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.

COMMANDED TO LOVE

 

Love is a hot topic in our world every day.  We speak of “falling in love” or “having lost my love” as if love is something that just happens, whether we want it to or not.  While the concept of marriage is under incredible attack in today’s world, love is still a hot topic.

 

We read in the tabloids of love between two people and then, one paragraph later, we read of the separation of two others.  We celebrate the many years of marriage of one couple while we are hurting for another couple going through separation and dissolution of their marriage

 

Then, too, as parents, we love our children.  And, as adults, we love our children and their children, and we love our parents, and miss them when they are gone.

Alice, Harold and Linda (C)
My Mother and Father reading my Golden Book, circa 1950

 

And, if we look carefully, there even are times when our children love each other!

USED Brother and Sister
Siblings showing affection, at least one is!
USED Brother and infant sister (C)
Brother giving baby sister some “love”.

 

While the children may not be as demonstrative as they get older, loving sibling relationships are precious.

 

We say that we love flowers.

USED Flower garden
Beautiful flower garden.

 

We love food.

Chocolate covered strawberries
Anyone for some chocolate covered strawberries!

 

We love to travel and take vacations, like a cruise going to faraway places in style.

USED Grandeur of the Seas Cruise Ship
The Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet, seen from a distance.

 

And, it goes without saying, we love our pets.

USED Skipy hiding under the bed
Skippy, our Lhasa Poo, peeking out from under the bed, gave us 18 blessed years..

 

USED Goldie on sofa in rv
One of our retired racing greyhounds, Gold E Locks, otherwise known as Goldie, graced us with her presence for 11 years.  She loved riding on the sofa in the RV.

 

And now we have our two canine MinPin daughters, Snickers and Cuddles.

USED Snickers wishing camera flash would stop
Snickers in dreamland on her favorite blanket.

 

USED Cuddles and her boy (C)
Our grandson and Cuddles, sound asleep, with just a little doggie grin, next to him, because he is  “her boy!”

 

Our love for people, animals, objects and activities is a love that is conditioned on various factors.  We love those related to us in a different way than we do our generalized acquaintances.  We love some flowers and not others, and some like to eat lobster and others wouldn’t touch it!  In other words, there is self-motivated volition involved in our love of things and others.

 

In stark contrast, this is not how we are to love our God.  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.”

 

That essentially covers everything!  It is repeated elsewhere in the Old Testament, for example:  Deuteronomy 11:1 and 13:3, and Joshua 22:5.

 

We cannot shrug our shoulders and mumble, “Yeah, but that was okay thousands of years ago, not for us 2016!”  Rather, Jesus reiterated that this was still a commandment for us in Matthew 22:37 when He repeated these exact words.  But Jesus didn’t stop there — not only are we to follow the command in Deuteronomy, Jesus expanded it in Mark 12:29-31 by commanding us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

 

Jesus takes love out of the mental/spiritual world and puts it into the physical/material world.   This turns love into action, not just thought or emotion.  We see our neighbor and we are to love him/her.

 

Loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves means to serve others as Jesus Christ exampled for us, as He lived, and as He died in complete obedience to His Father.  We surely cannot live a sinless life and comply with God’s will in all things as He did, but we can keep His commands on a day to day basis as we are enabled by the Spirit.  We can love God; we can read His Word; we can meet with fellow believers and worship Him regularly; we can love others, if for no other reason than because He tells us to do so.

 

Note that our obligation to love our neighbor does not depend on whether the neighbor is either lovely or loveable – it is a command to Jesus’ followers that has no qualification as to the one being loved.  It is between us and the Lord.  “If you love me, keep my commands.”  John 14:15.

 

There is no wriggle room. It is an “if … then” statement.  If you love me, then you will keep my commands.  Or, stated another way, if you do not keep my commands, then you do not love me.

 

This is not optional – it is not a suggestion.  It is a direct command that indicates whether

  • I do or do not love my Lord and Savior,
  • I will or will not allow His Spirit to guide my steps through the day,
  • I will or will not follow His direction.

 

If I say that I am His, do my actions support my statement or do they undermine it?

 

What about you?  Prayerfully consider these questions and seek the Lord’s face as you look at your life, your speech, your actions, your thoughts, your motives, etc.

 

“If you love me, keep my commands.”   Am I one of His disciples or not?   Are you?

 

Everything depends on the answer to that question!

 

Father, I pray that the meditation of my heart is acceptable to you this day.  I pray that your Word would be used by the Spirit to illuminate the hearts of those who do not know You.  I pray that you would forgive me when I have failed to love You with my whole heart, soul and might.  Thank you for calling me to Yourself through the atoning work of your Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

ON OBEDIENCE, BOUNDARIES AND PRAISE

On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson prayed for our nation in Washington, D. C., and said:

 

Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people, the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those whom in Thy name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

“[O]bedience to Thy law” … It took just a paltry two hundred years for our society to break through the restraint of obedience to God’s law into a society which is fast approaching the description found in the book of Judges in Scripture:

… Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 17:6 [ESV]

 

For some reason, our society has apparently equated obedience to God’s Law with an unwarranted and unwanted restraint on our freedom, as setting up boundaries that we do not want to recognize. The problem, of course, is that without any restraint, there is anarchy and license which results in degradation of the individual, the family and the society. Like it or not, adults as well as children need boundaries and, although the lines may be far different for each, they are present nonetheless.

 

A fence is a visible boundary which serves a multitude of beneficial purposes. We accept the freedom of movement within the fenced yard and, at the same time, we recognize that the fence provides a type of security and protection that would not be there without its presence.

 

Indeed, often we forget the fence is there … we just take the benefit from it. I was looking out the window during breakfast one morning and saw something shining back at me.

 

Sunlight on fence
The fence when something was shining, revealing the presence of the fence when it otherwise was camouflaged.

 

Upon closer inspection, the glow was a result of the sun shining off the fence along the lot line. Most of the fence was hidden in the mass of branches, limbs, leaves, and shade so that I had forgotten it was there. But the sunlight revealed its position as it served to protect the back yard and to define where we could run and play without interference.

 

Fence in the sun
The fence up close revealing more clearly the sunlight shining on the fence.

 

That fence shining in the sunlight reminded me of God’s Law. It too is a type of fence that sets boundaries for our lives, precepts that God wants us to implant in our hearts. Because man cannot conform to the conduct that God mandates in His Law, there was put in place a system of burnt offerings and sacrifices that foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ as the Lamb that would fully atone for sin.

 

The Old Testament Prophet Samuel eloquently expressed what God wanted from His people in 1 Samuel 15:

 

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:22

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses, in easy to understand language, the tenets of the Reformed faith in question and answer format. The very first question and answer pair is:

Q: What is the chief end of man?

A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Question 39 asks and answers:

Q: What is the duty which God requireth of man?

A:   The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to His revealed will.

Question 40 and 41 then go farther and teach that God requires obedience to the moral law as found in the Ten Commandments.

 

This obedience to God’s will was reiterated by our Lord Jesus Christ when He responded to a question propounded to Him:

 

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 [ESV]

 

Obedience – a concept that is passé, that is “old fashioned”, that is “outdated”, that is “inconvenient” – and it is a concept that is based on Scripture.

 

True Christianity is not defined by the culture of this world but is based on Scripture and the culture that is reflected in the Kingdom of God.  Obedience might not be what our culture teaches, but it must be a way of life for the Christian. Not so that we “follow the rules” but so that we give praise to God as we live a life pleasing to Him through His Son and the power of His Spirit. Let us be known as a people who obey our Lord and His commands, even when we are labeled “old fashioned” to do so.

 

Father, I pray that I would honor You by obeying Your commands and the commands of Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Forgive me when I have fought against the restraint that you placed on me; open my eyes to see that even the fence of Your Law is based on Your holiness and justice, and love! Thank You for loving me enough to give me boundaries, for my protection and for Your honor and glory.

OBEDIENT LOVE FOR THE LORD AND FOR OTHERS.

Obedience … it is a hard lesson for children to learn and often we, as adults, still have difficulty accomplishing it.  Obedience comes easy when it concerns something that I want to do anyway.  When the task being asked of us is fun or something we are interested in, obedience is not hard at all.  It comes, almost, naturally!

Obeying, when doing something you are interested in, is fun!
Obeying, when doing something you are interested in, is fun!

But when it relates to something that is difficult or outside my own comfort zone, then it is hard to obey.

As a child, I remember telling my Mother that I loved her.  Then, later in the day, when she asked that I do something for her, I hesitated and waited until it suited me, rather than her.  At bedtime, I said I loved her and she replied: “Really?  That surprises me.”

Her statement caught me off guard and my eyes teared up when I asked “Why, Mommy?”  Her reply echoes in my heart even today: “If you loved me, you would do what I say rather than ignore my direction or argue with me.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus talked about love and obedience when He said:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15 [ESV]  He continued on with this thought in verse 21:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:21 [ESV]

So, what are Jesus’ commandments?  While there are a number of things that He said we should do, they are summarized in Matthew’s Gospel where He says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 22:37-39 [ESV]

In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes it even more pointed – incredibly, He tells us we are to have the same love for others that He has for us.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 [ESV].

What is His love for us like?  It is overwhelming.  It sent Jesus to the cross as a substitute for our sin so, if we believe in Him, we could live with Him forever.

The cross of Christ tells of the magnitude of His love for us.
The cross of Christ tells of the magnitude of His love for us.

Do we love others like that?  We can’t be their substitute for sin because we also are sinners.  But, do we live our life in such a way as to put others first over our own desires and wishes?

  • What about starting with our family members – surely we can love like Jesus loves when we are talking about those to whom we are related!  Too hard to do?
  • Well, perhaps we can love strangers who don’t know us, and who we don’t know. Those people we could love like Jesus loves us!   Maybe, but probably not!
  • Well then, how are we ever going to love those we don’t like if we have difficulty loving those in the two categories above? The difficulty of it is irrelevant — the command is still there.  We are to love even those we don’t like. Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Luke 10:30-37.

In fact, Jesus even went one step farther — we are to love our enemies!

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-48 [ESV]

Obedience – we show our love for our Savior by the way we obey His commands.  Not just the convenient ones or those that are easy.  We are to be obedient to all of them.  I recognize that we cannot do it in our own strength.  Indeed, this is totally against our human nature and we need to have His Spirit flow through us to enable us to love like this.  When we fail, we must confess that failure and seek His grace for the power to love as He commands.

What if people could see, on a daily basis, evidence of our relationship with Jesus by how we love others?  At home, at work, at school?  On the bus, the playground, the elevator?  In the grocery store, the mall, the post office?  Do we exhibit love to our boss or our co-workers or to the server at the restaurant?  Do we show love to the person next to us on Sunday morning?

Beloved, what has been your response to His love?  Has it made any difference in your life?

Do we have obedient love for our Lord and Savior?  Do we obey Jesus’ commands?

Does our love to our neighbors reflect our love for Jesus?  Jesus said that it will.

So, I guess the real question is

“How much do we love Jesus?”

Father, may I express my love to your Son, my Savior Jesus Christ, by ministering to those He loves, whether they may be among my friends or not.  May I express my love to you, Father, by studying your Word and praying, listening to the Holy Spirit urge and direct me as I walk the path you have provided for me. Thank you Father for your love and presence in my life, and for your Holy Spirit who comforts, encourages and strengthens me.  Forgive me when I have turned a blind eye and ignored pleas for assistance.  Please give me grace that I may love others as you love me, through the power of your Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father.