Friday, September 30, 2011

Obeying the law

Mark 10:5  " 'It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,' Jesus replied."

Jesus was questioned many times about the Old Testament law and whether or not it should be followed.  He became quite adept at crafting answers to these questions that neither refuted the law nor supported the notion that obedience to the law provided salvation.  In most cases, these questions were not legitimate, but rather traps set to twist His words into something that would be punishable by the authorities.

Jesus' statement here is an important one for keeping the law in its proper perspective.  While the Pharisees treated the law as if it was God Himself, Jesus provides a subtle reminder here that the law only became necessary when sin entered the picture after the fall of Adam and Eve.  At that point, we began to divert from what we were created to be.  We were created in His image and with His nature.  Had we stayed there, the law would be completely unnecessary.  We would naturally do those things prescribed by the law because it would flow naturally from our hearts. That's how it works with God.  He hasn't placed Himself under the law because there is no need to do so. 

As Jesus said, if our hearts had not become hardened, the law would be completely unnecessary.  We are where we are, though, so the law came into being.  But strict obedience to a set of laws is not the goal or the answer.  Knowing the nature of God and asking Him to draw us closer to Him allows us to move closer to who we were created to be- people in His image who naturally do things from the heart that might otherwise require laws to bring about.  The focus is heart transformation and redemption by the Holy Spirit, not behavior modification through adherance to a set of laws.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will differentiate the two for us.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Faith is not an intellectual pursuit

Luke 10:21  "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned.  Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure.' "

I can be as guilty as anyone at trying to turn Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ into an academic pursuit.  That's just how I am wired.  I have always loved school and I have a passion for learning new things.  Many know that I have toyed with the idea of pursuing a Ph.D, but that is a different discussion for a different day...

No doubt, we are blessed today by more books, teachings, and other types of content than I could get through in a lifetime.  I must admit that I am more prone to (and comfortable with) reading about how something is done than just going out and trying to do it.  But Jesus just told me in the verse above that I'll never achieve the knowledge and closeness to Him that I want by making this into an intellectual pursuit.  They don't call it "faith" for nothing, and faith is much different than knowledge.

The belief that we as humans, with our finite perspective, can understand and comprehend all of the things of God is a lie from Satan.  It's the same lie that was told in the garden of Eden, and we still fall for it today.  We are not God.  We were most certainly created in His image, but it is not the same.  You may see a picture of a car in a magazine, but that doesn't mean you can drive that picture down the street.

Even if I could take in every book, podcast, conference, class, etc., I'll still be as far away from understanding all of the aspects of God's character as I am now.  And that's OK- God designed it this way.  It is not my effort to study Him that draws me closer, but rather His grace and mercy to reveal Himself to me.  And that is something to be experienced, not read in a book.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Growing in faith- we can't do it on our own

Mark 9:24  "Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief' "

The boy's father was pleading with Jesus to rid his son of the demon possessing him.  The father had previously made the statement to Jesus, "But if you can do anything,...", to which Jesus responded, "Everything is possible for him who believes."  What the father says above seems to be contradictory, on the surface.  How can you believe and at the same time ask for help overcoming your unbelief?  Isn't belief an either-or proposition? 

This might be true if belief and faith were a willful human act, but I don't believe they are.  Belief and faith in God are a gift of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit allows us to grow in belief and faith.  All we can provide is  receptiveness, and the Spirit does the rest.  The father's statement, then, is actually quite insightful.  He expresses his receptiveness to the Spirit by saying, "I do believe".  Then he asks the Holy Spirit to come to him and do the job he as a man is incapable of- growing and developing true belief and faith.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Feeding off of His crumbs

Mark 7:27-28  " 'First, let the children eat all they want,' He told her, 'for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.'  'Yes, Lord,' she replied, 'but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' "

Here Jesus is speaking to a woman who has asked Him to drive a demon out of her daughter.  His reply to her is somewhat harsh.  He says His real work (teaching the disciples, or the "children") should not be interrupted for less significant work (work done for the "dogs"). 

How would you have reacted to this?  I can imagine my own response- indignation with being compared to a dog, anger at the denial of my request, embarrassment at having thrown myself at His feet and having my request rebuffed.  This type of response probably would have given away the fact that what I was really interested in is what God can do for me.  Once I realized He wasn't willing to do what I had asked, I would have walked away angry and questioning why I had even bothered to ask. 

But how did this woman respond?  She agreed with His assessment and even acknowledged her position as a "dog".  She admitted that what she was asking of Him was less important than His work with the disciples.  However, even a few "crumbs" would make all the difference in her life.  This response may have caught Jesus a little off guard, but He liked the response.  It showed that first and foremost, she had come to Him with a humble heart and recognized that He had a sovereign right to choose whether or not to fulfill her request.

Because of her humility and deference to His position and judgment, He granted her request.  Lord, help me to come to You with humility and in recognition of Your sovereignty.  Let my relationship with You be based only on who You are, not on what You can do for me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Not doing "our part"

John 6:15  "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself."

Jesus had to periodically distance Himself from the people.  Sometimes it was for His own good, to rest and recuperate so He could continue His work.  Other times, retreat was necessary so the people did not interfere with His work. 

The people had a set belief that when the Messiah came, He would establish an earthly kingdom.  They were so hopeful and excited about what they believed He would do, they tended to get ahead of themselves and ahead of Jesus.  They wanted to accelerate the process and force the outcome they wanted and expected.  Jesus had to physically retreat in order to thwart their efforts.

The outcome the people wanted to bring about was not what God intended at all.  We tend to decide the direction Jesus is taking a situation after He takes the first step.  We then try to seize control and accelerate the process, because we think we know where He is leading us and we want to do "our part". 

The truth is, we don't have any idea what God is up to and what plans He has for us.  Resist the temptation to commandeer His work, and let Him do what He will do in His perfect timing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fairness is not a Biblical principle

Luke 15:29  "But he answered his father, 'Look!  All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.  Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.' "

The brother is reacting to the return of his prodigal brother, and the reaction of their father to having him back.  How hard is it to see someone else get the same or better things than we have even though, in our minds, they have not worked as hard or been as diligent in their pursuit of them?  If we have the experience of hard work, waiting and persistence before receipt of blessings, don't we think others should go through the same process?  If they don't, our true feelings tell us that the system isn't fair and that person doesn't deserve what they got.

We see these exact feelings drive political preferences and voting decisions.  This makes sense, because our political and economic systems are based on fairness and merit.  But God's system is different, and is based on neither fairness nor merit.

I once heard Andy Stanley say, "Fairness is not a Biblical principle," and I haven't found anything yet that refutes his statement.  I would add something to what he said:

Thank God fairness is not a Biblical principle.

None of us would ever be reconciled to God if fairness was a Biblical principle.  God doesn't have a formula that He uses with everyone.  We need to accept that and celebrate the result, not worry about what process led to the result.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Acting childish

Luke 18:17  " 'I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it.' "

What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God like a little child?  Sara and I have two living, breathing examples at home who give me some insight into what this might mean:

1. Joy-  Aaron and Abby live most of their lives in a joyous state.  They don't hesitate to smile, laugh, dance, or do anything they can think of to please us and bring a smile to our faces.  Life is good, and it shows through them.

2. Faith-  One of the phrases I hear most from Aaron is, "What about Daddy do it?"  He thinks I can do anything, and he rarely hesitates to ask.  Sometimes what he is asking for is not good for him or it's not the right time, so I don't fulfill his request.  But that doesn't stop him from asking!

3. Lack of self-sufficiency-  Every day, it seems like both kids are doing more and more for themselves.  But they still have a very keen awareness of their own limitations.  They know they can't do everything for themselves in their own power.  And, they are okay with this fact.  That's just how their world works.  They can do some things, but there are a lot of things Sara and I will have to do for them.  They don't beat themselves up for not being able to do it all, and they certainly don't think they have to do it all to make me proud or so that I will love them.

Approach the Heavenly Father like a child- with joy, faith and a healthy sense of your own personal limits.  He wants us to rely on Him, and doesn't expect or demand any more from us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anger, mercy and forgiveness

Micah 7:18  "Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance?  You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy."

This verse describes the nature of God when it comes to anger, mercy and forgiveness.  I think we tend to chastise ourselves when we get angry with something or someone.  We have decided that anger is not a "Christian" reaction, and we feel we should rid ourselves of all anger in our lives in the same way we want to completely rid our lives of sin.

There are many examples, in both the Old and New Testament, of God becoming angry and displaying that anger.  When it happens, you don't read about God walking away and engaging in some form of self-talk counseling, reminding Himself that anger is "Un-Christian". 

It is what you do next that is the differentiator.  Hanging onto, even reveling in your anger, is quite "Un-Christian".  Plotting revenge or breaking relationship with someone you are angry with is not what the Bible teaches, either.  "Delight to show mercy" is the stance we should move toward.  Let anger run its course, but then move quickly and joyfully toward mercy and forgiveness.  Mercy and forgiveness are not the same as saying the action or the circumstances that led to your anger are okay.  It doesn't dismiss the action as if it wasn't a big deal, or that you overreacted by becoming angry. (Sometimes this is the case, and we need to recognize when it is so.) 

Mercy and forgiveness are for the person, not the action.  When God forgives us, He doesn't say our sin was okay, or that He overreacted by becoming angry with us.  That would be more of an apology for a wrong reaction on His part than it would be forgiveness of us.  Instead, He says, "What you did was wrong, and it made me angry.  But I am separating the action from the person, and I choose to show you mercy and to forgive you."

May we all strive to emulate the character of God, and delight in moving past anger to a state of mercy and forgiveness.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Do you believe Jesus' claim?

John 10:33  " 'We are not stoning you for any of these,' replied the Jews, 'but for blasphemy because you, a mere man, claim to be God.' "

Although Jesus often spoke in parables that are difficult to understand, one thing is unmistakable and undeniable- He claimed to be God.  Not like God.  Not a follower of God.  Not a prophet.  He claimed to be God Himself, in the flesh.

His claim presents all of those who encountered (and still encounter) Jesus with a very clear choice to be made:

Do you believe His claim or not?

There really is no middle ground in this choice.  He either is who He claimed to be, in which case we have no other choice but to accept and follow all that He says, or we believe that He is not who He claimed to be.  If you fall into the latter camp, I don't believe you can then say, "I'm not so sure he was God, but he was a good moral teacher/prophet/role model/etc."  Go back and examine what He said.  If you don't believe that He is who He claimed to be, I think there is only one resulting conclusion you can come to- he was a stark-raving lunatic.

Many who don't accept Jesus' claim will not go so far as to call him a lunatic for falsely claiming to be God.  It's not politically correct.  But ask yourself the question, "Who do I believe Jesus is?"  If your answer is anything less than "He is God in the flesh", you might as well be saying "He was a demented madman."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Jesus, the great divider

Luke 12:51  " 'Do you think I came to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but division.' "

Jesus told his disciples that He had come to divide the world, not bring everyone together under one big tent.  He is trying to explain how the true Kingdom is different than what many had expected.  Most of all, He was destroying the belief that His would be an earthly kingdom where Jesus ruled over all the peoples of the earth.

For many Jews, this was all they could comprehend when thinking about the Messiah and the coming kingdom.  Jesus' message was intended to separate the wheat from the chaff, believers from non-believers.  He knew not everyone would be receptive to His message of repentance, acceptance of grace, and salvation.  For those who did not (or do not) accept this message, He doesn't just allow them to come on in to the tent and enjoy the same fruits as those who believe and accept.

His life and His message divides- which side are you on?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The message and the messenger

Luke 16:31  "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

Jesus is telling the story here of the rich man who was agonizing in hell.  The man asked Abraham to allow him to go back to earth as a dead man and warn his five brothers of the fate that awaits them if they do not repent.  He believes that, although they have not responded to Moses and the prophets, something more dramatic like hearing from a dead man will get the message across.

Abraham's response says that it is not the means in which a message is delivered that causes us to hear it and respond appropriately.  If our ears and our hearts are not receptive, no amount of theatrics will change that.  Besides, it really isn't within our control to be receptive anyway.  The Holy Spirit circumsizes our ears and our hearts.  We become receptive to the message only when the Holy Spirit allows it to happen.

A positive response may seem like a measured, reasoned act on our part that we are solely in control of.  But we really only receive what the Spirit allows us to receive.  Pray for the Spirit to allow us to hear truth, not for a different messenger to deliver it more effectively.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Be careful what you ask for or what you promise

Mark 6:26  "The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her."

King Herod had promised the daughter of Herodias anything she wanted in front of his dinner guests.  By the suggestion of her mother, who was desperately trying to find a way to kill John the Baptist, the daughter asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.  Not at all what Herod had intended or envisioned when he made the offer, but at this point, he had to follow through on his offer and oath.

A similar situation can come about when we pray and ask God for something.  For example, we may ask God to strengthen our faith.  We know that having strong faith is a positive thing, and we want it.  However, one likely way of strengthening our faith is by enduring trials and difficult circumstances where we have to rely on God. 

Knowing in advance how God might fulfill our requests might make us re-think the whole thing, even though we know the end result is worthwhile.  Be careful what you ask for, but don't let fear of God's methods cause you to shy away.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Matthew 13: 29-30  "...'Because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.'"

These verses come from Jesus' parable of the weeds.  The farmer was careful to sow his seeds in good soil.  Despite his best efforts to keep the field clean, weeds sprang up among the wheat.  When the servants asked him if they should go pull the weeds, he said no.  Let them grow side by side until the harvest.

I think the farmer recognized three points:

1) Weeds are part of farming
The quest for a perfectly weed-free field is an unrealistic one.  Just as we are commanded to be in the world but not of the world, God is not going to separate us from the "weeds" in this world.  He wants us to live among the weeds but not succumb to them.  This is part of the sanctification process.

2) The weeds will be separated in due time
The farmer recognized that there was a time and a manner in which the weeds would be separated from the wheat.  Taking it upon himself to pull the weeds early could damage part of the crop.  Jesus will judge the sinners from the saved in His perfect timing.  Removing sinners from our presence based on our timing and will is taking on a job that is not our's.

3) Even if we remove these weeds, others will sprout up
Weeds seem to come from nowhere.  We can completely rid a garden of the weeds we can see, and there are others under the surface ready to sprout and take their place.  We can drive ourselves mad trying to purify our surroundings.  If it is God's will that we live among the weeds, no amount of effort on our part will change that.

His ways are better than our ways.  Don't be afraid to live among the weeds.  Jesus did, and that is His plan for us, as well.  Let Him decide when the weeds should be pulled.