Posted in Christianity, Love

Seek Right By Letting God Do The Heavy Lifting

1 John 4:16

In their song, “Sawmill Road,” Diamond Rio reminisces about the past, lamenting that innocence went out of style, and we just watched it go. 

Too often these days, I feel the truth of that statement. In an effort to be politically correct, we have forsaken not only morality but even decency in our misguided efforts to avoid giving offense or to simply appear “cool.”

Could our failures come from a lack of understanding of the true nature of love? Jesus tells us that the whole of the commandments can be summed up in two objectives: first, love God above all things, and second, love others as you yourself want to be loved.

Too many of us make the mistake of thinking love means putting no restraints on others, that if we really love someone, we will let them just be themselves. But the love God models for us just doesn’t work that way. The freedom God gives us in love is to choose to do right, to choose to stay in relationship with Him, where the only true peace on this earth can be found. That also means we have the choice to disobey God, to take ourselves out of relationship with Him because of our sin. That choice usually brings about very unpleasant consequences. God’s love means letting us experience those things, too.

Choices that go against what God clearly asks of us disrespect our Maker and put us out of close relationship with Him. We all make these mistakes at some point in life, which is why we all need grace to save us. But, when we continually make choices that show God we do not actually love Him or even want anything to do with Him, we have to be aware that eventually He may just give us what we ask for. Is it possible that hell is not so much fire and brimstone but a reality in which there is no God?

For God, love is not never having to say you’re sorry. His word repeatedly reminds us that a loving father disciplines his children, that God will humble a proud spirit, that He alone determines not only how the tides ebb and flow but also the rights and wrongs of a world He alone created.

We humans too often mistake freedom of choice for a license to be free. God has gifted us with the will to choose to serve Him. But that free will does not negate the straight and narrow path that God has defined as the true sign of walking by faith.  Our freedom to do whatever we feel like is really limited to the narrow choice between following God or refusing to accept Him as Master.

What does God-love do with sinners? One of the best examples comes from Jesus’ experience with the adulteress in John 8. The spiritual leaders in the town want to stone the woman who has been caught in adultery. They are within their rights according to Mosaic law, but they want to catch Jesus in a trap. So, they ask Him what they should do. He replies, let the person who is guiltless himself throw the first stone. Since no one is without sin, the crowd disperses without lifting so much as a pebble. Jesus tells the woman He will not condemn her for her one sin, but He tells her to go forth and sin no more.

There are several love lessons in this interlude.  The first is that God alone has the right to condemn. This does not mean that God alone has the ability to recognize sin. Not only did the spiritual leaders know the sin committed by the adulteress. They also knew the sins they themselves were guilty of, the sins that kept them from picking up the first stone. The responsibility for not sinning falls on the shoulders of the individual. Jesus tells the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Having been forgiven this sin, the woman is now tasked with refusing to fall into the trap of that sin ever again.

God loves the sinner but hates the sin, a balancing act we humans find hard to accommodate at times. We don’t quite know how to speak out against sins like adultery without giving offense to the adulterer. Sometimes, we take the risk and wind up making enemies because our listener hears only condemnation and not love.  Other times, we remain silent and leave the impression that actions that actually go against God are somehow OK.

When I live my life right, I am so busy keeping my thoughts on God and the ways that He wants me to make a mark on this world through helping others, that I am too caught up in living Christ to find time for judging other people. When I do these things correctly, I am also reflecting the kind of peace and “togetherness” that draws other people. They want to know what it is about me that makes me who I am. I become a living example for them of the importance of Christ in one’s life. When they decide to accept Christ, He does the work in them that will keep them from sin, just like He works on me every day of my life.

Trusting God to do the heavy lifting in this life is one of the hardest things for me to do, and yet when I succeed in embracing this philosophy, my life is always at its best. I pray to remember this lesson the next time I am confronted by those who want me to accept choices that go against God’s definition of right.

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Posted in Faith

God is always by the Book


I just finished a novel whose main characters sought redemption, not in the ever-open arms of His amazing grace, but in a more secular and totally misguided belief that God doesn’t play by the rules.

This world’s true rule-breaker wants you to believe this humanistic approach to reality. If God changes the rules, then evil is all His fault. In one fell swoop, humanity gets a pass on every bad deed because a God who doesn’t follow the rules can’t expect His creations to stay on the straight and narrow.

This idea that God breaks rules is the world’s theology. It explains every person who validates his/her actions by claiming God wants them to be happy. It excuses every individual who expects to be clothed, fed and educated without doing anything to compensate for these luxuries other than breathing. It is much easier to blame an unseen God for the woes of the world than to contemplate one’s contribution to the rubble heap in which we live.

As long as Satan can keep us misinterpreting the very nature of God, he maintains a strong foothold in this fallen world. He, after all, is the original rule breaker. Master of lies, he is the one whispering in your ear when you say to yourself you are beyond redemption or when you give in to the despair that questions whether God has any power at all. Satan makes you believe your timetable is more accurate than the Maker of Time. Satan thrives on your impatience, your fear and doubts. 

But God never strays from the rules His Book expounds in parables, epistles, and detailed law. When God made a promise to the patriarchs, He kept those promises, even when the fulfillment of the promise seemingly defied all odds, as when Sara gave birth to Abraham’s promised heir so late in the two parents’ lives. In James, we are reminded that 

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

Here are God’s rules:

  • Having created beings to whom He granted full autonomy (they chose to eat forbidden fruit), God maintained that autonomy even when those creations attempted to become God-like themselves
  • Away from the protected environment of paradise, God’s creations face a world where good and evil will always exist from which to choose in humanity’s quest to return to a complete relationship with our Holy Creator
  • Being a loving God, our Creator continually seeks to bring us back into Holy Fellowship with Him
  • First, He made a covenant promise to make our relationship with Him whole again
  • Then, we broke that covenant over and over
  • Being a forgiving God, He renewed His promise with us every time we repented, over and over
  • Eventually, long after human patience would have given up on the planet a thousand times over, He completed that covenant promise by coming to earth as man, living a blameless life, and sacrificing Himself anyway for all the sins this evil world embraces
  • As always and by the rules He never sways from, God’s only requirement for this amazing gift of forgiving grace is that we acknowledge our own sinful nature and need for redemption to Him and accept Jesus as our Redeemer
  • In other words, God wants us to admit that we have been the ones who cannot follow the rules all along.

God is always by the Book. If you doubt it, then you have likely spent too much time embracing the perspectives of a fallen world rather than studying the promises found in the words and actions of our wondrous Creator. Everything else in the universe is ever-changing, but God is the same today, tomorrow and forever. 

Posted in Christian Living

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt, Unfortunately

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                            The Nile River

Our country was founded on the principle of being “one nation under God.” For some, the experiment of government which began in 1776 represented the supreme achievement of humanity, a project that surely had the approval and even power of God behind it.

I wonder what those founders would say about the country we have today. Do we still reflect a nation under God?

As I watched an episode of “Family Feud” recently, I was struck by the number one answer to the prompt that cuts to the heart of this question of our nation’s “godliness.” When asked how many of the Ten Commandments they had broken in the past week, the majority of people said once.

One time, really? As comedian John Pinette might put it, “I say, nay, nay.”

What this response revealed to me was the depth of our self-delusion in a world marked by a strong reliance on a belief system that is really humanism cloaked in religion. Humanism places mankind above all things, going so far as to make man a god. The end goal of humanism is happiness, often achieved by convincing the self that it is the best possible self it can be.

Humanists have a relative moral compass. As long as they don’t hurt somebody else, then they are living good lives. In fact, if their ultimate happiness is achieved by their actions, then even if they hurt somebody, their actions are justified.

Television, movies, the internet, and the unyielding consumerism machine all support the humanistic approach to life. They are pervasive, persuasive and corrosive. They do a great job of lulling us into a sense of security so that we don’t even realize when the lines between religion and humanism are blurred.

Consumerism leads us away from God.
Consumerism leads us away from God.

But when we get specific, the walls of humanism crumble. Consider the Ten Commandments question. Because we are conditioned to see the best side of ourselves, we really don’t see our own failings. We fall victim to the pride that most severely separates us from the one, true God.

On any given day, we must fight the temptations that would have us breaking the commandments. How often do you allow the cares of this world to get in the way of your relationship with God, whether it be watching television when you could be studying the Bible or trying to juggle your funds because of purchases you should not have made? Are you ruled more by God or by the bills in your mailbox?

Do you really make it through a day without wanting the handbag some woman is carrying in the mall or, even more likely, the kind of life you see blaring from your television screen? You may not follow through on the desire, but you are still coveting.

Were you short with your father or mother this past week? Did they make a simple request you scoffed? Can you not remember the last time you even spoke to them? Honoring your father and mother involves more than just doing what you are told when you are under their roof.

Did you know that God hates a loose, lying tongue? Look for verses on the words we speak, and you will find countless references in the Word warning us to bide our tongues. In Revelation, God equates perpetual liars with those who practice sexual perversions on the sin list. Did you tell the whole truth in the last week? Were your words kind, uplifting and of the Spirit? Did you manage to refrain from gossip, which is usually a half-truth that is still a form of lying?

Do you think my take on the commandments is too strict, too overreaching? Read the Sermon on the Mount. Christ did not come to the world to negate the Law, but to fulfill it. His sacrifice saves us from our own sinfulness, but it does not give us carte blanche to sin. In fact, Christ’s approach to living takes the Ten Commandments to the next level.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ implores us to not only not commit adultery, but to not even think about it. If one part of our body leads us into sin, He tells us, then we would be better served to rid ourselves of the offending body part then risk not making it to heaven.

Choose to be humble.
                     Choose to be humble.

God loves humility, which the Bible defines as the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 22:4a). A humble heart embraces its own failings. A humble heart sees truth through the eyes of its Maker and not according to its own desires. “Pride brings a person low,” the Proverbs tell us, “but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (29:23).  As opposed to humanism, which encourages people to consider the self as godly, Christianity implores us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

A truly humble heart would answer the Ten Commandments question quite differently. It would know that in a world that is cloaked in the grace of Christ, we still stumble. We continue to strive because of Christ’s example of love, even as we know that we will ultimately fall short. The very definition of grace, the gift of salvation from a loving God that cannot be earned but must be accepted, proves that no person is without sin.

My prayer is that we all can live in the eye-opening state of humbleness rather than the veiled existence of humanism. Only by putting God first in all things instead of ourselves will we truly see ourselves most clearly. Then, we will know that the Ten Commandments are about our everyday lives and not some archaic law to be considered once a week. Then, we will truly understand what it means to live “under God.”

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Somebody’s Got To Die

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I just re-watched the Nicolas Cage film, National Treasure, the other day. If you will recall, the Nicolas Cage character (Ben) steals the Declaration of Independence in order to save it from the bad guy. When the FBI agent catches up with Ben, he keeps explaining, “Somebody’s got to go to jail Ben,” because the Declaration had been stolen. No matter that Ben had discovered a massive treasure for the nation, somebody still had to go to jail to make up for the crime of stealing a national document.

When it comes to a world filled with sin, the same concept applies. Because the “wages of sin is death,” in order to escape the sentence of death we all deserve, somebody’s got to die.

How fortunate we are that Christ was willing to come to earth and become the sacrificial lamb that died for the wages of all our sins. Because of this sacrifice, we all have the opportunity to escape the wages of the sin we inevitably commit. By accepting Him as the guiding force in our life, we open our arms to a different possibility. We get to live because somebody else died.

When we sin, we sever the relationship we have with God. In the times before Christ, that broken relationship could only be mended by the offering of sacrifices. Leviticus especially explains the requirements of many of these sacrifices. In most cases, the blood of a living thing, be it a dove or a lamb, would be required to be shed in order to take away the sin that had been committed and return the person back into relationship with God. Somebody had to die.

If we never take for granted the weight of knowing that somebody else has died for us, then surely we will do a better job each day of following in the footsteps of Christ. Kindness to others, showing love when we least feel like it, praising God, all these actions should be as second nature to us.

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Yet, living in a world more than 2,000 years after sacrifice was a regular way of life, we may be slightly numb to the concept of a life given for us. The televised violence that flashes across our newscasts and even computer screens has desensitized us to the horror of an innocent life taken before its time. How well we would do to remember that, but for Christ, the life given for sin would be our own.

Yes, the life Christ saves is an eternal one, since all who are born to this earth also die from it. But, how much more important is the life of one’s soul compared to the blink of an eye which is this earthly existence?  Paul explains:

 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?   We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:1-4)

Our new life is the one led by the Holy Spirit in us, the ultimate sign of our healed relationship with God. Because somebody has died, that is, Christ, we have a permanent, unbreakable relationship with God as long as we accept that Christ is our savior.

In a politically correct world, where we create soccer leagues that give every child a trophy and where no one can stand up and say that is wrong without risking ridicule or punishment, it may seem blunt to say with conviction that a relationship with God requires a sacrifice. But, think again, for this same, seemingly strict God is the One who loves us so much that He was willing to become the sacrifice that paid the price for sin once and for all.

Somebody’s got to die. Thankfully, Somebody did.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Love

Even as He Loved Me

love one another photofunia

Do you ever read a verse you may have seen a hundred times before and suddenly see it in a different, clearer light?

Besides underscoring the importance of continual Bible study, these moments always take me one step closer to understanding the Spirit in me.  As I become more knowledgeable about my relationship with that Spirit, I find myself more comfortable in my own skin.  The “peace that surpasses understanding” is always there, these ah-ha moments remind me, we just have to push away the cares of this world that keep us from seeing and feeling our connectedness to the One and Only.

I grew up in the ’70s in the Bible belt.  My first Bibles were hard core King James Versions.  When I read the Bible through for the first time, it was with a King James version book.  It took me until well into my twenties to “trust” any other version of the Lord’s Word.  Besides, the poet in me loved the lyricism, the alliteration, the rhythm and the language of the King James Word, even when the phrasing that I loved sometimes made the meaning in a modern world more difficult to comprehend.

For example, even though, “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17) has a rhythm and parallelism that any writer can truly appreciate, when I read the New Living Translation version of these words, I see an even fuller picture:

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

When Jesus came to sacrifice Himself for us, ALL of the people around Him needed it.  Always before, when I would read the KJV of this verse, I would think to myself that the verses meant Jesus came to call those who had not already been following the Word of God, those who weren’t going to believe what Jesus was saying at that time.  But the NLT version of these words makes it clear that this verse speaks to all of us.  Jesus came to heal those of us who are willing to admit that we are sinners and thus are in need of Him.

Knowing I am a sinner as opposed to thinking I am righteous is also a daily reminder of my need to be on my knees in humility before the God who made me.  In that position, I cannot judge others or think I am better than a task I have been called upon to do.  On my knees, I know my sin and have a chance to repent of it, be healed daily if necessary by the cleansing power of Jesus, and keep moving forward in my relationship with the Holy Spirit that became a part of me the moment I accepted Christ as my Savior.

Because of the power of the salvation of Christ, I am not only delivered from a damned eternity, I am delivered from the vise grip of a life filled with sin.  This is the freedom that Paul writes so frequently about.  This is the element of the salvation story that we tend to spend the least time on, but that we need the most on a day-to-day basis.  We need Jesus every day to help us not step into the darkness but rather to shine His light.

But, I still haven’t shared my verse in a new light for this week, and it is a doozy!  Turn to John 13:34 and read a verse I am sure you may already know by heart.  Jesus is speaking to His disciples as His coming crucifixion approaches.  One of the things He tells them is this:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (NASB).

In the past, I have read this verse and assumed it to be another way to say the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But the footnotes in my Ryrie Study Bible helped me to see that this commandment takes the Golden Rule to a completely different level.

Think about the implications of the phrase, “even as I have loved you.”  How did Jesus love His disciples and all of us, for that matter?  He, being God, was willing to be abused, mocked, and even slain for sins He didn’t commit.  He loved us so much, He died for us!

How many times do we turn the other cheek, not in the way that Christ turned His cheek, but to keep ourselves from seeing another person in need?  I live in a big city where people make a living by holding a cardboard sign asking for money at every other corner.  I have gotten good at turning another cheek, justifying my action by deciding that a con artist doesn’t deserve a quarter.

Jesus, on the other hand, took the servants’ role and washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, the disciple Jesus knew was going to betray Him, even as the Lord knelt at Judas’ feet at the Last Supper.

From us humans, blanket statements are dangerous, so don’t think I am trying to interpret this one verse to mean that women who are in abusive relationships are just supposed to keep getting hit or anything like that.  We always have to take the Bible in its totality, not just in the one or two verses that seem to serve our purpose.  It is the veracity and consistency of the Word that is part of the reason that we KNOW that we worship the one, true God.

Besides reminding me just how much God loves me, my ah-ha moment in the Word this week also has me thinking about ways I can up my game in the loving others department.  I am a far cry from achieving Christ’s level of love, but He promised that the great Helper, the Holy Spirit, is in me to guide me on this narrow path that leads to the Light.  I may stumble; I may fall; but Christ will always pick me up.

Through true repentance, I can continue to grow in God.  Because of how He loved me, I may fall, but I will rise again.