Category Archives: obedience

What to Do

Yet another terrorist bomb.  More predictable responses from government and media.  Already, network art departments are designing background graphics to promote their newscasts and experts are deciding on a catchy name for the story.  Already, expressions of sorrow and determination have been issued, quoted and re-quoted.  Already, are first responders honored, makeshift memorials bedecked with flowers, funerals planned, security efforts tweaked.  It’s what we do.  The whole process has become stylized.  There is a ritual for it.  And people will become more accustomed to the tragedy, no longer able to fully feel the outrage and frustration.  We feel helpless to do anything that will truly make a difference.

Jesus told us what to expect and what to do.  Here’s what He said we could expect:

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, (Matthew 24:12)

Here’s what He taught us to do:

“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:9-10)

Perhaps it seems strange to ask God, all sovereign and all powerful, to do what He has already willed to do.  I don’t know how prayer impacts the accomplishment of God’s will, only that Jesus taught us to do it.  So, let’s do.  Urgently – and paying full attention to the meaning of what we are asking.  Yearning for that day to come.

There was a church that broke ground for a new building with an old plow to which several hundred slender strings had been attached.  They invited everyone to take a string and, when the command was given, to pull.  No one of those people or strings would have been strong enough to move that plow.  But together, it jumped through the soil and chewed it up with ease.  When Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom to come, He handed each of us a string and gave us the command.

 

Now What?

On the day after Resurrection Day, it might be good to reflect on how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus actually changes the way we live.  Do they make a difference or do we simply put the plastic eggs back in the closet and go back to the humdrum of life?  If you are still reading, no doubt you vote for them making a difference.  But what sort of a difference?  Read through what Peter wrote – slowly and thoughtfully – and you’ll have a pretty good answer:

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Real Freedom

He refused to participate in a corrupt act, was sued by his partner, and lost everything – his business, his home, his wife and millions of dollars.  He was forced into bankruptcy.  He eventually found another job, at a fraction of his former salary, but then proceeded to make payments to his creditors, despite no longer being legally required to do so.  Why?  He was free.  Free to do what was right without fear or coercion.  His freedom came from Jesus.

Jesus was free.  He was not hemmed in by social expectations.  He didn’t follow the rules imposed by the religious authorities.  He was not afraid of their punishments and not afraid to be considered eccentric.  He socialized with outcasts, ate and drank as he chose.  Jesus was free.  He was free of the world’s coercion, free to listen to God and get in step with His instructions.  He said,

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19b)

 The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10b)

Jesus was free to dance in perfect time with His Father.  Free to break the restrictive rules of social expectations and ignore the threats of the powerful.  He was free to go to the Cross without fear.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  (John 10:17-18)

Everything or Nothing

If at first you don’t succeed, wingsuit flying is not for you.  Watching videos of those guys flips my stomach.  Especially the takeoff.  They climb to the peak of a high cliff, teeter on the edge, count to three and dive, headfirst, nearly straight down.  I suppose it’s to build up enough speed.  There’s no halfway in a wingsuit jump.  No easing into it.  It’s everything or nothing.

Same thing with Jesus.  Everything or nothing.  People ease up close to Jesus, spend time talking and singing about Jesus and read books about Jesus but none of that matters.  About many who called Him Lord, Jesus said, “I never knew you.”  There’s no halfway; you gotta jump.  Headfirst.  Jesus said it like this:

34 And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  (Mark 8:34-35)

Deny himself” does not necessarily mean giving everything to the poor (although it might mean that in some circumstances).  It means letting go of fear and the overwhelming urge to keep yourself safe.  For a wingsuit jumper, it would be ignoring the part of your brain that is screaming, “Are you out of your mind????”   For the would-be disciple, it is abandoning all half-way measures, all plans B in case it doesn’t work out.  If you try to save your life you’ll never find it in Him.  It’s everything or nothing.

Take up his cross” does not mean to commit suicide.  It means to let go of all the things you used to think defined life.  Money, fame, popularity, success, luxury, good looks,  fun – all these things are pursued by people who think they will provide a satisfying, full life.  The would-be disciple doesn’t necessarily become penniless or unpopular.  He lets go of the idea that those are important.  He recognizes that full life, satisfying life can only be found in the company of Jesus.

Follow Me” means to pay attention, learn and imitate the attitudes and actions of Jesus.  Not the bland, passive Jesus of paintings and Sunday School books but the robust, free-spirited, radical, passionate Jesus.  To follow Jesus is to let go of your own plans and let Him take you on a real adventure.

Perhaps these imperfect descriptions of Jesus’ cryptic challenge sound repressive and personally suffocating.  My experience has been just the opposite.  Instead of letting the fickle, competitive world set the agenda for how to live, I’ve discovered the One Who created me can set me free to be all He made me to be.

But you can’t get there tentatively or halfway.  You gotta jump.  Everything or nothing.

Weaker Equals

Women are weaker than men.  I know, you’re not supposed to say that out loud and I realize there are some women stronger than some men.  But in general, women are weaker.  If you don’t realize women have certain differences in how they have been designed, you have not been paying sufficient attention.   BUT…  weaker does not mean lesser.  That’s why Peter writes:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.  (1 Peter 3:7)

Instead of belittling a wife who is weaker, a husband is to treat her with understanding and honor.  Understanding because she may not be able to lift that end of the sofa.  Honor, because she is not lesser in her weaker make up.  I own a guitar and a case for it.  The case is stronger than the guitar and is used to protect it.  When I play music, I have discovered that the case doesn’t sound as good as the guitar.  The guitar makes beautiful music precisely because it was designed to be weaker.  Weaker is not lesser.

Moreover, Peter reminds husbands that their wives are equals.  They are heirs of God’s grace, just as their husbands are.  Weaker is not lesser, it’s just different.  Different but equal.

But, what’s all this about mistreating a wife hindering prayers?  When we pray to God, we ask Him to treat us in ways we do not deserve.  We cannot ask God for grace while at the same time failing to treat our wives with the honor and respect they do deserve.  They may be weaker, but they are equal.

PS – Having witnessed the delivery of my children, I have seen that women are stronger than men in some amazing and necessary ways!

Just sayin’….

Civil Obedience

Is it right for whole communities to refuse to obey immigration laws?  What about for you?  Is it right for you to pick and choose which laws you will obey?  Consider these words from Peter:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme,  or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 

Our first response might be to object, to bring up exceptions.  Are we supposed to be subject to an authority who is corrupt or wicked?  Nero was in power when Peter wrote this.  His wickedness and cruelty was the stuff of legend. And yet. Peter taught us to be subject to such rulers.

But, what if a ruler’s commands are contrary to the commands of God?  Peter faced that dilemma when he was ordered by the Jewish council not to tell people about Jesus.  His response is instructive:

So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”   (Acts 4:18-20)

Although Peter and John could not, in conscience, obey the authorities, they still were subject  to them, honest about their disobedience and submissively ready to accept the consequences.  Being subject to the authorities does not always mean obeying them.

But why be subject to them?  Why not take action to weaken the authority of those in power who are corrupt or wicked?  Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.   (1 Peter 2:13-15)

Of course, Peter had a good Role Model in this.  Taking his cues from Jesus, he wrote:

But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:20-24)

We are subject to human authorities because we are subject to God, Who has told us to do so.  We do not take matters into our own hands but entrust ourselves to God, knowing that His plans will prevail.

Strong Offense

In the cartoon, “Cathy,” she says to herself, “I won’t go to the store.”  Then, “Well, I’ll drive by the store but not go in.”  And, “I’ll go in but not near the candy counter.”  Followed by, “Ok, I can walk past the candy counter but I won’t buy anything.”  And then, “I’ll buy but I won’t eat.”  And, finally, “Eat! Eat! Eat!”

It’s never safe to see how close we can get to temptation without giving in to it.  We don’t do that with rattle snakes or grizzly bears; don’t do it with the things that have defeated us in the past.   Instead, we mount a good defense, staying clear-minded and watchful for any danger.  (Scroll down to the previous post for more on that.)  However, it’s not enough to simply steer clear of temptation.  We also need to be ready with a good offense when temptation does not steer clear of us.

Here’s what Peter wrote about that:

Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  (1 Peter 5:8-9)

While we don’t want to go looking for trouble, when it comes, we do not need to run in fear.  Jesus taught:

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.  (John 8:34-36)

After the Civil War, many of the freed slaves were afraid to leave their masters, because they weren’t sure the news of their freedom was really true.  If we don’t know for sure that Satan no longer enslaves us, we will likely cave in the face of his temptations.  Instead, Peter teaches, Resist him, firm in your faith.”  Call Satan’s bluff:  “I don’t have to obey you any more; I’ve been set free by Jesus.”

It also helps to know that we do not struggle alone.  When Peter writes, “knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world,”  he invites us to consider ourselves members of a team, engaged in a mighty struggle together.  If we know we are not alone, that others are wrestling with the same issues as we are, it becomes easier to resist in a courageous way.

There’s more.  We don’t have to fight alone.  Next time, real, practical help is on the way!