Tag Archives: fruit of the spirit

Was God being manipulative when he said, “If you obey me, you will live”?

18 Sep

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Is God being manipulative when he says, “If you obey me, you will live”?

Is he being threatening?  Why in the world would God say that?  If you remove the Christian filter from your mind, you can read God as sounding an awful lot like an abusive boyfriend.

As we continue our study through Deuteronomy, we come to a passage where God says that.  Jesus says it too.  Let’s take a look.  What are we to make of this?

In Deuteronomy chapter 4, verse 1, and we read the word “Hear”.  “Hear” is the Hebrew word “Shema,” and Moses uses it many times in the next few chapters, the most famous occurrence is in chapter 6:4-9, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”  That Shema is known as THE Shema, a kind of credal statement uttered by the people of Israel regularly still to this day.  For them it is like the Apostles Creed or the Lord’s Prayer.

Shema means, “Hear, Listen, understand.”  Moses is saying, “Pay attention, people! Important information is about to arrive. Listen up! You don’t want to miss this.”

And what is the important info Moses has for them?  Well, there is a lot.  Look at what he says in verses 1-5.  They absolutely must get this because their lives literally depend on it.  They need to hear the Law, and then follow and obey the law, he says, to live.  To live!

And why?  Because of verse 3.  Moses basically says to the people, “You remember that situation at Baal Peor, right?”  You can read all about what happened at Baal Peor in Numbers 25.  It was a fairly recent event in the life of the nation, so Moses doesn’t need to retell it here in Deuteronomy 4.  He just has to say, “You saw with your own eyes what the Lord did at Baal Peor.”  What they saw would have been hard to forget.

The place was called Baal Peor because an idol to the Canaanite god Baal was there.  Some of the people of Israel were enticed to worship it, probably because there was temple prostitution there.  Some of the men indulged, which was bad enough, but they also participated in worship rituals, which included bowing down to the idol of Baal.  Imagine God watching them.  It was like a one-two punch to him.  First punch in the gut when they participated in sinful things, second punch right across the face when they bowed down to Baal.  How would you feel if you were God?

Betrayed.  Angry.  Jealous.   Maybe all that, maybe more.  God is a relational, emotional God, and Israel had really hurt him.  We learn that thousands of the Israelites died that day as a result of their severe disobedience.  Fast-forward to Deuteronomy 4, and the people Moses was talking to remembered that day.  The lesson God taught on that horrible day in the life of their nation was one they wouldn’t forget anytime soon.  Follow God’s Law and live.  Disobey and die.  It couldn’t have been more clear to them.

Moses also connects the obedience of the people to their ability to remain in the land. If the people obey, not only will they live, but they will also live in the Land.  In chapters 1-3 we learned that some of the tribes, 2 ½ of them, had just received their allotment of land on the east side of the Jordan River.  The rest had yet to cross the Jordan where they would receive their land.

They had come all this way from Egypt. Did they want to live in the Land?  Yes, they absolutely did.  So Moses reminds them that the promise of life and land was conditional.  God’s love for them was unconditional, meaning it would never change.  But life in the land was conditional; they could lose it.  If they followed God’s law, and held fast to them, they had nothing to worry about.

This is an instructive word for us too.  Jesus once said in John 14:15, “if you love me, obey my commands.”  In our modern sensibilities, we bristle at the suggestion that we are to obey another person.  It sounds demeaning or authoritarian.  Parental.  And to tie it to the idea of love sounds really manipulative.  “If you love, you’ll do what I say.”  If our friend was in a relationship with a person who said that, we’d tell them to break it off.  So why does God say this to the Israelites, and why does Jesus say it to his followers?  Are they manipulative?  Are they being demanding?

Maybe. Some people sure think so. But I don’t.  Instead, I believe God had the Israelites’ best interest in mind.  Just like Jesus does for his followers.  They know the best possible way to live.  They are not just trying to twist people’s arms into praising them and following them.  Instead they love us and want what the true good life for us.  That good life is found in obeying them.

God’s call for obedience from his people is a wonderful balance of what is best for them, and what he desires most.  Obey and live, rather than turning out to be manipulative, is actually life-giving, not just in the eternal sense, but in a well-rounded human way.  Paul would go on to talk about the Fruit of the Spirit, and I believe that teaching is an example of why it is so important and amazing to follow the way of Jesus.  Paul said in Galatians 5 that we walk in step with God’s Spirit, following his way, what will flow out of our lives are the best qualities of life: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Jesus often talked about how following his way leads to eternal life, but it also leads to a new kind of life in the here and now.  Israel could access that life, God said, if they obeyed him.  We can access that life, if we learn to follow the way of Jesus.  What is that way?  Read the stories of Jesus in four accounts of his life, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  What do you see?

If you want to learn to be his follower, comment below.  I’d love to talk with you further. Take a look at what Paul says about following Jesus in the teaching right after the Fruit of the Spirit: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”  Let’s talk about how to do that!  Let’s talk about how to really live.

Follow up to Saying “No” to Yourself

4 Sep

So how has it been going saying “No!” to yourself?

After my story about Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream, I had one person buy my two containers of it!  Come on, people!  I’m trying to say “No!” to myself too.  I guess you felt the need to help me grow some self-control.

I also heard that the lines at Costco were crazy long on Sunday.  So that must be the time and place to go if you want to practice patience.  Maybe you’ll be able to get some of their awesome samples too!  But Costco is also a test in self-control.  Where else can you get a gallon of ketchup that cheap?

Want to continue the discussion?  What does it mean to grow self-control and patience in your life?

 

Saying “NO!” to yourself

30 Aug

It is one of the hardest things to do. 

When there is chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream in our freezer, it is nearly impossible.

When U2 releases a new album, it basically IS impossible.

What is it?

Self-control. Patience.  Two of the most difficult words in the English language.  How many of you struggle with them?  Every couple weeks for the last two years I have been trolling the internet for hints and clues of when U2 is finally going to release their next album.  Why is it taking so long?  They are notoriously, maddeningly slow in releasing new stuff.  It’s looking really good (see pie chart).

Then there is the peanut butter cup ice cream, made by Turkey Hill.  I’ve had others which are good, but nothing compares to Turkey Hill’s version.  We almost need a special locking freezer to keep it from disappearing in one night, with the raging metabolisms in our house.  My wife bought some last night for our small group which is coming over tonight, and she had to give a stern warning about not touching the ice cream.  I wonder if it worked…  She had to leave the house today for a few hours, and I am at the office.  There’s no telling the power of Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.Turkey Hill Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup

So as we prepare to study self-control and patience, how about you?  Can you say “No!” to yourself?  What areas are hardest for you to have self-control and patience?

Follow-up to What does faithfulness to God look like in the middle class?

27 Aug

We had a gorgeous day Sunday morning for worship in the park!  Afterwards the food and fellowship were great too.

The only glaring omission was our weekly sermon discussion group…  It is one of my favorite hours of the week.  Over the last couple years since we started it, we’ve had conversations that have ranged from thought-provoking (including the recurring “why didn’t I think of that for the sermon???” in my own mind), to emotional, to risky, to hilarious.  The past couple months, it seems to me, have been especially meaningful.

So let’s have a little sermon discussion here.  We do from time to time, but perhaps this week we have more of a reason.

I gave you an introduction to Sunday’s sermon with my post late last week here.

In the sermon I expanded on the difference between faith and faithfulness.  Do you remember what the difference is?  What are your thoughts and questions about that?  Perhaps you might read James 2:14-26 for a bit more on that.

I also discussed what it means to be faithful as middle class Americans.  Our lives are filled to the brim with all kinds of opportunity, the rat race, bills, entertainment, and having to balance it all with sanity.  School just started for our kids, so many of you are breathing a bit easier now that there is more of a schedule in your life.  Some of you have 7 free hours that you didn’t have a few days ago!  But with school comes homework, and sports, and early mornings trying to get it all together to make the bus, and so on.  Is there any time to grow the fruit of faithfulness in our lives?  Maybe you want to discuss that.

Finally, we talked about how God is the source of faithfulness, because he himself is perfectly faithful.  And yet, you might be wondering about God’s faithfulness.  You might be waiting for what seems like an eternity to have a prayer answered, a sickness healed, a relationship restored.  God doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the horizon.  Is he faithful?

So let’s discuss!

What does faithfulness to God look like in Middle Class America?

23 Aug

I’ll let you define whether or not you feel like you are Middle Class.  When I use the word “Middle Class”, I’m referring to pretty much everyone that is a part of Faith Church.  Not ultra-rich, but not in extreme poverty.

So what does faithfulness look like in middle class America, when we are swamped with bills, with work, with a million events, loads of entertainment options, sports, hobbies and we are just trying to keep it together?  We are much more focused on whether or not God is going to be faithful to us. 

For some of us, to think that we need to grow more faithful to God can feel overwhelming.  And so we have to ask why?  When we know that God’s way is the best way, the way of abundant life, why do we inwardly rebel? 

For some of us there are roadblocks to faithfulness. What causes people to not be faithful?

Follow-up to Flipping Out, Losing It, Going Off and other generally mean things

20 Aug

Remember the guy who confronted me when I was putting up door hangers?  Read the beginning of the story here.

When he approached me, at first I had to deal with the confusion of what was happening.   It was one of those moments when I started looking around to see if there were other people, because maybe he was talking to them.  No, he was talking with me.  No one else was around.  But I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

As he was still approaching me, I walked over to the sign, and sure enough, he was right.  I had been putting up door hangers, breaking the community rule.  I confessed, apologized and said, “I’ll take them all down right away.”

Then an amazing thing happened.

He seemed to soften.  He said, “So what are these hangers for anyway?”  I showed him one, and told him about our worship concert.  Now he was interested, and even approving.  It’s been a number of years, so I don’t remember the exact conversation, but what he said next was something along the lines of “Well, maybe you don’t need to take any down.” Amazing!

But I took them down anyway.  It wouldn’t be cool having a church break the law, or even a community rule, to advertize their worship concert.

The proverb is right: a gentle answer turns away wrath.  It might not work every time, but it is a great principle to live by.  My kids will tell you that I have a lot of work to do in this area, despite my story.

One of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, wrote about a situation where a couple ladies in a church he started were having a fight.  You can read about it in Philippians 4:2-5.  What is so interesting to me is the progression he advises.

  1. Agree with each other.
  2. Rejoice in the Lord.
  3. Let your gentleness be evident to all.

That second point is key.  When we rejoice in God, even in the middle of a difficult time, we can have our hearts and minds refocused on him, his provision, his purposes, his mission.  It reminds me of times, especially early in our marriage, when my wife and I would have arguments late into the night.  It was so agonizing and emotional.  What prolonged the fight was that neither of us wanted to agree with each other.  In other words, we wanted to win!  I remember thinking, after a couple hours of this had gone by, after I had made her even more upset by falling asleep in the middle of the fight, that my focus had been so self-centered that I forgot something important.

I forgot that I love her.

And when I refocused on that love, that it is not about me, but a commitment to her, it changed my perspective.  Then it was so much easier to let my gentleness be evident to her.  When we rejoice in the Lord, we are refocusing on our love for him and for others, and our bitter walls of division come crumbling down.  When we rejoice in the Lord, we can let our gentleness be evident to all.

I don’t know what happened with the two Philippian ladies who were arguing.  Perhaps they started rejoicing in the Lord and let their gentleness toward one another flow.  What I do know is that we can do the same.

I showed this video during the sermon because it shows how one famously cruel and mean guy was softened by rejoicing in the Lord.

Want to discuss this further?  Please comment below.

Flipping out, Losing it, Going off, and other generally mean things

17 Aug

Sometimes people are hard to deal with.

Six or seven years ago we had an outdoor concert in the grass field behind our church.  Featuring our praise band playing on a flatbed trailer, it was something we had not done in recent years, and we were excited about it.

A few days before the concert, I was out one afternoon distributing door hangers in neighborhoods near the church.  One of those neighborhoods is sandwiched between rental communities.  Interestingly, the homes in the neighborhood look very similar to the homes in the rental community, and it can be hard to tell where one starts and the other stops.  This is a key distinction because while it is legal to put up door hangers in the neighborhood, the rental community has a no solicitation rule.

From the direction I was walking, I did not see the rental community sign that mentioned this rule.  I got about 20-30 door hangers out illegally before a man came rushing out of his house yelling at me from across the parking lot: “You’re not allowed to do that!  Didn’t you see the sign?  No solicitation here!”

You know how your body can heat up very fast when someone confronts you harshly?  Yeah…

Why did he have to be so mean?  He wasn’t wrong about holding me to the law.  He correctly interpreted and applied the law.  He was also right about bringing it to my attention.  But did that give him the right to be unkind and mean?

I wonder what was going on in his life, in his history, that led him to react that way?

Have you ever been mean like that?  I have.  Way too often.  My guess is that many of you know what I’m talking about.  You’ve lost it.  Or people have been very unkind to you.  The stories abound.

We can unload on Facebook.  We can go off on persistent telemarketers or customer service reps from another country who have accents that are difficult to understand.  We scream at the TV.  We yell at family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers.

As we prepare to study the next few characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit, gentleness, kindness, and goodness, I wonder if you might think through why we can be so unkind, so mean, so hurtful?  And if you’d like, let’s discuss it a bit here before the sermon tomorrow.  I’ll also share how my story with the angry man ended!