Going to the Party

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Going to the Party

Exodus 32:1–14

The Golden Calf1
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your own wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ ” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”
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But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Matthew 22:1–14

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet2

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Celebration

What is this journey of faith all about? We’re going to a party! Tweet: What is this journey of faith all about? We're going to a party!

It is not one of those parties that you remember walking in the door and waking up the next morning, and nothing in between. It is not a party where everyone stands around dressed up, bragging about their accomplishments in life. The Bible describes it as a wedding party although it is probably not going to be like any wedding party you have ever been to. We could spend weeks and months digging deeper into what exactly is meant by this wedding, probably chasing down quite a few rabbit-trails on the way… but this much we can take as a foundation: This party is about starting a new life together with God.

How to get there? That is probably the most commonly asked question. From Nicodemus to Billy Graham, and beyond to the great seekers , apologists , and even atheists – everyone wants to know how to get there. So how do we get there?

It’s not about finding a map or going through a series of motions. Traditional weddings were thrown by the groom’s family (the bride brings a dowry to share from her family) and were probably held at the groom’s family home. The groom would build on additional housing on the family land to be the new home for his wife and himself. So, how do we get there? Just like Rebekah in the book of Genesis, we follow our groom back to his home. That’s how we get there.

What will we go through to get there?

The first thing we have to do to get to this wedding party is to leave home. I’m a bit biased, having left home a number of years ago myself and relocating to another state, but it strikes me that the first of many excuses many people give for not following Christ’s call on their life is that they were raised in a good home, in a good family, and don’t want or need to leave that. Sometimes it sounds like (and I know this is not the case) they are claiming they were born Christians and born in heaven already… and for many of them, they expect heaven to just be an extension of their own personal family they had growing up. They are going there to see mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa again.

I contrast that notion with the fact that nearly every follower of God in the Old Testament and follower of Jesus in the New Testament were asked to pack their bags and move out of obedience to God at some point or another. It is rare that I have met a Christian leader who was not called to change jobs or move away from family at one time or another. Our first step toward the wedding party is leaving home.Tweet: Our first step toward the wedding party is leaving home.

Along the way, we learn to trust in God’s provision for us. Without the comforts and control of our home environment, we can find ourselves lost, scared, running out of provisions, not knowing where we are going and not knowing how to get back. Every time my wife and I head out the door, we say “It’s always an adventure.” in the spirit of Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings. It’s not easy and it is not nearly as comfortable as just sitting at home… but the rewards for that adventure are so much better.

Relationships are forged in the fire, and our trust in God – our faith, is made real when it is put to the test. We may try to test God’s faithfulness all we want, but it will gain us nothing. When God tests our faith though, we find out what it really means to have a relationship with Him. Going through the adventure of life together helps us discover and form new ways of life with Jesus. We begin to practice here on earth the way we will live forever in heaven and in the New Creation. In our relationship with Him we truly become a new creation ourselves. How we get there and what we go through do not matter near as much as how we are changed and prepared for eternal life.

Unholy Celebration

We get into trouble when we get ahead of ourselves. Like Aaron and the Hebrew people who pressured him in Moses’ absence, we are sometimes guilty of starting too early. We are impatient and want to skip to the end. We don’t just want to know the end of the story, we want to be there, missing all the stuff that happens in the middle, especially if we think that there are parts of the journey we won’t like.

Yet we know we cannot really skip to the end. So instead, we end up throwing our own party, instead of following Jesus to His party. That’s the devil’s real deal: –

It’s a trap! We cannot throw a party that brings us any real joy and hope because we are not sources of life… we are just the recipients of it. Even if we gave everything we had away, including our very life, the whole lot would run out before everyone made it to the party. Compared to the riches of Christ, we are all just beggars.

Sometimes we are not trying to replace God, we are just refusing to go further. Enough is enough, and we are tired, sick, sore, and have had our fill of suffering through this journey. As in marriages, there are points throughout the journey where the individuals question whether it is worth it to go forward at all. Some days it just seems easier to quit, to stop where we are, to sit down, and refuse to go another step. Perhaps this is why God commanded us to take breaks in our journey and remember how far He has taken us.

These attitudes and attempts to hijack God’s own celebration are wrong. They fall short, not because several details are off here and there, but because these kinds of parties or decisions are all about me. Jesus summed up the Law as loving God and other, and our attempts at trying to bring the focus of the world around us upon ourselves is not just missing the mark, it is working against God and causing others to stumble.

Holy Celebration

The great wedding celebration we are going to, on the other hand, is all about God. Well, almost entirely. We have a very important role in it. We are getting adopted (or married, depending on your perspective) into a new family. It is just that we are not the host. We are honored guests. Our role is simply to receive with gratitude as we observe the manners of our new home.

If we are meant to receive, what will we get? Our materialistic world is bent on owning things. We have all forgotten the real power of relationships. In loving relationships, mi casa es su casa… what’s mine is yours. We actually gain more through being present in relationships than we could ever acquire by buying, winning, earning, or stealing on our own. This is the lesson the prodigal son learned that his older brother could not grasp. What we get is a relationship with God, an invitation into His family, and because we get that, we get everything.

Something else happens as well. We change. The journey from where we are now, to where God is taking us, changes us and makes us into the kind of people who fit in God’s kingdom. We cannot find our own way to fit, but God can make us fit. That is the ultimate gift we receive. New life. New life that doesn’t break down and quit because it is faulty. New life that only grows brighter with each day we spend with our God. Now that is something to celebrate!


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  1. (Deut 9:6–29)
  2. (Lk 14:15–24)

Consuming Movement

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Consuming Movement

Exodus 24:12–18

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”

Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Mark 2:18–22

The Question about Fasting1

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Food and religion have always been connected through celebrations.

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Every religion I am aware of has faith practices that include special meals and fasting. Perhaps it is the connection food has to the cycle of life and death in our world. If you can imagine back in ancient times when food was hunted and gathered, it was a blessing to be able to find food. It took skill and practice to hunt, but there was always a bit of luck or blessing involved with a good hunt. Every meal was greeted with some measure of gratitude and little was taken for granted.

Food in God’s Kingdom

If you were to read the Old Testament through the lens of a food anthropologist, we find a small thread in the great tapestry that shows a proclivity towards sin as civilization moved from hunter-gatherer, to farming, to urban life. The further the Hebrew people got from raising (or finding) their own food, the further they tended to get from God. Now, we have to be careful not to emphasize that too much, because that is certainly not the main point of the scripture. Claiming so would be tantamount to claiming that the musical Fiddler on the Roof was about Russian politics and had nothing to do with the lives of Jewish women. It misses the forest for a single tree.

It also may be that we have the cause and effect switched. It may mean that the further away from God we get, the less able we are to produce our own food. There are multiple accounts where God’s people are held in check agriculturally and economically to prepare them for a greater work down in their future. This follows the New Testament reinterpretation of the Passover meal as well.

To consume or be consumed

The theology of agriculture is a minor doctrine, even compared with the theology of eating, and there is plenty of room for flexibility. God points this out in Acts 10:9-16 when Peter receives a vision from God that commands him to eat animals that God had previously forbid the Hebrew people to eat in the Old Testament. This change in the law was like moving some stop signs in a four-way stop to bring create a highway intersection with only stops on the side. It would have felt like a major change to the people who had lived there. But the overall law of stopping at stop signs would still be in effect, and the greater law of when you drive, drive on the road would not be changed in the slightest. So it was with the food laws.

Jesus taught that it was not what goes into the mouth that makes someone unclean, but what comes out of it. So perhaps we should focus not on what we consume as a measure of faithfulness in God’s Kingdom, but instead, what consumes us. What so captures our attention, time, money, energy, and lives that we find ourselves taken up and control taken away from us. The people of the scriptures would call these the things we worship. Many are false idols and cause us to stumble in sin instead of following Christ in faith. They ruin and destroy us one day at a time. They hold us back from embracing our true purpose and calling in life. They are the true balls and chains we where that keep us prisoners in our own life, because that place of worship is reserved for God alone.

What consumes you?

Where has God taken away control in your life so He can teach you to rely on His provision?

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  1. (Mt 9:14–17; Lk 5:33–39) 

Leaving the World

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Leaving the World

Exodus 24:9–11

On the Mountain with God

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

James 4:4–10

Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says,

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Seeing God

Many claim to wish they could see God.Tweet: Many claim to wish they could see God. They would boldly ask Him questions to His face about why He did this or that. Most often they make these claims from the safety of their own homes. They rarely make these claims in places like churches where they suspect He might really show up. Certainly not in the middle of a worship service, where people are praying, praising, preaching, healing, giving, prophesying, speaking in tongues, etc… the doubters don’t speak up in these places.

Perhaps they are just being polite. But then again, I have met… no, even more, I have been and impolite doubter at times. No, I don’t think it is common courtesy that keeps our questions away from places where we suspect God might show up. I think it is something much more banal. We want to ask the questions but we don’t really want the answers.Tweet: We want to ask the questions but we don't really want the answers.

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

This teaching of Jesus is less about predestination and more about our natural human tendencies. (If you want to deny free will, then you can just claim that God puts our fear of Him into us.) Personally, I think it is our own weakness we have due to listening to the lies the world tells about God. We may get angry at God from time to time, but there is a part of us that is also terrified of Him. God comes to us and instead of opening the door to Him, we run out the back door. We are not chosen, because we won’t even show up in His presence. Few people will really seek His presence at all.

Staying with God

When God surprises us showing up in front of us, we often are at a loss for what to do. It is those moments, as we stand there terrified, that we experience some of the best aspects of God. Paul tells us that it is his gentleness that leads us to repentance, not his holiness and power. He is patient with us in our awkwardness, even as we find it terrifying to stay there with Him.

Our old nature fights against us, because it dies in His presence to make room for our new life. That is what is happening to us spiritually when we feel convicted and guilty of our sins. Some of these sins we may have been unaware of, but we find them revealed in the light of God’s presence.

He speaks to us… and we can understand Him clearly. It seems counterintuitive that we could understand the God who created and holds the universe together, but it is true. It is not that we know His language. He speaks to us in ours. He speaks plainly. I have never met a person who told me that God spoke to them and they did not understand it. We may learn deeper levels of those words given to us, but it is always something we can grasp initially. Comprehension is not our problem. Motivation is.

His will goes against our will. Just as our flesh fights and leads us to flee from Him, so does it fight against submission and obedience. The life that is a lie still has claws and teeth and fights to grasp control back away from us. Following our instincts never leads us to a choice. Listening to God always brings us to the choice. Will you leave this world behind and follow God?
Will we submit and obey or run away?

Where do you find God’s presence?

What does God say to you?

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Moving by Standing Still

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Moving by Standing Still

Exodus 24:1–8

The Blood of the Covenant

Then he said to Moses, “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.”

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

1 Peter 5:1–5, 12–14

Tending the Flock of God

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

####Final Greetings and Benediction

Through Silvanus, whom I consider a faithful brother, I have written this short letter to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

People Movers

Oftentimes we consider initiative to be the key component of “those who go somewhere in life”. Initiative is important. Sometimes though, initiative becomes its own worst enemy. Sometimes initiative stops itself. Tweet: Sometimes initiative stops itself.

What do I mean by that ridiculous claim? I mean there are at least two things about initiative that generally go unobserved.

1. Initiative is not always entirely self-motivated.

We often define the character of initiative as a person who is a “self-starter”. In reality, these people we see as such often have elaborate systems in place to promote productivity and push them forward in their goals. They have coaches, teammates, parents, spouses, or even just people who challenge them in healthy competition. They only appear to be pushing themselves because we do not see the network of motivators around them.

2. Too much variation in initiatives causes a breakdown of productivity.

A person who focuses on a single goal and takes initiative can outpace many in their field. On the other hand, a person who works a dozen different initiatives at once will appear random and will likely not finish most of those goals. Multiplying our goals either leads us to the experience of taking one step forward and two steps back, or simply giving us too many “squirrel moments”.

This means that, once you get heading in a promising direction, sometimes the best thing you can do is be patient, and stand still until you get there.

Suffering

I’ve only been in a few airports with people movers – those flat conveyer belts that move you from one end of a hall to another. I’ve noticed though, even in those few occasions I’ve been on one, that there are two types of people that ride them. There are those who use them as an opportunity to reserve energy, and let the track take them to their destination, and there are those who march down them at top speed, trying to gain speed from it and add their own. Most people tend to model the latter philosophy of people movers.

Life sometimes becomes a people mover under our feet, taking us wherever life is going. If we are honest, quite a few of us kick back and relax when the mover is taking us up easy street. But when we go down a path a suffering we all become those who run up the conveyer belt. Some of us even start running backwards! Suffering is not something we do standing still.

There is always anxiety in transformation and God is in the business of transforming us and our world. That means, God is always going to make us a little anxious. I believe it is part of why we often rush through prayer with Him. It is not that we are just too busy – that’s a bit ridiculous. What could possibly be more important than being in the presence and communicating with the being that gives us our very breath and loves us unwaveringly? No, I think there is a subconscious worry, or even fear, that sometime in the midst of that prayer, God might actually speak to us.

The saints of scripture all spoke of a God they felt closest to when they were sharing in His suffering. It seemed that there was always suffering of some kind going on. Either people were poor and hungry, sick and exasperated, or being hunted and killed. Shared suffering draws communities together tighter. Running away divides us. You can find people being called into some kind of self-giving service, which often looks like hardship instead of comfort, on nearly every page of the Bible. That alone speaks volumes. Jesus said it plainly:

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

Standing firm

We may be willing to follow, but sometimes we wish Jesus would get to the resurrection faster.Tweet: We may be willing to follow, but sometimes we wish Jesus would get to the resurrection faster.

…but think of all the things we would miss if we took out the last week of suffering in Jesus’s life.
Perhaps we would keep the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but you would lose the casting out merchants in the Temple.
You would lose some of the most powerful parables he told – The Parable of the Vineyard and the Parable of the Wedding Guests.
You would miss Him weeping over Jerusalem and cursing a fig tree.
You would miss the upper room, the Lord’s Supper, the washing of the disciple’s feet.
You would lose the most powerful prayer that Jesus prayed for you and I in John 17.
You would miss the sweat drops of blood in the garden while the disciples slept.
You would miss Judas betraying Jesus and the healing of the servants ear (after Peter chopped it off).
You would miss the trial, the beatings.
You would miss the crucifixion and the seven last words of Christ from the cross.

Everlasting life means very little without the experience of suffering and death. Jesus understood this better than any of us. There is a time to move and there is a time to stand fast and let God move you.

What makes you wish life would move you faster?

What makes you want to put your life on pause?

How do you sense God’s leading in these fast and slow times?

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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)