Perhaps it was a bit of spinach between your teeth. Or maybe it was a piece of toilet paper stuck to the heel of your shoe. It could have been that little something in your nose that no one mentioned.
You think, "Why didn't anyone tell me?" How could they let me go about my afternoon without at least telling me I looked, well let's just say, less than my best?
Now, ramp it up a bit. Suppose you have poor listening skills. You constantly interrupt before the other person can finish. The light bulb that just went off is so important, so much more important than what they are saying, you've just got to share it. Or, maybe it's something else. You are a critic. The glass is always half-empty. You gossip.
Still, no one tells you. No one warns you that you are losing friends and credibility. No one tells you until it's too late. You wake up one day alone and unhappy.I don't mean to offend or hurt my Christian brothers and sisters. I don't want to make them feel bad. I only want to offer a perspective.
With that caveat, here goes the analysis:
The United States was founded upon Christian beliefs and principles. Our history and historical documents prove it. Our founders were largely practicing Christians. It's why they left home and came here. They wanted the freedom to exercise their faith.
Today, the United States largely operates outside those principles. I don't mean this as a criticism for the purpose of this blog post. It's just an observation. And I think the observation is based upon pretty solid empirical evidence. All you have to do is consider what has happened to "organized" religion's place in American culture.
The day when most American families regularly attended church are behind us (see, e.g http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html). Why? I don't know, but can only assume it's because church no longer works for many Americans. I don't think it's because we have become more secular. That would essentially be circular logic. We don't go to church because we don't believe; we don't believe because we don't go to church.
Instead, I think it's simply because people don't view it as providing a return on the investment of time. But there's another problem. Wherever there is a spiritual void, something will fill it. We replace Christian values with other values. And that seems to be what is happening in America today. It is uncool to be a Christian; it is cool to be anti-Christian.
By "Anti-Christian," I don't mean hating Christians. I simply mean believing in things (such as lifestyles, leisurely interests, and other activities) that are contrary to those that are taught in the Bible.
Why? It's simple. Churches are filling the needs of their members, but not the needs of the sick. Most people in church are in fairly decent health, spiritually speaking. But as Jesus taught us, it isn't the healthy people who need Him. Instead, it's the sick. The church is a hosptial of sorts for the spiritually sick. But if the hospital excludes, for example, people infected with HIV or leprosy, or other communicable diseases, then it pretty quickly becomes an ineffective place of healing.
Now suppose that the hospital is populated with doctors and nurses. When they are at work, they busily deal with the health issues presented to them. All day long, they diagnose, treat and prescribe. But when they go home, and are off duty, they place a metaphorical "Closed" sign on themselves. A sick person approaches them after hours. The doctor says, "Sorry, I'm off duty. Come see me when the hospital is open." Unfortunately, the sick person never makes it to the hospital. The just get sicker. Eventually, they die.
What a tragedy. As Christians, our first obligation is to help lead others to Christ. We can do it by quoting scripture, or by leaving one of those little evangelistic tracts. We can do it by giving our money to our church, which in turn, sends it to the poor in Africa. But, in my opinion, the best way to do it, is through loving others. It's the testimony of our lives. We lead others to Christ, one person at a time, in a loving up close and personal way. We do it with our neighbors, our co-workers, the fast-food worker, the homeless person; but also with the CEO, the lawyer, the doctor and anyone else we encounter.
If, on the other hand, we invest most of our discretionary time (And by that, I assume that most of us Christians need jobs to get by. If we can't get by, it's pretty difficult to get past our own circumstances. If, on the other hand, you are full-time clergy or staff, then I'm talking about all of your time), in our church activities, then it will be difficult to lead others to Christ.
And I would argue that this is why mainstream America has become anti-Christian. It's because we Christians have become ineffective in our personal ministries. Instead of loving them, we have condemned them (Granted most Christians hate the sin but not the sinner. Unfortunately, this part of the message never quite makes it into the story). We have become so inwardly focused with the structure of our churches that we avoid the spiritually needy.
Consider that the majority of people you will encounter today are spiritually sick. Think of them as people who desperately need medicine or they will die. Would you give it to them? Or would you ignore them on your way to the hospital for work? Would you stop what you are doing and help them; even something as simple as listening to them and comforting them, and perhaps explaining to them where the free clinic is located? Or would you rush on to work where you can do what you do every day?
If more of us considered those people and stepped out of our places of comfort, eventually America would heal. C.S. Lewis called Christianity a sort of positive infection. It spreads, people catch it, and spread it some more. If we don't spread the love of Christ, then no one will be healed.
Churches are nothing but groups of people. My appeal isn't to the church. My appeal is to people. All of us. You and me.
May God richly bless you.
Church attendance across America is down. In a country founded upon Christian principles, it has become uncool to be a Christian.
Do you know anyone who grew up going to church but no longer does?
I know plenty of people who grew up as kids in church, faithfully attending every Sunday with their families.
For some reason, they stopped going. Worse, in the process, they left their faith somewhere along the way. I suppose you could argue that it wasn't a legitimate faith. After all, once you discover the truth of Jesus, how could anyone abandon this profound and life-changing truth?
I think that the reality is that we are all at different places in our faith walk. The gospel accounts illustrate it perfectly. Jesus performed incredible miracles- feeding thousands, walking on water and even ressurrecting dead people. His closest followers undoubtedly witnessed these miracles. But they all doubted. Their faith was strong when times were good. At other times, it faded.
So, in my opinion, one of the core purposes of church is to encourage Christians in their faith journey. Certainly, spreading the Gospel is an important function as well. But in today's world, most Americans have heard it. They are looking for evidence that it works. Christians' lives are the most meaningful evidence of that.
The last thing I want to do is join the secular bandwagon of church-bashing. But I think it is time for a change.
If a church isn't welcoming, or if it is populated with people who don't practice core Christian principles, then people will become disillusioned. They may simply fade away, attending with less frequency. They rationalize that "I don't need church. I can worship God the way that I want to." This is self-deception. The truth is that they will likely fall away from their faith entirely.
Christians need other Christians to validate and encourage their faith. They need Christian love and support. It's what we call "fellowship." However, if Christian fellowship becomes, in reality, another club of sorts, it will likely change lives no more than any other club, say, a country club. It's what Jesus warned against- the "yeast of the Pharisees." They purported to teach about God; instead, they taught about their interpretation of God.
I fear that modern Christianity has recreated the Pharisaical yeast. Churches, in many cases, are not welcoming places. New visitors are ignored. Cliques are formed. Pastors become senior managers, rather than spiritual leaders. Churches are staffed with people who started out trying to change lives, but have ended up building careers. I recently visited a church that had eliminated its Sunday night worship service, in favor of small "care groups." The problem was that you had to be invited to join a group. The waiting list was a year long. I know of another church that offers membership events like a "Cruise with the Pastor." For thousands of dollars, you can cruise Alaska and spend time in fellowship with the spiritual leader of the church. I'm not exactly sure what it means for members who can't afford to participate.
The net result of all of it is reflected in the phenomenon American Christianity is experiencing today. People have fallen away from church in masses. Mainstream American views organized Christianity as legalistic, judgmental and narrow-minded. Christians are characterized as anti-gay, anti-free speech, anti-everything.
What's the solution. Like everything Christian, we go to the Source. How did Jesus handle it? Simple. He loved and welcomed everyone. He took a personal interest in people. His following wasn't a clique; it was a movement. People followed Him because He inspired them. He healed them. He loved them.
It's what we who call ourselves Christians should do. It's what the church should do.
It's Palm Sunday, the day of which Christians around the world celebrate Jesus' triumphant return in to the city of Jerusalem. Next Sunday is Easter, the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection.
On our drive home from church today, Beth and I talked about our worship plans for next week. Here in the "buckle" of the Bible Belt, churches swell disproportionately on Christmas and Easter. Even if they only periodically attend church, no one misses these special church days. Kids are dressed in their Sunday best and typically a big meal out follows the worship service.
We, however, often choose to worship at home and avoid the crowd. It's because we believe that Christianity is about more than these two days. For that matter, we believe it's about more than weekly church attendance. Instead, Christianity is about the condition of one's heart, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week.
Easier said than done.
The Christian church has plenty of examples of people who don't practice what they preach. There are lots of high-profile Christians who find themselves in very bad situations- adultery, prostitution, fraud, embezzlement; you name it.
We view them as hypocrites, sort of like people who claim to be Christians but only go to church twice a year. Or people who are Christians on Sundays, but are really nasty the other six days a week. If you don't practice what you preach, then you must be a hypocrite, right?
First of all, he is innocent until proven guilty. And the truth is that all of us mess up. This includes Christians. Even Jesus' closest followers messed up- Judas, Peter, and the rest. Heros of the Bible; Moses, Sampston, David, and many, many others messed up. We all mess up. So, does this make all of us hypocrites?
No. It makes us human.
God designed humans for the purpose of having a relationship with Him. It's only when we fall out of that relationship with Him that we mess up. However, the world that we live in is filled with traps, distractions and deception, all of which can cause us to fall away from God.
What does having a relationship with God really mean? It boils down to two things- trust and obedience. We trust Him with everything. We obey Him because we love Him. Trust and obey. That is the relationship. We do it on Sundays. We do it on Mondays, and every other day of the week. We should, for our own best interests, do it every single minute of every single day.
Again, easier said than done.
But it is doable. Prayer helps. Reading His Words helps. Talking about it with others that share your beliefs and perhaps have struggled as well, helps.
And there is one other thing:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28).
But it can be done. I've done it myself. I've been in hopeless situations that I have given to Him. And He delivered me. Typically, after that, rather than having a grateful heart and continued to trust and obey, I'll think: "Thanks God, I'll take it from here." And that's when I find myself in trouble again.
So, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Easter. If you go to church, I hope it blesses you and helps draw you closer to Him. And I pray that you (and I) will become 24/7 Christians.
Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978,1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
Have you ever heard someone, perhaps an evangelist, talk about being "assured of your eternal salvation?" It's a kind of Christianspeak thing. But as with most Christianspeak, once you break it down, it doesn't seem so mystical.
Let's break it down.
We start with how a person might go about finding eternal salvation, in Heaven, with God. It's not as complicated as it might seem. There are two basic belief systems that claim to offer an eternity in Heaven. The first is a "works based" system. The second is a "free gift" system. Most of the world's large religious belief systems fall into the first category. Christianity is the only one that falls into the second. I'll explain.
A works-based system prescribes rules and requirements that its adherents must follow. The more closely they are followed, the more likely the adherent will go to Heaven. Examples would include Judaism, Hinduism, Budhaism; pretty much all of the "ism" religions.
A "gift" system means that instead of earning our way into Heaven, God gifts it to us. We don't do anything to earn it. Instead, way that we claim it is to believe it. Christianity is the only world religion that claims that God has given us a free, undeserved opportunity to go to Heaven.
Both systems assume the same thing. That is, mankind is sinful and needs salvation. Obviously, if this weren't the case, then the discussion is over before it begins. Everyone gets to go to Heaven. But intuitively, we know that this can't be the case. If it were, then Heaven and our earthly lives would be no different. We would all just move from this world, filled with violence, sickness, pain and suffering; into a Heaven filled with the same thing. This goes against the way that everyone, even athiests define Heaven.
Now let's look at the two systems and try to decide which makes the most logical sense.
A works-based system assumes that we can do enough "good" things to earn our way into Heaven. By anyone's math, it would seem logical that these systems require that, at the end of our lives, we have accrued a spiritual balance sheet, which contains more good than bad acts. This is because, like the "Heaven is the same as Earth" discussion above, a Heaven populated with people whose spiritual balance sheets don't balance would be perhaps somewhat better than Earth, but only incrementally so.
There is another fallacy in the works-based perspective. It assumes that it is even possible to have a positive balance. The problem, however, is that if God gave your your life (a view which is generally held by both belief systems), then it is simply impossible to ever accrue more spiritual "points" than what you started life with.
Here's what I mean. Suppose you had never sinned. Now suppose that you give your life up, in order to accomplish God's will; you die rescuing an innocent baby from a burning building. At that moment, you have returned to God something that He gave you to begin with (your life); but nothing more. Of course, no one lives a sinless life. So, everyone is going to go through life with a deficit balance. And even if they dedicate their lives to serving God at some point, they still have all of those self-serving years to account for.
The "gift" system says that the only way a person can get to Heaven is if God makes provision for it. God gives us a free and undeserved ticket to Heaven. You might ask: "Can't God just give everyone a free ticket?" We are right back to where we started. Heaven would be no different than Earth. Further, If He did that, it would be an unjust act by a just God. It just doesn't compute.
Christianity takes the idea of a free gift one step further. Christianity teaches us that a man named Jesus was, in reality, God in human form. Jesus claimed to be God. God allowed Himself to be crucified, in order to compensate for all of the sins of mankind. It's only after we recieve the free gift that we begin to do things that might
appear to be an effort to earn our way. The truth is, however, that these acts
are done out of gratitude rather than fear. We obey Him because we are so thankful, not because we are trying to earn anything.
It's important to understand that the Old Testament describes a works-based system that obviously didn't work. God's chosen people, the nation of Israel would follow God for a while, and then wander in the wilderness for a few more decades. You might conclude that God made a mistake. But the truth is that the nation of Israel never quite got it. Many of them never fully understood the two core principles of a relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
The first principle is that God loves His Creation. He loves every single one of us. No matter who we are or what we've done, He loves us. It's difficult to fathom this through a works-based lens. How can God love me when I've acted so badly? I don't know. But the Old Testament describes a God who relentlessly pursues His people. But He never, ever forces them into anything. Instead, He always allows them to choose.
The second principle is that God wants only one thing from His Creation. He wants simple faith. It starts with Moses, but we learn through the examples of human lives what it means. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice the only son he had, and for whom he had waited so many years. David was willing to go on the offensive against all odds, and into battle with Goliath. God finds favor with people who have faith in Him.
Which brings us back to the Christian gift. We accept it by believing it. We accept it by faith that Jesus was God, and that because he never sinned, he was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. One drop of God's blood is enough to eradicate every sin that a human could commit and will ever commit.
So, a works-based system is illusory. It's impossible to pay your life back to God, unless you've lived a sinless life. You might think that it is equally impossible to believe that God came to this earth and allowed Himself to be crucified (clearly, the worst imagineable death), and was resurrected. I agree that the concept is pretty incredible. Although it is difficult to accept, it's not impossible.
Consider the evidence. Today, of course, only circumstantial evidence remains. According to the New Testament accounts, Jesus was crucified (which, if you read the Old Testament carefully, appears to have been foretold with incredible detail, e.g. read Psalms, Isaiah, and numerous other portions), and resurrected a few days later. His followers found his tomb empty and later, he appeared to them, in human form (he ate food, for example). These accounts tell us that hundreds of people saw him.
My view of the evidence is pretty simple. First, the circumstantial evidence is persuasive. Today, over two thousand years after he was killed a criminal's death, we still celebrate his birth and death. Curiously, even people who don't believe in him celebrate his birth. Our calendar begins with his life. There are churches everywhere dedicated to him. A man who was apparently a working-class commoner, without a lot of degrees or credentials, followed by a small ragtag band of very flawed people, has had a greater impact on modern civilization than anyone else.
It's pretty amazing to think about. Have billions of Jesus followers been wrong? Was it all a hoax. Perhaps, but it seems more logical that there is some force out there that would very much prefer that we think of Jesus as a myth. We think of that force as a funny little guy in a red suit with a pitchfork. But he's not really funny and is destined to spend eternity in a very bad place. And presumably, he wants company.
Second, if he was a phony, a martyr who died without a real cause (think of modern-day cults), it's impossible to believe that he would have had the effect that he has had. Cult leaders who die while at the helm of their cults make headlines for a few days and, a few months later we can't even remember their platforms.
It is simply not that way with Jesus.
And there's more evidence. The problem, however, is that the evidence is ex post, or after-the-fact. I know what my life was like before I accepted the free gift. I know what my life is like now. I see hundreds of examples of answered prayers, in my life and those of other Christians. The answer may not always manifest itself in the way that Christians expect. But, over the timeline of eternity, they are always answered.
When I add up all of this evidence, I come to one unmistakeable conclusion. Jesus is who he said that he was. He died to pay for my sins. By accepting this gift, I am going to Heaven forever. And, if I walk in faith while on Earth, through prayer, Bible study (reading His words), and obedience, my life here will be incredibly rich.
It's the only reasonable explanation.
If you want to learn more, read "The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic, and Faith (Createspace, June 2012)," or simply reach out to me through the contact form on this website. Oh, and you can read all about it in the Bible. Just pull it off that shelf, dust it off, and start reading. You might be surprised at what you find.
When I first studied the Bible, I focused primarily on the New Testament. The Old Testament was so, well, old, that it just didn't see relevant. To Christians, Jesus is the focus and of course, the story of Jesus isn't described in the Old Testament.
The early Christians didn't have a New Testament. Instead, they read the Septuagint, which essentially consisted of what we consider today as the Old Testament. Immediately after Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the story was communicated orally- people literally shouted it from the rooftops.
Imagine how exciting that time was. Friends and neighbors explained what had happened- that Galilean teacher who performed incredible miracles seemed to have met a horrific fate. He was crucified. In the vernacular of the time, he was "hung from a tree," until he died. Now, people are saying that he is still alive. Even more, there were hundreds of witnesses who had seen him alive.
The metaphor of a "tree" crucifixion actually originates in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 21, Moses describes the punishment God has instructed for anyone guilty of a sin worthy of death. That person is to be hung from a tree. Curiously, the instruction also includes a provision that the body should not be hung overnight on that tree. It' a pretty specific instruction.
Later, in the book of Joshua, we read of this faithful servant executing this prescribed punishment. Joshua is one of the first truly faithful to God. Certainly Moses is clearly obedient to God's instruction and arguably, his obedience leads him to incredible blessings. And yet, Moses is (like all of us) a flawed character. He doubts, he debates, he fears. Nonetheless, he has a closely personal relationship with God; despite his deep character flaws.
Joshua, on the other hand, is a soldier who obeys his Commander to the very letter of His orders. When God tells him to attack, armed only with trumpets, he does it. His character seems to be complete obedience to God. He does precisely what God tells him to do, no matter what.
It's a pretty grisly thought. Hanging a dead person from the tree for all to see. Think of the photos of Mussolini and his mistress after his capture, or the Internet video of the execution of Sadaam Hussein. On the one hand, they deserved it. But on the other hand, these were powerful and feared leaders. It's a shocking visual to see anyone fall from such a high place to a position of horrific death. I think the natural reaction of most people would be to instead give the dead some semblance of dignity.
But Joshua follows the Deuteronomy prescription. He conquers and kills the enemies of the Israelites. First he kills the King of Ai and hangs him from a tree. (Joshua 8:29). Later, he kills five enemy kings and hangs them from a tree. (Joshua 10:25) In both cases, he does not allow the bodies to hang overnight.
Now comes the really interesting part.
This is the last time this punishment is mentioned in the Old Testament.
But there is one final time that it is described in the Bible.
I'm sure you've figured it out. We read about a man who is hung from a tree. Curiously, he is killed by this hanging, and his body is displayed in punishment, as Moses originally instructed in Deuteronomy. It's almost a "super-punishment." Hanging one's body on a tree after death is grisly. Killing somone by hanging them on a tree seems beyond comprehension.
God prescribed it thousands of years earlier, reserving it for the very worst kinds of sin. A man who claimed to be God took this punishment upon himself, willingly, when he could have easily avoided it. And his body did not hang overnight. (Mark 15:25-47). It was, like everything else in the New Testament, in perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament writings.
There can be only one reason.
The man explained it himself.
"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." (John 3:16)
It's the only reasonable explanation.
Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978,1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
Have you ever prayed for something that didn't come to pass? Perhaps it was in a time of crisis- one of those gut-wrenching, cry-out- to-God prayers. I also call them "foxhole" prayers, from the old "There are no athiests in foxholes."
Or, you prayed over and over, fervently beseeching God for something- a job, healing, a healed relationship. It didn't happen. In hopeless angst, you cried out, "Why?"
Did you become disillusioned? Walk away from God? Maybe you were even angry with Him for letting you down. Maybe you are still resentful today.
Here's the thing. I believe that He did answer that prayer. But it may not have manifested in the way that you prayed.
God knows what you need before you pray for it. In fact, He knows what you need before you know what you need. He is eternal. He is not constrained by time. He knew you, or at least what you would be like, trillions of years before you were even born.
You are looking at your situation from an extremely limited perspective, perhaps a year or so. He looks at it from an eternal perspective. So, like the child who begs Mom for candy, you may not always know what is best for you. Mom may withhold the candy, but years later, when you avoid decayed teeth, obesity, diabetes and whatever else, you will thank her. She knew, many years in advance, what was best for you.
In my own experience, God has batted 1000 in terms of all of my prayers. The best part, is that I realize now that He will answer them, albeit in His own time and in His own way. So, part of the fun is waiting to see how the answer will be manifested.
I can guarantee you one thing. If you remain in a posture of faith, not only will He answer your prayer, He will absolutely delight you. There will come a point when you make the connection between the prayer you prayed and His answer. It will unravel in a way in which He almost reaches across the cosmos and winks at you.
And when you look back upon your life, you will see prayer after prayer, completely fulfilled. You will stop crying out, "Why?" Because you will know that it is only a matter of "When?' And even better is the "How?" You will begin to realize that you are way, way too limited in your thinking. You've asked Him for something and He responds in such a big way, bigger than anything you would ever dreamed for yourself.
It's how God answers prayers.
One of my favorite Old Testament scriptures is found in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, verse 14. If you've read my book, "The Reasonable Person" you know that I advocate reading the entire chapter, in order to really understand the scripture. I think it's risk to come to a conclusion based upon a single scripture taken out of contest.
This scripture is the exception. It says simply: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
Certainly, the context of this verse is fascinating. Moses has led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, and out of slavery to the Pharaoah. The Pharoah and his army is in deadly pursuit of the Israelites. Imagine seeing the legions of Pharoah's army: the dust cloud created by chariot after chariot and horses, heavily armed soldiers on foot. You, on the other hand, are unarmed, hungry, worn out from a lifetime of slavery. A gut-wrenching sense of panic overwhelms you. You can almost feel the sharp edge of the Egyptian sword bearing down on your neck.
God tells you to be still.
It's is exactly the opposite of what every fiber, every cell in your body are telling you to do. Your legs tremble involuntarily, poised to run to your inevitable death.
He tells you that He will fight for you.
This requires a kind of faith that you know you don't have, a super-human faith. You think: "How could anyone just be still when the Egyptian army is moments away from slaughtering me and everyone around me?"
It is clearly hopeless.
What follows is arguably the greatest miracle described in the Old Testament. You've probably heard it called "the parting of the Red Sea." Moses stretches out his hand and the Israelites cross over the sea bed. He does it again, and the sea consumes the entire Pharoah army- every single one of them.
Are you in the middle of something today that seems hopeless? Perhaps its the loss of a job or your home, or your spouse. Or, maybe life has simply beaten you down. You are like the Israelite slaves, beaten and worn out from servitude to a life that doesn't really care what happens to you. It's a life that has taken from you and replaced it with an unbearable emptiness.
He will fight for you.
But you have to let Him do it. And here's another thing. Often, He knows better than we do, what is best for us. This means that our prayers, at least for the moment, remain unanswered. The truth, however, is that even as you read this, He is in the process of answering your prayers. It may not always look exactly like you thought it would look, but He will answer them. And with the passage of time, you look back and realize that He did fight for you. He did it better than anything you could have imagined.
I've seen it happen time and time again in my own life. Certainly, there are times when I pray for something and the prayer is answered exactly. But more often than not, I pray for something that I realize later (based upon the way He answered that prayer), that I was so near-sighted by the situation before me that I didn't really even know what to pray for.
But He did.
So, sometimes it's best to simply be still. Let Him handle it.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if you do, He will.Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978,
1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights
reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
If you've read my book, "The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic, and Faith," (Createspace 2012) you know that the Old Testament and I didn't used to get along. It always intimidated me. I viewed the people who quoted from it as theological "rock stars"; anyone who understood the Old Testament just had to have a special place in heaven.
One day, I decided to read the Bible cover-to-cover. I decided that I wouldn't let it intimidate me anymore. I figured that during law school, I had read some of the most complicated, arcane cases ever authored; the Old Testament simply couldn't be anymore complicated than the old English cases I'd read.
When I started to read it in earnest, I was amazed at the wealth of information it contained. More importantly, I was impressed with the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The Christian Bible is a seamless story of a loving God who continually tries to set a rebellious people on the right course.
Many people read Genesis, which is the basic story of the fall of mankind and its consequences.s But when they get to Exodus, or heaven forbid, Deuteronomy, the words are so foreign and strange, they give up and skip to the New Testament.
But here's the thing about the Bible. When you read it with a prayerful attitude, something miraculous happens. God, in the form of the Holy Spirit tutors you through it. He helps you to interpret the Bible. He reveals his will and plan for you. He acts as a tutor, to help you understand this incredibly timeless document that has enlightened billions of people before you.
Every time I read the Bible for any length of time, something "pops" for me. I see something I've not seen before. God reaches out across the universe and provides me with insight and wisdom, through His Words.
I read through Deuteronomy one summer evening last year. Deuteronomy begins with a description of the nation of Israel, which had been wandering in the desert for 40 years. They are now in Moab. They're near Suph, between Pran and the towns of Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Dizahab.
See what I mean? Who in the world would name towns like this? It's nutty.
Or, I suppose it's nutty to our modern-day sensibilities. In any event, these were real places at one time. When the Deuteronomy was first written, these places were specific and signficant. The writer included them because they meant something to the reader. More importantly, they provided this detail as a form of authentication for the events described.
In any event, as I read Deuteronomy 10 and 11, I was struck by the lesson they contain. After 40 years of dealing with his rebellious children, God, through Moses, lays it on the line so simply that anyone can understand it.
He says (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I'm going to give you a choice. You can choose to have a good life, or a miserably one. All you have to do is to love and obey me. Take your pick. But if you choose to go your own way, without me, it is going to be rough. I'm not telling you what to do. I just want to love you. But I can't express that love if you are living in rebellion to me."
What about you? Does this message resonate for you?
When you follow Him, is your life better? And when you drift away from Him, does your life deteriorate? Certainly, loving God and obeying Him is not a guarantee of freedom from short-term pain. There will be times when things simply happen, even when it seems unfair.
But the thing to remember is that when we stay in that place of faith and obedience, the long-term effect is incredible blessings. There may be short-term disappointments, but even those take us to blessings when we remain faithful.
In Deuteronomy 11:26, He says: "See today, I am setting before you today, a blessing or a curse." When you boil it all down, you have a simple choice to make, each and every day of your life (if no each and every minute). Will I choose His path, or my own path?
The thing is that I can look back on my life today and see, with perfect hindsight, the consequences of those choices. When I chose to go my own way, it led to heartache. One bad choice led to another bad choice (in a vain effort to correct the first bad choice). Bad choices compound and ultimately lead to bad things.
But when I choose His path, it always leads to blessings. So the simple, incredibly lesson of Deuteronomy is the same lesson that many of us have to re-learn time and time again, throughout our lives. When we finally submit, once and for all, and fully to His will, we put ourselves on that path to blessings.
It may seem harsh to our liberal sensibilities. After all, aren't we supposed to have the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" Of course. God agrees with that. All He is saying is that when we choose Him, all of those things and much, much more will fall into place.
So, what are you going to choose? Blessings? Or, a curse?
I know it sounds crazy, but many people, like me, are of the hard-headed variety. We choose the curse because we don't want anyone telling us what to do, or how to live our lives. Eventually, we realize that God, like an eternally patient and loving Parent, only wants what's best for us. Even better, He's put all of it into writing. It may take some work, but if you read through it, you'll understand exactly what it is that He wants you to do.
I suppose some people enjoy a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Personally, I'd prefer a banana split. And for that reason, the choice seems pretty simple.
And that's exactly how he laid it out for us. Read Deuteronomy 10 and 11 right now. You won't be disappointed.
Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
The following blog post comes with a caveat. To be clear, I don't consider myself qualified to offer personal advice to anyone. I've made more than my share of mistakes. I've done plenty of things that I wish I hadn't. I try not to think about them too much. Otherwise, I'd probably let them destroy any traction I might have in life.
At the same time, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have Someone in my life who eradicated the consequences of those mistakes. and bad deeds. Thanks to Him, I don't have to live with guilt. Instead, I can live in gratitude. But the point of this blog post isn't really to share my faith.
What is the point? A suggestion: why not try living your life by being nice to people? Act like you are delighted to see them, even if you aren't. Compliment people. Let them go first, ahead of you. Make unexpected (and undeserved) little random acts of kindness a way of life. Express joy in the accomplishments of others, even if your core reaction is jeolousy. Congratulate them on that promotion for which you worked so hard. Click "Like" on that Facebook post, even if the poster is bragging. Give surprise gifts, picked out especially for the recipient. Let that poor schmuck in the wrong lane with his blinker on get in ahead of you in traffic, even if you are already late. Listen instead of speaking. Do something nice for someone who has never, ever done a nice thing for you.
It may sound silly or trite, but being nice to others is a pretty good credo. First of all, in the majority of cases, it will pay an immediate dividend. It may bring an immediate smile to the recipient's face. Or, it might simply warm your heart. Even better- perhaps the recipient pays it forward and it ultimately crosses the nation or circles the globe.
You might argue that being nice is too much work. And it feels so much better to do otherwise- gloat, get angry, hate, be jealous, or criticize- all of the bad stuff. Don't buy into this lie. It actually feels better to be nice. It may not at first. While the bad stuff may have a short-term good feel to it, it is actually akin to the effect of caffeine or sugar on your body. There's a quick rush, followed by a downer that is lower than you were in the first place. Being nice all the time will eventually overwhelm your character, it will take over. And like a good disease (if there is such a thing), it spreads. Being nice to others will ultimately become your norm.
Give it a try. Try it for a day and see what happens. If you like it, try it for a week. Before you know it, you may very well find yourself looking at the nicest person you know- in your mirror.
I read Leviticus this morning. If you never read it, it describes an incredibly complex series of sacrifices and offerings, down to the smallest level of detail. Even more incredible is the fact that God's chosen people followed these rituals down to that smallest level of detail.
You can't help but ask yourself "why?" Why is this book included in the Christian Bible? Why are a bunch of arcane rules and requirements included in the foundational book of a belief system that emphasizes faith over works?
I think it's because a ...perfect God cannot tolerate imperfection. And yet, because we have the power to choose, we can choose unwisely. Leviticus describes perfection, at least in terms of man's ritualistic compensation for sin. But Christians believe that Jesus is the only way we can achieve true perfection. His sacrifice made us perfect in God's eyes, once and for all.
We claim God's perfection through faith in Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less.
makes perfect sense.