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…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
If you were an evil enemy of God, what would be your go-to scheme? How would you best achieve division and defeat among the people of God?
The most effective method is simply to keep Christians from loving each other; to cause bitter division among families and communities of believers all over the world - husband from wife, parent from child, brother from brother, friend from friend. Most of us fall for it every time, like a fish that gets hooked and thrown back over and over again by the same fisherman. Our enemy wants to highlight differences and offenses, and to keep those things ever in our minds and spirits.
People everywhere want to feel loved, accepted, and included. When Christians dwell together in unity and truly love each other, those around us can see a clear picture of how good God is and how welcoming, kind, and inclusive He is. There is nothing like the love of God! It changes everything it touches - it renews and beautifies, and gives hope, life and purpose.
To best reflect this great love of God, we must love one another as the family of God first. This is easy to say, but not so easy to do - we are all so different and have such varied ways of communicating and looking at things. If we are not careful, we can take offense easily.
We must remember that real love is not a feeling - it is a choice for the highest good of God and His Kingdom. Our ability and willingness to truly love each other is the thing that makes or breaks our witness as a community. When we do not love each other, it is painfully obvious to a watching world, and it is utterly repellent. Conversely, when we dwell together in unity, it is like oil (Psalm 133) which covers all and which everything sticks to. We become like a magnet, with a pull and draw that no person can resist.
So, our wicked enemy seeks to keep us from loving one another at all costs. This scheme becomes effective when any of us feel hurt or excluded or put down in some way and choose to dwell on that - offense is a choice, too. Something deep and dark within our sinful nature wants to demand not just our equality, but our superiority over others through attitudes of “me first” and “I am better than you.” This way of thinking leaves real love in the ditch and renders our witness ineffective.
How do we resist this tactic?
We must forgive.
The full passage of 2 Corinthians 2: 7-11 says, "Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes."
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful weapons that God has given us. Real forgiveness can break bondages that have endured for generations. It can turn a brittle heart into a soft heart, and can turn a broken family into a happy, thriving family. God has extended forgiveness to us, and asks us to return the grace and favor to others. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can take God's gifts only for our own benefit, and refuse to extend love to others. Jesus tells us plainly, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matthew 6: 14-15)
Extending forgiveness to others is not optional. We must forgive as we have been forgiven - it cannot remain just theory, but must become our practice. As sinful people who have been forgiven by God, we can never say, "Yes, but you do not understand what they have done to me..." We have been forgiven of so much, and must also forgive others. The beauty of it is that when we let hurts and offenses go, they can no longer hurt us or cause a division among us. When we forgive one another, the enemy's scheme to defeat us falls flat.
We must choose to believe the best about one another.
This has two facets. First, we must choose to believe the best about others when we hear a bad word or report about them. It is falling right into the enemy’s trap to ingest or repeat the bad things we hear about a brother or a sister. What good does that do? None! It helps nothing to become a part of a bad report, and oftentimes there is much more to the story than we know.
Second, believing the best means that we must have real hope for people; we must keep on bumping them towards Jesus, and towards the dream that God has for their life. We must learn to truly honor one another. We can all plainly can see the things that are wrong with one other, but Christians need to be people who look for and see what is good and right in each one. We are all created in the image of God and have something of Him in us. We must choose to see what is best and call that out in one another rather than holding each other back.
We must keep no record of wrongs.
How do we like it when our spouse or parent or brother or friend or teacher brings up that old, terrible thing we did again and again? We are so frustrated by it, and recognize that we have grown and changed. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, and tend to make excuses for our feelings and behavior - maybe we had a headache or had heard bad news that day when we were so rude to our friend.
At the same time, we might keep records of wrong for other people in our lives that stretch back for years, and with remarkable detail. Then, in a moment of hurt, we are likely to throw something back at our spouse that happened 15 years ago, leaving no room for growth and change. If we could have a moment of clear thinking, we would realize how horrible and creepy this is. It would be so offensive if someone kept and used that kind record of wrongs against us.
God actually does have every right to keep a record of wrongs on each of us, but chooses to forgive and forget when we come to Him in repentance. He loves to cover the shame that we heap upon ourselves. He loves to help us find a great trajectory towards godliness and cheers us on our way. He does not stand, arms crossed and face twisted in anger, reminding us of every wicked and selfish thing we have ever done, refusing to let us change and grow in godliness.
We ought to follow God in this way. We must forgive one another and cheer one another on in spiritual growth and development. We must treat others as we would like to be treated. Sure, people say and do some pretty thoughtless, hurtful things - sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. We all do this at one time or another. But with the same grace we extend to ourselves, we must be gracious with one another. Perhaps they are stressed out, perhaps they are hurting. Instead of feeling offended, what if we offered care and concern and friendship instead? Our families, churches, and communities could be radically changed for the better if Christians would stop falling for the enemy's schemes, and would start practicing the law of love...
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
Christmas is coming! Kingdom Minded is a great resource for small groups and Sunday School classes - order your copies today...
…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
2 Corinthians 2:11
We have been on the road these last two weeks, and one of the great joys of our lives is meeting Christian brothers and sisters in different places. It is like a wonderful family reunion wherever we go - the Body of Christ is indeed beautiful and doing good works in communities all over the world.
At the same time, driving such a long way across the country reveals that there is much work left to do. There is a great deal of suffering and spiritual poverty everywhere we have gone, and much opportunity to share the love and hope of Christ.
Why are we slow to share the Good News - why haven’t more people been impacted by true Christianty?
Paul wrote a wonderful second letter to the Corinthian church that still speaks to us today. In it, he spends quite a bit of time painting a picture of what real, vibrant relationship with Jesus will look like lived out as a community of believers. In it are two sentences that we dare not skip over as we read, “...in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The context in which he writes this is about forgiveness, and we will look at that in more depth next week. For now, let’s look at this concept of Satan scheming against us in order to outwit us - is this actually true?
In a word, yes. There really is an evil enemy of God who hates Him so passionately, and who has committed to try to hurt as many of God’s beloved children as he can in order to inflict pain on God. Thank the Lord that the great work of Jesus on the cross has broken the grip of sin and death, and has defeated Satan and his wicked plan. But in this time of God’s patience, waiting for His church to gather as many of His lost sheep as they can and will, Satan does not rest from his scheming since he knows his days are numbered.
We cannot be unaware of the enemy’s schemes, otherwise we will fall for them every time. These are his tricks and traps, and they are even worse than standard operating procedure of wickedness and evil. Standard to Satan is a hatred for God and for people because they are made in His image. So, as this era races to a close, we should not be surprised that the persecution of Christian people around the world is definitively worse than it has ever been historically. (Please research this sometime and join in prayer for the persecuted Church.) But all these 2000 years, persecution from the outside of the Church has not been able to stop the Body of Christ - it has only made us stronger overall.
But the enemy’s schemes are worse than just pure evil - they are how he worms his way into the lives and dealings of Christians to ruin real Christianity from the inside. When it comes down to it, Satan has just a few plays in his book, but they are so effective that he uses them again and again. This week and next, we will examine two schemes that threaten to devestate the Church.
First - Tampering with Truth
Our society is post-everything: post-Christian, post-modern, post-common sense. Still, the entirety of western civilization is actually based on Judeo-Christian principles and therefore remains standing, for now. It is interesting to watch the evolution of our society in the last few hundred years as the very foundational pillars of this civilization have been removed - a belief in God, a trust in God’s Word, a proper understanding and acceptance of man’s place in the world. Today, we have a culture with an odd blend of believing that nothing is true therefore everything is true, and that all rules and constraints should be cast off since all of that religion stuff is made up anyways. There is also a strange and pathetic hope that people are just going to get better somehow, when all of the evidence overwhelmingly shows this is not true. Our default setting without God is pure selfishness and all of the evil fruit that brings.
The cultural air we breath is such a complex mash of ideas and beliefs that it is quite difficult to write about succinctly - suffice it to say that our culture is trying to hold on to the safety and freedom that a Christian society yields without acknowledging God and what He asks of us. By definition, teachings and ideas that are contrary to the Word of God are called heresies, and our society is rife with them. It is one thing for our culture to embrace these heresies, but it is another thing entirely for the Church to embrace them.
Many Christians are being taken in by this old scheme of Satan. He takes wicked delight in twisting the Word of God into his own uses. He derives much satisfaction from using the words of our faith inappropriately to render us confused. So today, we in the Church are actually afraid to tell people the truth in love for fear that we are being judgmental or overbearing. We are silenced by this heresy that every path leads to the same place in the end, and that we are being ridiculous to insist that there is only one way to Heaven.
Do not be outwitted by the enemy’s schemes. Truth is not subjective or relative - Truth can be known and His name is Jesus. We Christians have gone well past the time for minding our own business. Our nation is hurting - our young people are neglected and confused, families have been utterly destroyed, hopelessness and addiction are rampant. The Church must shake off the drowsy stupor of believing the lies our culture is telling itself and shine the light and hope of Christ brightly in our communities.
“How different it is with Christianity, which knows no distinction of race or creed, but claims the world for Christ and whose messengers circle the globe. Where it comes and is faithfully practiced, sin and slavery and selfishness are banished and holiness is enthroned.”
- J. Oswald Sanders, The Incomparable Christ
Parents, Jesus is the Lord of your home and can help you thrive in your marriage and raise your children in the grace and knowledge of God. Students, you have the best thing going on your campus - never be afraid or embarrassed to invite people into Truth and Light. Businessmen, workers, educators, and politicians - you represent all that is Good to the marketplace; please do not be ashamed to stand proud as a representative of God in your community. Pastors and Church Leaders, teach the Truth. Live lives of holiness and sanctification, loving your people and helping them love their neighbors.
Let's not fall for those wicked schemes - let's change the world with the love of God.
As I wrote Kingdom Minded, I hoped to create a format that would be useful to you not only as an individual, but also for your small group or Sunday School class - order your copy today!
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
Matthew 18: 1-5
We have been on the road this week, seeing some wonderful people and experiencing some of the most beautiful places in the nation. I love long drives in the country - the many miles of rural scenery are so peaceful and refreshing to the spirit, and there is so much time to think. I mentioned last time that this is a bit of a watershed season in my life, as our nest is now officially empty. That, coupled with the fact that 30 years ago this fall was our first semester at University of the Pacific, where Eli and I would meet each other and Jesus and have our lives and futures transformed, has made me even more sentimental than I usually am.
I am so grateful for the life God has given to us. What a gift it is to love and serve Him, and to raise our children to do the same. What a blessing to realize that my family is such a treasure - not just our children and grandchildren, but our parents and grandparents as well. God has allowed us to have such a rich history of godly, kind, faithful people, and that kind of foundation in life is a rare gift.
Looking back on my childhood includes nothing but pleasant memories. We lived much of my young life in seaboard Connecticut, which is a storybook place, full of fascinating history, architecture and scenery. My thoughts of childhood include rejoicing when the morning news announced school was cancelled due to heavy snow, then spending the entire day sledding or ice skating. We would come back home and hang our wet jackets and socks by the fire, and it felt so awful and wonderful at the same time to let our hands and feet thaw out by the fire while we sipped some hot cocoa. I think of summertime swimming at the lake, drinking fresh apple cider at the orchard in autumn, and beautiful springtime flowers blooming after a long winter.
Absent from my idyllic memories of my youth are nights spent worrying about anything. I had nothing to worry about. My parents loved each other and they loved us, in both word and deed. I never worried about what I would do if one of them left because that never seemed to be an option in our house. I never worried about where we would live, what we would eat, or if we would have clothes - my parents always gave us everything we needed and then some. I never wondered if we would have enough money to pay the bills, or if we would be safe from harm; I had no reason to doubt that my parents would do everything they could to keep us healthy in every way. Having worked with young people with very difficult childhoods for so many years, I realize that my own experience is truly a gift, and sadly the exception rather than the norm.
My childhood helps me understand what Jesus means when He says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Many people have a very difficult time believing that God truly is good and faithful. So many have experienced terrible and traumatic events in their younger years - it has been truly heartbreaking to hear so many awful stories throughout our tenure in the ministry. Children are exposed to horrendous violence and exploitation, abuse of every kind, and float from home to home as families shatter into ever-greater disfunction. They have no good or wholesome concept of what “normal” is as they enter adulthood. Terrible patterns of behavior and abuse are passed down from generation to generation. When a person with a history like that is introduced to the reality of a great God of love, faithfulness and hope, it seems much too good to be true.
But it is true. God's promises are not empty words. His character is not unsteady or untrustworthy. HIs Kingdom is not coming someday, it is already here.
Even with my wonderful childhood and my extensive adult studies of the nature and character of God, I have found myself slipping many times into the habit of worry. Sadly, I can no longer say that I have never lost sleep, wondering what would happen with this situation or that person, fretting over every potential terrible outcome. I have struggled with doubts and with a lack of faith more times than I care to admit. What happened?
I am the one who changed. As I entered adulthood, I saw and experienced some of the storms and uncertainties of life, in my own life and in the lives of people I loved. When the ground suddenly seemed to be unsteady, I took my eyes off of what the Bible tells me to be true, and worried instead that maybe God wasn't quite as good or powerful or faithful as we hoped. When circumstances did not meet my expectations, my faith faltered. When seasons were difficult to walk through, I trusted my eyes and not the greater reality of the Kingdom of God.
I changed, but Jesus says plainly, "change back." Take action against your doubt, and stop trying to make it through on your own. Remind yourself of truth. Relax and trust God like you did when you were a child. Rest easy like you did when you were small. You don't have to worry about any of those people or things, what you will eat or what you will wear; you don't have to be knocked off balance by the uncertainties of life. God is looking after all of those things for you, and He is much more capable anyhow.
Further, if we won't change and trust like a child, we will miss so much of the goodness of the Kingdom of God. We will entirely miss the rich and satisfying life of living like sons and daughters of the King - people who hold so much power and authority and resource because of Who their Father is.
In John 16:33, Jesus said, "“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble...." Life is certain to be uncertain. But just as certain is the fact that God is good and trustworthy - Jesus continued, "but take heart! I have overcome the world." Let's live like children, and trust our Father whole-heartedly. Let's believe Him when He says that He has overcome the world. Let's live as people full of faith in the goodness and steadfastness of our King, so that others can see how much better it is to live in His Kingdom - both forever and for today.
The book is here! Here are Tara (a delight to work with from Wisdom House) and I at the book launch party last weekend. Order your copy today!
This month marks the one year anniversary of this blog - thank you so much for reading and for all of the lovely feedback so many of you have given. This has all been such a joy to me, and has proven a perfect combination of so many of the things that I love - God and people, reading and writing.
As I was thinking of how to mark this anniversary, I could not help but be drawn to the idea of remembrance. So much has happened in our lives throughout the past twelve months, and I am sure the same is true in your home. One of my favorite hymns has always been “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” The second verse says,
“Here I raise my Ebenezer,
hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood.”
This refers to the passage in 1 Samuel 7, chronicling a time in history when all of Israel was turning back from their sin and rebellion to serve God with all of their hearts. At the same time, they were in great danger of being overwhelmed by their enemy, the Philistines. The prophet Samuel interceded, and God protected Israel by throwing the enemy army into a panic. Afterwards, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, 'Thus far the Lord has helped us.'"
Life is so interesting, isn’t it? It is so full of highs and lows, ups and downs, sweet and bitter. And I don't how this works, but time seems to speed up even more every year. Still, so much happens in a year, and if we are not careful we run the risk of forgetting how good God has been. Remembering is an important part of our faith - prayers answered, deliverance wrought, provision given. All through the Bible, God instructs us to mark things and remember, so that when tough times come again we will not be shaken. But what about the times that remembering is uncomfortable?
Lately Eli and I have been paying some much-needed attention to our home. Painting, cleaning, clearing out things we no longer need or use - it has been an entire summer of spring cleaning. We suddenly have more time on our hands to pay close attention to such things since our nest became empty as of May. The last time I checked, we were knee-deep in middle school and sports and carpooling, and now it has all passed in a flash. I thought I was doing really well with all of the changes until I went to clean the laundry room and saw this on the door...
A simple growth chart. How could this make a middle-aged woman cry? What served as a joyful expression of hope for the future has suddenly turned on me and tempts me to wish to go back in time. As much as I looked forward to this season when my girls were grown and thriving on their own, I feel the sharp stab of loss as that part of my life is over. What about my friend who lost her baby this year, or another friend who has now lost both of her parents, or still another who lost his beautiful wife to cancer? How should we remember in disconcerting times and seasons like this?
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in Mere Christianity, "“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” I absolutely think it is important to remember the past and to keep before us the good things God has done. But I also think it is equally important to remember the future and what God intends for all of creation...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
-Revelation 21: 1-5
"Write this down, mark it - I am making everything new!" God is the One who encourages us not just to mark the past for remembrance, but also to mark the future. This world, as wonderful and amazing as it is, is not the end. There is so much more! This life, full of incredible moments and seasons as it is, is not all. We were all made to live forever with God! Knowing this and keeping this close in seasons of loss and change helps us remain unshaken as we keep moving forward.
One day soon, when the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, the end will come, and eternity will begin. As we celebrate an anniversary, we look back and give thanks for all of the beautiful things God has done in each of our lives. As we begin this new season, we look forward and walk with courage towards the best that is yet to come.
My good friends Andrew and Krystopher recently invited me to be a guest on their podcast to talk about Kingdom Minded - please give this a listen!
Recently I have often found myself thinking of my grandmother, who has already been gone for more than twenty years. I am so grateful to know I will see her again in Heaven! I love to think about the many childhood vacations my sister and I spent with her here in Texas. Maybe it is the extra-hot weather we have been having that reminds me of those summer trips from coastal Connecticut to sweltering Fort Worth. I loved being with her, and have such a treasury of memories to cherish. One of my favorite things was that she absolutely loved game shows. Back in the day when there were just three channels to choose from, she loved watching those game shows every day, and she particularly loved the hosts. Bob and Pat and Vanna were like good family friends.
I always thought the best kinds of games were the ones where the contestant could trade their winnings in on a mystery prize with the hopes of getting something even better. Oftentimes, the risk would result in a terrible downgrade, like going from $500 cash to a sad, plastic model car. But every now and then, the trade would far exceed the original prize.
There is just one Master of Ceremonies who offers only excellent trades, and that is God Himself.
Many years before Jesus came to Earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold what He would be like and what He would do: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion--to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
Too good to be true? No - this is the way God is, and perfectly demonstrates what true love actually is. John 3:16 further promises, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God gave His Son so that we could have eternal life. Instead of our sin-tainted life which only leads to death, God offers us forgiveness and life with Him forever. His trades are never for selfish gain; they are always for the highest good of the whole Kingdom.
Ezekiel 36:26 also sites the kind of trade that God is in the business of offering. He says to Israel, and to all of us, “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.” What a beautiful offer!
The problem is that most of us spend a lifetime thinking like the people on the gameshows - we are unsure whether God’s trades are safe. We doubt His character, and think He might treat us in the same cold, uncaring manner that the rest of the world does. Instead of believing that He is true and that His motives are always pure, we hesitate at His offers, or fail to respond altogether, and settle for less when we could have had abundant life all the while. We worry about losing out on something, instead of trusting that He knows exactly what we need (and don't need!) to become the person He created us to be.
We can trust God for life and provision and direction. We can trust God to take our mundane, self-centered existence and trade it for something supernatural and far-reaching. We can know without doubt that when God offers a trade of any kind, we absolutely will be better off than before. Of course, the circumstances might not look exactly like we expected, but the outcome is sure. He does not take away without doing a deep work and replacing with something even more real. Even if things do not make sense to us at the time, we can trust Him to see and understand all that we cannot - He has an infinite perspective and is always working towards the highest good for everyone.
This is especially true of internal things we spend so much time wrestling with. God put in every one of us the capacity and creativity to make beautiful things with our lives. Sadly, our own sinful natures tend to take those passions and desires that God put in each of us and corrupt them into horrible caricatures of what they were intended to be. This is where most of our struggles come from. We do not want to lay these things down for fear we will be somehow less without them. As a result, we can stall out in spiritual growth and spend years struggling over the same thing with no personal change and very little positive impact on the people around us.
CS Lewis explains this brilliantly in The Great Divorce, which I hope you will find the time to read. One character is plagued by a struggle with lust, represented by a small red lizard on his shoulder - lust which is a twisted, selfish use of God-given desire. An angel comes and offers to deliver him of the lizard, and the conversation between the three is fascinating. Getting rid of the lizard will be painful and the character fears that killing the lizard will kill himself as well. After much debate, the angel is finally granted permission to kill the thing, which dies in agony only to be promptly reborn into a majestic horse. The ugly corruption had to die in order to become the beautiful thing it was intended to be. The horse then sings to his owner,
“The Master says to our master, Come up. Share my rest and splendour till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.
From beyond all place and time, out of the very Place, authority will be given you: the strengths that once opposed your will shall be obedient fire in your blood and heavenly thunder in your voice.
Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light.
Master, your Master has appointed you for ever:
to be our King of Justice and our high Priest.”
What is it that you are holding on to? It may be anything - a stuggle, a sense of security, a dream, a habit - anything. God is inviting each of us to come higher up and further in. He invites us to taste and see that He is good, and to trust Him with our life and hopes. God's trades are wonderful and powerful, and they can change not only your life, but also the lives of many around you. He wants to help each of us to be the person He created us to be, which is a person of far greater character and Kingdom influence than most of us realize. Let the Master of Trades work in you - life for death, beauty for ashes, joy for mourning. peace and praise for despair.
One of my favorite fictional characters is Father Brown, the humble priest who also happens to be an incredible detective, and who lives in dozens of short stories from the unmatched mind and imagination of G.K. Chesterton. There is a modern take on the stories right now on television, but as I refrain from making any sort of public commentary on how true to the character the new shows are, I do encourage you to read the original Chesterton short stories. They are brilliant and thoroughly enjoyable.
Father Brown always knows who is guilty of the crime for two reasons. First, he is invariably able to put himself into the shoes of the guilty party. He knows that all of mankind suffers from the same fallen, sinful nature, therefore he can always imagine what the miscreant did. Without God’s love and nature in his heart, the priest knows he also could be capable of every awful, evil thing. The second reason is tied to the first - he has already heard all there is to hear in the confessional. In one story, Father Brown points out, ““Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil?”
This is an interesting part of the ministry. Eli and I are coming up on thirty years as university campus pastors, and in that time we have had the honor of knowing and ministering to many hundreds of young people. A significant part of this is that we have helped people walk through some horrible and difficult times, sometimes due to accident or illness or losing a loved one, but many times because that person has made a very poor decision and must suffer the consequences. There is a singular thread that connects all of these poor choices - acting on feelings rather than truth and reality.
lf there were a single, defining characteristic of this age, it could be said that this is an era which worships feelings. Society tells us that we should pay close attention to our feelings - they are the very thing that should guide our relationships, plans, and actions. This line of thinking says that if something feels right or good, we should do it, no matter what; conversely, if something feels wrong, then we should just walk away, regardless of what it costs anyone. The pressure is now building that we should encourage everyone to follow all of their deepest feelings, no matter how wild, though the bitter end of this path is yet to be seen in full. Feelings rule the day.
But what are feelings? They seem so powerful and sometimes almost overwhelming, but they have no substance at all. They are very difficult to describe or categorize, and so many things can impact them. We might eat too much spicy food late at night, and wake up the next day feeling rotten and melancholy right out of the gate. We might receive a bad piece of news and feel that the world is coming to an end. A loved one might treat us differently than we expected, and we might feel that the relationship is lost. But none of these things is reality. The rotten day is actually packed with promise and potential; the bad news is truly not the end of the world; the family relationship cannot be lost.
All of these scenarios prove what our friend Winkie Pratney has said...
Feelings are never the true test of reality. Feelings are just feelings, and will change frequently with time and circumstance.
An interesting thing to note about feelings is that they can become just as much a habit as anything. If we give into them enough, feelings - no matter how unreasonable - can dictate our lives. Say you live in Huntsville like I do, but you work in Houston, which is 70 miles south of here. Without consulting a map, you might feel like going west to College Station and then turning south to Houston. This gets you where you need to go, so you do that every single work day for a year, and that becomes your habit. If you had only taken the time to consult the map, you would have clearly seen that your habitual route was adding at least an hour and half of driving time to work for just one way. If you had simply taken the interstate south, you could have cut off three hours of driving time every day. This silly example serves to make the point that living by feelings is a horribly inefficient way to live. You can let them direct you, but feelings are very unreliable guides.
When my girls were young, and occasionally misbehaved, I noticed that I would often say, “Please act right.” What an interesting thing to say! It is essentially saying, “Look, you are not behaving the proper way. Please stop doing what you are doing and, even if you do not feel like it or want to, behave this other way instead. Pretend and go through the motions if you must.” Of course, we say that because there is a standard of conduct that we expect and strive for. As Christians, we all aspire to live like Jesus lived - a beautiful, sinless, unselfish life lived entirely for the glory of God. In 1 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul says this plainly and urges the church, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”
Even if we do not feel like it, we should live like Jesus lived and do the things Jesus did because it is the right thing to do. I think it would be proper to say, especially if we do not feel like it, we should choose instead to act like Jesus would have. Jesus always chose unselfishly; His life consistently pointed people towards God and eternity with Him in Heaven, and that is how our lives should look. We can know the way Jesus lived by studying the Word of God consistenly. We can know what is real and true by knowing and memorizing the Bible, and by heeding the voice of God.
-Tomorrow, if I wake up feeling full of doubts and fears, I can remind myself that the Bible says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
-If I feel like a failure and a mistake, I can remember that Psalms 139 tells me, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.”
-If I feel like doing something really selfish and wicked, I can recall what Galatians 5 informs, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
-If I feel like blowing up and letting someone else just have it, I can recall what Jesus said again and again, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
-If I feel like I cannot possible bear the circumstances in my life without the help of some other substance, I can recall the truth of 1 Corinthians 10, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." Instead of using a crutch, I will start looking for God's help.
After all, going forward and acting on my feelings of gloom and despair will not help anyone know God better, least of all myself. Acting on my feelings of selfishness or anger will likely lead me to do or say something I will regret, and might cause pain to someone else. Numbing myself when I feel overwhelmed will make me miss so much in life. Giving in to feeling that myself or anyone else is unworthy and unloved will not lead anyone at all towards eternity with God. Feelings certainly seem powerful, but they have no power in the face of truth.
Our society is trying in vain to live by feelings, which is all you have left once you throw away truth and reality. Christians used to be called People of the Book, and this is something we should strive to become again. We do not have to be lead by ever-changing feelings. We can be guided by truth and love, which never fail.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
-2 Peter 3: 18
I hope that you are having a wonderful summer so far - we really are! It has definitely started to feel like East Texas summertime in the last few weeks. We have a bit of a jungle-feel here in Huntsville, and it is difficult to adjust back to such sultry conditions each year. A few days ago I was grocery shopping, and noticed the family at the register across from me having a heated argument. A few moments later, I heard the father and two kids behind me all snapping angrily at each other. On my way out the door, even the two workers stationed there were exchanging unpleasant words. I wondered what in the world was going on until I pushed my cart all the way across the broiling parking lot, and then I understood. It is difficult to be very positive or kind when you are so hot and sweaty.
Also this week, I resumed lap swimming for the first time in too long, and have been humbled by how out-of-swimming-shape I have become. It is going to take some real time and effort to get back in condition. Many of you have heard me say at one time or another that I was a swimmer as a young person. It was definitely the thing that my world revolved around, and by the time I was in college, it was pretty normal to spend four to five hours a day in the pool. This may sound like a lot, but I really enjoyed it. I loved the sport, and was glad to put in the training so that I could swim faster every year. I had some great coaches through the years, and they knew how to train us so that we could excel.
Both of these experiences in the same week got me thinking. Isn’t it so interesting and even surprising how much we dislike unpleasant circumstances in life? How intriguing that a few more degrees on the thermometer can make us all act so differently; the same with a frustrating situation, or an unexpected bill, or a relationship problem. Difficult things bring out all kinds of actions and reactions from somewhere deep within each of us, oftentimes leading us to do or say things that we soon regret.
I think that if we had our choice, most of us would opt for a care-free life, one with no stress or unpleasantness or trouble. My husband has preached an excellent sermon about spiritual growth, and in it he points out that people with stress-free lives would likely be called Marshmallow Christians since they would have no spiritual muscle at all. Spiritual growth is just like growth in physical fitness. If you want to grow something, be it a muscle or godly character, you must have real resistence, repetition, and then rest. Without these things, there will be no growth. Yet, resistence and discomfort in life are the very things we fail to embrace.
As an athlete, it honestly would have made me very frustrated if our coach had us just float around for a little while every day for practice. I did not want to float, I wanted to swim fast when race day came! Being ready when the time comes always requires putting in the daily work. A good coach knows how to see the potential within each person and bring it out of them with proper, disciplined training. They know how to stretch the athlete enough to help them achieve more, but not too much as not to inflict injury. And, assuming the athlete puts in the effort, a great coach knows how to take them further than they ever thought they could go and become better than they ever thought they could be.
Now, think about the greatest Coach in the universe; imagine what could He help people become. God made each one of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows exactly what we are capable of becoming through Christ. We are all created in the image of God, with tremendous potential for world-changing good. Even more than that, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life when He walked this earth, and left us a wonderful example to follow. He never reacted poorly, even when people were doing awful things to Him. He did not run from the daily annoyances of life, even when He knew what road was ultimately before Him.
It is so interesting to consider what we might have been like if the Fall had not happened, and then to think what life might be like in Heaven. We can suppose what it would be like to live as a people and in a place untouched by sin, but we cannot know for certain. What is certain right now is that we live in a fallen world, each of us with a fallen, sinful nature to contend with - which means frustrations and annoyances are bound to occur daily. We often have many carefully cultivated bad habits of selfishness, and too often let our circumstances dictate our actions. And we are far too content to let time roll by without taking advantage of the great training ground this fallen world provides.
Remember what Jesus said in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We do not have to let circumstances or feelings rule our lives. The truth and power of Jesus helps us to become people who look and act like He did - astonishingly different from everyone else, and full of joy and hope even in the midst of trouble.
If I have surrendered my life to Christ, yet continue to react in anger every time someone or something frustrates me, then I am not growing. If I take the opportunity and attempt to react with grace and patience instead, then I am moving in the right direction towards Christ-likeness. If I continually withdraw and check out every time a situation becomes difficult or when my feelings become too strong to manage easily, then I am not moving in the right direction. If I learn to face the unpleasantness and find joy and peace even in the midst of it, then I am growing to become more like Jesus.
God is the great Coach. He knows what we are made of, and gives us everything we need to grow. He will never give any of us more than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and He will help us navigate this fallen world with strength and grace. You can trust the training regimen He has for you. Make full use of it each day to become what you were created to be. There is a watching world, and we have a responsibility as Christians to represent Jesus well. When we know that frustrations are sure to come daily, we must meet the challenge to learn and grow to become like Jesus - full of grace and peace, and ready to bring hope and healing in every situation.
How different we could become if we stopped seeing everyday annoyances as stumbling blocks, and instead saw them as stepping stones along a path to growth in godly character. How strong we could be if we stopped being surprised by frustrations and embraced them as an opportunity to stretch and grow in our faith. How much further we could go if we did our part to grow in the grace and knowledge of God - and how many more people all around us would see a clear and magnetic representation of Jesus through our lives.
Spiritual growth is vital for every Christian. Spend some time this summer learning more about how to walk with God - please click below to order your copy today!
Galatians is such a wonderful book, and chapter 5 has always been a particular favorite of mine. The theme is Freedom in Christ and Life in the Spirit - and it is in this chapter that we find the wonderful passage about the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. These are the characteristics of God that will spill out of us when we are full of Him and walking in step with Him. Paul makes the point contrasting the fruit of our selfish, sinful natures and the fruit of God's Spirit...
Galatians 5: 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
I think that a lot of commentary could go right here, as we can plainly see the fruit of sinful human nature all over our neighborhoods and nations. But for today let it suffice to say, what a sobering warning this is - people who live selfishly will not inherit the Kingdom of God. We must not forget this truth.
The passage continues, and after a warning comes great encouragement...
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
Against all of these things, there is no law. In God, we can have as much of His fruit as we want! The point is that the fruit of His life and character only helps and heals other people, while the fruit of a sinful nature does nothing but hurt and tear others down. As Christians, we must be mindful of the picture of God we are painting for others with our lives and actions. Does my life reflect my selfishness? Do my words and actions cause harm? Ideally, we want to be full of God and spilling out His character on those around us.
I have been slowly weaving in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit throughout these blog pages. So far, we have covered love, peace, patience, faithfulness, and kindness - today, let's think about gentleness.
The first image that comes to my mind is that of a mother and child, especially an infant. There is nothing quite as lovely as a newborn baby nestled in his mother's arms as she looks down on him in amazement and wonder. Then I think of my girls when they were very small. I can still remember them with their bouncy blonde curls and big blue eyes, strutting around as toddlers. Once they learn to walk, little ones think they can do anything. But their lack of coordination often wins out over their over-confidence, and they fall down - frequently. I can still see their sweet little faces, crumpling into tears as they scraped a knee or an elbow. Often times they couldn't even come running to Mama or Daddy, they just sat in a sad little pile, weeping. But it wouldn't take much at all - just a few gentle whispers as one of us scooped her up into a tender embrace. Soon the tears would subside and she would be back to happy play.
Many of us have great misconceptions of God. Many have the idea that God is only a God of anger and wrath and punishment; that He delights in us doing wrong because then He gets to punish us. Or we have the idea that God is like a giant, amplified man; so when people make up their own gods, they end up being truly toxic males like Thor or Zeus - very powerful but often selfish and sometimes cruel. Almost worse than either of those misconceptions is the fact that when we look at the mess of the world around us, we are often tempted to yell and shout at people who are lost and broken, thinking that what they need to hear more than anything is all about God's anger and disgust. These ideas are not accurate.
It is also not the case that Jesus is really nice, but God the Father is the mean One. While God is just and almighty, He certainly does not take pleasure in our pathetic choices that result in negative consequences. Jesus, when He was here on earth, revealed to us exactly how God is: He told us, "when you have seen me, you have seen the Father." Yes, Jesus got mad a few times, but if you look closely, it was anger towards the stuffy religious people who pushed others away from God with their false piety and judgmental spirits.
Reading the accounts of Jesus' time on earth recorded in the gospels, you can plainly see that Jesus, the perfect representation of the Father, was gentle and meek. "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)
Jesus is not speaking boastfully or braggingly here. He is saying what the whole world needs to understand: He loves us and wants to help us. God is our heavenly Father who sees our plight and knows how hard it is for us to live in this fallen world. He is approachable and gentle, and He loves us. Just like our children automatically looked to me or my husband for tender care when they fell down, so each of us can look to God.
Isaiah saw Him in this light, and Matthew recognized Jesus in this passage of scripture (Is. 42:1-4) and included it in chapter 12:18-21. "Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope."
Jesus, the Hope of the nations, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, is gentle and approachable. He patiently met the needs of the crowds that constantly pushed about him, looking past the throng to see the great need of each one. He healed the sick, spiritually and physically; He brought the dead back to life. He had compassion on people, even to the point of weeping. God is not a far off being who either doesn't know us or who loathes us. He is our Father and He is with us, longing to help us, and wanting to be with us forever.
When I think about God's gentleness I am amazed. To know that the maker of heaven and earth feels the same way about me that I do about my own children is thrilling! My girls were so good and so sweet as little ones, but they occasionally did things that were just plain mean or naughty. Even then, I never did hate or detest them. I continued to love them. If I could help them, I did. I know that I am not a perfect parent, but I usually had the patience and love for my children to deal with them in a gentle manner. I knew that they were young and that they were learning, so I tried to help them think through things as they learned right from wrong.
How much more God does for us, His children! He is a perfect Father, and He gently leads us, drawing us to Himself by the Holy Spirit, revealing His Son to us in His glory. He graciously accepts us and saves us when we repent. He patiently and tenderly walks with us as we first stumble, and then learn to walk into maturity as Christians. He gently lifts us up and sets us aright if we should fall.
As with all of the fruit of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit imparts to believers the characteristics of God. Just as God deals with each one of us tenderly and gently, He will give us the ability to deal with others in the same gentle manner. He is altogether different than what the world thinks or expects, and He will help us be different, too. The world does need anymore angry, yelling, complaining commentators - the world needs men and women, full of the grace of Jesus, to gently show people how much better life can be now and forever with Him.
Gentleness is not just for the parent-child relationship. I have seen grown men and women suffer terrible betrayal and, rather than lashing out, gently forgive the perpetrator. I have seen people turn the room around by responding to anger with gentleness. Through the Spirit, we can react as God would - real gentleness is powerful to make a path for healing and forgiveness. This is what Jesus meant when He said turn the other cheek and love your enemies. It is truly revolutionary, and can change a broken situation into something healthy and whole.
God will help us - male and female - to be gentle in our interactions with our spouse. When we walk in step with the Spirit, He will remove our "rough" edges. Rather than nicely decorated battlegrounds, our homes can truly be havens of peace. In Christ, we will have the gentleness our children need us to have so that they will know they can always come to us no matter what they have done. We will be gentle with our friends and neighbors, and able to lovingly lead them into a closer walk with the Lord. When a person is gentle in manner and in spirit, others are automatically attracted to that. With the help of the Holy Spirit, Christians can be real help and healing for hurting people all around us.
I love reading and thinking about the fruit of the Holy Spirit - God is so good to help us and to make us more like Jesus all the time. It has always been fascinating to me that among the fruit like love, joy, and peace is also self-control. If you are interested, there is a whole chapter about it in Kingdom Minded. Please follow the link below to preorder your copy today...
One of the saddest things about life is to realize how many people have had a very sorry father. In ministering to college students over the years, we have have pretty much heard and seen it all when it comes to what kids have been through with their dads. Outright abandonment, horrific abuse of every kind, betrayal, deception, manipulation, even fathers who take out lines of credit in their child’s name and rack up many thousands in debt - all of this and so much more. Really, it is worse than you might believe, unless you had a father like that also.
This is truly heart-breaking, and so many people start off their own walk into adulthood with a terribly skewed idea of what a father is supposed to do and be. It is hard for so many to understand the truth that God Himself is a generous, loving Father when their own earthly representation was so horribly selfish. It is always an honor and a joy to help someone know God and find forgiveness and healing towards their physical father. It is a beautiful thing to watch a person come to know that they are truly wanted and loved and cherished by their Heavenly Father. And there is so much hope to realize that, with the strong foundation of Jesus in their lives, the children of such rotten fathers can actually be incredible parents themselves - we have seen it happen many hundreds of times now.
In celebrating our fathers yesterday, I was struck by what wonderful men I have in my life. Every man at our family gathering is an excellent father; my awesome husband, my son-in-law, my brothers-in-law - all are steady, faithful, strong and lovingly devoted fathers to their children. Please allow me to take a moment to share with you the beautiful gift of God I have in my own father and father-in-law.
My father is a rare breed. As a child, he had a real encounter with God, realizing that it was vital to surrender his heart and life to the Lordship of God. He had full understanding at a young age that his best life would come, not in living for himself and his own whims, but in trusting God, loving and serving his family and community, and being a man of his word. Even without an example like that in his own life, my father decided to live a godly life and he has done just that.
I only have wonderful memories of my parents in my childhood. My father has always been so loving and encouraging to my sister and myself - he read to us, cheered for us at all of our sports and school events, and has been so generous in every way with his time and earthly goods. He has encouraged us in every one of our dreams and endeavors. And has told us we were beautiful all of our lives, even when we were awkward pre-teenagers or when we were 9 months pregnant and bloated, and he means it every time.
I have never heard my father say anything remotely negative to or about my mother - to this day he treats her as the sweetheart she has been to him for over 60 years. I am certain that there has never been a meal I have eaten in his presence where he did not wait for all of us ladies to be seated before he took his own seat. He has been a loving and devoted grandfather to our kids, showering them with love and encouragement - and math tutoring!
All of that has been inside our family, but his reach into the community has also been tremendous. He is a faithful and reliable churchman, and a key part of the volunteer base in every community he has ever lived in. He constantly gives his time and expertise to help others. All of us have a high standard of love, service and fidelity because of his life. It is not at all hard for me to understand how good and loving God the Father is because I have seen a beautiful, godly example in my dad.
I know that I am so blessed to be able to say that my father-in-law is wonderful, as well. As a very young man, he accepted the responsibility for a wife and her two young boys, loving and treating them as his own. More than that, he proved his committment to them by giving the boys his name. I have known him since I was 17 years old, and he has always treated me with kindness and encouragement. I have never once felt like an outsider in their home - they have welcomed me and treated me as a daughter. Watching him love and cherish his granddaughters has always been a delight - he really thinks they each hung the moon and they all know that they are treasured.
I take the time to sing the praises of these two men because they have been such excellent fathers - I am so grateful for the gift their influence and steady example is to our family. How different the world would be if there were more men like them! All of us can benefit from following such examples of selfless and encouraging love. Today, let’s touch our own families, communities and the world with the great love of the Father.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1
This concept has been stirring so deeply in my heart lately. We have spent a lot of time on the road this past year, and have seen a much wider cross-section of society than ever. People are so tired and weary, so anxious and worried - our society needs the hope, peace and rest of Jesus like never before. Rather than just thinking about it for a moment and then rushing on to something else, let's continue to look at what God says about rest...
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20: 8-11
Last time, I mentioned how interesting it is that we, as Christian people in a society intentionally and experimentally founded totally upon Judeo-Christian principles, have come to a point that we actually ignore this particular commandment - one of only 10 commandments that God has given us. Thankfully, we still observe most of the other commandments as Christians in our society, for now. But we must admit that we have let this one go. (It really makes me wonder…if we let one commandment slide so easily, how are we going to fiercely protect the others?)
My introduction to the concept of an observed Sabbath came as a child, reading the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the book Farmer Boy, which was about her husband Almanzo’s childhood on a farm in upstate New York in the 1860’s, the Wilder family is depicted as strictly observing the Sabbath all year long. The food they would eat on Sunday was carefully prepared and set aside on Saturday so that no work would be done in the kitchen on the Sabbath. All of the work on their large property was done on the six days, then only care of the animals happened on Sunday. The entire family would rest quietly inside all day after attending worship services at church, doing nothing but reading. As a child, I felt Almanzo’s frustration at wanting to play outside, yet having to be quiet and inside for an entire day each week. Nontheless, a strict observation of the Sabbath was an integral part of their life just 150 years ago.
How society has changed! Admittedly, it all too easy for us to become very legalistic in our Christianity, and to become almost obsessed with the letter of the law, forgetting the beautiful spirit behind it. Many of us have seen some pretty ridiculous rules made in the name of religion. And then our rugged American individualism kicks in, fueling the drive against constraint even further. This is why so many movies and television shows often depict Christians as creepy, irrational weirdos. They often characterize us as people who feel strongly against enjoying life at all, and who are determined that no one else should have any fun, either.
Sadly, this Hollywood sterotype is there for a reason. We really do have a terrible propensity to think that the law is the Thing. This is nothing new - some of the things the religious rulers in Jesus’ day got so angry at Jesus for seem kind of ridiculous to us. How could they possibly get mad at Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath, or for His disciples eating a few kernels of grain they picked on the Sabbath? But they were mad at Him - mad enough to kill HIm for messing with their carefully cultivated religious system. They were so in love with the law that they entirely missed the Person behind it.
The law is not the thing - Jesus is the Thing! He said it so beautifully in response to the religious people and their irrational anger, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 27-28) We must be careful not to elevate the practice of what we believe above the Person in whom we believe.
However, we can take living in freedom too far - we can become so “free” that we remove the barriers and structures that keep us safe and healthy. Jesus said that He did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. In fact, look at the whole passage here in Matthew 7: 18-20 , “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I point this out to come back around to the thought for today - isn’t it interesting that we, as a whole, have just decided to stop counting one of God’s ten commandments as important? We are ignoring a truth that is foundational to life.
Our friend Winkie Pratney explains this so well. The law is not a random set of rules imposed by a cruel taskmaster, just to make sure no one ever has any fun; rather, the law of God is simply a description of reality from His infinite perspective. The law is real and true, and tells the truth about consequences attached to actions. You shall not murder, because taking a life comes with crushing implications for you and for everyone involved, not just for a moment, but for eternity. You shall not commit adultery because it is devastating to your own soul and to your family and community for generations to come. The law is a description of the right and healthy way to live in community and relationship, with God and with each other.
All of this to say, perhaps we should revisit the law of the Sabbath. I am not a lettered theologian - my degree is in Elementary Education with an English specialization, after all. But I have been a practicing minister for almost thirty years, and have seen enough to really make me wonder. Is it just a coincidence that in the time since 24/7 work, shopping, television, internet, gyms, and so forth have made a society that never rests, the rates of depression, anxiety, self-loathing, auto-immune diseases and so many other maladies have skyrocketed? Look up the statistics - it is alarming.
We spend millions every year trying to eat the right foods, read the right books and take the right medicines to help us and fix what is wrong with us, but what if the answer is as simple as just observing this fundamental law of planned and purposeful rest?
The Creator of the Universe worked six days and then rested. Jesus, the very Lord of the Sabbath, observed this law. It might be time for His people not to treat this truth so flippantly. Next time, we will look at some practical thoughts for incorporating Sabbath rest into our lives and communities.
Coming This Summer!
I have always loved to write, and I want to thank my greatest cheerleader - my beautiful mother! She has been encouraging me in this passion of mine for many years. This summer, my first book will be published, and I would love for you to preorder your copy today...
Hi! I'm Mary - mother to two wonderful grown daughters, wife to an incredible husband, and loving our life in the piney woods of Texas... (read more!)