Monday, April 28, 2014

Freedom? From choice?

It’s interesting to see how certain messages get conveyed … there are occasions when I spend time with the Lord that I have a pretty clear sense He’s trying to focus me in on a particular point, something to which I need to pay especially close attention.  In my experience, it can be because there is an element of fine-tuning needed in my life … or a special application that I’ve not yet gone through, but for which He is beginning to prepare me.  I have no idea in this sense this week, but the repetitive element of a couple core messages struck me.
This week I read Leviticus 21 – 27, Psalms 111 – 117, and 1 Kings 7 – 13 in my journey through the Old Testament.  A passage in Leviticus 22 moved me and as I reflected on my reading, it served as a bit of a common refrain that I wanted to camp out on for this week’s message.  Verses 31 – 33 of Leviticus 22 state it rather plainly …

“You must faithfully keep all my commands by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord.  Do not bring shame on my holy name, for I will display my holiness among the people of Israel.  I am the Lord who makes you holy.  It was I who rescued you from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God.  I am the Lord.”

The repetitive element of this passage and the passages I read through this week hinged upon the notion of faithfully keeping the Lord’s commands.  There were a variety of ways God conveyed this truth in many of the passages.  In this passage, however, I find a couple important aspects … that of the “how” to do it and the “why” to do it.

Let’s first establish that God is NOT a God about rules and regulations.  In some sense, sure He was during the time of the first covenant with the Israelites.  Throughout the Old Testament there were clearly several hundred “do’s and don’ts” which later evidenced the utter impossibility of humanity’s adherence to them.  Because of that, Jesus took on human form, died, and resurrected Himself in order to do away with the necessity of compliance for the sake of salvation.

That doesn’t, however, obviate the need to “keep all my commands.”  But didn’t I just say that it’s impossible to do so?  Well, yes … on our own, without His help.  He says, “I am the Lord who makes you holy.”  He equips us.  Without Him we have no hope of being able to keep His commands.

With His equipping, what’s our part in striving to keep all His commands?  We’re told to do it “by putting them into practice.”  Wait, you say … didn’t you just say there were literally hundreds of these commandments?  Yes, in fact there were.  And I think it’s God’s heart that we do work in concert with the Holy Spirit (if we’ve already accepted God’s offer of salvation) to ensure our intentions are driven to holiness.  But I think we can skip ahead in the “book” a little and look to adhere to a summarized form of the desires of God.  That is, when Jesus was questioned in Matthew 22 about what is the “greatest” commandment, He responded “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.  Okay, so we’ve figured out how to narrow down the number of commands we’re told to faithfully keep, since Jesus said that the entire law is encapsulated in these two.

God instructs us, once again, to “put them into practice.”  There’s the key.  Love God.  Love people.  But what does that mean in “practice”?  Two really cool definitions arise when one Googles the word.

  • the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use
  • repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it

Basically, these two say … do the command, and do the command in such a way as to do it well.

What does it look like for us to actively love God and love others, and to strive to get good at it?  I think God would speak to each of us individually given where we are in this sense and where we’re not in our relationship with Him.  There are, though, some generalities that we can apply.  Loving entails some sort of sacrifice … a sacrifice of a primary focus on ourselves.  Seeking to meet the needs of others rather than our own needs.   Seeking to obey God rather than obey our flesh.  For love, we must give something away … typically ourselves.

But that’s not enough … the other definition says “repeated exercise in.”  Repeated.  Do over and over and over.  So that you get good at it … maintaining a proficiency in it.  In short, practice makes perfect.  Practice loving God and loving people so you can get good at loving God and good at loving people.

Why?  The passage says why.  It says, “It was I who rescued you from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God.  Rescued.  Freed.  We keep all God’s commands not just because God freed us, but because keeping all His commands frees us further.  Does that seem a little counterintuitive?

People all over think that being able to do things their own way demonstrates freedom.  I beg to differ.  Sure, we have the freedom to elect not to follow God’s commands.  God allows us that freedom.  Choosing that way is not choosing freedom, however.  It’s choosing bondage.  Ensnarement.  God and God alone can free us in a truly free way.   If we’re really honest, we’ll look back over our lives and note that the times we chose against God were not free times.  They weren’t joyful times.

I’ll speak for myself.  Before surrendering my life to Jesus, I can wholeheartedly attest that I made my own choices.  I followed my own way.  I obeyed my own inner voice.  I looked out for number one.  I was free to do that.  But in reflecting back, I never felt free.  I never felt unburdened.  I was shackled by an unnerving inescapable doom that was immediately lifted the day I decided to follow God.  Yes, I realize my experience isn’t that of everyone else, but it doesn’t negate the fact that, whether significant or insignificant, if we are not following the commands of God we are anything but free.

My wonder is this … what’s the down side of striving to faithfully keep God’s commands?  Why are some people so diametrically-opposed to following the standards of a loving, merciful, all-powerful, all-knowing God?  To my mind, I can only see benefit … upside.  I’ve never once regretted choosing to follow Christ back in 1999.  I regret quite a number of days before then (other than how God used them to reach me).

Let’s seek God’s heart in prayer this week, and ask Him to show us anywhere we are not surrendering to Him fully and in so doing, choosing prison over freedom … real freedom.  Anywhere we are not faithfully keeping His commands!

In the freedom-granting name of Christ,


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Where's the bunny?

So … I’ve looked and looked and looked over the past several times I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover and I have to admit.  I’m at a loss.  Not once in the past five years of reading it front to back, have I found mention of a rabbit.  Especially one that is in any way associated with Easter.  I’ve found two mentions in the Old Testament of “hare,” both of which are associated with restrictions of eating them in accordance with the Old Testament dietary guidelines.  (Perhaps that’s a good excuse for me to use for not eating the bunnies in the backyard that I pick off with our pellet gun … ha!)

Perhaps I’m telegraphing this message this week, but I’m struggling with why we are so willing to honor a fictitious furry critter whose best contribution to society appears to be eating our grass and shrubs, narrowly missing the 800 feet per second projectiles I keep firing at them.  What, pray tell, does a rabbit have to do with Easter, other than supposedly bringing chocolates and candies … which most of us should be staying away from anyway?  And, why do eggs all of a sudden on Easter become so enticing?  As I sit here in my office, I can hear families in some of our neighbors’ homes holding Easter egg hunts.  Let’s face it, any egg that is laid outside in the yard probably isn’t worth eating … I’d just as soon get the ones from the market.  Enough of being facetious I guess.

Now don’t get me wrong … I don’t see anything wrong with having a contest to find eggs and candy.  At least the kids can get a little exercise before engorging themselves with all that sugar. 

But more on point … I have to wonder have we, as Christians, surrendered the responsibility to share the real meaning of Easter to our friends, loved ones, and the world?  Maybe we ourselves have forgotten.  Maybe, just maybe, we are choosing not to remember for fear of conjuring up some of those visuals I talked about in last week’s post.  I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s just a good opportunity to take stock.

My reading this week brought me through one of the Psalms that served as a fitting reminder.  In totality, I read through Leviticus 14 – 20, Psalms 104 – 110, 2 Samuel 24, and 1 Kings 1 – 6.  In Psalm 107, God provides a nice Old Testament model to help focus our vision on the need to remember the real purpose of commemorating Easter.  The entire Psalm fills that purpose, but verses 1 – 9 are sufficient to make the point.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!  His faithful love endures forever.  Has the Lord redeemed you?  Then speak out!  Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.  For he has gathered the exiles from many lands, from east and west, from north and south.  Some wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless.  Hungry and thirsty, they nearly died.  “Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble, and he rescued them from their distress.  He led them straight to safety, to a city where they could live.  Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.  For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

I love the reminder … “Has the Lord redeemed you?  Then speak out!”  Today we remember the WAY that the Lord redeemed us all.  Yeah, it came through Good Friday, but the most important element of the redemption comes from Easter in Jesus’s conquering of death for Himself, and for all of us.  Over 2,000 years ago Easter came to be.  Way before the idea of some creepy giant bunny who delivers candy.  Way back then, the reason to speak out arose.  Without the resurrection of Jesus, there is no Easter.

But the rest of this passage, and in fact the rest of the Psalm, provide a really poignant reminder of the reason we should speak out.  I can say firsthand, that before I met the Lord, I felt like I often “wandered in the wilderness, lost and homeless.”  I know I frequently went “hungry and thirsty” spiritually-speaking.  Obviously, before coming to faith in Christ, I “nearly died” from an eternal perspective.

God’s response is the reason we should speak out.  Because, “he rescued them [us] from their [our] distress.”  Because, “He led them [us] straight to safety, to a city where they [we] could live.”

I love chocolate like the next guy, but all that stupid fictitious bunny does is give me candy, God … through Jesus’s death and resurrection … gives me life, safety, nourishment, etc.  Not just today, but every day and eternally.

My challenge for you is to read through Psalm 107.  It’s not long.  Go through it slowly and ask yourself … and ask God to help you … if you can relate to any of the “them”, “they”, or “some” that are mentioned.  If we’re honest, I’d be willing to bet that we can all identify with many if not most.

Once you do that, then have a look at the ways the Lord comes to the aid of the “them”, “they” or “some” and note how much YOU or WE fit those in the way God “rescues”, “saves”, and does “wonderful things” for us through His Son.

The great thing about the REAL Easter holiday is that it’s an every day thing, not just a once a year thing.  Jesus died and rose for us for all time.  With Him we enjoy the rewards forever.  The bunny only comes once a year.


Enjoy the blessings of Easter … every day of the year.  And … “speak out” and tell someone about it.

In Christ, once and for all,


Monday, April 14, 2014

Press the "erase" button

I wonder if we listened to ourselves and watched ourselves as though we were on TV … what would we think of ourselves?  There are characters in television shows that are the antagonistic ones … you watch them and just can’t help disliking them or being put off by their behaviors.  Similarly, there are others who you just can’t help but love … admiring their actions and decisions.

If we were watching ourselves, which would we be?  I can certainly look at various points in my life, including during the past 15 years since accepting Christ as my Savior, when I no doubt would have been a bit repulsed by my attitude or conduct.  I guess in fairness the opposite’s probably true.  But the times to me that stand out most vividly, almost playing like a video in my mind that can’t be erased, are the moments about which I’m not proud … almost (and in some cases actually) ashamed.  Perhaps we all have those.

While stumbling through my weekly reading in Leviticus 7 – 13, Psalms 97 – 103, and 2 Samuel 17 – 23, a series of passages of encouragement were offered up, thank God.  In particular, Psalm 103 provides a tremendous reminder of the hopefulness we have in our Lord, which to me acts as a bit of an “erase” button to some of those videos of shame that can playback in our minds all too often.

Verses 8 – 13 of Psalms 103 says …

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.  He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.  He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.  The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.

One of my favorite lines in the entire Bible is in verse 12 … “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  How far is the east from the west?  Infinitely far, right?  There’s no words to describe how far away it is.  THAT is how far our Lord has moved our sins away from us … out of His tender love and compassion for us.

In my career I have been blessed to lead several information technology functions … the departments that are responsible for managing our servers, computers, internet connections, etc.  A key fact I learned over the course of time is that when we delete data from our computers or wherever, the data are never really deleted.  Somehow, on the hard drive, once data are written to the hard drive, those data technically remain there forever.  While we might think we can erase something … and we may try … there is almost always a way to retrieve it.  We see this come to light in criminal cases and lawsuits all the time.  Someone thinks they’ve done away with the evidence, but some expert has the ability to recover it.  Once there, always there for the most part.

In the same way, I think something that plagues many of us is the movie we play over in our minds about the things we’ve done in the past … ugly things … shameful things … hurtful things.   Yeah, I know we’re not all a bunch of degenerates, but there’s no denying that ALL of us have done things we’re not proud of at some point.  One of the biggest objections I hear from people I meet from time to time when I share about Jesus with them is that “God could NEVER forgive me for the things I’ve done.”  There were times in my life before coming to know the Lord when I felt the same thing.

But what God wants us to know is NO MATTER WHAT WE’VE DONE IN OUR LIFE, He and He alone has the one key way to press the “erase” or “delete” button.  It’s through Jesus … when He died on the cross and rose again after the third day and said “it is finished,” He was confirming the “delete” command from His Father.

It doesn’t stop us from seeing the video in our minds that our memories might play over and over and over … that the enemy, Satan, wants to keep pushing the “repeat” button for … but more importantly when God our Father looks at the video, the movie of our sins is deleted, NEVER to be seen by Him again.

Why does He do this?  It’s answered in verse 13 … “The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.”

Bottom line … if we ask Jesus to forgive our sins and accept Him as our Lord and Savior … there is nothing we can do that the Lord won’t forgive, no matter how bad we have been, how ashamed we are, or how much it reverberates in our minds from time to time.

Of course, in the same way as data on a hard drive … this means once the data are erased we don’t rewrite the data to the hard drive.  Otherwise, the data will be there again.  Our hearts need to change and we need to stop chasing sin in the way we used to.

Let’s ask our Lord this week to continually remind us that we are forgiven.  That no matter what we’ve done, He willingly sent His son to the cross (which of course we commemorate this Friday) to pay the price … to hit “delete” against the data of our past sin.  Our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  Unfathomable.  But true.

Jesus is risen!  He is risen indeed!  THAT was the "erase" button ... and it worked!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Does anybody really know what time it is?

Have you ever thought about the impact that time has on our lives?  What I find strange is that we’ll talk about physical laws like gravity or inertia and note how they are categorical facts and properties by which our daily life is constrained.  I propose, however, that we don’t give the same consideration to the equally categorical fact of the property of time.  Despite the fact that gravity seems to work more on me as I get older (by virtue of my weight … haha) I would argue that one of our biggest wrestling matches in life can often be time.

Time causes us stress when it seems to be in short supply … like when a critical deadline is approaching.   It can equally strain life when there is a surplus … like when we have to wait for a life-altering diagnosis from a doctor.  There are even times when not knowing whether we have enough or too much time can be equally as deleterious. 

This week as I read through the Old Testament in concert with my reading plan, I read through Exodus 40, Leviticus 1 – 6, Psalms 90 – 96, and 2 Samuel 10 – 16.  In Psalm 90 Moses allows us insights into the God-created property of time that I believe help us to deal with how pervasive and uncontrollable time is in our temporal lives.  Verses 1 – 10 (and the rest of the Psalm) are rich in principles, but equally as well on the point at hand …

Lord, through all the generations
you have been our home!  Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God.  You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals!”  For you, a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.  You sweep people away like dreams that disappear.  They are like grass that springs up in the morning.  In the morning it blooms and flourishes, but by evening it is dry and withered.  We wither beneath your anger; we are overwhelmed by your fury.  You spread out our sins before you—our secret sins—and you see them all.  We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.  Seventy years are given to us!  Some even live to eighty.  But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.

The first thing we notice from these passages is how God is “from beginning to end” … residing outside of time.  In fact, the Bible makes it clear that God created time.  The first assurance that we can draw from this is the comfort of knowing that while time weighs on us in myriad ways, most often in negative ways (too little when we want more, too much when we want little), it doesn’t weigh on God.  His plans for us are not affected by time.  When we trust Him and rely on Him, we can do so knowing that time for Him is irrelevant.  It doesn’t change the fact that time is a reality with which we must contend, but we can (as with all things) give our cares to Him knowing that time is something over which God’s providence presides.

In the same manner, for God, the Psalm says, “a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours.”  I think it’s safe to say that there are many times in our life when it feels quite the opposite … as if a day goes by as slowly as a thousand years.  Times when we have a loved one in the hospital, a child lost among a crowd, waiting in rush hour traffic when we need to be somewhere urgently, etc.

Finally, we’re reminded that, “Seventy years are given to us!  Some even live to eighty.  But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away.”  In the grand scheme of things, our lives are brief.  Yes, I understand that while this may be the case, the times noted above feel like anything but.  Yet when you get to my age, for instance, and you look back upon the nearly 47 years God’s granted me privilege to be on His earth, that time literally feels as though it was a couple minutes.  I can only imagine in 23 years from now (if He grants that many to me) it’ll feel all the more so.

What’s the point?  Simply that God created time, controls it, governs it and uses it to accomplish His purposes.  As a result, our grip on it must lighten … because it’s not ours by definition.  When we’re confronted with struggles that relate to time we should give them to the Lord, as we should with all matters.  It isn’t the case that God will slow time down or speed time up for us, but He can help us to fret less about it, by the reassurance of His command of it.  We can rely on Him to carry us through regardless of the time constraints we face.  He can remind us that the shortage or glut of time we face is precisely His will.  Either way, we can gain peace and comfort knowing He sits on the throne … even the throne of time.

The other aspect that is resounding for me on this is our inherent inability to govern time.  We stress out about having not enough and yet cannot create more.  We complain when we experience the tedium and arduousness of time seeming to slow to a crawl when we want it to pass by all the quicker, yet we haven’t a way to hasten its pace.  All the more reason to remind ourselves of the futility of making time the determinant to what makes life livable or intolerable.  Of all things about which we should “let go and let God,” I can think of no better candidate than the most basic element … time.

The last thing I want to seem I’m suggesting here is that the reality that confronts us near-daily is anything but reality.  There is no escaping time’s impact on the day-to-day life we live.  As with many things in life, though, it isn’t the reality that we must modify, it’s the way that we face the reality.

This week, let’s ask God to adjust our perspective on time … to remind us that it, along with all else that exists, is under His divine care and subject to His divine plan.  By virtue of that, let’s ask Him to grant us comfort wherever the impact of time (in any direction) may detract from it.  Let’s seek from Him wisdom in the manner in which allow time to impact our response to reality.  And … it’s okay to ask Him to allow time to feel like more when we need it and less when we seek less … He knows our needs and in time will address them all.

Praising Jesus at all times,