Testing Your Boundaries

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Testing Your Boundaries

Deuteronomy 6:10–25

Caution against Disobedience

When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear. Do not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who are all around you, because the Lord your God, who is present with you, is a jealous God. The anger of the Lord your God would be kindled against you and he would destroy you from the face of the earth.

Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. You must diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his decrees, and his statutes that he has commanded you. Do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may go in and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give you, thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.

When your children ask you in time to come, “What is the meaning of the decrees and the statutes and the ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?” then you shall say to your children, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. The Lord displayed before our eyes great and awesome signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his household. He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land that he promised on oath to our ancestors. Then the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our lasting good, so as to keep us alive, as is now the case. If we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, we will be in the right.”

John 11:45–57

The Plot to Kill Jesus1
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?” Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.

How long does good behavior last?

Several years ago I taught ethics at a community college. The textbook we used was called “Why It’s Hard to Be Good”. With a healthy sense of humor, Palmer addressed the core issue that undergirds all of ethics: Why can’t we just be good?Tweet: Why can't we just be good?

Why I can’t promise you my tomorrow

Dear God… I’m a mess. I need your forgiveness for all the things I’ve done wrong. I need your help to get me through the day without doing something else wrong. I’d love to promise you I’ll do better tomorrow, but you know how I am. I’ll probably mess things up again then. I’m so glad you sent Jesus to take my punishment, because I’m always going to be a mess. Thank you for understanding and forgiving me.

Have you ever been here?

Have you ever felt stuck with your own bad behavior? Have you struggled with weaknesses for so long you can’t believe you will ever change? There’s a group for that and it is called Everyone. We all find ourselves there from time to time, particularly when we cannot distract ourselves with busyness or entertainment outside of ourselves. Many of our attempts to save the world around us are misguided attempts to save everyone else from the very traps we have stepped into… and often have not stepped out of yet. Much of our expertise is in sin and temptation… the very things we ask God to lead us away from.

A World stuck in bad behavior

It is not just a small group of us either. The entire world is stuck in this muck, with no escape in sight. Our experience in this colors our reading of scripture so that we fail to read the tenses of sin in scripture as past tense, and attribute them to future promises… that not only have we sinned today, but we will certainly sin again tomorrow. Our personal experience justifies this kind of reading.

What does it mean that none of us can get it right?

In response to this experience and expertise with sin, we developed beliefs that tell us we are so corrupted that not even God Himself can make us holy. We hold up the Covenant between God and Israel as if it were wishful thinking, and we ignore its echoes in the New Testament Letters. Like a steamroller, we use the doctrine of total depravity to flatten everything around us, instead of using it, in its proper context, as a warning against works righteousness)

In contrast to this, the doctrine of entire sanctification, is often held in contempt, again because of our experience and expertise with sin. We know sin. We know it well. It is holiness that baffles us. We have not seen holiness in this world, and therefore we expect it does not exist. Save that for heaven. This world is simply about surviving.

Jesus

I have to say that Jesus throws a real wrench into those works. He tells us to be perfect and He shows us how to do it. He finds us in our brokenness and asks us “Do you want to be well?” and when He catches us actively sinning He forgives us, saying “Go, and sin no more”. Nowhere, does He say we will always sin. Nowhere does Jesus say it’s ok to give up on holiness until we get to heaven. That is part of what drove everyone so crazy about Jesus. He takes away all our excuses. Forgiveness for our past, help for our present, and promise for our future. With Jesus, there’s no need for sin management anymore. He put the temple leaders out of business. But lets be honest here… Jesus puts us all out of business in our self-managed sin-ridden world.

What sins do you feel keep you away from God?

What excuses do you use to allow yourself to continue with those sins?

If you could take one step into holiness today, what would it be?

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  1. (Mt 26:1–5; Mk 14:1–2; Lk 22:1–2) 

Getting Directions

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Getting Directions

Deuteronomy 5:22–6:3

“Moses the Mediator of God’s Will1

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”

The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

The Great Commandment

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.

2 Corinthians 5:17–21

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Where are we going?

It is part of human nature to want to know where we are going?Tweet: It is part of human nature to want to know where we are going? We do not like to be picked up by the scruff of our neck and dragged away without consent.

We want to know where we are going and we want to feel some measure of control of the journey there. That means we are going to need to know something about how to get there. We may not need to know every turn and every landmark, but we want to know some basic info like:

  1. Are we walking, driving, flying…?
  2. How long will it take to get there?
  3. How long will we stay? and When will we come back here?

As we begin to gather that information, we will quickly start to question Who should lead this adventure? Generally, we do not choose a travel leader based upon good looks or public speaking ability. We choose them based on whoever has actually been to this place before. If no one has been to this place we are going, we generally defer to the person who has traveled the closest or traveled the most in general. We don’t need a fancy show… we need someone with experience. I think it was no accident that God led Moses to become a shepherd in the wilderness of Sinai for years before He sent Moses to bring the people through that wilderness, to the Promised Land.

If you get the right leader, they can also answer the last question as well: What should we expect? This is where we get to the core of our needs. We feel control over our lives when our expectations are met. We feel out of control when they are not. We want a list as long as our need to feel in control of the situation. (You may notice that Moses only seemed to struggle with unruly Hebrews when their expectations were not met on the way to the Promised Land) However, there are other question that may be even more important to answer.

Will it make a difference in us?

What can we expect when we finally got to where we are going? What are we going to do there? There are four different types of people who travel, and we will have different expectations depending upon what type of person we are.

First, there are Tourists. Tourists are only around for a short time and plan to come and be educated and receive the experience of being in a new place. They plan to be changed by the experience, but not to change the place they visit. They typically need to bring or pay for all of their needs while traveling.

Next are Colonizers. These are people who intend to permanently relocate and reshape their new home into the form (or as close as they can come) of their former home. The Hebrew people were not Colonizers for Egypt because they did not make the Promised Land look like Egypt. However, they were colonizers in the sense that they actively removed the Canaanite influence in the area and instilled the new form of community that God instructed them.

The next group are Settlers. Settlers are related to Colonizers, and semantically may as well be identical, but they usually follow Pioneers and find new ways to live in a new place. Oftentimes, settlers do not remove the former inhabitants, but simply move in next to them and forge a new community with them. The Hebrew people ultimately became settlers because they did not completely eliminate the Canaanite influence (although they were commanded to do so).

The final group are Refugees. Refugees move into a new place, often not entirely by choice, and are forced to adapt to the community around them. They have little control over their environment, and often have to change themselves greatly to survive. If you can imagine going to prison, that would probably be a similar feeling to becoming a refugee.

So what are we?

I think of the above choices, we begin as refugees in the Kingdom of God. It is not a democracy. We do not get to vote on the Ten Commandments. We either accept Christ’s Lordship over us, or we are expelled from the Kingdom. However, it is not God’s will that we remain refugees in the Kingdom of God. He wants us to adopt all the Kingdom values and truly become a part. As we change ourselves, with God’s grace and help, we become settlers and finally full citizens of God’s Kingdom.

It is not an easy process though. Paul wrote to the churches that they were being made into new creations, which would mean new expectations. There would be confusion and disappointment before reaching their destination. We may not recognize ourselves once we get there.

Which type of traveler do you feel like in God’s Kingdom?

As you continue on your journey, what questions do you have?

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  1. (Ex 20:18–21)  

People Making

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People Making

Deuteronomy 5:1–21

The Ten Commandments1

Moses convened all Israel, and said to them:

Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. (At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

Neither shall you commit adultery.

Neither shall you steal.

Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.

Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

1 Peter 2:4–10

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
and
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

People have rules

All groups of people have rules. Even anarchists have the rule that there are no rules.Tweet: All groups of people have rules. Even anarchists have the rule that there are no rules. Rules are a necessary part of making groups of people and holding people together. For example, I had no idea that the UK did not refer to a nation in Europe, but instead to a basketball team in Kentucky until I moved to Kentucky. It doesn’t even really refer to a university here (University of Kentucky) they have fans permeating the whole of Kentucky, even though they are not the only big sports team here, and then even more spread out across the entire nation. For Kentuckians, the Big Blue Nation is a really big deal and the whole state plans their events around those ball games.

Rules hold us together

Those rules promote loyalty within a group, and oftentimes, the stronger the rules, the stronger the bond between people. God didn’t care whether His people wore blue or red on a game day, but He did expect His people to treat one another with the love and respect that He was showing them. Our behavior, whether we intend it to or not, reflects back upon our leaders and the group as a whole.

Those rules tell us who we are and also, who we are not. Our God is a God of love, mercy, truth, justice, and grace. He is not a god of murder, strife, jealousy, exploitation, and wrath. Therefore, if we are going to be His people, we should not be people of murder, strife, jealousy, exploitation, or wrath. We should be people of love, mercy, truth, justice, and grace.

God is doing more than just saving individual people

Changing our character, through the rules and example (and power) set by God is just part of salvation. Salvation was never intended to be only about saving individual souls. From the beginning God has been in the business of transforming individuals to work through them and transform the entire world. From the beginning we have been blessed to be a blessing.

Starfish example

There is a story about a boy who walked the shore and threw starfish he found on the way back into the ocean. Among the millions of starfish, it appeared that he was able to make little difference in their lives. When questioned about making a difference in this impossible task, the boy calmly picked up one more starfish, threw it back into the ocean, and said:

“I made a difference for this one.”

It is the right attitude but the wrong metaphor. We do not throw people into heaven, and the world they return to after they meet Jesus is the same one they came from… dark, broken, and dangerous. Only a cruel God would throw us back into that and claim we were “saved”.

Instead, God goes back with us and transforms the dark, broken, dangerous world around us, by working in, around and through us.

God does this by transforming us from individual persons into His People: gathered together to transform the world with God. We are a people with a purpose. We go beyond just saving souls. We are working with God to remake the world in God’s image, and we do so starting with ourselves.

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  1. (Ex 20:1–17)  

Faithful Service

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Faithful Service

Exodus 20:1–4, 7–9, 12–20

The Ten Commandments1

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.

>Matthew 21:33–46

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants[2]

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Come and See AND Go and Tell Ministries

Many have put their particular spins on the Christian faith, claiming it as either a Come and See or a Go and Tell kind of model. In truth it has probably been both of these and more from the time of Jesus and over the centuries. Jesus had a Come and See ministry as He called His disciples, but for those He healed and worked miracles upon, it was much more of a Go and Tell ministry. Tweet: Jesus had a Come and See ministry as He called His disciples, but for those He worked miracles upon, it was more of a Go and Tell ministry. The common thread that runs between both kinds of ministry is the power and character that God imparts to us.

Come and See and the Law

God works through all things to change our lives and redeem the world around us. Two particular means stand out consistently behind much of this work though: God’s Spirit and the Law – God’s Word. These two interact together in a powerful way as the person of Jesus Christ, but throughout the Bible, God’s Word has the effect, not of suggesting how things should be, but by calling things into existence. God’s Law is not like government law. It is more like the laws of Gravity or Thermodynamics. They describe the way the universe works and how we can best live in it.

The Law is a guide to order in our Christian life and in our Christian community. It shapes our behavior and shapes the activities and attitudes of our gatherings. While innovation and even spontaneity can be helpful and life-giving at times, we cannot live in a world that does not have order and we get lost and confused if we cannot establish and understand some basic expectations.

Over time, the Law leads to consistency. Patterns develop when things are repeated, and our understanding of how to participate is limited by the consistency of the activities. If we want people to Come and See, we need to show them what to watch for and how to take part themselves.

As we are brought together under God’s order, the Law that helps us be greater than ourselves. It is not randomness that calls us to greatness, but an order greater than our own ambitions and desires. We grow into the people God created us to be by Coming to Him and Seeing the plans He has set before us. Then, Empowered by His Spirit, we begin to live according to those plans.

Go and Tell and the Law

That same Law that leads us into an ever deepening relationship with God leads us out to Go and Tell the world. Because it is a Law of Love, we are made to go and share the very grace that we have received. If we are to follow the Law of God, we cannot sit still and remain silent. We must Go and Tell.

But how will we know where to go and what to say? The Law gives us guidance there as well. There is not a point where God’s Word hands us off to God’s Spirit, never to touch us again. Both work continually in us, in partnership, to grow and move us. That which one speaks, the other echoes.

This work enable us to truly bear witness to the Love and Grace of God in us, which is our work and purpose as followers of Jesus. When we turn away from the Law, we quench God’s Spirit, and we become selfish rebels and enemies of God’s Kingdom. While we can trust in the grace of God, that grace is given to those who will share it, not for those who will exploit it

How is the Law of God, leading and guiding your spiritual growth today?

What are you going to do about it?

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  1. (Deut 5:1–22)
    [2]: (Mk 12:1–12; Lk 20:9–19) 

Growing Inward instead of Outward

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Growing Inward instead of Outward

Exodus 23:10–13

Sabbatical Year and Sabbath

For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.
Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

John 7:40–52

Division among the People

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

The Unbelief of Those in Authority

Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

Temple Police

It should have been a dead giveaway that something was off in the spiritual life of the Israelites when they hired “Temple Police”. It reflected a lack of faith in God’s authority and a desire to protect the Jewish leader’s own authority instead. God established a tribe of priests who would oversee and regulate worship in perpetuity, but moving from priests to police was beyond the established Law. It may have even been at the request of Rome.

Either way, I think is true that a movement of God does not need police. Not that we don’t need police, or that police are bad. Simply that those tasked with the spiritual transformation of the world, sharing God’s grace with all people, should not require that kind of protection. We certainly face danger. Our chief protector is God though, not man. Walking into danger without protection is consistently shown as a sign of faith in God and a means of witnessing to the world around us in the Scriptures – both Old and New Testaments. Tweet: Walking into danger without protection is consistently shown as a sign of faith in God and a means of witnessing to the world around us...

That doesn’t mean we should throw our lives away foolishly. It means that“Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”, and if we put our faith in our weapons or warriors, we will be sorely disappointed. It truly becomes a form of idolatry if we let it outweigh our trust in God. Instead, those who live by faith, walk by faith, not by sight, which certainly includes the physical protection we can see.

Sabbath

God gave the Hebrew people a gift in the Sabbath command. It was not solely a means of setting His people apart from the rest of the world. It was not intended as a screen to filter out the chosen from the leftovers. It was not designed to be a threat, keeping Israel sheltered or brainwashed into worshipping Him. It as truly meant to be a gift.

Honoring the Sabbath, practicing… doing sabbath is not a passive act. It is a series of varied activities that remind and reconnect us with God. God is the source of our life, and without that connection we fail, fall, and ultimately die. Sabbath is not about separating us. It is about keeping us alive so that we can share that life with the world dying around us.

God created us to grow upward and outward, onward, forward, even down and deep, but He did not call us to grow so inward that nothing could get through to us.

What restores you so that your mind, body, and spirit?

What do you need today so that you can carry your faith out into the world as a gift to it, instead of trying to change, correct, or police those around you?

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Shining

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Shining

Exodus 23:14–19

The Annual Festivals1

Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.
No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened, or let the fat of my festival remain until the morning.
The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.
You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

Philippians 2:14–18, 3:1–4a

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me. “

Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord.

Breaking with the Past

To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

Sacrifices

Context really throws us for a loop when it comes to understanding the sacrifices God commanded in the Old Testament. Our retroperspective, reading backwards into that time and place, is completely colored by consumerism, animal rights, humanism, the industrial revolution, and a market society. All of these things were nonexistent in the time of Moses, and most of the millennia in which the entire Bible was written. They are new things that we try to look for to connect with in the scriptures, often leading us to see shapes in the shadows that are not real and are not there, like the men inside Plato’s cave.

So What was the purpose of all those sacrifices in the Old Testament anyway?
The sacrifices, as set out in the books of Exodus and Leviticus were set around functional events (such as when a person was sick and had been healed, or when a person realized they had sinned), and around seasonal times of reflection and celebration. Those seasonal celebrations were set to retell the story of the people’s relationship with God, beginning with Passover, their day of atonement and deliverance from slavery and Egypt. The next series of celebrations followed both their story getting to the Promised Land as well as their agricultural seasons.

These celebrations served the dual purposes of bringing the community together and reinforcing the story that their community was based upon and the values that God was instilling within them. As any ruler knows, there is a certain amount of taxation that is necessary to remind people that their leadership has value. It is not an act of cruelty. It is a fact of human existence that if we are not asked to give anything, we begin to love the giver more than the gift. We begin to become entitled. Offering up meaningful and valuable sacrifices created a bond between God and His people. Most ancient religions were very similar. Perhaps the biggest difference was that God regulated those sacrifices so that all people, rich and poor, could participate, while keeping them from going too far, sacrificing too much, such as one another or their children. God gave them clearer boundaries that helped them keep their community identity centered around Him without allowing it to fall into fanaticism.

Traditions

Today, we rarely practice sacrificial rituals, at least in an agricultural sense. We have many traditions though, and the bigger the effort involved, the more sacred the tradition typically becomes. First birthdays are a big deal. Fifty-first birthdays… not so much. First weddings are a big deal. Fifth weddings… not near as much. There are small but sacred traditions practiced by military families when their soldier family members ship out, as well as when they return, that those who have not ever offered up their spouses and children to the military sacrificially will never understand.

Some of these traditions are very good, and embody the best values we have. Others are not good and embody some of our worst. Hazing parties in secret societies often embody our worst. Bachelor and bachelorette parties sometimes embody our worst. Reunions of all sorts can often go either way. People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate Tweet: People look on us and see our true values by when and in what way we choose to celebrate

God’s ultimate purpose is not to prevent us from celebrating, nor to control our celebrations. Instead He wants to infuse our lives an give us something good that is really worth celebrating. He wants our joy to shine forth from us in such a way that the world stands up and takes notice of us and the God we are thanking in our celebrations. He wants the world to hear about and see His work in us.

What do you have to celebrate this week?

How will you celebrate it?

What role does God have in your celebration?

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  1. (Ex 34:18–26; Deut 16:1–17)  

Stumbling-blocks

Standard

Stumbling-blocks

Exodus 23:1–9

Justice for All

You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with the wicked to act as a malicious witness. You shall not follow a majority in wrongdoing; when you bear witness in a lawsuit, you shall not side with the majority so as to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.

When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back.
When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.
You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and those in the right, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the officials, and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.

Colossians 2:16-23

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Warnings against False Teachers

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

Naysayers

Every group has naysayers

God gives every team a naysayer. It is what separates us from the lemmings.Tweet: God gives every team a naysayer. It is what separates us from the lemmings.

Lemmings video game

Naysayers keep us from marching off cliffs when we get passionate about the direction we are going. At their best, they also act like bumpers in the bowling lane or guard rails that keep us moving in the right direction by preventing us from getting off course. They are made to be not only guardians of the faith1, but guardians of the mission.

People are not born naysayers. We are created by being put in groups where we feel like an outsider while everyone else seems to want to move quickly. It’s a reaction to feeling out of control. In a group, we naysayers often function as the voice that calls everyone back to unity, precisely because we feel out of place ourselves. If we let our feelings of discomfort drive us instead of guide us, we can shift from being naysayers to becoming full stumbling-blocks.

Stumbling-blocks

Crossing the line from naysayer to stumbling-block

We cross the line from naysayer to stumbling-block when we begin to let our personal problems drive our decisions within the team. No, I’m not talking about psychological disorders. I mean our personal grudges and grievances we carry with us. Jesus called this unforgiveness and He taught that it prevented us from receiving forgiveness ourselves and living in grace (or working in teams well). These grudges against people or grievances about past experiences not only color, the cloud our perspective of reality and prevent us from seeing the potential in front of us. They cause comments such as:

What good can come from Nazareth?

Sometimes it is not just our bad experiences that misguide us. Our good experiences can lead us to be a stumbling-block for others as well, particularly if they have not shared them. We let our personal agendas get in the way of the work of the team. Oh, but surely there is a win-win situation… a way for everyone to get their way. With a lot of work and compromise, most of us can come to a lukewarm arrangement that pleases no one in particular, but is the least offensive – often because it entails the least amount of real change or movement. So instead we go on the aggressive by putting our thoughts in their minds by saying:

Don’t you think we should…

Instead of being direct by claiming our role on the team saying:

I think we should…

Our criticism for personal reasons show our lack of faith and hope, not only for the group, but for the mission as well. Since we are not part of the solution, we become or continue to be part of the problem. Where there is no hope, we can expect non responsible leadership.

It is difficult for us to handle sometimes because the reality is that most change happens incrementally, not instantaneously. Those who become stumbling-blocks for personal reasons are often not the guardian types who can say that they do not feel comfortable with the direction the group is going. These stumbling-blocks are idealists who, comfort aside, do not see the group following their own agendas.

Paul and Moses, and every other leader has dealt with stumbling-blocks, perhaps even been one themselves. There is hope for those of us who find ourselves in that precarious position though.

Stepping Stones

Constructive Criticism for the sake of building up the Body

Real teamwork is about doing the right thing, not the easy thing. At it’s best, criticism is used to sharpen the group as a whole, helping them to be better. It is meant to be a tool of encouragement, not discouragement. As we use constructive criticism to prune our growth, we grow even more, and the body is built up and made stronger. Instead of being stumbling-blocks, we become stepping stones, lifting others up higher as we help them grow.

Who are you lifting up?

How is this criticism helping fulfill the mission?

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  1. Sometimes there has been a misidentification between “guardians” of the faith and “purifiers” or “reformers” of the faith. Guardians protect the forward momentum and stable identity of a group. Purifiers and reformers seek to change the direction or identity of the group. Theoretically guardians do not get along with the other two types unless the guardians can be won over.