Obedience and Life
Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! Because I know my wrongdoings, my sin is always right in front of me. I’ve sinned against you—you alone. I’ve committed evil in your sight. That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict, completely correct when you issue your judgment.
It is very easy to think poorly of ourselves. Most of us spend a lot of time believing that we are not good enough or smart enough – just not okay. Confession isn’t about that. It’s not about being hard on ourselves. Confession is being realistic about ourselves, about knowing the things that are hard for us to be obedient with.
Is it hard to obey God’s call to help the poor? Is it hard to obey Jesus’ instruction to love our enemies? Is it hard to listen to the Spirit when the rest of the world competes for our attention? Of course!
God sees us just as we are. God is realistic about us, but it doesn’t change God’s love for us. When our sin is right in front of us, we can confess and know that even though God is justified in judging us, God is for us. God wants to wash us clean and make us new.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
I am a huge advocate of eating right and exercising. When you eat clean food that fuels your body, you have the energy to exercise and stay healthy. But when you eat garbage, like putting water in your gas tank, your engine will not run correctly. It may even protest by stopping or causing other problems ...in your body.
Thank goodness God gave us good fruit to fuel our spirit. By fueling our spirit with the Holy Spirit we will have the strength, God's strength, to endure this broken world and live in His will. It's all there. Everything we need to survive and live. We just need to utilize what we have.
Before picking up that fast food, think about how you will feel afterwards. And before your next decision, think about the consequences. Only death will come from sin.
Obedience and Life
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. It won’t be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant with me even though I was their husband, declares the Lord. No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them... and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.
As children, we need lots of rules: “Don’t touch the stove. Hold my hand when we cross the street. Eat three bites of broccoli, and then you can have a cookie.” As we grow, the rules shift: “Don’t use the stove unless I am in the kitchen with you. Look both ways before you cross the street. One scoop of ice cream is enough.” The older we get, the more freedom we have: “Breakfast is up to you. Let me know when you get to your friend’s house. Enjoy your dinner!”
Nothing has really changed. The stove is still dangerous. We still have to be careful around traffic. Eating healthily is still important. But now those ideas are inside us, and we don’t have to be told every time. Obeying becomes a matter of the heart instead of a list of restrictions.
When we follow God, we look to the rules to learn our way. But as we continue on the road of faith, our hearts are changed by obedience. We begin to trust that God is leading us and that we will know when God is calling.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Last week was a more challenging week for me. Nothing seemed to go right and it was one of those days when I wished I had the funds to just tell my boss I quit. One of those weeks when you just want to throw in the towel. But then you remember you have bills to pay so you pull yourself up by your boot straps and move on....
One of the things that keeps me going is knowing God is on my side. That He is there to pick me up when I am down and lift me up when I fall. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps me going. It is the Holy Spirit that keeps my eyes pointed toward God. It is the Holy Spirit that reminds me that I live for Him not me.
I am hoping this week is better. I am hoping I can be a little more focused. I am hoping I can be more self-controlled and keep my mind on God.
Faith and Mercy
Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways. They suffered because of their wickedness. They had absolutely no appetite for food; they had arrived at death’s gates. So they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God saved them from their desperate circumstances. God gave the order and healed them; he rescued them from their pit. Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them offer thanksgivi...ng sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!
We learn a lot from the people who are close to us. The messages are often subtle. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re learning. My wife and I know each other like a good book read over and over again. One thing we know about each other is the care and compassion we have for each other.
We are thankful for each other and strive to “follow the joy” in life.
Let it be so for each of us.
To find God in your daily life … To “offer a thanksgiving sacrifice” … To share the love of Christ with those around you …
… follow the joy.
Faith and Mercy
"Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love lasts forever!” That’s what those who are redeemed by the Lord say, the ones God redeemed from the power of their enemies, the ones God gathered from various countries, from east and west, north and south.
I love to travel. My wife and I were recently talking about visiting Italy. We want to see all the popular sites, particularly the Roman coliseum. But there’s another little treat to being in Rome - the sense of traveling down paths that the apostle Paul traveled in his mission of spreading the gospel of redemption.
Redemption is to be gathered up: “from various countries, from east and west, north and south.” God is gathering us up, drawing us into the circle of love and forgiveness and belonging and home.
Our destiny is to be gathered up. It is God’s final and ultimate plan for us and for all creation.
Faith and Mercy
You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives.
It can be hard to talk about our faith. It’s a mystery, right? Certainly not a formula or even a set of propositions. Faith is a gift and a way of being. Our attempts at description too often fail us. Sometimes an image can hold up a little better.
Here’s one: Faith is like a fire. Sometimes it’s a roaring blaze and other times smoking kindling or crumbling embers.
We can collect the wood or neglect to do so. We can shield it from the wind and rain or ask others to get down on our knees with us and gently blow on the coals. We can even extinguish it, or appear to, through our neglect or conscious action. It does, though, have a way of flaring up unexpectedly when we have our backs turned.
We are keepers of the fire, but we cannot create it. Matches, flint, and steel — these only manipulate or release energy that God has put in the world.
Faith is a gift. Our job is tending to the fire.
Faith and Mercy
However, God is rich in mercy. He brought us to life with Christ while we were dead as a result of those things that we did wrong. He did this because of the great love that he has for us. You are saved by God’s grace! And God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus. God did this to show future generations the greatness of his grace by the goodness that God has shown us in Christ Jesus.
Brother Roger, founder of the Christian monastic community called Taizé in France, had an intriguing definition of the season of Lent: “forty days granted us in which to marvel at a love too great for words.”
He didn’t talk about giving something up or taking something on. He didn’t say anything about a “season of repentance and self-examination.” He asked, in essence: What better way is there to draw closer to God and God’s purposes for us than to simply step back and be astonished by how much God loves us?
That’s the kind of shock and awe (the good kind) that the writer of Ephesians is going for here. Yesterday’s readings dwelled on “the things you did wrong and your offenses against God.” Now, just a couple verses later, we see what’s so amazing: despite our offenses, “God raised us up and seated us in the heavens with Christ Jesus.”
Out of the depths. Onto Christ’s heavenly throne. Not because of our actions, but because of God’s love. Marvelous.
then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
Healing comes in God's name. I've seen people healed miraculously from their physical ailments. But God does not heal all people of everything. When He doesn't heal us physically it is for a reason. Physical pain is...well...painful. I have been in those situations where you end... up making deals with God just to take the pain away.
We have to remember that we live in broken bodies that are fragile. We will experience physical pain, emotional pain, and mental pain. Sometimes we even experience spiritual pain. But that happens when you live on Earth. When you are a child of God. Or just a normal human being.
The good news is that one day God will heal all pain. One day He will make all things new. And all things will be for eternity with no pain.
Faith and Mercy
At one time you were like a dead person because of the things you did wrong and your offenses against God. You used to live like people of this world. You followed the rule of a destructive spiritual power. This is the spirit of disobedience to God’s will that is now at work in persons whose lives are characterized by disobedience. At one time you were like those persons. All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted so that you ...were children headed for punishment just like everyone else.
I read an article recently on cognitive science called “executive functioning.” I learned about mental processes that help us stay organized, work toward our goals, and regulate our behavior. The parts of our brains that perform these tasks aren’t fully developed until we’re 25 or so. Even afterward, everyone struggles to master these skills.
The writer of Ephesians seems to know all about the struggle: “All of you used to do whatever felt good and whatever you thought you wanted.” It’s easy to confuse what feels good with what we really want. And it’s no sin to want to feel good. Where we get in trouble is pursuing what feels good without thinking, without considering the consequences, without asking if it’s what we really want.
Christian life in community is designed to help us align our values with our actions. Think of it as “Spirit-filled executive function.” We will fall short — all the time, in fact. The mercy of God is what gives us the strength and courage to keep practicing, learning, growing.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
My husband and I walk our dogs daily and one of our neighbors is a little boy of 8-years-old who likes to walk with us. He lives around the corner about five houses away from ours. One day it got too dark for him to walk home alone so we walked with him. His grandmother was waiting for him and thanked us....
It is sad that a child cannot even walk next door without being supervised. And sometimes cannot get away from danger even in their own house. Thankfully we have a God who still sees, hears, and cares for us. He does not keep danger away from us but He does help us through it.
Life is hard. Free will means people don't always make the best decisions. But God uses all our deeds to further His kingdom and to bring His children home.
Faith and Mercy
Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.
“This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it... can be seen that their actions were done in God.”
When I began studying to become a preacher, a professor at orientation told us that the only way we could fail was if we went into hiding. I think he deeply understood that isolation causes many of our biggest problems as individuals and as a society.
He told us about past students who got behind. But instead of asking for help, they tried to just work harder. To catch up all on their own. To save themselves.
The message of the gospel is that we can’t save ourselves. That’s Good News. Secret struggles are toxic — guilt and shame and negative feelings that we bottle up inside. They can literally kill us. “Coming to the light,” on the other hand, can save us. It’s scary to admit we screwed up, to ask for help, to show someone our deep dark secrets.
But when we do, we usually find out these are not “isolated” experiences after all. They are the common struggles of our shared humanity. In the light, we can see that more clearly.
Faith and Mercy
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16. You’ve probably seen this book, chapter, and verse used as a kind of Christian shorthand. Like a “Jesus fish” bumper sticker or even a simple cross necklace, it’s a stand-in for a powerful message about unconditional love, about freedom from fear and even death, about overflowing mercy.
Not everybody knows that. Some who see these Christian symbols know nothing at all about them. Others see or even use them as a kind of membership card, and not much more than that.
Still others disregard these symbols entirely, because they see how people use them as a tool for causing fear, or an excuse for withholding love.
So whether or not you choose to use these symbols, I encourage you not to let the symbolism stand for itself. Showing love and dispelling fear through our actions toward the people around us — that’s the best way I know to symbolize that our God of mercy “so loved the world...”
So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
My daughter has been wanting me to watch the movie Trolls for a while and I finally got around to it tonight. It sends a powerful message that happiness does not come from what you eat, but who you are inside. It lets the audience know that happiness is something we can all have if we look in the r...ight places.
Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes quickly. It does not stay around. It is not controllable. It is fleeting. Certain things make us happy and certain things give us grief. Our mission in life is not to be happy. But to be joyful and content with what God has given to us. Being joyful and content are completely within our control.
Do not try to be happy with things that are exterior. Find joy in who is inside of you...God.
Law and Wisdom
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Words matter. How did you speak this past week? Were you angry or harsh with someone? Did you tell your parent or sibling or significant other that you loved them? Did you give in to the temptation to spread that rumor, or did you shut that rumor down? Words matter.
Take a moment today to reflect on your words. Who in your life needs to hear you say, “I love you”? Who in your life needs to hear you say, “I’m sorry”?
Law and Wisdom
Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:22-25...
Have you ever experience a clash in culture? I grew up in Texas but have travelled through 19 states in the U.S. and 18 difference countries. Something I always take note of is the differences in culture.
Paul is writing to a group of people – Jews and Gentiles – who not only experience a culture clash but who are also afraid of one another. They are afraid that they will have to change too much or that their way of living won’t be honored.
Paul reminds them that their mindset is warped. God’s ways are not our ways. We might think we are wise or that our way is the best, but it pales in comparison to the life and wisdom to which God calls us.