God Will Come Near

But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23:29-30)

After Exodus, the book of Joshua begins by showing how God granted Israel major victories to defeat the main military powers in the promised land of Canaan. But next, each tribe was supposed to complete the mission by removing the remaining pockets of resistance in their territories. Unfortunately, they never finished that assignment.

When I first believed, God gave quick change to many deep rooted negative attitudes and habits. With so many weaknesses rapidly wiped away it felt like I would now have a life filled with unending joy.

Ha! I was unsuspecting of remaining pockets of resistance in my life, how much work still had to be done and how much I still needed to change! So when I encountered some serious major obstacles, I was stunned and then overwhelmed when they did not get quickly cleared away. I then backslid and made many stupid choices.

Did that make a shipwreck of my Christianity? No —-I never did lose sight of how I was a new creation in Christ.  But I had a poor understanding of what it takes to learn to grow in wisdom, making wise choices and growing in love.

Now it’s decades later. Am I free from all sin? Not quite! True, I have traded gross or obviously stupid sins for what Jerry Bridges called respectable sins [1]. As if a little bit of resentment, jealousy, envy, and secret anger is not a problem at all! That’s why I cannot say I have arrived. There are still pockets of resistance. I still have more land to possess. Yet there is good reason to keep pressing on.

Whether you have been at this for a long time or are more of a beginner, this remains great advice:

 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:7–8a)

There’s an amazing interplay here between what I need to do and what God promises to do.

I must submit, resist, and come near. And then: God will come near. Is this for one time only? A one and done deal? Nope, it’s daily. Seek such an encounter with the presence of God today. And tomorrow. Renew it each day for the rest of your time on earth!


[1] https://tinyurl.com/BrridgesRespect

Do You Still Not Understand?

Today’s post is inspired by a recent sermon at our church, The Chapel, given by Elder Levi Schmidt 1

I have been doing systematic bible readings for many years, but I can fall into being rote in my approach —- just reading the verses for that day and checking off that I did it.

Levi’s sermon was a helpful corrective, reminding me that instead of just plowing through the verses, I should ask a simple daily question: “God, what are you telling me as I read scripture today?”

The day after Levi’s sermon, I read a familiar passage. It’s when Jesus’ disciples, for the second time, are bent out of shape because of a lack of bread to feed a large crowd. Jesus had to rebuke the disciples for not remembering the miracle with the loaves and fishes that he did the first time there was a large, hungry crowd.

“And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:18b-21)

The effortless way of reading these verses is to say, “I can’t believe how slow those disciples were to catch on to who Jesus was and what he was doing. They should have known better!” But as part of my response to the sermon, the Spirit turned Jesus’ question to the disciples around and dramatically confronted me with the question “What do you not understand?”

Recently I had a very fitful night of sleep. Had a list of things to do swarming in my head. Anxious about them all. What to do and in what order.

Here’s what I overlooked: God has repeatedly taken care of me in similar times of anxiety…I have already often seen how God provides, either by resolving the situation or by giving me peace of mind even in the midst of a stressful situation.

So Jesus would say to me “Do you still not understand?”

And the beauty of it, I think, is that Jesus does not say that with scorn, whether to the disciples or to myself. He ached for them to better understand who he was, and what he provided, and he wasn’t going to tell them to get lost. When I do get anxious, Jesus is not going to kick me out, but instead he urges me to seek his face, remember what he has provided, and dwell increasingly in the peace he gives.

  1. https://www.thechapel.org/sermon/knowing-god/

Is the Bible a Rule Book?

Today I’ll contrast two ways of looking at the Bible.

 #1. The Bible is God’s divine rule book. Life improves when we study it diligently and find rules to obey. The Bible gives us a life under law.

#2. The Bible is God’s special revelation to us. It leads us into a vital Spirit-led personal encounter with Christ, who gives us wisdom and guidance as we seek to do God’s will. The Bible is a guide to life under grace.

If #1 is true and the Bible is a set of rules, then my ability to follow such a set of rules well is highly dependent on my own will power. If I have strong enough will power, I may do quite well at keeping the rules.  But the more I succeed at this rule keeping, the more I will develop a superior attitude towards those who do not follow the rules as well as I do. Indeed, I may take a perverse enjoyment in comparing my performance to theirs and either rebuking them to their face or secretly treasuring how well I am doing!

Rules are a way of transforming the free grace in Scripture into dead laws.

Look at these differences:

Grace

Law

Express gratitude and thanks in prayer

The longer you spend praying each day, the better

Time spent reading the Bible is a delight

You must have a Bible reading plan and stick to it each day

You please God as you help your fellow man with good deeds

The more ministries you are involved in and the more hours you spend on them, the better.

Often, these rules go beyond what is written in the Bible into a series of prohibitions:

Grace

Law

Wine is good, but do avoid getting drunk

No drinking whatsoever.

 

Use careful spirit-led discernment in your entertainment choices

Don’t ever watch R-rated movies.

 

The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel gave a preview of how grace works:       I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)

Life under law is what leads to a stony heart. Life in grace gives more leeway and much liberty…. but not freedom to do whatever we feel like.

So instead of a blanket prohibition of R-rated movies, we can have an honest prayerful wrestling with which movies to see or not see. The Passion of the Christ was rated R …. is it OK to see it ? 

We move from rules to guidelines. A new guideline I’ve adopted is to not watch a series that has an intimacy coordinator[i]. One result:  I won’t watch the next season of the series BridgertonBut I can’t make this into a rule and bind your conscience by saying “You’re in sin” if you watch the next season of it.

Reading the scriptures in a Spirit-led way, we gain patience with others who don’t see it our way. Instead of shoving rules down their throats and binding them to stuff that is not commanded in scripture, we model to them what a life in grace looks like.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimacy_coordinator

Freed From Exile

 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
    and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
    expectant mothers and women in labor;
    a great throng will return.
 They will come with weeping;
    they will pray as I bring them back. (Jeremiah 31:8-9a)

These verses were originally written to the Jewish people who had been taken into exile. These ancient Jews were promised they would return to their homeland, and they did. But it was only a temporary relief. For they would be scattered again.

The text applies to Christians too, because the Hebrew Bible has many sneak previews of Christ and Christianity. Before we believed, we too were in exile…we were not living in the spiritual homeland God intended for us. We needed rescue by Jesus, the King of the Jews, because we were enemies of God and separated from God.

Many of the returnees in the Jeremiah verses above had serious physical challenges. It seems easier for them in their weakness to see their need for God. Yet, without Jesus Christ, even the most fit people are, in a real sense, “blind and lame.” They may think they are strong and self-sufficient, telling God “I don’t need help, thanks.”

I do have a warning for you today: You might not be as powerful and self-sufficient as you think you are. Consider what happened to King Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. He had been warned by a prophecy against being self-sufficient — but his failure to respond brought consequences:

Twelve months later, as the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:29-30)

Because of that arrogance, he lost his sanity and “was driven from men and did eat grass as ox” (Daniel 4:33) [i]

Finally, though, because of God’s mercy, Nebuchadnezzar was able to recover, leading to a huge change of heart:

 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Daniel 4:37)

Do you feel rich and powerful? God requests you to acknowledge dependency on him. And lest you think I am claiming that I have it all together, I haven’t arrived. I know I always need a daily renewal of my own heart. So this post is for all of us.

Would you rather enjoy life to the fullest as you admit that God really is the King … or live on your own and go through what Nebuchadnezzar went through, wasting your time as if you were eating grass?

[i]Today this is a known psychological disorder.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boanthropy