Oct 14

I Love Your Law

I Love Your Law

 

“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought your precepts. I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.                                                                                                                              Psalm 119:44-48 NIV

 

When we read the above verses and then remember that the Apostle Paul says Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13) we do a doubletake. What’s going on? What is going on is not either/or, but two sides of a single coin. Is God’s instruction manual for life (that’s what “torah,” which the English Bible translates “law,” means) a bad thing. Never! Thank God he has shown us how he designed us humans to function.  That’s why the psalmist can say he can walk about in freedom. The torah is a blessing!

But Paul says it’s a curse! What he is describing is the result of having misunderstood what the torah is for. If we think that torah-keeping can make us acceptable to God, as the Pharisees did, we have got it backwards and our persistent inability to keep the torah will indeed curse us. Nobody can be good enough for God except one man – Jesus. Every one of us, from Abraham on, comes to God by grace alone.

But look at all of Paul’s letters. What is Paul calling his new Christian disciples to do? He is calling them, now that they are Christ-followers, to live according to torah! Stop stealing, stop lying, stop committing adultery, etc. Why? To make themselves acceptable to God? Of course not! That is where the Galatians went off the track. No, Paul wants them to live that way because this is the life of Christ that is being now, praise God, being reproduced in us by the Holy Spirit, if we will just surrender to him.

The good news of the Gospel is that because Christ has cleansed the temple of our hearts the Holy Spirit has moved in with the marvelous power to make God’s torah no longer an impossible demand, but all that the psalmist dreamed of: our delight, our liberation, our testimony, our life.

Oct 07

Law and Grace

Law and Grace

 

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.                                                         (Romans 6:15-18 ESV)

 

The strength of the biblical teaching on holiness is that it synthesizes the biblical teachings on law and grace without doing damage to either.  You say, “What are you talking about?”  In the history of the Christian church it has been very difficult to keep law and grace together.  A classic example is in the Protestant Reformation with Martin Luther.  Luther had struggled to be a faithful Christian, and he thought this meant keeping all the commandments of the Catholic Church and of the Bible. But trying to do this, he found himself crushed and broken. So, as he got into the Word, and began to get a picture of the glory of the free grace of God, he came to see grace and law as enemies. Grace frees us from any need to try to keep God’s law, he taught.

 

This is true, as far as it relates to coming into a saved relationship with God. Nothing we have ever done or will ever do can make us acceptable to God. It is God’s free grace in Jesus that does this. But the danger is that we then begin to apply this idea to the Christian life: “It doesn’t matter how I live; I’m saved by grace!” If the Roman Church submerged grace under legalism, the modern Protestant Church has submerged the holy living that God expects of us under the cover of grace. We say, “It’s alright that I don’t live a life like Christ’s, because I don’t need to.”

 

But perhaps you are saying, “Wait a minute! You have shifted your ground. We were talking about the law, but now you are talking about Christ-like living.” Actually I have not shifted ground. The core of the law, its ethical requirements, is nothing other than a Christ-like life. The law gives us the content of such a life. And the good news that John Wesley discovered in the Bible is that it is not a matter of law or grace. Rather, as Paul says in the passage for today, grace not only brings us to God, freeing us from the wrong idea that we have to work our way into God’s favor, it is also the means, through faith (“obedient from the heart”), to enable us to live the life of God before a watching world..

 

Sep 30

Face to Face

Face to Face

 

The one thing I ask of the Lord—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life….

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”  And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”                                                                                                                                Psalm 27:4, 8 NLT

 

Although I have read Psalm 27 many times, something struck me in a new way in my most recent reading of it. I thought, “This psalm is about relationship with God.” And it is. The opening words make that clear: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation.” It does not say, “Yahweh gives me light and saves me.” It is not about what he does for me, but who he, in himself, is to me and for me. I think then of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6). These are all in him; get him, and you get them; don’t get him, and you don’t get them. It’s all about personal relationship.

But I mustn’t seek a relationship with God through Christ in order to get these things. They are all byproducts of the main thing – knowing him! And that’s what we see in this psalm. Does David want deliverance and protection? Of course. Does he look to his God for them? Yes. But look at the underlying theme: I don’t want to live on my own with a little help from God in the rough places. I want to live in his very house. I want to experience his presence. I want to have conversation with him (the NLT rendering of v. 8 captures well the sense of the Hebrew “your face will I seek”).

On the other side of the coin, what would be ultimate loss? It would be for God to turn his face from me, to turn his back on me (v. 9). But that will never happen so long as there breathes in us one desire to be his. “Even if my father and mother abandon me, Yahweh will hold me close” (27:9 NLT). What a thought! To be held in his arms, to gaze into his face, to hear his whisper in our inmost ear. That is salvation.

Sep 23

Self-consciousness

Self-consciousness

 

At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves…. “Who told you that you were naked,” the lord God asked. “Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?”

                                                                                                                        Genesis 3:7, 11

 

Have you ever thought about that? Why didn’t Adam and Eve know they were naked before they disobeyed God, and why did they know it after they disobeyed him? I can’t prove it, but I think I know the answer. Before they disobeyed God, their lives were completely in his hands and as a result they were completely un-self-conscious. Some people say, “Oh, this is just a myth to explain our change from childhood to puberty.” No, I think it is the other way around. Our change from childhood to puberty mirrors what happened to our first mother and father. Furthermore, I think this is what Jesus meant when he said that we must all become as little children if we want to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:15).

 

What am I saying? I am saying that when Adam saw Eve, he wasn’t thinking of himself at all; he was just looking at the most gorgeous creature on earth. It was the same with Eve. When she looked at Adam, all she saw was a luscious hunk. But what happened when they decided they could not trust their Father to give them what they needed, and that they were going to have to supply their needs for themselves? Now when Adam looked at Eve, all he saw was Adam reflected in Eve’s eyes, and it was the same for Eve. They no longer saw each other, now all they saw was themselves, and what they saw was shameful in its limitations and its inadequacy.

 

Ever since that day, we, their children, have walked through life with a mirror fastened in our hands. Of course, in this life since that day, we will never be free of self-consciousness, and it is not by any means all bad. But, oh for the freedom not to have to worry about whether we are getting all we have deserved (of course not – thank God!), or what others are thinking and saying about us. To be other focused, and not self-focused. And that is exactly what 100% surrender offers us, the chance to get ourselves off our hands and onto his. Finally, that is the difference between David and Saul – poor Saul never got Saul off Saul’s hands.

Sep 16

A Passion to Be Like Him

A Passion to Be Like Him

 

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,                                                                        (Phi 3:8-10 ESV)

As we seek to be holy people the primary need is to exalt Jesus.   All too often we have suggested that holiness is an “it” that God does “it” in my life.  So we ask, “Have you got “it?”  Has God done this process, [this thing].  Have you had “the crisis?”

But the question is, is Jesus the sole, only, reigning Lord of my life?  Is Jesus’ mind being recreated in me?  Is Jesus being glorified by my behavior?  Are people being drawn to Jesus because of my life?  Is Jesus becoming more beautiful, more desirable because of what He is doing in my life?   Any movement that focuses on Jesus which calls attention to Jesus, which glorifies Jesus, can’t go very far wrong.  But if we make our emphasis on us, on our performance, our behavior, our actions, we are walking on the edge of the cliff.

Sanctification is Jesus.  It is not an “it.”  It is a HIM and if we will focus on Jesus, if we will put Jesus at the absolute center of our lives and deny His place to anything else, holiness is going to follow like morning follows night.  Exalt Jesus, focus on Jesus, focus on the reality.  Holiness is a passion not a performance.  It is a passion for Jesus, a passion to know His ways, a passion to know His life, a passion to be like Him.

Sep 09

Happy or Blessed? (2)

Happy or Blessed? (2)

 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

       nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12 ESV

 

Last week we talked about the first basis for being in a blessed condition. It is to know and delight in God’s instruction manual, his torah. But alongside that one there is a second, one that is introduced in the second Psalm. That is a proper relationship to Yahweh’s anointed king, his Messiah. Why don’t we instinctively turn to God’s Word for guidance for living and instead turn to the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers? It is because of the fundamental strain of rebellion found in all of Adam and Eve’s children. WE will be kings of our lives.

 

But that way is not the way of blessing; it is the way of disaster, as humans have proven ever since the third chapter of Genesis. So, if we are to be blessed, what must happen, according to Psalm 2? We must recognize our rebellious character, and recognizing it, turn from it by willingly allowing another King, God’s Chosen, to take control of us. But notice how the verse ends. It takes us beyond mere submission to the King who is justly angry at our rebellion, and instead invites us to crawl up into his arms and take refuge in that gracious love revealed in his Cross. There is blessing.

 

Can we be blessed and unhappy at the same time? Of course! All of us experience circumstances that are unpleasant and grievous. To put a mask of happiness on our faces in such occasions is simply to live a lie. But if we have been delighting to live in God’s instructions and are hiding in the arms of Jesus, we are blessed, because we have resources in his word and his presence to meet those circumstances and triumph through them.

Sep 03

Happy or Blessed?

Happy or Blessed?  (1)

 

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

       nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law (torah) of the Lord,  

       and on his law (torah) he meditates day and night                                       Psalm 1:1-2 ESV

 

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.                                                                           Psalm 2:12d ESV

 

What is it to be blessed? Is it to be happy? No, it is not, for happiness is a fleeting emotion like every other emotion. But being blessed is a real condition that exists apart from any emotion. To be blessed is to receive good and favorable things, most especially the ultimate good, that life-giving fellowship with our Maker both now and forevermore.

 

The two passages printed above give us the ultimate bases for being blessed. They occur at the beginning of Psalm 1 and the end of Psalm 2. Many commentators believe these two psalms are intended to act as the introduction to the entire collection of psalms. The “book-end” effect resulting from beginning the first with blessing and ending the second in the same way supports that idea.

 

So what are the two bases for blessing? First, If we are to experience all the good things our Creator wants to give to us, we must not only be familiar with God’s instruction manual for life, his Torah, his Word, we must take delight in knowing it and doing it. Our Designer has given us the manual for experiencing life at its best. Why are we surprised when, having ignored it, our lives fall apart?

Aug 27

Don’t Sin

Don’t Sin

 

Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.                                             (Rom 6:15-18 NLT)

 

When we read Roman 6 we get the very clear impression that Paul intends for us to stop sinning. That is, we will stop doing the things we know Jesus, our husband, hates, the things that nailed him to a cross.  Can you imagine a wife saying to her husband, “Oh, honey, you know I love you, and I know you hate it, but I just can’t stop throwing cigarette butts all over the floor.” Paul calls that kind of behavior slavery. He is speaking of the addictive power of sin. We are either in its grip or we are not. We are not talking about unintentional or ignorant acts and attitudes which still need the covering blood of Christ, but about stuff we know full well is wrong.  We have to make a choice, Paul says: we will either be a slave to sinning, or a slave to doing what our Savior loves, what is right. So who rules your life? Who is the master whose command you cannot help but obey. Sin is addictive; it is dominating; it is destructive. You cannot be “a little bit” addicted to heroin. You are, or you aren’t. “Thank God! Once you were slaves to sin…. Now you are free from your slavery to sin.” Is it true? It ought to be

Aug 18

A Story for Finley

A Story for Finley

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…

1 John 1-3a NRSV

 

You ask me when I first knew he was God? I can tell you the day and the hour. It was in the Spring of that third year. We were in Perea across the Jordan, on our way to Jerusalem. We had begged him not to go. But he just looked at us, and said, “You still don’t understand, do you?” and turned around and walked on. So what could we do? He was the Messiah after all, odd as that seemed on the surface, and we, ragtag bunch that we were, were going to be his government officials. We would show those Jerusalem bigwigs something – maybe.

About the third watch of the night, I heard him get up. He was doing that a lot those days. He told us he was praying, and I thought I would follow him and try to find out what he was praying about. But the next thing I knew, my eyes popped open and the sun was just about to come up over those eastern hills. I looked up and there he was, sitting on the little knoll just above where we had stretched out to sleep. So I got up as quietly as I could and crept up the hill until I could lay behind a bush off to his side and see him in profile and maybe hear whatever he was saying. But he wasn’t saying anything. He was just sitting there.

Then I became aware of a little bird hopping along the ground, going from bush to bush, until finally it was right at his feet. He looked down at it, and a little smile crossed his lips. Then he held out his forefinger to it, and quick as a flash, the little bird hopped up onto it. It looked at him for a moment, and then opened its beak wider than seemed possible and began to sing at the top of its voice. It wasn’t a very melodious song; the little thing didn’t have the greatest voice, but as it sang the smile on Jesus’ face got wider. Finally, the song ended and the two just looked at each other. I was too far away, of course, to actually see the look in the bird’s eyes, but I knew without any doubt at all that it was a look of absolute adoration, the adoration of a creature for its Creator.

Then Jesus slowly lifted his hand with the bird still perched on his outstretched finger, and raising his eyebrows, nodded. I knew what he was saying. He was saying, “Thank you; now go do what I made you for. Go and fly!” Slowly, almost reluctantly, the little bird raised its wings. Then it leapt into the air and soared away, singing as it went.

Without looking at me, Jesus said, “Good morning, John.” He knew I had been there all along! I got to my knees and looked up, and there on his face was the same little smile that had greeted the bird. I fell on my face. “Dear God, this rather ordinary-looking man, who spoke in the country accents of Galilee, with whom I had talked and laughed, from whose dirty, dusty feet I had sometimes untied sandals, whom I had seen tired, frustrated, crying – was God!” Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and he said quietly, “Get up, my son.” As I rose to my feet I saw that smile again and on either side of it outstretched arms. I threw myself into his embrace, and in that moment felt the arms of Life about me, and more than that, the arms of Love—Eternal Love. Oh yes, I knew.

Aug 12

The Grace of Holiness

The Grace of Holiness

 

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.                                                     (Col 3:12-15 NIV)

15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor  to be with you forever–17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.             (John 14:15-18 NIV)

 

God has called His people to live holy lives, lives which manifest His character, especially in our relationships with one another. But whenever we try to do that, we seem to fail. So does God call us to something that He knows we can’t do? Oh no. God calls us to something for which He supplies the energy, the motivation, the life, the love. The Comforter has come – and through him Jesus himself has come (John 14:15-21)! Holiness is nothing other than the work of the Holy Spirit as He reveals in us the character of the Living God: the character of love when we are not loved in return; the character of purity in a world which is increasingly deceptive and immoral; the character of self-forgetfulness in a world that says, “Take care of yourself, baby, for you’re all you’ve got. If you don’t protect yourself, you’ve lost everything.” But Jesus says, “Whoever saves his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39).

Called to holiness and empowered in holiness by the Holy Spirit coming upon our lives. God grant it.

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