Instruction to Live

Green Apple In Woman HandsKeep my commands and live. (Proverbs 7:2a)

People often think that God takes all the fun out of life. That with all His commandments and expectations, life is somehow less than it can be.

Not true.

Not even remotely true.

God fills life. His commandments add fullness. There is freedom in obedience.

God’s instructions aren’t just “do not,” but “do.”

Do pursue Him.

Do honor Him.

Do love Him and others.

Do let Him change and grow you.

Do know how much He loves you, how He has sacrificed for you, what He has planned for you.

Do live.

 

Live Well, Finish Well

FinishWellI want to finish well.

They do not know what the future holds, and no one can tell them what will happen. No one can control the wind or stop his own death. (Ecclesiastes 8:7-8)

I don’t know when the finish line will be underneath my feet, and it really shouldn’t matter. After all, if I believe it is “someday,” I put off finishing well, because I can rationalize I’m not really in the finishing phase of life.

Finishing well is about living well.

It’s about doing the best thing today, right now. It’s about not getting upset about what I’ve done that I wish I hadn’t or wish I hadn’t done that I had. It’s learning how the past has impacted my present, then moving into the future. God knows it all. He knows how it all weaves together. I don’t. I can try to understand it, and at times, it might make sense, but there are still missing pieces. There is still the un-understandable, and many times, it’s God’s grace that allows us to continue without full understanding.

Finishing well begins with living well.

Every step of the journey is important. Of course, I get distracted. I whine. I sit beside my path and mope or complain. I watch someone else’s journey and think it looks so much more appealing…and do-able. Or I celebrate too early and then lose momentum.

But I want to finish well.

I want to live a life today that is worthy of being the foundation of tomorrow. I want to be where I’m supposed to be today so I can make it to where I’m supposed to be tomorrow. I want to plant and tend the seeds of relationships today so I can continue to cultivate and harvest tomorrow. I want to stretch the spiritual muscles today that I will need to use tomorrow.

I can’t plan to finish well, because I can be wrong about the timing of finishing well. But I can finish well by living well today, right now. I want to notice people around me. I want to be respectful and authentic. I want to be patient and loving. I want to strive for peace, which will sometimes involve uncomfortable confrontation.

I know living well involves all these things and much more because living well isn’t about what I’ve personally determined to be living well. If I’m going to finish well in the life God creates, guides, and intends for me, I must know, trust, and follow his lead. Living well isn’t about deciding what living well involves. It’s not about living by my own standards; my own standards shift, and it’s not all that difficult to live by them. Living well includes becoming more like God, relying on him through the process.

Finishing well is living well. And living well is living faith out loud…right now. It’s giving everything of me, including my weaknesses, concerns, questions, and doubts. It’s trusting God with all of me.

Today, right now, I will live well. Will you?

I ask only one thing from the Lord.  This is what I want: Let me live in the Lord’s house all my life. Let me see the Lord’s beauty and look with my own eyes at his Temple. (Psalm 27:4)

Why Don’t People Listen?

listeningThe Father has loved us so much that we are called children of God. And we really are his children. The reason the people in the world do not know us is that they have not known him. 1 John 3:1

“Can’t people see what God says? It’s clearly writing in the Bible!”

NEWSFLASH. Not everyone reads the Bible. Not everyone believes the Bible is God’s Holy Word. Not everyone even believes God exists, and if they recognize any glimpse of God at all, it’s often a “Googled” God, where they’ve picked and chosen what they want to believe to be true about God. Who really wants to be uncomfortable with becoming humble, admitting you’re not in control, seeking and accepting who God is, trusting him, digging into Scripture and being changed by it, and obeying God and his Word, which requires uncomfortable and inconvenient change?

We can’t assume that just telling people what’s in the Bible is going to convict them to change their lifestyles. I’m not saying we shouldn’t share what’s in the Bible. We need to share whatever God says we’re supposed to share. And the way we know what and when and with whom to share is by knowing God. We can sometimes know the content of his Word well enough to quote it with verses appropriate for just about any situation, but that doesn’t mean God’s Word has permeated our lives and is pouring out of us. God’s Word only permeates our lives and pours out of us as we study and read it through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, then live it out loud with the same guidance. We live God’s Word out loud…and sometimes we use words.

God’s Word tells us we’re not going to be understood by everyone in the world, so why are we surprised? We feel isolated and ignored, misunderstood and mistreated, but the reality is we’re often playing a game of Sardines. In case you’ve never played, it’s a bit like Hide-and-Seek, but it’s played with a group of people who hide together while someone else tries to find the group. The group that’s hiding can have fun together, strategizing and communicating as quietly as possible, but (1) they’re in the dark and (2) they’re isolated as a group.

God doesn’t intend for us to stay in the dark, and he doesn’t intend for us to live isolated lives, even in groups. Meet God in his Word…but then live it out loud in the world. Meet with others to study and worship…but then live God’s truth and biblical community out loud in the world.

Don’t expect the world to change. Let God be in charge of you; invite him to change you. He’s in charge of the world, and he can change it in whatever timing he wants.

Tell Me What You Think

whichway“Tell me what you think.”

Jesus wants to know.

“Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will go and work,’ but he did not go. Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”

The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)

God does not want us to refuse to change.

We can create a false line of reasoning when we conclude that since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and we’re created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), we’re not supposed to ever change. Really? Take a look in the mirror. Consider what you know now that you didn’t know when you were 5 years old, 15 years old, 25 years old, and so on. You change. It’s part of life. It’s how God created you.

God doesn’t change, but he changes us. That’s what being in a thriving personal relationship with him is about. Consider what God says about growth.

You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do. But you were taught to be made new in your hearts,to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

God began doing a good work in you, and I am sure he will continue it until it is finished when Jesus Christ comes again. (Philippians 1:6)

Brothers and sisters, in the past I could not talk to you as I talk to spiritual people. I had to talk to you as I would to people without the Spirit—babies in Christ. The teaching I gave you was like milk, not solid food, because you were not able to take solid food. And even now you are not ready. You are still not spiritual, because there is jealousy and quarreling among you, and this shows that you are not spiritual. You are acting like people of the world. (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I stopped those childish ways. It is the same with us. Now we see a dim reflection, as if we were looking into a mirror, but then we shall see clearly. Now I know only a part, but then I will know fully, as God has known me. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

If you’re not changing, you’re not growing. Sometimes we fail to grow because we’re stubborn. Sometimes we’re lazy. Sometimes we’re proud. Whatever the reason, set it aside. God wants you to change, and he wants to do the changing for you, but you have to seek and yield to him.

Are you ready to grow up today?

A House of Prayer

houseofprayer

Jesus said to all the people there, “It is written in the Scriptures, ‘My Temple will be called a house for prayer. But you are changing it into a ‘hideout for robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13)

Jesus cleared the temple of everything that was going on in it that never should have been going on in a holy place. Even if your holy place hasn’t become a marketplace as in Matthew 21, consider how “set apart” as a house of prayer it is.

What is God-honoring about the place in which you worship?

What isn’t God-honoring about the place in which you worship?

Are you personally honoring God in what you say and do, in your attitudes and in your relationships?

Being a house of prayer isn’t just about having a time of prayer. Opening and closing a worship service (or your day) with prayer doesn’t keep everything in between focused on God. Yielding to God every step of the way is the only way to remain focused on God.

Who do you run to when you have a question or problem?

Who gets the glory and thanks when something goes well?

Who sets your to-do list and modifies it as situations change?

Who determines the use of time, energy, and resources?

Who is central to all decisions, actions, and thoughts…not just in theory but in everyday practice?

The holy place isn’t just where you worship with others. You are personally a holy place.

Don’t you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

What is robbing you of being a fully-committed house of prayer? How have you replaced God’s will with anything contrary to it? Who are you allowing to occupy time, space, and effort in your life that is reserved for God and God alone?

Jesus does a great job of clearing the junk out of the temple. Invite him to do the same within you.

Group Think

groupoIt’s easy to go along with the group.

Many people spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The people were walking ahead of Jesus and behind him, shouting, “Praise to the Son of David! God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise to God in heaven!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, all the city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?”

The crowd said, “This man is Jesus, the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:8-11)

It wasn’t long before the crowd’s sentiment had shifted…

Pilate wanted to let Jesus go free and told this to the crowd. But they shouted again, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

A third time Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done? I can find no reason to kill him. So I will have him punished and set him free.”

But they continued to shout, demanding that Jesus be crucified. Their yelling became so loud that Pilate decided to give them what they wanted. (Luke 23:20-24)

A joyous celebration can turn into a destructive riot fairly quickly. Of course, some of the people in the crowd were not at both events. And not everyone in the first crowd was happy to welcome Jesus into the city, just as everyone in the second crowd wasn’t shouting for his crucifixion. However, it’s no surprise that we can quite easily be swayed by the crowd we join, whether it’s for long-term relationship or a temporary event.

Groups can have positive or negative influence on us, but in either case, we need to individually know where we stand, filter the information coming in from all directions, and determine what our individual responses will be. A group is simply made up of individuals, and each individual is capable of making a decision.

When we’re connected to God through an intimate, personal relationship, we don’t need to worry about shifting standards; however, we can’t get lazy and believe what everyone around us is saying – even in the church – without personally engaging in active learning and understanding of God’s Word as well as yielding to the wisdom and conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Knowing whether you’re supposed to yell “Hosanna” or “Crucify” is a simple decision. But you’re faced with many decisions each day that require careful scrutiny. If you don’t take the time and effort to establish a firm, trusting relationship with God, you will more easily become prey to the easy path of yielding to the whims of the crowds around you.

How engaged in the thought process will you be?

Jesus Is The Way (but what if we don’t like his way?)

wayYou’ve heard (and likely had) the skeptic questions:

Why would a loving God allow evil?

Why would a loving God allow just one way?

Since God says he’ll give me what I want, why can’t I just go on living the way I want? Why do I have to live by someone else’s rules?

Taking the step of faith to believe God is who he says he is so that you can trust what he says about himself, you, the world in which you live, and the will and purpose he has for you is a biggie. It’s tempting to list the pros and cons of a life of faith, and since, prior to a choice to accept Jesus is the Son of God and your personal Lord and Savior, you are more familiar with what you know and live, and even if you’re uncomfortable where you are, the familiarity is a big, highlighted “pro” among your lists. You’re not the only one.

A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?”

 

Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”

 

The man asked, “Which commands?”

 

Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone; you must not be guilty of adultery; you must not steal; you must not tell lies about your neighbor;honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

 

The young man said, “I have obeyed all these things. What else do I need to do?”

 

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

 

But when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich. (Matthew 19:16-22)

This man was seeking answers. More specifically, he was seeking Jesus’ answers. He wanted to know! Yet when faced with the truth, he decided he didn’t want to know that badly. He found a “con” in his pro/con list that he just couldn’t live with. He found his tipping point.

If you’ve already accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you’ve reached the tipping point, but don’t think that’s the end of all spiritual decisions for your life. Sure, you can be certain of where you’ll be spending eternity, but God never intended for you to stop thinking, learning, asking, and responding. He created you for a relationship with you, and he wants you to know him consistently more deeply. He will reveal himself to you, but you have to choice in how to respond.

When you read a command in Scripture that goes against how you’re living or what you prefer, how do you respond?

 

When you want to find out if something is in Scripture, do you search for what will confirm your assumptions, or do you search more thoroughly to get the big picture even if it means rearranging your assumptions?

 

Do you believe what other people say God says and wants, or do you widen the opportunities for learning by personally knowing God’s Word and yielding to the Holy Spirit for cautions, prompts, and convictions?

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Even if we don’t like his ways, we don’t change his ways; we simply do or do not respond in ways consistent with who he is and what he wills. A relationship with Jesus is a constant journey. It’s not a list of pros and cons, and it’s not a popularity contest of what you like best.

Seek a relationship of truth.

Seek a relationship of life.