Category Archives: The Bible

Sticking the Landing

You can’t land a stealth bomber.  A computer has to do it.  Or, so I’ve been told.  If you have done it successfully, please don’t respond; this is just an illustration of another impossible task: pleasing God by following His law.

7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

Paul’s phrase, “governed by the flesh” simply means a human being trying to land himself manually, without the control of the Holy Spirit.  It is impossible to perfectly  follow God’s law under your own control.   If you are thinking, “Oh yeah?  I can do it,” can you always live up to just your own standards of right and wrong?  No?  Me either.  And God’s are tougher.

That’s why religions don’t work.  Religions, as I’m using the term here, systems of do’s and don’t’s  to make you good enough for God.  God’s own Word says those who try to live like that will fail:

13 So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
Do this, do that,
a rule for this, a rule for that;
a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
they will be injured and snared and captured. (Isaiah 28:13)

If you don’t want to crash land, you need God’s Spirit.  Happily, Jesus gives this promise to those who will trust Him:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17)

With the Spirit, even a guy like me can stick the landing.

Stepping into Life

He knew he’d be arrested again, but that was what he wanted.  It was too too scary out here.  In prison he would be locked up, but at least he’d know what to expect.  He’d know the rules, know he would eat three times a day.  So when they let him out, he arranged to go right back.  For us on the outside, that doesn’t make much sense.  Sure, it’s more unpredictable out here in real life, but it’s also more free.  Without freedom it just isn’t living.  We understand that, but for some who have been locked up most of their lives, they can’t see it.

Like the people of Israel who suddenly found themselves released from slavery in Egypt following Moses out into the desert.  He thought they would relish the sweet aroma of freedom in their nostrils. But they didn’t get it.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:11-12

2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Exodus 16:2-3

We read that and think, “How could anyone prefer to live in slavery?  How could they choose not to be free?  But slavery was all they knew.  They were more comfortable as slaves.  Stepping into real life was too scary.

If you are tracking with all that, consider these words of Jesus:

25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Jesus invites us to trust Him and follow Him.  But, having surrounded ourselves with things that make life seem predictable and secure, it may seem as though He invites us into a desert wilderness.  It may seem too scary.  But in reality, Jesus invites us to step into real life and real freedom.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Mrs. Owens and Satan… and Jesus

You couldn’t say the dog ate it because you didn’t have a dog.  Mrs. Owens, your third grade teacher, was scowling down, asking why you didn’t have your homework done.  When you couldn’t provide a sufficient excuse, her imperious expression changed to one designed to produce in you extreme shame and self-loathing.  She had practiced this face in the mirror and looked down as though you were something she had accidentally stepped in.

But here’s the question: Did her “shame on you act” work?  Did she inspire you do achieve greatness in the third grade?  Not likely.  That’s because shame or feeling guilty actually inhibits you and makes you less likely to do better.  Research on addiction has found that when people feel shame about their addictive behavior, they are more likely to repeat.  More likely!

 

Of course, there is a better way.  We can acknowledge we have messed up and, without wallowing in shame, figure out how to do better.  That’s what this line from the Bible means:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

To paraphrase, when we mess up, God would have us change our thinking (that’s what “repent” means), recognize we did wrong, turn around and make a better choice.  That’s what “godly sorrow” looks like.  “Worldly sorrow,” third grade guilt, just makes us feel crummy and stuck.

Satan’s name means “accuser.”  He tempts us into doing wrong things and then turns on us, accusing us and making us feel shame. He knows in that condition we will be stuck.  Contrast that with the work of Jesus:  He took our shame and guilt to the cross, and encourages us to enjoy the freedom of changing how we think.  He says, “Go, and sin no more.”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:1)

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1)

 

Fist-Pump Singing

I’m a bit slow.  It takes me awhile to catch on to things that should seem obvious.  For example, consider this line from Exodus:

The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;  (Exodus 15:2a)

I’ve heard that line many times without thinking about it much.  That is, until I came upon it, reading through Exodus this morning..  I began to see that, what had been for me a somewhat stale cliche of churchy songs, was for those folks a mighty fist-pump!  They had just escaped the mightiest army on earth with an amazing demonstration of God’s power.  They were so excited, they just had to sing.  Because God had revealed His power to them, and because His strength had become their strength, they had to express it somehow.  They had to sing.  They had to dance around and whoop and holler.  About God.  He had become their song.

Maybe you are thinking, “Yeah, of course, so…?”  Or, “Duh…”  But that idea began to hold new meaning for me, Mr. Slow, this morning.  I’d sung that line so many times without any thought, without any excitement.  And yet, this morning, when I began to think through an actual list of how God has been strong for me, how His power has been evident in the circumstances of my life and of how He has become my strength and salvation, then I began to want to sing about it.

On that list was a time I had impulsively picked up a hitchhiker on the way to Cheyenne.  Without boring you with the details, as I dropped him off that day, I knew,in the pit of my soul, he had just delivered a personal message to me from God.  He had been a messenger, what the Bible calls an “angel.”  Alone in the car that day, I burst into loud and raucous song.  I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t sit on it.  I didn’t have words for my song but it didn’t matter.  I just had to express my wonder and excitement.  Because God had showed me He would be my strength, He just had to become my song.

What’s your list?  Take a moment to add it up.  If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you.  Kind of like that “Footprints” thing.  About 150 years ago, someone, whose name has been lost, must have been doing that as he wrote these words:

No storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that refuge clinging;

Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?

 

Finished

It’s no fun stepping on a nail.  It was just a small nail, but it hurt like crazy.  The pain of the Crucifixion must have been unimaginably horrible.  No wonder so much has been written and sung about the agony Jesus endured on the cross.  And yet, consider this surprising thing He said as He waited for that terrible day to come:

I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!   (Luke 12:50)

Jesus was not looking forward to being crucified.  His prayers in Gethsemane bear witness to how awful He knew His next day would be.  But the distress He felt as He waited was the distress of yearning for His work on the cross to be accomplished.  Because it was not until the price for sin was fully paid that God’s Spirit could be given to people like me, by God’s love, grace and perfect justice.  And without that life-giving Spirit, we all were doomed.  When Jesus looked around, everyone He saw was headed for Hell.  It distressed Him; He could hardly wait until He made eternal life possible for everyone who would receive Him by faith.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am He you will die in your sins.”  (John 8:24)

“…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  (John 10:10b)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.”  (John 6:63a)

Even though He knew how badly it would hurt to make God’s Spirit available, He loved me more.  And you, too.

That’s why, with His last breath, 

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

Sort of finished.  His part was finished.  But it’s not completely finished until you accept it.

Going Deep

Who does Paul think he is?  He sounds a bit arrogant, writing this to people he has never met:

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong –  (Romans 1:11)

But then, perhaps because he realized how uppity that last sentence sounded, he continued:

…that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.   (Romans 1:12)

Nice catch, Paul.  But, taken together, his thoughts reveal an important principle:  Bible study and prayer are sometimes best done first by yourself.  But if you really want to go deep, discuss what you have heard and learned with a good friend.  Getting together with another brother or sister in Christ to dig into the Word, can be a surprisingly wonderful experience.

A friend of mine stops by once in awhile, just to say “Howdy.”  We might head off for lunch or watch a game on TV.  But, sooner or later, one or the other of us will say something like, “You know, I saw something in the book of James I’d never seen before…”  And off we go.  Get out the snorkels boys; we’re going deep.  An hour or two will flash by as we are mutually enriched by the insights that come as we discuss together.  It’s not that either one of us is unusually astute but the combination of our different perspectives becomes way more than their sum.

Give it a go.  Next time you are chatting with another believing friend, bring up something that surprised you or puzzled you in Scripture.  Bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised…

With All Due Respect

Long ago, when you were still wetting your pants, you probably didn’t respect your dad.  You were glad about him, might have depended on him, but respect him? Not so much.  At two, you probably stomped your foot and shouted, “No!”  As a teen you may have thought you hated him.  But as you matured and experienced the knuckle balls life likes to pitch, you probably gained more and more respect for him.  Now, at the age when hair grows out of my ears, my dad looks a lot smarter than I used to think he was.  He now has my full respect.

God deserves our full respect.  Through the prophet, Malachi, He complained about the lack of respect shown by His people:

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.  (Malachi 1:6)

And, when Jesus taught us how to pray, He began with a prayer that Our Father would be respected, His name be hallowed.

But, it seems to me our respect for God also emerges gradually as we mature.  As spiritual toddlers we don’t much respect God, even though we cry out for His help occasionally.  Most of us have stomped our feet and defiantly shouted “No!”   Nevertheless, Our Father’s love for us does not change; He knows all about the spiritual terrible twos and the heady independence craved by young adults.  He reaches out to us through His Son.  If we respond, our relationship with Him grows as we are led by Christ.

Eventually we grow to understand the importance of “Hallowed be Thy Name…”  Our emerging respect eventually becomes abject awe and deep reverence.  We join Him in yearning for the day when that same attitude permeates all of humanity, as it does among heavenly beings.  Keep growing in your understanding of God.  Keep deepening your relationship with Him.  Your respect will grow too, perhaps even before you once again start wetting your pants.