DO RULES MATTER?

A brief look around will reveal that we have a multitude of churches and many of them look very unlike each other!  

Church - Canterbury Cathedral (C)
Canterbury Cathedral where there have been worship services for over 1400 years!

There are awe-inspiring cathedrals with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, while offering worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.. 

Hardware Baptist Church established in 1802
Hardware Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia was established in 1802.

Some churches are much simpler, far less ornate; some are centuries old and others are of newer vintage.  Building style is irrelevant.  These, too, offer worshipers a place for singing, prayer and contemplation.  In short, the question is whether the focus is on God as the one being worshiped or on the worshiper as a consumer or customer.

Jesus said:

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24 

Sometimes things go on in church that are inconsistent with God’s instructions for worship.  When the priests were selling animals in the temple at Jerusalem, Jesus was angry and overturned their tables and scattered the animals, saying: 

“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

Matthew 21:13 

Jesus was quoting from the prophet Isaiah who wrote these words centuries earlier: 

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant–these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Isaiah 56:6-7 

Do rules matter?  Yes, God’s rules matter.  An example of this is found in 1 Chronicles when David, with incredibly good intentions, sent to have the ark returned to Jerusalem.  When he did not follow the rules, disaster struck.

“Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and to all the elders of Israel.” 

Deuteronomy 31:9 

Here we read that the priests were to be from the tribe of Levi, and the priests were the ones who were to carry the ark of the Lord.  Certain priests were to carry the ark on poles so that no one would ever touch the ark. (Exodus 25:10 et seq.) It was holy because God was there, and God had established the way for it to be transported safely. 

“And four wagons and eight oxen he gave to the sons of Merari, according to their service, under the direction of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest.  

But to the sons of Kohath he gave none, because they were charged with the service of the holy things that had to be carried on the shoulder.

Numbers 7:8-9

The sons of Merari received wagons and oxen for use in their service as priests in the tabernacle of God, and Uzzah was one of Merari’s sons.  He, therefore, had the cart and oxen ready for use in temple service.  But reading the very next verse in Numbers 7 reveals that the sons of Kohath did not get a cart or oxen because they were to care for the things of God that had to be carried on their shoulders, like the ark of the covenant.  

“So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim.  And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD who sits enthroned above the cherubim.  And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. “And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.  And when they came to the threshing floor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God.”

1 Chronicles 13:5-10

Uzzah tried to do something good in that he was steadying the ark so it would not fall when the oxen stumbled, but the ark of God was to be carried on the priests shoulders by using the poles permanently affixed to the ark.  It was not to be put on a cart pulled by oxen.  Uzzah disobeyed God’s rule and he died, immediately, on the spot, without any appeal or delay. 

God’s rules matter.  God’s justice mandates that His rules be followed, if for no other reason than He is God and He said so!  Even human parents look at their children and say “Because I said so!”  That’s all the reason the young child needs to have to obey what his/her parent directed.  And it is all that we need when we consider whether we should follow God’s rules … choosing not to do so is SIN and that carries serious consequences.

David learned the lesson.  After leaving the ark for three months at the home of Obed-Edom, David summoned the priests and ordered them to bring the ark to Jerusalem.. However, this time he used Levites who were commissioned to carry the ark on poles … he did it in accordance with God’s rules.

“Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it.  Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule. So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 15:11-14 

The ark was successfully carried by the priests and came to rest at the place David had prepared for it.  God’s rules are to be followed. 

Worship is, by definition, not about you or me!  Rather, it is about God.  In Deuteronomy 6:5, Moses wrote:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 

This was reiterated by Jesus when He called it the great and first commandment:

“Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:29-31 

How do you see worship?  Is it a time for you to boast in your pride of position of power, or in your ability to financially support the church?  While you are in the service are you thinking about all the things you could be during the hour you sat in worship? Is it a time when you walk out of the service thinking that you didn’t get anything out of being there that day?  

Or is it a time when you worship God with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength?  Is your focus on God and your relationship with Him?  Is your desire to praise Him for who He is, for His attributes and character?  

Rules matter.  I pray that we will return to worship God in the way that He has directed.  God’s commandments are not suggestions nor are they optional.  Follow them and live.  Worship Him in spirit and in truth, and love Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  

Father, forgive me when I have failed to worship You as You desire.  Help me to focus on You and Your Word throughout my day as I worship You in my life.

TRYING TO UNDERSTAND

Cuddles, one of our two Miniature Pincher dogs, always seems to want to understand what is going on.  She will watch what we are doing and cock her head to the side, with her eyes piercing ours, as if she was trying all her best to know what is going on.  Perhaps she is thinking that her people are really goofy, I don’t know, but it seems as if her mental wheels are spinning when she focuses and looks at us like that, at least my humanizing of the canine would think like that!

Recently my husband was going to fix a leaking kitchen faucet.  He got all the materials together to do the job and then opened the cabinet under the sink.  In Cuddles’ mind, this was a perfect opportunity to help Daddy!

Cuddles helping daddy 1

You are not aware of the step of faith this is for her.  This cabinet houses the dreaded garbage disposal, and each time I turn it on, she will come running from wherever she is in the house and bark at it. When it stops, she walks off as if she had killed the monster that was threatening Mommy.  This time, though, she had Daddy with her, and she was proud to stand side by side with him.

Cuddles helping daddy 2

Getting into the nitty-gritty of the issue under sink, Daddy was leaning far forward, and Cuddles was standing close to him, with eyes forward as if she were inspecting or monitoring his actions.  Even a flash bulb would not divert her attention from Daddy and the cabinet.

Cuddles helping daddy 3

At this point, she really was trying to assist him because now her front paws were on the floor of the cabinet.  She was absorbed in trying to understand what he was doing.  But, she couldn’t help, and she did not know what was going on.  Her inquisitiveness had to yield because it was just beyond her ability to comprehend.

These pictures present a sort of image of me and God.  There have been times that I felt just like Cuddles.  I want to help, to do something, but I just can’t understand what needs to be done.  God is working in my life, but I don’t comprehend what I am supposed to do; I don’t know where He is leading, I don’t know why something painful happened. 

Can you relate?  Perhaps all is well, and you are not peering under the cabinet for answers now, but you have done so at some point in the past.  Or, perhaps you are now seeking answers as you are under the protection and guidance of your Heavenly Father, but you are wondering where He is leading you, or why your circumstances have changed.

Perhaps you are trying to understand why a dreaded disease has attacked your child or spouse, or yourself.  Perhaps you are trying to understand why a beloved family member was taken from you too soon, or why your dream job came crashing down when the company closed. 

There are too many scenarios to list, and each of us has to deal with situations and problems that come our way, seemingly with virtual regularity. 

But, Beloved, know that our Heavenly Father has written us a love letter, the Holy Bible.  It details what God’s plan is and how we are to live. 

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Deuteronomy 6:5

It tells of His provision of a Savior to atone for our sins so that we can have an abundant life now and eternal life with Him after death envelops our body. 

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

And, God has given us His Holy Spirit to quicken our hearts which are dead in sin, Who then speaks to us and opens our eyes so that we can understand the Bible as we read it, and Who guides us in prayer.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

John 14:26

Beloved, you don’t need to peer into the cabinet of the future in fear.  You don’t need to cock your head to the side and wonder what God has planned for you.  You don’t need to be in panic when something comes at you out of that cabinet, God has you in His hand and He is omniscient and omnipotent. 

There is one reality and God knows it in its entirety, as it exists by, through, and for Him.  This omnipotent God has said that if you seek Him, He will be found.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”

Proverbs 8:17

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jeremiah 29:13

Just as Cuddles tried to understand but could not, some things are simply beyond our capacity to understand; but even those difficult things are not outside God’s control or knowledge.  As a child of God, as a Christian, you are secure, and you are the child of the Omniscient, Omnipotent God of all creation.  Trust Him and obey His Word.  Him and He shall be found.

Father, thank You for giving us little animals who can remind us of eternal principles.  Thank You for Your Word, for Your Son, and for Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for salvation and for the promise of life eternal through Jesus Christ my Lord.  May these words be encouraging and of comfort to those who read them.

ATTRIBUTES OF GOD – RIGHTEOUSNESS

“Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; our God is merciful.”

Psalm 116:5

Your righteousness, O God, reaches the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?”

Psalm 71:19

To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame, as at this day, to the men of Judah, to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away, in all the lands to which you have driven them, because of the treachery that they have committed against you. … Therefore the LORD has kept ready the calamity and has brought it upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in all the works that he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.

Daniel 9: 7, 14

The righteousness of God is one of the most frequently referenced attributes found in Scripture.  It is tied closely to God’s justice, and the word “just” is sometimes used where other translations will say “righteous” in reference to God’s character.  When the Bible speaks of God’s righteousness, it means that God’s character or nature always leads Him to do that which is right.  We know that God is holy, and righteousness is His holiness in action.

צְדָקָה

The transliteration of this Hebrew word is tsedaqah and its pronunciation is tsed·ä·kä’. This Hebrew word is translated as justice or righteousness.  Strong’s concordance says this in its definition:

  1. righteousness (in government), such as a judge, ruler or king, of the law, and of the Davidic king Messiah
  2. righteousness (of God’s attribute)
  3. righteousness (in a case or cause)
  4. righteousness, truthfulness
  5. righteousness (as ethically right)
  6. righteousness (as vindicated), justification, salvation
  7. righteous acts

δικαιοσύνη

This is the Greek word for righteousness.  The transliteration of this Greek word is dikaiosynē and its pronunciation is dē-kī-o-sü’-nā.  Strong’s concordance defines this term in the following manner:  

in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.  A) the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God; B) integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting

Now, let’s consider some of the examples and scripture passages dealing with God’s righteousness.

Consider, for example, that God deals righteously with humanity.  Abraham expressed God’s righteousness in Genesis when he was speaking with God about Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

Genesis 18:25

God expresses His righteousness when He loves the things that are good and hates the things that are evil.  This attribute leads God to do only those things that are right.  Thus, because He is righteous, He must judge evil and sin cannot come into His presence. 

Righteousness is like goodness and holiness, but this attribute differs from others because it requires works to establish it.  God is good and God is holy, but He refers to Himself as righteous because He works the good as well.

This connection between works and righteousness is seen in the very first book of the Bible.  God was speaking to Abram and promising to make him a great nation, notwithstanding the fact that his wife was barren.  After delivering this promise, scripture says:

“And he [Abram] believed the LORD, and he [God] counted it to him as righteousness.” 

Genesis 15:6

A multitude of other scriptures reference the connection between our works and righteousness.  Consider these as examples:

“And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.”

Deuteronomy 6:25

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Psalm 24:4-5

The Old Testament is not the only place where righteousness is discussed and commanded from God’s people. 

Jesus said:

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33 

Then Paul wrote to the Romans and said:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 14:17

The connection between righteousness and action was expressed by James like this:

 “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;  and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness“–and he was called a friend of God. …  For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

James 2:21-23, 26

While Christians are called righteous, we do not receive that commendation because of any ability to accomplish good works in ourselves.  Rather, we are considered righteous by our holy God because we reside in the righteousness of Christ.  In other words, Christ’s obedience is imputed to us and when we stand before God, God sees not us but the righteousness of His Son.

Paul expressed it like this:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–“

Philippians 3:8-9

Righteousness.  It is an attribute of God and we are commanded to follow God’s lead in doing works of righteousness.  Not to earn our own salvation, but to praise Him for the gift of grace and mercy in the atoning work of our Savior and Lord.

Father, I praise You for Your righteousness.  Through Your Son’s sacrifice, You have imputed His righteousness to us, and have covered our sins with His atoning blood.  Thank You for Your righteousness and mercy. 

LOVE IS A COMMAND — NOT A FEELING!

We speak of love often in our conversation with others.  We love people, animals, objects and activities and it is usually a love that is conditioned on a multitude of different factors.  For example, we love those related to us in a different way than we do our general acquaintances. 

Children swinging
Children swinging at the campground playground.

We love some flowers and not others. 

Flower garden in Maine from Bette
Flower garden in Maine

We love certain foods while others wouldn’t eat it or even touch it! 

 

Fish at Dancing Bear Lodge
Sea Bass with head and skeleton. Delicious said our son, while his wife wouldn’t even watch him eat it!

In our modern culture, we fall in love and things are heavy with passion and emotion.  But, when difficulties arise or when someone younger/prettier/richer comes along, we fall out of love; and often there is just as much heated passion against the other party as there was when we fell in love in the first place. 

The bottom line is that there is almost always self-motivated volition involved in human love.  And, we consider love as an emotion, as something that we feel, and when the feeling is gone or when it is transferred somewhere else, so is the love.

But, not so with God.  Scripture says that God IS love.  It is one of the attributes of our God – it is part and parcel of His nature. 

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

1 John 4:8

Indeed, we are COMMANDED to love the Lord our God, and not just a little bit or for a limited time!   In Deuteronomy 6:5 we read:

 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Jesus reiterated this commandment in Matthew 22:37 and then He expanded the command in Mark 12:29-31 by saying we are to love God as commanded in Deuteronomy, but then we are also to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

Jesus took love out of the emotional/spiritual world and puts it into the physical/material world.  Love is action rather than mere emotion.  We see our neighbor and we are not to have mushy, mind consuming passion for our neighbor; we are to love him/her.

 The Apostle John elaborates on the commandment to love others when he says:

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

We love him, because he first loved us.”

1 John 4:9-11, 19

There it is in a nutshell – we love God BECAUSE He first loved us.  We cannot love Him on our own – we are sinners and He is holy.  We can’t do anything spiritually to make Him love us — all our “good works” are like filthy rags in comparison to the holiness of God.   See Isaiah 64:6.  BUT, God Himself gave His Son so that we could approach Him, so that we could love Him, so that we could love others through Him.

Since we received love while we were undeserving sinners, we certainly should not have any trouble following the commandment to love others, whether they are loveable or not, whether they return the love to us or not, whether they like us or not, whether they can help us achieve some goal or not. 

There should be no reciprocal obligation in our love to others.  God’s love to us is one directional – He initiates it and gives it to us through His grace.  Yes, we are to love Him in return, but the full commandment is that we love others as he loved us. 

That is the way we are to love others, especially those who are of the family of faith.  We may not agree with each other on various issues, but if we are Christians, if we have been adopted into the family of God, we are commanded to love each other.  

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5:1-2

God loved us even when we were dead in our sin and unholy before Him.  He sent Jesus Who walked in love and gave Himself to the death on the cross so that we could be accepted by God, so that our sin would be paid for, and so that we would be granted the righteousness of Jesus.  When we understand the gravity of our sin and the holiness of God, we will see that we can and must love others unconditionally, because but for the grace of God we would be in the same condition before God. 

Others will know that we have been adopted into God’s family by the way we love them. 

In this new year, love others as He loved us.  Unconditionally, whole-heartedly, and without judgment.  Let our love for others be our witness of our love for Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Take love out of the world of platitudes and put it into action, real life, concrete, discernible and undeniable action.

Father, I pray that the meditation of my heart is acceptable to you this day.  I pray that you would forgive me when I have failed to love others as You have loved me. And I pray that your Word would be used by the Spirit to illuminate the hearts of those who do not know You.