Friday, June 3, 2016

Only shadows of things to come

If you come to a four way stop in the middle of nowhere, do you really have to stop?

At one time in my life, I removed the tag from a mattress.  I am still debating whether or not to surrender myself to the authorities.

I still can’t remember the exact rule for traveling in the NBA—can you take 6 or is it 7 steps after you pick up your dribble and not get called for traveling?

Let’s get to the heart of the matter.  How many people have gotten angry at me because they got stuck behind me on the county road and I was actually doing the 45 miles per hour speed limit?

That brings up a bigger question.  Should we drive by the law or by grace?  If you know that you can probably get away with 4 or 5 miles over the speed limit on the interstate, do you really need to adhere to the law?

When the supreme law of the land says that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” but does make some laws that nibble away at this supreme law, then is the supreme law still supreme?

I could make the same argument with Congress having the authority to declare war (Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution) and yet we have a law called the War Powers Act that says, “Well, maybe we will go to war without declaring war and just totally muddy the once clear waters.”
Oops!  Sometimes the political scientist comes out in me.

Do you know that it has been 75 years since the United States declared war on any enemy?  Does anyone feel like they have had 75 years of peace?

It all seems so crazy, this business of making laws and rules and regulations.  It just seems that we can never get it quite right.

Sometimes it is just bizarre.  Yes, I will use this as an excuse to venture down a few rabbit trails of some crazy laws in this country.

In Kansas:  If two trains meet on the same track, neither shall proceed until the other has passed.

In Nebraska:  Whale fishing is illegal.

In Oklahoma it is illegal to wrestle a bear.

In Utah it is illegal to cause a catastrophe.  That law should apply in all 50 states and every U.S. territory.

In Arizona, it is illegal for donkeys to sleep in bathtubs—just think of all the mayhem and disorder that law has prevented.

In Indiana, the law has prescribed the value of Pi as 3.  Who needs those numbers after the decimal point any way?   

It’s not just laws that drive you crazy but rules as well.  How about I before E except after C?  Of course the rule has so many exceptions.

I before E except after C
Or when sounded as “a”
As in “neighbor” or “weigh.”

Who can keep up with all of the rules and regulations in life, much less comply with them?

But what about God’s laws?  Surely, we should be able to know and comply with God’s laws.  Shouldn’t we?

Here in 21st century America, Christians struggle with our relationship with God’s laws.  Jesus said that they were not going away.  Paul said that they were nailed to the cross with Jesus. 

Surely God’s top 10 should still be in effect, right?

Most people would agree that no murder and no stealing are good rules.  If you are in Kindergarten or first grade, those 2 rank right up there with, No cuts.

No cuts, when you think about revolves around coveting and surely should show up in the junior version of these commandments.

What’s wrong with a little law and order?  You can make your own doink-doink sound if you want.

The answer is that there is nothing wrong with God’s law.  It is a gift from God and it is good.  It is just not the best that he has in store for us.

For a time, the law served as the main guide to good living.  God’s people had been captives in a foreign land for 4 centuries.  Even though they knew that there was one true God and that they should worship him, they really did not know how to live as God’s people.

But at just the right time, Christ came into the world.  He fulfilled the law and became everything that we needed to live as God’s people.  Now the law can still point out our sins and shortcomings but it cannot make us right with God.

The law was not lessened.  We just received something greater—something much, much greater.  God’s law is still a guide to good living but only Christ brings us to life.

If we abided by the law that we know in the 10 Commandments, then we would do no harm to our neighbor, but we might never get to this thing we call loving our neighbor.  We surely wouldn’t get to the point of loving our enemies.

If we scored very high on complying with God’s rules, we might look like a righteous person, but could we really bring glory to God?

If we really want to bring glory to God and live the life that God wants us to live, then we need to understand that in Christ—and in Christ alone—we died to our sin.  We died to our old lives and live new lives in Christ.

Paul said that in our baptism we were buried with him and raised with him.  We were dead in our sin and now we are alive in Christ.

Whatever power the religious rules of past ages had over us went to the cross with Jesus.  There was nothing wrong with the rules.  They just pale in significance to the life that we know in Christ.

Can we really be a Christian if we come to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday—the traditional Sabbath?

Can we really be a Christian if we don’t observe all of the feasts and festivals that God established for his people—realizing that we have now become God’s people?

Can we really be a Christian if we eat pork chops and shellfish or chicken fried steak without gravy?

Can we really be a Christian if we don’t keep all of the rules?

Paul wrote to this church east of Ephesus and surely to its neighbors and told them, “You got it right from the start.  Don’t let anyone come in and sell you a bill of goods.”

Paul noted at the end of this chapter, that no matter how sound this rule business may sound, it was never truly effective in restraining our sinful nature.

Your right standing with God comes from Christ and Christ alone.

What makes you a Christian is that the Christ is your Lord and Savior and Master and that you follow him.  We belong to him.

I have decided to follow Jesus.
No turning back.  No turning back.

Jesus told people what they must do to follow him even before he went to the cross.  You must deny yourself—die to this sinful nature.  You must take up your cross—commit to this life with the Christ as your Master.  And you must follow your Master wherever he leads you.

Our lives are not about following rules but about following Jesus.  That does not mean that we live in chaos and rebellion.  We live out the law of love and in so doing all those rules and regulations intended to prevent harm to others end up being accomplished.

Yes, we will likely stop at the stop sign not because we have to but because we have learned to regard others more highly than ourselves.  In Oklahoma, we get this part.  If you want to see a small town traffic jam, watch 3 vehicles arrive at a 4 way stop.  Everyone will sit there offering the other vehicles an opportunity to go first.

We are counseled to obey and pray for those in authority, not for our salvation but so that there might be some order to our broken world.

Rules are fine.  Some even make a whole lot of sense.  I think that I have made publically known that I support the infield fly rule.  It makes for good baseball.

But life is more than rules.  Rules can only reflect the shadow of life that we know in Christ.  Having God alive inside us is far, far better than the best set of rules.

But we must listen to God when he speaks to us, urges us, or outright calls us to “wake up.”

We must obey God’s leading and prompting and very direct commands to us.  That means that we need to give up denying that God is alive in us.  He is there!

Too often we seem willing to try out the new flavor of the month program but reluctant to listen to God’s Spirit that lives within us.

Our mission is not to break all of the rules but break through the barriers created by rules that enslave us and to live by love.

Our lives are not governed by ritual and regulation but by our Master himself.

We are not living to see what we can get away with but to explore all the gifts and talents that we have and use them to bring glory to God.

In Christ, we have finally been given permission to live—to live bounded by love and a desire to bring glory to God.

It is sort of like finally being able to take the training wheels off of your bicycle.   The training wheels being that list of don’ts that keep us from going too far left or right, or the list of do’s that generally propel us forward; but even then it is still something of a wobbly ride.  Having God living inside of us is like finally catching the rhythm of life.  Along the way, we might just find ourselves in full compliance with all sorts of rules but the rules are not our focus.

Our eyes are fixed on Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and we are not worried about stepping out of bounds, being called for traveling, or whale fishing in Nebraska.  We just run our race knowing that God himself is alive inside of us and we respond to him alone.

You might be thinking, “That preaches just great, but it’s hard to live.”

And you would be right, but it doesn’t get any easier if we don’t start practicing.  So it is time to make some very deliberate efforts to know this mystery.  In Christ we have all the fullness of God.  We have this thing called abundant life.  We have life eternal.  We have everything that we need.

Let’s start living more each day trusting only in Christ.  That doesn’t mean don’t wear your seatbelt or walk out of the store without paying.

It means that we give up the pressure that the world puts on us to conform to its image.  Some of that pressure comes from church rules and church members judging each other. We give up the pressure of conforming to the image of the world and just listen to and obey God’s Spirit that lives within us.

It means that we truly believe that God really did make us right with him by the blood of Jesus and now we are free to live without worry about being separated from God.  He has claimed us for all eternity.  We are his.  He did everything required to make us right with him in the blood of Jesus.

Now we can live without worrying about being consigned to the fires of hell or eternal separation from God.  In Christ we are not only made right with God but God himself lives within us.

We don’t have to memorize a laundry list of rules.  We don’t have to live as if we walk through a minefield every day hoping not to trigger devastation upon our lives.  We don’t’ have to wonder where we stand with God.

He loves us.
He saved us—done deal.
He is with us—truly living within us.
He will never leave us or forsake us.

So let’s live not as people who are rule bound but as people who are truly liberated and can bring glory to God.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t have problems—we will; but our problems don’t define us.

That doesn’t mean that the world is not going to stop making its case to conform to its image—it will remain hard at work to the end.

It means that we accept only what God says about us as the truth.  And that truth is:

He loves us.
He saved us—done deal.
He is with us—truly living within us.
He will never leave us or forsake us.

We are now free to live a life ruled by love and to bring glory to God.   In Christ alone, we are free to live and to bring glory to God.

Let’s practice living that way.


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