show an absolute lack of care or concern for the well being of another human life and the lives that are attached to it. It is a savage person who tells another person to let their sinful instincts have their way, to eat, drink and be merry, with no fear of consequence or repercussion. It isn’t love that perpetuates this attitude, it is disdain. It plainly says, “I don’t care about you, but I am going to tell myself I do so that I feel no guilt in what harms you.” In this way, ‘tolerance’ can be the greatest cruelty. 

Paul is warning the Roman Christians and everyone else who would read this letter about the dangers of sin. And why? Because he cared for them like God did. And when we care for people, we cannot let them continue to wander in their sin, or deny that their sin even exists. Love cannot turn a blind eye. Instead, it follows the command to GoLove others enough to let them see their sin, which is the example that Jesus set for us. He was lifted up, while offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we might see just how serious the wandering of our heart is, and why we must turn our eyes toward God. To live in the rhythm of grace means to be plain and open about sin. Love doesn’t disguise sin, it reveals it for the poison that it is, and it speaks with the voice of the Father, a loving parent who disciplines thier child precisely because of His love for them. 

Proverbs 3:5-12
“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
7 Dont consider yourself to be wise;
 fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 This will be healing for your body
and strengthening for your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
10 then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 Do not despise the Lords instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
12 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.”

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Romans 1:1-7 // The Focus of a Disciple’s Heart

“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:

7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 1:1-7

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Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there. 

There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations. 

All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet. 

As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives. 

Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ. 

Acts 28:23-31 // Boldness & Authority

“23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe.

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: ‘The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your ancestors 26 when He said,

‘Go to these people and say:

You will listen and listen,

yet never understand;

and you will look and look,

yet never perceive.

27 For the hearts of these people

have grown callous,

their ears are hard of hearing,

and they have shut their eyes;

otherwise they might see with their eyes

and hear with their ears,

understand with their heart,

and be converted,

and I would heal them.’

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!’ [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.]

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance.”

Acts 28:23-31

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When it comes down to it, there is only one choice to make: follow God or follow yourself. 

Paul spoke with boldness, unhindered, because he had discovered the joy that comes from walking in the freedom of God. He spoke with authority, because God was the one with authority, & Paul understoof his role within God’s kingdom. As an emmisary for Christ, he had been sent with the authority of Christ, and so he spoke with it, minstered with it and laid things out there that others might be timid to say. But truth is truth, facts are facts, and Paul knew that the authority of God that went with him as he spoke was only meant for being used in this way. God’s authority does not hem and haw, riding a fence, walking a line bewteen two topics, trying to please everyone. It is authoritative. It is final. It is bold. 

Paul cared for his people, he wanted to honor the heart and promises of God, so he always went to them first, to give them first priority, the first opportunity to hear about what God had done. It was the right thing to do as he traveled from town to town. But he also knew that so many of his own people had traded God’s authority out for their own. They wanted their own way, to do things for their own human ‘rightousness’ rather than resting in the promises of God. They had become consumers instead of producers, honoring self over God.  

And so, out of love, and in the authority of God, he told them so openly. He was not being mean or cruel. Instead, he was offering correction and trying to open their eyes one last time. He was showing mercy by quoting the Prophet’s words one more time, because it was something they just might hear. And we see that it did resonate with them to a degree, because they left engaged in debate. 

But here’s the thing, Paul knew his people and he knew his mission. He knew this would likely be the outcome, but he still had to try. His mission was for the Gentiles (the rest of us) and so he pressed forward with the mission of God in the authority that God has given His messengers to deliver the good news of the Gospel, and so he was able to do it with all boldness. Unhindered preaching, open-hearted witnessing, comes from this boldness and it continues when we step aside and leth His Holy Spirit move us. This type of boldness comes from the efforts of the human heart that has surrendered and submitted to Jesus Christ, coming under His authority. Living in petty, human ‘power’ produces weak preaching, a timid witness and a limited reach. Boldness comes from getting out of the way and letting God do His thing through us, wherever we are…

To GoLove people effectively, we need to set out pride and desires aside and trade them in for the authority and power that comes with bearing witness for Jesus Christ in His Name. The book of Acts ends on a ‘high note’ that is only a high note for the Christian. He has been rejected by his people, he sits imprisoned thousands of miles away from home, but Paul is joyful about finally arriving in Rome, and he is ready to preach the Gospel through whatever doors God opens for him. 

Paul is not magical, mystical or some kind of   better-than-the-rest-of-us super human. He is simply a man who surrendered his life to Christ Jesus to be used by Him to GoLove the world in His Name. You Go and do likewise. Be bold. See what God will do.

Acts 17:16-21 // Where Concern Leads

“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, ‘What is this pseudo- intellectual trying to say?’

Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’ — because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.

19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching youre speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”

Acts 17:16-21

Verse 16 allows us a glimpse into the heart of Paul, and in turn into the heart of an evangelist. But not only that, we see the heart of a man who understands the heart of Christ and what his priority ought to be as He walks with Him. Paul is troubled in his spirit. And why? Because this great city, Athens, is full of people who are lost, wandering and who are spiritually bankrupt. Faith of any kind had first become an intellectual exercise for them, then it was part of their cultural identity, but it was lacking in their hearts. Add to that the fact that what faith they may have possessed was wasted on dead, stone idols and we see a picture painted of a city that is in the grip of moral and spiritual poverty.

Now, the Athenians would have still thought themselves to be something great, mayeb not at their peak anymore, but still they lived in Athens, and how many cities could contend with the grandeur of Athens? They were still riding the wave of where they had been before the Romans came through and thought themselves something important. This is pretty obvious when we look at how they respond to Paul, insulting him with the term “pseudo-intellectual.” But because what they heard from him was novel, they decided to grant him an audience. 

In Western culture today, there are many, many people who think that they are intellectually above faith of any kind. They look down on people to cling to their Bibles and gather each week in churches. They see faith as a crutch for the ignorant, maybe even something that preys on the poor and weak-minded. I’ve heard all the arguments and talking points. They want nothing to do with faith, because, in thier mind, it is an unreasonable dependence on something that has no emperical evidence. They can’t see it, quantify it, catalog it and examine it the way they want, and so it is pushed aside. 

Religious apathy, pride and a worship of self-intellectualization are at the center of this mindset. It’s all about what you know and how well you can express yourself, and faith cannot play a part in the process. Most of us know people who think themselves to be fairly intellegent, and they are always leaning on that faith in their intellegence to carry them through. As we GoLove them in the Name of Jesus, we are going to find hard packed soil and hardened hearts many times. But that is where our own preparedness to speak of Gospel things, and to present evidence of the truth of Christ is so important. We must pray before we engage with them (as we should with any opportunity to witness) and we should still have that heart that Paul had, the heart that had compassion on the lost. The heart that hurts for those who are so wrapped up in their own ideas and philospohies that they cannot see hope, who cannot know love (only ever examining it) and who don’t know the peace that faith offers when we come to God in Christ. These people are not impossible to talk with, and you don’t have to have your doctorate to do so (although a good dose of hard-headedness doesn’t hurt.) But we speak the truth in love, standing firm as we do so, and present the hope that only Christ can bring. The heart that hurts for them is the heart that will continue going back to present the hope of Christ.

  

Acts 5:33-42 // Honor in suffering

“33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 A Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was respected by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered the men to be taken outside for a little while. 35 He said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what youre going to do to these men. 36 Not long ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about 400 men rallied to him. He was killed, and all his partisans were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and attracted a following. That man also perished, and all his partisans were scattered. 38 And now, I tell you, stay away from these men and leave them alone. For if this plan or this work is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even be found fighting against God.” So they were persuaded by him. 40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be dishonored on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple complex, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

Acts 5:33-42

To listen to some famous ‘preachers,’ you would think that they never read the book of Acts. To those who are always preaching a Gospel of prosperity, ease and giving empty encouragements to self-care, there is an obvious disconnect as to what constitutes the favor of God and what counts toward dishonor. Here we see the Apostles being jailed, flogged and discouraged by the leading court in the country, and they go away rejoicing that they were worthy to be dishonored in this way for the sake of Christ, and because of His Name. This idea of honor in suffering runs contrary to what Joel Osteen and others like him preach and teach. 

As we consider what it is we have been called to accomplish as disciples of Jesus Christ, we must remember some of the things that He said would identify us as belonging to Him. He told us that we would be known for the love that we have for one another. That sounds nice, but it is also a very difficult thing to live out. It’s not just a matter of loving people that we naturally like and get along with, but a matter of loving people that push all our buttons and that we would rather not be around. So, following Jesus continues to mean a death to self. Jesus also said that we could not be His disciples if we loved family, position or anything else more than Him. It must be like hate in comparison. Our priorities must be radically different. That means that sports schedules for children, hobbies, jobs and everything else you can think of must come in an infinitely distant second place in comparison to our devotion to Him. We must be unswerving in this, and that is not easily or lightly done, yet another difficulty. 

But even deeper than those, we see that Jesus told us that we must take up our cross daily if we are going to follow Him. The cross comes with scorn, derision, and a condemnation by the world that cannot be overlooked. Jesus told us that the world would hate us just like it hated Him. And if the world crucified Jesus, then we must also see that we are next in line behind Him. This isn’t comfortable. This isn’t easy. This isn’t marked by health, wealth or ‘your best life now.’ We are never promised those things, and they are never shown as being markers of the favor of God in Scripture. These charlitans who pretent to stand in line with the message of Jesus Christ, but who have no real allegiance to Him, must be called out and shown for what they are. It isn’t love and tolerance to allow false doctrine to pervade the minds and hearts of the people of God. We cannot pretend for a moment to have a part in Jesus Christ if we try to separate the things that Jesus Himself said would be part and parcel of our following of Him. 

These men and women to proclaim Jesus Christ while paying for luxury upon luxury that they ‘deserve’ from the donations of thier adherents, who have little to nothing in comparison, will be called to task one day by God Himself and they will be held responsible for their lies and their missteps. I cannot presume to stand in judgement over their souls, that is up to God. But I cannot imagine that He is pleased, nor holds them in favor, because of their actions and preying on people through a false gospel of prosperity. 

The markers of the favor of God come with a clean conscience, a life of fruitful evangelism and a peace that surpasses all understanding. It comes with a contendness in all things, in all circumstances, not a grasping for ‘more.’ It comes with a desire to give away everything, because nothing in this life is worth holding on to except Christ. It comes with an insatiable desire to GoLove others however God has gifted us to do so, and we find our fulfillment, not in small shallow thigns like possessions, wealth, land or houses, but in seeing the work of the Gospel done in the hearts and minds of those we encounter. It has nothing to do with wealth, and everything to do with the faithful following of a formerly dead slave brought to life again and made to be an heir of righteousness. Proper priorities show those who preach prosperity to be sad, hollow hucksters with snake-oil ‘cures’ ready to sell to the most willing buyers looking for a quick fix. Lasting change, real hope and a life overflowing with meaning comes only from the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts and minds, and that cannot be bought, sold or acquired through any means we can devise. 

If we are folowing Christ, He has promised ot be with us always, even to the very end of the age. If we are not satisfied in this life, then it is because we are not actually following Him, not because we still have ‘favors’ to claim from God. He does desire to bless His chidlren, but not in the way that the world or people like Joel Osteen call ‘blessing.’ Take every thought, every teaching, captive and hold it accountable to Scripture, weigh it out and see if it is what God desires for you, truly, as you carry your cross for Christ. 

  

Mark 10:17-22 // You lack one thing

“17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before Him, and asked Him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

18 ‘Why do you call Me good?’ Jesus asked him. ‘No one is good but One — God. 19 You know the commandments:

“Do not murder; 

do not commit adultery;

do not steal;

do not bear false witness;

do not defraud;

honor your father and mother.'”

20 He said to Him, ‘Teacher, I have kept all these from my youth.’

21 Then, looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, ‘You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.’ 22 But he was stunned at this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.”

Mark 10:17-22

i have always wondered about the sincerity of this young man. It’s not my decision to make, but it so often seems like he is seeking something easy from Jesus, and in turn he will look even better for having asked and performed some religious task. 

Because, again, as I read this, it seems to me that he is seeking a tangible expression that he can complete that will look good, earn him further respect in his community and let him keep life at his control. 

Even if that isn’t where his heart was, we can still learn from the various assumptions that can be inferred from a situation like this. The face value lesson is usually the best, and that basic ‘turn it on myself’ translation of the account is something we should always keep in mind. ‘What is the one thing that still lacks for me?’ 

But the other application that is speaking to me is this: 

The life lived in repentance will produce a heart that is ready to be molded and shaped into a heart that mirrors Christ.

Not that Christ sinned or had need for repentance, but His heart was always open the Father’s will. This young man seems to think that he does all things well and that he has kept all the commands of God. He is self-righteous and seemingly blind to his faults.  This mindset will always ‘lack one thing’ because it refuses to acknowledge personal responsibility for sin and the past record that comes with it. He was lacking humility before God and man and this kept him from seeing the actual contents of his heart. 

As we GoLove others, we need to be mindful that we retain a repentant heart and a humble spirit. Pride and self-aggrandizement do not bring us to the throne of God. We must be humbly aware of our faults, and ready to lay aside whatever might hold us back in our walk with Him.

Mark 8:31-33 // So close, and a quick turn away

“31 Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.
33 But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind Me, Satan, because youre not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!””
Mark 8:31-33

It always catches my attention that Peter, in one breath, is uttering something directly revealed to him by God and in the next is being rebuked by Jesus because His mind and heart had been so quickly turned to the flesh & its concerns.

Reading over this today, I was reminded just how quickly my own heart and mind can pivot from a God honoring attitude to one that worships self instead. Now, at this point, Peter did not have the indwelling of the Spirit, and so I cannot speak to what this situation would have played out like if he had, but even in the direct presence of Jesus, he was so quickly in two different places that a deeper look must be taken to examine why.

We all know that the Jews wanted a ‘right here, right now rescue us from the Romans’ Messiah. They wanted a king who would liberate them forever from under anyone’s thumb and bring about the returned rule of Israel and restore her to glory among the nations and powers of the world. That’s no surprise. And so the ‘suffering servant’ Messiah ideal was pushed aside for the desire to see this physical kingdom come into play.

Scripture was plain and clear on what needed to take place first, that the Messiah would suffer and die, carrying the sins of humanity as a sacrifice in our place. Then, later, He would rule and reign forever, both as Great High Priest and as King over all. So, we don’t wonder why Peter was of a divided mind and heart, but this sudden switch is just such a reminder that we can have our hearts so set on something that isn’t laid out in God’s plan, and be so passionate about it to tell Him He’s wrong in how He’s doing things.

“God! This isn’t supposed to happen this way!”
“God, I don’t think You know how badly I need this right now!”
“God, why are you doing this to me?”

And so many other questions that imply that God just doesn’t see what needs to be done in the right way and in the right time. The implication that His plan just isn’t cutting it…

We can be so close to Him in one moment, and then have that quick turn away to the -things- and priorities that matter most to our flesh, more so than our spirit and the heart of God. We must seek Him first, His Kingdom, His righteousness, and then (Matthew 6) God will provide for those things we need as a good father should.

Our call to GoLove others is a continued denial of self and a chasing after Him. It is a resignation of what we may have determined to be priority for what God says the real priority really is, and more often than I’d like to admit, my plans and His are not on the same page. My impatience, my pride, my ideas (see all that ‘me’ focus?) drive me rather than stillness and resting in Him, seeking His wisdom through prayer, meditation, in His Word and from Godly-counsel. We must all repent from that secondary mind that Peter exhibits here, and seek God’s leading instead if we are to be faithful witnesses for Him, seeking Him in truth.