So much bread and not enough butter

Life overwhelms me sometimes. It shouldn’t, but I let it anyway. I know better but some days I just can’t prevent it. There are so many things to accomplish. I have so much to do and not enough time in the day, and even if I had more hours in a day I couldn’t finish things to my satisfaction. There are too many duties, too many responsibilities, too many events, too many projects to keep track of, and things always slip through the cracks until the day after I needed to remember them.

On days when I let all that stuff get to me, I feel tired. Worn out. Stretched thin. “Like butter scraped over too much bread,” as Bilbo Baggins said in describing himself in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring. I don’t feel like I can continue. And then I start feeling afraid that I’m going to fail. And if I had to nail down the greatest fear in my life it would be letting people down.

And then the Lord sends along a random Bible verse like Isaiah 41:10.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
      Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
   I will strengthen you and help you.
      I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Amazing how 33 English words can change your perspective on life almost immediately, isn’t it?

Don’t fear. We shouldn’t be afraid of anything. Not of the future. Not of the past. Not even of today. We shouldn’t fear people or situations or circumstances. Why? Because God has already seen them. He knew the troubles that were coming our way, and He’s already prepared us to meet them. Maybe we don’t know that He’s prepared us, but He has. So there’s no reason to fear because not only do we have everything we need to survive, He is constantly by our side. There’s no chance we can fail if we keep holding on to Him.

Don’t be discouraged. That’s a tough one sometimes. Feeling discouraged is easy for me. People discourage me. Work discourages me. My lack of progress discourages me. I tell myself that if I was actually a good writer I would be published novelist by now. But we’re not supposed to be discouraged. We’re not supposed to feel broken down and worn out because God is our God. We don’t serve a religion or a religious leader. We don’t serve a distant god somewhere out in the cosmos who created us and left us to fend for ourselves. We don’t serve ourselves. We serve God, and He always knows what’s best. And He always does what’s best for His children. And if we keep holding on to Him, trusting Him, not relying on our own understanding of why things happen or why things don’t happen, He will make the road we’re walking on straight so we’ll have no doubt which way to go.

This verse says He strengthens us. That He helps us. That He holds us up with His victorious right hand. . . . It would be enough that God holds us up with His right hand (not to put down any lefties out there, of course, because lefties rock . . . I should blog sometime about Ehud, the left-handed judge . . .  he was a rock star) but it’s not just His right hand. It’s His victorious right hand.

Think about that. I mean, really think about that. God gives us His strength. He helps us. He supports us as we walk through life a day at a time.

If that isn’t reason enough to feel encouraged this morning, I don’t know what is. We’re supposed to press on through the day no matter what obstacles might arise in our path, recognizing that God’s strength is sufficient for us and that when it feels like it isn’t, that’s just our own brokenness telling us lies. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like listening to lies.

So today I am bound and determined to pay attention only to what I know is true: There’s nothing to fear. There’s no reason to be discouraged. God has given me His strength and is helping me get through this day. And when my old destructive self decides to butt in and tell me differently, I’m not going to listen.

And I guess, from a certain point of view, any amount of butter on a slice of bread improves the taste. And scraping it thin is probably healthier for you anyway. =)

Being grateful for spankings

Today’s verse is Psalm 119:7.

7 As I learn your righteous regulations,
      I will thank you by living as I should!

Isn’t it funny how mixed up our thinking is? I read this today and at first I really didn’t understand it. It seemed to me that this verse was saying that as we learn God’s rules, we should live the way He tell us in gratitude for sharing His rules. What?

I think part of my confusion (other than the fact that I stayed up way too late last night and my coffee isn’t having any effect this morning) stems from the fact that I still have trouble wrapping my head around God’s rules as gifts.

God doesn’t just make stuff up. He created the rules and laws He did to protect us but also to help us live healthy, successful lives, both physically and spiritually. And when we obey His rules, He is able to bless us. So the more we obey His rules, the more He can bless us. I say that’s motivation for learning every rule He has, wouldn’t you?

This is the same verse in the Amplified Version:

7I will praise and give thanks to You with uprightness of heart when I learn [by sanctified experiences] Your righteous judgments [Your decisions against and punishments for particular lines of thought and conduct].

So, in effect, what this verse is saying that as we live and break God’s rules, God will punish us . . . and when He does, we need to be grateful for His discipline.

Wow.

That’s a tough one. Because I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time being grateful when I am being punished for something I did wrong. Do I understand that punishment is necessary? Most of the time. But am I grateful for it? Pretty much, no.

But then I got to thinking about growing up. My parents ran a pretty strict household . . . at least, that’s probably what a lot of other parents would think. Really all my mom and dad did was to expect my brother and I to obey the rules. They explained them. And they enforced them. And most of the time, both my brother and I understood the consequences of breaking them . . . and sometimes we did it anyway . . . . Well, maybe I shouldn’t say we. I should probably say I. I was the stubborn, strong-willed, independent child.

And whenever I broke the rules, I was punished. Yes, we spanked in our household. No, I wasn’t scarred for life. Because spankings in our home weren’t spur of the moment things. It wasn’t a simple strike. It wasn’t a moment where Mom hit us in the grocery store and then moved on. Spankings in our home were a production. They took time. A lot of time. First I had to spend some time thinking about what I had done (which most of that, I admit, I spent wallowing in rebellious muttering). Then, Mom came in and explained why she had to spank me, because she loved me too much to let me misbehave. Then came the spanking, which didn’t actually hurt. I think it was the shame that I had disappointed them that caused more pain than that silly little paddle that had my name written on it.

As a child, I understood why my parents disciplined me to a limited extent. I knew the Bible told them that they had to discipline their children, and I knew my parents lived by the Bible. So I got that. And I understood that they loved me. I never doubted that. But I didn’t grasp the concept of the danger a misbehaving child faces if they continue undisciplined until I got older.

Now, I don’t have children so maybe I shouldn’t express my thoughts about this. However, I am child. And I have been a child of my parents, and I am still a child of God. And even though I don’t have children of my own, I know what the Scripture says about raising them because I have lived it.

Sparing discipline of your children for whatever reason is so dangerous. Kids growing up in the world today face choices that will utterly destroy them. And you shouldn’t expect your kids to know the right thing to do automatically. If anything, they will automatically know the wrong thing to do. And God gave them to you to teach them His rules. And if you don’t teach them His rules, they will break them. If your kids don’t take you seriously, how will they ever learn to take God seriously?

And that’s when I started realizing why we should be thankful when God disciplines us. He’s not some overbearing principal in the sky, who’s waiting around a corner to slap our hands with a ruler when we speak out of turn.

He knows the consequences of our actions. He can see where every road will take us. He can see what will happen to us if we disobey. And He is trying with everything He has to keep us off that path because when we ignore Him, it’s like running into a burning house and just waiting for it to collapse on top of us.

So I understand now why David wrote that in gratitude for God’s discipline in his life — discipline that hurts but always occurs to protect us from ourselves — he chose to live the way he should. And I’m praying that I can do that. Because I understand why God corrects me, why He discplines me. He loves me. And just like my parents, He loves me too much to let me do wrong and get away with it. And when I can wrap my head around that concept and learn to love His rules more than my stubborn, strong-willed, damaging indpendence, He will bless me more than I can take in.

Which is worse, pride or British witchcraft?

Yes, it’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m writing a blog post. It’s technically Friday, even though it’s three hours earlier than I usually post. I just got home from the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 midnight premiere and I figured I would go ahead and put up the post for Friday . . . since it technically is Friday.

The verse for today is out of James. James is one of those hard-hitting books that doesn’t pull its punches and hurts with every sentence. It uses plain language and common sense truth to communicate how Christians need to live their lives.

The verse for today is James 1:21.

So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

I’m exhausted, and I’m not really thinking clearly. But I find this verse ironic, especially right now, fresh out of the movie theatre after spending nearly 3 hours watching a movie many Christians call evil . . . based on a book series many Christians call evil.

I’m not going to go into a big Harry Potter rant here because this is neither the time nor the place. And this blog isn’t designed to promote Harry Potter. It’s designed as a place for me to share my thoughts on what God is telling me personally in His Word. And what this verse tells me this very very early morning is that we need to be very careful what we label as evil and what we label as godly.

This verse says to get rid of all filth and evil in our lives. What is evil? Well, evil is anything that contradicts God or that would cause me to stray away from God’s Word.

I find it ironic that so many Christians think Harry Potter is evil and then they turn around and are proud of themselves for standing against it. I find it ironic because they have thrown away a great story of love and redemption and sacrifice and instead donned a cloak of pride that is worse than any evil in the Harry Potter series. It’s the worst sort of hypocrisy–Christians who consider themselves better than other people because they deny themselves something or because they live a “more holy” life than others.

Now am I advocating that Harry Potter is godly? Certainly not. It’s a secular story. But it’s a story about life. And death. And dealing with life and death and loving others in spite of their faults and always always doing the right thing. And to me, while that isn’t necessarily godly, it does embody godly principles that I think are worth holding on to.

So once we’ve looked at something in our lives and come to a biblical conclusion about it–with God’s aide and not the opinions of the people around us as our guide–when we determine that something needs to go, what do we do?

We are humble about it. At least, we are supposed to be. If God tells us that a part of our lives has to go, it must go. We won’t be able to progress with our lives following Christ until that part of our life is taken care of.  But do we do that?

Rarely. What usually happens is that we argue with God. We rationalize. We struggle against Him, arguing that what we’re doing or thinking or saying makes us feel better or makes us feel like we fit in or makes us feel important.

If we can’t accept what God is telling us, then we can’t move on.

But once we wrap our arms around the fact that God really does know what’s best for our lives, the path He wants us to take usually becomes clearer. And we can truly understand what He wants our lives to be.

Free. Joyful. In constant communication with Him. Intimacy with Him on a spiritual level beyond anything we think is possible.

When we chose to follow Christ, He gave us His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit lives inside each of us, planted deep in our hearts. And just like any other planet, it will wither if you don’t take care of it. If you have accepted Christ but you refuse to make choices like a Christian, you won’t be able to live the kind of life God has designed for you.

If you let your pride get in the way or if you let religion try to tell you that you can earn God’s favor, you’ll be the one in trouble at the end of everything. And pride is a tricky thing. It can sneak into your life without you knowing it. So before we Christians walk around condemning everything we see that we don’t agree with, we really need to go back to Scripture to see if it’s really worth condemning or not.

Does disobeying God’s commandments mean He won’t love us?

Today’s verse is John 15:10.

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

I had to read this a few times (and in a few different translations) because I wanted to make sure I understood what it was saying. At first glance, if you just skim over this single verse, I’m pretty sure you would think that it’s saying if we obey God’s commandments then He will love us. So, of course, if that is true, then the opposite would be true. That if we disobey God’s commandments He won’t love us. And I know that’s not true.

Other Scripture passages tell us that God loves us in spite of our disobedience. And the Bible never contradicts itself. If there is any contradiction inferred, it is a lack of understanding of Scripture or it is a problem in the translation.

So what could this verse mean, then? What does it mean to “remain in God’s love”? Well . . . I don’t speak Greek so I can’t compare it to the actual original language. But I can compare it to the rest of the verse.

John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. It’s another one of those hallmark chapters that every Christian should know. It talks about Jesus being the True Vine and that we are the branches and God is the gardener, and if we want to produce abundant fruit, we have to abide in Christ. We have to remain in Christ. Because apart from Christ, we can’t accomplish anything.

So is the word remain the same in both situations? In the Greek? I can’t tell. (I really need to take a class in Greek . . . wouldn’t that be awesome?) But in the Amplified Version, both of these verses also incorporate the idea of living in Christ . . . or living in love.

So what does it mean to live in God’s love?

Again, since I don’t speak Greek, maybe I shouldn’t even try to explain this. But to me–and knowing what the rest of Scripture says about following Christ–living in God’s love means being free of religious obligation. It means that since there is nothing I have done to earn God’s love to begin with, there’s nothing I can do to earn it in the future.

He loves me because He is love. I don’t deserve it. And there’s nothing I could ever do to deserve it. All I can do is accept it or reject it. There are no rules to follow. No rituals to complete. No ceremonies that must be finished in order to put me in good standing with God. He already loves me more than anything else in the universe.

Living in God’s love is accepting that.

Okay, so how does that jive with the rest of the verse?

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

Doesn’t John 15:10 say there are commandments we need to follow? So how does that work with being free of rules and rituals and obligations?

Well, you have to consider what the commands are. Love God. Love people. Those are the most important commandments.

The commandments aren’t rules. I guess you can look at them that way if you want to, but that’s such a shallow view of such a beautiful opportunity. My awesome Pastor did a message series at church on blessings called Bless U . . . and I tell you what, it revolutionized my perspective on God’s commandments. God’s commandments aren’t a list of dos and don’ts. Every commandment in God’s Word is an opportunity to receive a blessing. When we obey God’s commandments, it gives God the opportunity to bless us, to reward us.

As believers in Christ, we are not bound by the Law. No one–except Christ–has ever been able to keep the Ten Commandments. The Commandments weren’t given to us as rules to live by so that we could gain entry into heaven. The Commandments were given to show us that we can’t ever be perfect. And that we needed someone who was perfect to pay for our sins.

John 15:10, to me, means that when we keep God’s commandments, God is able to give us what we are seeking to achieve, over and above what we are expecting. When we keep God’s commandments, it gives us the opportunity to live in God’s love on a daily basis, remembering that it’s not by rules or rituals or religion that we are granted entry into heaven . . . but only by the grace of God.

 

Because He stooped so low

Today’s passage is Philippians 2:9-11.

 9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
      and gave him the name above all other names,
 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

Sometimes I like to read the Amplified version alongside the verse of the day because it helps to make some of the word meanings clearer since I don’t speak Greek. This is one of those instances where I think reading the Amplified text really brings out some of what this verse is saying.

9Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has [a]freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

    10That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee [b]should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

    11And every tongue [[c]frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Therefore [because He stooped so low] is the part that caught my eye this morning. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross amazes me.

If you read a few verses before in the Amplified version, the description of what Christ really did is even more amazing:

 6Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [[b]possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not [c]think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped [d]or retained,

    7But stripped Himself [of all privileges and [e]rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

Jesus is God. He’s just as much God as though He had never been a man. I don’t understand how it’s possible, but that’s what the Bible says. So I believe it. 

Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross. He didn’t have to suffer humiliation and torture, but He chose to do it because that was the only way to save us. And it wasn’t just because He loved us so much. Granted, He did. But it wasn’t Jesus’s idea to die that way. It was God’s. God sent Him to the cross because it was part of God’s plan.

And Jesus, even though He was God Himself (I know this is confusing; don’t ask me to explain), had every right to push back. Jesus had every reason to refuse to go, and He would have been justified. But instead He chose to be humble and accepted God’s will no matter how much it was going to hurt.

How many of us are like that truly? How many of us are willing to do what God asks us no matter what it will cost us physically or emotionally? How many of us are that humble?

Most of us are too proud to even worship. Many are too proud to even pray to ask God for help. Most of us think we are so very very important and can’t be bothered with the uncomfortable parts of living a Christian life.

The Bible says here that God exalted Christ because He lowered Himself. God gave Him a name above all names because Jesus let Himself be dragged through the dirt. And when the end comes, everyone will recognize who He is, whether they believed in Him or not. Notice the Amplified Version says that “every knee (must) bow.” When Jesus is revealed in His true glory, people won’t have a choice; they’ll be on their knees whether they intended to be or not.

If we want God to work in our lives and accomplish incredible things, the first step to doing that is backing off and realizing that none of our talents come from us. God is the one who has given us everything we have.

That doesn’t mean groveling on the floor or having an unhealthy view of your self-worth. But it does mean being humble by recognizing that anything good in your life and anything useful in your repertoire of skills came from God and not from anything you’ve done. Maybe you’ve worked hard to develop those skills, but God gave you the strength to do so.

So be humble this morning and let God lift you up in whatever you’re doing today.