Tag Archives: obedience


Did you know there is a building code for how many inches there must be between the toilet and a bathroom cabinet?  Fact is, there’s codes for everything.  But if you think local building codes are fussy, have a look at the regulations God required for the tabernacle, the precursor to the temple.  You’ll find it in the book of Exodus, starting with this verse:

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it.  (Exodus 25:8-9)

Back then, you had to know what a cubit was.  And measure precisely.  But why?  Why would Almighty God give the impression that, if they used the wrong dimensions He couldn’t “dwell in their midst?”  God is sovereign; He can dwell anywhere He wants.  So what’s the deal?

Every detail of the design of the tabernacle nonverbally communicates some important truth.  It’s fascinating to consider each part and ask, “What is this teaching?”  But the overall specificity, the requirement that it be built exactly according to God’s instructions, teaches a lesson easily overlooked today.  If you want to connect to God, you do so on His terms, not your own.

God is Who He is, not who we think He ought to be.  His Name is, “I AM WHO I AM.”  We don’t get to decide how to approach God.   In those days, God taught that important lesson in a rudimentary way, using tabernacle dimensions, etc.  But the lesson still holds today:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6)


Golden Delicious

Apple trees don’t struggle to figure out who they are and what they should do.  Perhaps you shouldn’t, either.  Apple trees produce apples; they bear fruit.  Apples emerge because the sap of life flows through the tree.  I don’t know how it happens, simply that it does.

We do well to remember that when we deal with Bible passages about bearing fruit, such as this one: (We’ve lingered over this part of Colossians (see last few posts) in which Paul prays for God to fill his friends with spiritual wisdom…)

“… so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work…” –  (Colossians 1:10a)

If you’re not careful, a passage like that can fill you with insecurity:  “Am I doing enough?  Am I pleasing God?  Am I doing good work?  Am I worthy?”  Knock it off!  The new life of Christ does not shake a bony, accusing finger in our faces!  Remember the apple trees. 

Jesus gives us new life, the life of His Spirit, to live in us as we live in Him.  In that state, He says, we will bear much fruit. 

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  –  (John 15:5)

What’s that fruit going to look like?  What sort of “every good work” am I meant to do?  You will see.  Your fruit might look like apples.  Mine might taste like grapes.  But don’t worry: once we put our faith fully in Jesus, God fills us with His Spirit, His life in us produces fruit, and He is pleased.

“…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” – (Philippians 2:13)

Thou Shalt Not

Two weeks ago, a toddler shot his mother and her boyfriend.  He found a gun in her purse and was messing around with it.  Ten days before that, a two year-old fatally shot himself with a gun he found in the glove compartment.  I’m not anti-gun; my son-in-law used a gun to protect his family from a rattler.  But anyone in his right mind would insist that his children not touch his guns. (He would also lock them up but this post isn’t about gun safety, it’s about loving rules.)  It isn’t being harsh for a parent to make strict rules about guns and enforce them.  It’s loving.  The kids may think you are spoiling their fun.  They may resent your rules and try everything they can to break them.  But the rules are loving, because you have made them to protect their lives.

The same principle holds true for God, Who is often perceived in a negative, kill-joy sort of way.  People say, “Why should we follow a bunch of rules laid down thousands of years ago by a mean-spirited, ignorant deity?  Let’s make up our own rules about what we can do.”  They resent God and decide to ignore what His rules.

But God says,

 “… ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ezekiel 33:11b)

God loves you.  He wants you to live.  Remember that the next time you feel like breaking one of His rules.


Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Better Bread

When you sink your teeth into good sourdough, the crust fights back a little; it’s chewy and a bit tough.  Making bread has been a hobby of mine for years and I’ve developed methods that work pretty well. But when I spotted a used copy of Peter Reinhart’s “Crust and Crumb” down at Barbwire Books, I snatched it up.  Peter writes about how to make “world class bread,” bread that is “good beyond belief.”  When I read that line, I had to have the book.

I keep “Crust and Crumb” by my easy chair and frequently browse through it, absorbing what he has to say. Peter’s recipes were very much like the ones I had been using.  But he spends most of the book describing specific ways to form and handle the dough.  Some of those methods require several days to make a batch of bread and seemed unnecessarily tedious to me.  So, I modified his methods with a few personal shortcuts here and there. My sourdough was improved somewhat but was not yet “good beyond belief.”  In reflecting on what was wrong, it occurred to me that perhaps I’d get better results if I actually followed Reinharts instructions. (Duh!)  Last time I made sourdough, I followed his methods to the letter.  Oh my goodness…  Not yet good beyond belief but it’s getting there…

It’s very easy to make the same mistake with the Bible – keep it by the easy chair, browse through it and modify what it says to suit what seems doable.  Throw in a personal shortcut here or there.  Here’s what Jesus’ brother Jim said about that:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25, NIV)

Just do it.  Like the bread, you won’t be “good beyond belief” but you’ll be heading in that direction.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Beware of the Dog

According to Jesus, some folks act like dogs and pigs.  He said, give ’em a wide berth:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.  (Matthew 7:6)

Maybe that doesn’t sound like Jesus to you.  What does He mean?  The first principle in figuring that out is to ask, what has He been talking about?  What is the context of what He said?  In this case, Jesus had just taught us not to condemn others (Matthew 7:1-2) but rather, to approach them to help with compassion and humility, fully aware of our own faults (Matthew 7:3-5).  If this is a continuation of that topic, then He means, realize that there are some people who are not ready or able to receive your help.  Trying to help those people may truly make it worse.

The dogs of Jesus’ day were not domesticated; they were wild and dangerous.  Pigs, too – and they were also considered unclean for the observant Jew.  We’ve all encountered people who, at least for the moment, were acting like dogs and pigs.  The best and most compassionate help, as valuable as it may otherwise be, will have no value to a person in that condition.  Don’t try to force it on him.

When Jesus refers to something sacred or holy, it is important to recognize that things we do in obedience to Him are sacred and holy.  Water to the thirsty, clothes for the needy – these are sacred acts when motivated by an appreciation for Jesus’ teachings about reality and about God.  So too, would be a genuinely compassionate and humble attempt to help someone stuck in destructive behavior.  So too, would be an attempt to explain the amazing truth about Jesus and the wonderful life that awaits those who comprehend it.  But, as sacred as they are, those acts only have value – they only really help – if they are received by the person to whom they are offered.  When that person reacts with hostility and anger, it is time to back off, for your own well being and to preserve the value and effectiveness of what has been offered.  There may be a better time.

As I write, I recall in my own life, the many times I acted as a wild dog and an irreverent pig.  Those who tried to shove “help” down my throat were angrily turned away.  I also humbly recall that God did not give up on me.

The Acid Test

Hurricane Sandy left chaos, confusion, darkness and despair in her wake.  In the midst of those dark circumstances, Salem Church, (http://salemchurchnyc.org) on Staten Island,  shined in bright contrast.  Relief, rescue and reconstruction efforts poured out into the community (and continue to do so today) as they put hands, backs and feet to their informal church slogan: “We’re going to love on people until they ask us why.”  They pass the acid test.  They get it.  Get what?  Get this:

God loves us so He can love others through us.   That’s His purpose.  Jesus lived that and taught that:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  (John 15:9 a)

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

When we receive God’s love, He changes us and then loves others through us.  As we extend His love to others, the purpose of God’s love to us is accomplished.  In the words of John, God’s love is made complete.

But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.  (1 John 2:5a)

When you send a text, your purpose in sending it is not made complete until the text is received and read.  God’s love to us is not made complete until we “obey His Word” by extending His love to others.  Jesus gave us many commands.  He summarized them in one command: “Love one another.”  He said:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 )

Jesus said that our love for one another would be the acid test for the genuineness of our belief in Him.  He said, all men would know.  John says, we can know, too:

But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:5-6 )

It’s the acid test.

How Do You Know?

Before the leaves start turning, I check to make sure my furnace is going to work.  First, I need to know if the pilot light is still burning.  Because I can’t see it or hear it, I’d need to take the furnace apart to look.  But an easier way is to turn up the thermostat and wait a few minutes.  If warm air comes out of my heating vents, then I know that my pilot light is lit.   I can tell the condition of the pilot light, by the evidence of the warm air.

In the same way,

 We know that we have come to know him [Jesus] if we obey his commands.  The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  (1 John 2:3-4)

Observe carefully, John does NOT say if you obey, then Jesus will accept you.  It says that you can be sure you “know” Jesus by the evidence of how you tend to obey His commands.  If you are as naturally rebellious as I am, you are probably thinking, “What’s all this about obedience?”  It goes back to what the word “know” means.

A friend of mine met a guy who was also canoeing along the shore of Maine, near where he lives.  No big deal, just two guys who happened on each other and were enjoying the same sport.  That is, until my friend found out he was chatting with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Knowing who he was, changed my friend’s behavior. If the judge had asked him to do something he would have been more naturally inclined to obey, out of respect.  When you “know” that Jesus is God – Almighty God- and that He has told us some things we really ought to do, it will change how you act.  It just will.  That’s part of what it means to “know.”

But “knowing” is also a word that means “having an intimate relationship.”  When you enjoy a rich, fulfilling relationship with someone, and that person wants you to do something, you tend to want to do it, right?  Suppose your favorite uncle, the one who really took an interest in you from way back when you were a kid, wants you to take your shoes off in his house…   See what I mean?

That’s what John means.  If you have any doubt about whether you really have come to know Jesus, you could spend a lot of time analyzing all your thoughts and motives and so on.  Or, you could check to see if you tend to want to do what Jesus told us to do.  Simple.

There’s more to it, but we’ll get to that next time.