Why Can’t We Follow the Law?

Yesterday, the Bible opened to Zechariah, and since I had never read this book before (or, honestly, even knew it existed), I read it all.  I was struck by this verse:

These then are the things you must do: Speak the truth to one another; judge with honesty and complete justice in your gates.  Let none of you plot evil against another in your heart, nor love a false oath. For all these things I hate—oracle of the LORD.

Zechariah 8:16-17

I was struck not because it was something new, but because it was not new.  We hear these same things in the ten commandments and in Jesus’ words to us.  And of course, we (or at least I) still struggle to comply.  Sometimes it is easy to think, well He doesn’t really mean that or it is ok if I sin because He will forgive me again.  And yes, I know God will forgive when we turn to Him, but couldn’t I do a better job actually trying not to sin, actually trying not to do the things that God hates, the things that pull us away from him, the things that essentially thumb our nose at Him.  After all, He tells us what we should not do.  He tells us what hurts Him.  How do we feel when our children, our spouse or our friends do something that they know we do not like or have expressly asked them not to do?

Sometimes it feels like in today’s world, we are quick to ignore the rules that don’t suit us or that don’t match with what we want.  The media is filled right now with the immigration issue and whether any punishment should occur when someone illegally crosses the border.  What always strikes me about this whole debate is that we get mad when anyone wants to enforce the law.  There is no dispute that the immigrants at issue are “illegal”.  In other words they have broken our laws.  I am not saying I necessarily agree with the law (but the fix is to change the law), but what happened to the idea of following the law?  We pick and choose what laws we will follow.  How dare anyone tell us what we can and cannot do.  How dare anyone tell our children what they can and cannot do.  (How many times do we see in the media stories where parents are outraged because a school enforced a rule against their child?) How dare anyone discipline our children when they violate a rule.

Do we display the same attitude to God?  How dare God tell us what to do?  Oh I hope I do not!

God,

Forgive me!  Forgive me for turning away from you, for not listening, for not following your commandments.  Forgive me for not always holding love in my heart, for listening to, and spreading, gossip.  Forgive me for judging others, for not being honest with myself or others.  Forgive me for not trying enough to do better.  I want to be a better reflection of you and your love.  Help me Lord.  I need you.

Return, Repent, Rejoice, Rest

It has been awhile.  Life, as usual, has gotten in the way.  The daily grind.  The tireless pursuit of … what? career? money? love? rest? Exhausting.  Today, I returned to the Bible.  And here is where it opened:

In the second year of Darius, in the eighth month, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah, son of Berechiah, son of Iddo:  The LORD was very angry with your ancestors.  Say to them: Thus says the LORD of hosts, Return to me—oracle of the LORD of hosts—and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.  Do not be like your ancestors to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: Thus says the LORD of hosts: Turn from your evil ways and from your wicked deeds.  But they did not listen or pay attention to me—oracle of the LORD.— Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, can they live forever?  But my words and my statutes, with which I charged my servants the prophets, did these not overtake your ancestors?  Then they repented and admitted: “Just as the LORD of hosts intended to treat us according to our ways and deeds, so the LORD has done.”

Zechariah 1:1-6

How many times in the Bible does God remind us that all we need to do is return to Him?  Here are just a few examples:

  • Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God, For he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment.  Joel 2:13
  • Return, Israel, to the LORD, your God; you have stumbled because of your iniquity.  Hosea 14:2
  • If you return to the Almighty, you will be restored; if you put iniquity far from your tent.  Job 22:23
  • I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.  Jeremiah 24:7
  • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.  James 4:8
  • In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.  Luke 15:10

Throughout the Bible, the message is consistent: return to God.  No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done… return…  repent… rejoice and rest in God’s love.  Jesus makes it clear with three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin and finally the prodigal son.  Luke 15:1-32  And then he tells us: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Lord,

Your mercy and love is far too gracious for us to comprehend.  I do not know how or why I let life get in the way, chasing things that do not bring me the peace and joy and rest that only you can provide.  Thank you for always being there when I return.  You have made this beautiful world full of so many wonderful things.  I want to see and experience it all, but I want to do that with you.

In Jesus’ name

Last night, we read that Jesus calls us to be like Him.  He calls us to love.  But He doesn’t stop there.  Not only must we love, but we are called to do God’s works.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.  Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.  And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.

John 14:10-14

Jesus tells us that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him.  His words and His works are done by the Father who lives within Him.  Jesus tells us: “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do.”   “And will do greater ones than these!”  WOW!  Jesus calls us to live in Him and to allow God to live within us.  When we do, Jesus will continue to carry out God’s works through us.   If we ask anything of Jesus in His name, He will do it.  Really?  Anything?

Yes!  Of course, this isn’t a free for all.  We have to BELIEVE in Jesus and DO the works that Jesus does and ASK in Jesus’ name.  And when we are centered in that way, our asks will be good asks.  Anything that we truly seek in Jesus’ name, He will do.

Jesus,

I believe in you.  I believe that you are in God and God is in you.  Thank you for coming to earth and showing us God’s love and God’s works.  Help me to do works that glorify you.  Help me to do your will, to follow your plan.  You know that I struggle. Help me to stay on course.   Help me to see you in others, to love others even when I feel rejected or disagree with them, and to help others love.  Help me to be a reflection of you rather than trying to shine on my own.   I ask this in your name.  Amen.

I Wanna Be Like Christ

Remember the Gatorade commercials “I wanna be like Mike”?  In the commercials, kids try to emulate Michael Jordan while singing:

Sometimes I dream
That he is me
You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be
I dream I move, I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I move
I dream I groove
Like Mike
If I could Be Like Mike
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Mike
Oh, if I could Be Like Mike

Today, as the NBA finals are being played kids are probably dreaming of being like LeBron James or Steph Curry.

Today the Bible opened to John and the reminder that we are called to be like Christ (not Mike).  Jesus tells us:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

This is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — if we have love for one another — if we be like Christ and love no matter what.  Jesus says these words right after sending Judas off from the Last Supper to betray Him.  A reminder that we have to love even those who hurt us, who frustrate us, who challenge us, who don’t love us back.  That is how all will know that we are disciples of Christ — not by the cross around our neck or our appearance at Church on Sunday — but by our love — by our actions.

Maybe we could change the words to the song:

Again I try
Just need to fly
For just one day if I could
Be that way
I dream I love
Like  God above
Like Christ
If I could Be Like Christ
I wanna be, I wanna be
Like Christ
Oh, if I could Be Like Christ

 

Its a Rocky Road to Heaven

The news is horrible for anyone to hear: a 16 year old dead in a horrible freak accident.  And of course the questions immediately follow: why?  how could God let this happen?

It is another painful reminder that we all deal with tragedies. We all deal with pain and suffering.  We all face the devil.

Today two verses overtake me:

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

God loves us.  He does not set trials in our path.  He does not want us to be hurt.  But the trade off with allowing us to have free will is — He has to allow us to use it.  He does not control us or the people around us.  What kind of life would that be?  We would be no different than robots.  We are God’s children and as His children we grow in strength and maturity.  The way we grow is by facing trials big and small.  Think about your own children: if we do everything for them, how will they grow?  If we never let them make mistakes, how will they learn?  It is terribly hard sometimes because we want to protect them, we don’t want them to be hurt, but at the same time, we have to let them go to discover things on their own, to make their own choices and sometimes suffer the consequences.  Imagine how God must feel with all of us.  Yes, He could put us in a bubble, but how would that be for any of us?  How would we grow?  How would we truly know what joy and love are if we never experience the pain?  We appreciate the sun, when we experience the rain.  (and we appreciate the Son, when we experience the pain.)

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it.  But he should ask in faith, not doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind.

James 1:2–6

God may not fix every situation for us, but He is there with us, and if we are open to it, if we ask, He guides us with a way out.  Some trials may take a lot of perseverance.  Some may feel devastating and it may seem like the pain will never end, but God is there.

I have often wondered, if He loves us how can he allow us to suffer so much pain.  The idea of us allowing our own child to die seems unfathomable.  So how can God?  As I read Corinthians this morning this thought came to me:  our trials, our pain, our suffering is human.  They are not eternal.  Our life on earth is meant to be temporary (indeed we all must die to experience eternal life).  It is like when we watch our own child play a board game or video game.  They may make mistakes.  They may lose or their player may “die”.  They may even be heartbroken (I remember throwing a board game because I was so upset).  But as parents we know that these challenges are little ones.  As they get older, we watch them with their first girlfriend or boyfriend, we see them make mistakes, we see the heart break — they may feel devastated.  They may feel like they can never move on.  Although it is sometimes painful to watch, as parents we expect it and we know it will be ok because they are still young and there are bigger things in store for them.  Similarly, God knows that our entire life on earth whether it is 2 minutes or 102 years, is just a small blip in our eternity.  We are all still young.  We are all still children.  He knows we will be ok.  Because, if we let Him, He has bigger things in store for us.

God,

Thank you for giving us free will.  Sometimes it feels like it would be easier if you would take it away and control the world around us.  Sometimes it feels like the world is more than we can take.  Help us to always see the light and the hope no matter how dark or painful the things on earth may seem.  Help us to share the light and hope with others.  Help us to persevere through any trial and to know that this world is temporary and so is every struggle.  Help us to know that you never leave our side.

 

Father’s Love

I found a new favorite verse in the bible:

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Romans 8:14-15

I have heard before that we are children of God, and of course that sounds wonderful.  But tonight the part that struck me was that we “did not receive a spirit  of slavery to fall back into fear.”  God does not want slaves.  He does not want us to choose Him out of fear.  To me, the Old Testament often seems full of fear.

God sent His Son and His Spirit so that we would know His love.  His Spirit surrounds us, not to force us into a relationship with God, for what kind of a relationship would that be.  (Can a slave love his master, or is he always looking for the day when he can get away, when he is finally free.)   But rather the Spirit is a constant reminder that  God chooses us. He willingly adopts us.  He is not stuck with us like a birth parent might be.  Not only did He create us, but even with all of our faults and sins, He chooses us again and again every day. He sent His Spirit to lead us to Him, if we choose to follow, so that we can have a real relationship with Him, so that we can run to him like an innocent child runs to her father crying “daddy” as we leap into His arms, with total confidence, trust and the purest love.

Father!

Forgive me for turning away.  Send your Spirit to lead me and guide me.  I want to be with you!

 

 

 

Why Worry?

I worry.  A lot.  I worry about being a good parent.  Being a good spouse.  Being a good business partner.  I worry about making enough money, maintaining job security, obtaining financial security.  I worry about my health, and my family’s health.  I worry about my son’s future and whether I have done enough to help place him on the right path.  I worry about my faith, my future and my relationship with God.

Tonight, I read Matthew chapter 6:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?   Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?  Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.  But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.   If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.  Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Matthew 6:25-34

Do not worry about tomorrow.  That is a wonderful idea, isn’t it?  The Bible is filled with this idea.  But is it possible?  I struggle with this.   I want to be able to do this, but how?

This passage seems to provide an answer: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

We worry about things on earth — things the pagans seek.  Things that won’t matter in our eternal life.  God.  That is all we really need.  That is all we need to seek.  If we just focus on Him, what is there to worry about?  Oh, I want to seek you Lord!  I want to cast my worries aside and focus on you.

Our Father,

You are all powerful in heaven and on earth.  Hallowed be your name!  Let your Kingdom come.  I pray that your will be done on earth and that I let go and let you take control.   Give us this day our daily bread — and the acceptance to know that is all we need.  Help me not to worry about tomorrow’s bread and instead to just seek you.  Forgive me for the times I fail and the times I turn away from you.  And help me to forgive others who fail me.  Lead me away from temptation and when I stray, deliver me from evil, so that I may always return to you.

 

Made and Loved by God

Tonight’s passage is wonderful (and easy to understand):

For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate.  How could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?  But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Ruler and Lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Wisdom 11:24-12:1

God loves us.  He made us.  He created us.  By His will, we exist.  We are His. It is just that simple.

As I read this scripture over, it almost makes me say “well, duh — of course He loves us.”  I can feel my soul breathe a deep sigh of relief, because this passage makes it so simple and clear.  We all have a tag on our soul that says Made by God.  (Who needs a Made in the USA tag — we all bear the Made in Heaven stamp!)

And just when I think it cannot get any better, the very last clause blows me away: “for your imperishable spirit is in all things.”

I watch my son, the one little part of God’s creation that I had a hand in making and I can see part of me in him (some good and some not so good).  God made us.  And just like part of me is in my son, part of God is in each of us.  And that is all good!  God’s imperishable spirit is in all of us!  We need to let that part shine!

God,

I love you!  I am not worthy of your love, but I am so grateful to have it.  Let your Spirit  fill me and shine through me!

 

Buzzer Beater Hope

It has been a tough weekend for many on the basketball court (and many in the stands).  My own bracket has been completely destroyed.  There have been some heartbreaking losses — some in the final seconds of the game.  Of course, these losses are nothing compared to the many other losses that we suffer.

Tonight the Bible opened to Lamentations:

My life is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; My enduring hope, I said, has perished before the LORD.  The thought of my wretched homelessness is wormwood and poison; Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.  But this I will call to mind; therefore I will hope:

The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; They are renewed each morning—great is your faithfulness!

The LORD is my portion, I tell myself, therefore I will hope in him.  The LORD is good to those who trust in him, to the one that seeks him; It is good to hope in silence for the LORD’s deliverance.

Lamentations 3:17-26

The passages before this lamented on all of the suffering we experience.  We all suffer.  We all have loss.  Some small and fleeting, like a basketball game.  Some tragic and life altering.  This line struck me tonight: “Remembering it over and over, my soul is downcast.”

If we focus on our sufferings, there is no doubt that our souls will be downcast.  We need Hope.  In every situation, we need Hope.  In basketball sometimes a team’s last hope is a buzzer beater shot.  But there is only one Hope that can lift us, no matter what the situation, no matter what the suffering, no matter what the loss.  Hope in the Lord.  Hope in His deliverance.  Nothing on earth can match what the Lord provides.  Even when all seems lost, God always provides us with a buzzer beater —  we just need to trust in Him, seek Him.  We don’t have to make a half-court shot, we just need to turn to Him.  God’s love exceeds all of our expectations.  It is the true Cinderella story.  He takes what might seem downtrodden and  turns us into something beautiful.

He constantly takes us out of the darkness.  With every sunrise, we are renewed.  His compassion is not spent.  His mercy is never exhausted.  Therefore, I will Hope.

Lord,

I trust in you.  I put all of my sufferings, all of my pain and all of my loss in your hands.  Help me not to dwell on these things.  My hope is in you.  Help me to have enough strength to maintain Hope even in the darkest days.

 

Rejoice, Pray, Give Thanks

Do you ever wonder what God is calling you to do?  I think about it constantly.  I know His plan is bigger than me.  I know He is calling me to do more.  But what is it He wants from me?  What is it He wants for me?

As I was racking my brain and struggling with what God wants me to do, I heard this verse on the radio:

We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all.  See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all.  Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything; retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil.

1 Thessalonians 5:14-22

I love these lines: Rejoice always.  Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.  

Maybe I am trying to think (and worry) too big.  Rejoice, Pray, Give thanks.  This is the will of God.  If I focus on these three things…  how could I be anything but happy?  How could I not be following God’s will?  No matter the circumstance, if I can rejoice at the goodness around me, the life God has given me, the love that God showers on me; if I can give thanks for everything I receive, every blessing I have, every moment that I enjoy; and if I can pray about everything else, I cannot help but think I will be satisfied.  I will be happy.  I will be living God’s will (even if I never accomplish anything else, even if I screw up along the way, even if the world is dark around me). Rejoice, Pray, Give thanks.  I can choose to find the good and rejoice.  I can choose to be thankful, instead of always wanting more.  I can focus my fears, my worries, my pain into prayer.

God,

I rejoice in your goodness!  Thank you for allowing me another day on this earth.  Thank you for blessing me with so much.  Help me to remember your love and your blessings, particularly when darkness tries to invade.  I pray for your help and your guidance.  On paper, this can seem so easy, but in life it can become so hard.