We’ve all heard the story of the Golden Calf, haven’t we? Exodus 32, Moses goes up the mountain, the people begin to doubt he’ll return and in their wicked need for a tangible representation of God, melt down all their personal “bling” to form a golden calf. They sing and dance around it… Moses comes down and loses it, and the Levites slaughtered 3,000 of the offenders that day. God alters the game plan – no longer will He lead the nation, but an angel will be taking lead because if God were to go with them personally, He might have to kill them for their stubbornness.He’d set them free from 400 years of slavery under the wicked rule of idol worshippers. You’d think they’d have had enough of that, not to mention a little more practical devotion to the God who parted the Red Sea for them… But, when we’re used to living as a slave, it’s very possible to be “set free, but not living free.”
Idols enslave. That’s what they do. Sin is sticky and familiar. Sometimes, it’s hard to shake and easy to shift back into even when you’re liberated from it. So, what’s stuck to you right now? And, how do you get it off and keep it off?
God didn’t give the nation of Israel the 10 Commandments until after He’d already set them free – His rules were established after their relationship was established. The famous maxim – “rules without relationship lead to rebellion” is typified here. But, Moses somehow sees the big picture here. Thank God.
“If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? (Ex. 33:15-16)”
Moses understood God wasn’t on some power-tripping mission to make the Israelites follow a bunch of baseless rules and play Simon Says: Desert Edition at His beck and call. Moses had a relationship with God. Moses understood early in the game that the only reason God would have them as His people, further ever have a people – Israel, the Church, etc. – is for distinguishing Himself and His holy name. Holy people reflect a holy God more clearly. For this reason it seems Moses refuses the angelic point man and returns to first principles: if it’s not You, Lord, in the lead – anyone in our path will miss Your point. Moses pleads for more of God.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed… In Christ, we’re no longer obligated to answer to our inner teenager who wants what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. But, don’t we all have a “pet sin” that stirs up godly sorrow every time we commit it? Aren’t there seasons of your sanctification you wish you could fast forward beyond? Feeling… stuck? Feeling… like the Israelites a bit? But, you’re free!!! Shouldn’t this be easy? As Moses understood – it’s simple, but not easy.
Had Enough? How about More?
If you’ve had enough of slavery to sin or a sin in particular, you don’t need “wisdom and discernment” (#1 prayer request of the decade). You need deliverance. You need to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. So, let me ask you: when is the last time you found yourself on your face before the throne with that kind of attitude? Refusing to move forward without His presence? Your greatest need isn’t wisdom or even courage – you know what you’re doing is offensive to God, you’ve just pushed God away thinking He can’t or won’t see what you’re doing in “secret”. I’ve been there, too. If there’s a sin or groups of sin in your life that you keep finding yourself stuck to, even though you are set free, perhaps it’s not an end to the sin you seek. Perhaps it’s just more of the presence of God. How about a little “on-your-Facetime” with God this week? Got a half hour you can carve out in your schedule to just lay prostrate, call out to God, and listen for His reply… wait on His presence?
Hope it’s the best 30 minutes you’ve spent all week…
Cue the Soft, Peaceful Music… I love the Christmas season. The deeper my walk with Christ, the more I appreciate the time when we celebrate His incarnation. Yes, I’m a foodie – all the foods, drinks, smells, and flavors of Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas create vivid, IMAX moments in my memory of seasons past. The most powerful thought that comes to my mind each year is that Jesus came to earth to deal with the source of our troubles – sin and death.
Sour Notes Everyone around you has the same problems. Sin and death. Some just experience louder and longer versions of the same struggles. Some just have layers and layers of problems piled on them. But, essentially it all comes down to the problem of living in a broken, Genesis 3 world. We’ve trained our oldest daughter to recognize one of the simplest results of the Fall – hurt people hurt people. And, we’re all hurt people, but grace means we don’t have to let the cycle continue and we don’t have to be the source of someone else’s hurt.
Enter “The Awkward Conversation” What does the intersection of Thanksgiving/Christmas and “hurt people” mean to you? Sometimes, it means running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time and asking one of those “awkward” questions:
“So, Sandy, you and Rick getting married soon?” Rick just left Sandy for his executive assistant. Oops. “Hey, great to see you! Where’s Margaret?” Margaret died of cancer three weeks ago. Tragic silence.
Rewriting the Script: Too close to home? Been there. Done that. So, what do I do, show up and not say anything? Well. That’s an option… But, the bible offers several practical disciplines that God commands us to practice before that awkward conversation that will make it ten times easier to handle the kinds of situations that only exist in a fallen broken world filled with fallen broken people. Actors don’t just “learn lines”, they prepare their character. Athletes don’t just work out, they practice their craft. Wise disciples of Christ engage the Master and His wisdom.
1. Show up “Clean”. For years, Men Step Up’s table leaders have carried a card around in their wallets that demands of them 5 things, one of which is “Show up clean and on time.” “Clean” to these guys and to anyone as a disciple of Christ who disciples others, means asking themselves and the Lord this one question: “Lord, is there any unconfessed sin in my life?” David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139.22-24)” Jesus would later teach in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Bottom line – sin clouds our vision and numbs us to not only the voice of the Holy Spirit, but the innate sensibilities God has impressed on our conscience and memory of Godly wisdom. This prevents us from paying attention to the fact that “Rick” isn’t in the room and Sandy looks a bit emotionally aloof or that Margaret, too, isn’t at the party and we recall her name showing up in a prayer chain email a few months back. What if we prayed those lines from Psalm 139 on the way to ever function and begged God to “create in [us] a clean heart?”
2. Stay Clean. For personal reasons, Cristine and I have eliminated alcohol from our diet as of about two years ago. But, have you ever noticed that some of the most careless things can come out of our mouths after only one glass of wine or one snobby, locally-micro-brewed IPA? Scripture is replete with commands to “be alert”, “be sober minded”, “consider others better than yourselves”. When we’re not at peak performance, around tons of people (each of which bring their own “holiday” baggage to the room, not to mention our own), how can we possibly be as alert, sober minded, and attentive to the needs of others when we’re even mildly impaired? I could focus on the word “mildly”, but it’s used here to describe the word “impaired“. Are you with me?
So, as a rule, I used to show up with a “two drink maximum”. But, since we are all easily blinded by the wiles of our own indiscretions, what would it look like if you took the number of drinks you consider “conservative” and cut it in half or quarter?
3. Got Dirty? Get Clean Fast. The most astounding prayer Jesus ever prayed was hanging on the cross while insults were being hurled at Him: “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For you and I to get great at praying (and really meaning) that prayer is a major chunk of walking the Christian walk. Family times often bring awkward tensions brought about by unconfessed or unforgiven sins. Work parties can so easily turn into contests of who can suppress the urge to tell someone what they’ve wanted to say about unfair conditions the longest. But, forgiveness is the only true solution. John Woodall once asked me “are you aware of your subtle methods of seeking revenge?” That question stuck with me like a drop of gas fallen from the pump onto my shoe. Impossible to shake the smell, right? It’s true – you and I all share in Cain’s folly… “I’ll show you!” The regular practice of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation ought to flow from the believer with force. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Have a great Thanksgiving and a Christmas season marked by incredible “un-awkwardness”.
Thanks to $30 and an ad on Craigslist, there are over 250 Lego blocks in our playroom. Thanks to the kindness of dozens of people who love our family, there are DOZENS of stuffed animals in our home. There are also many puzzles, VeggieTales movies, and books. My three toddlers (4, 2-1/2, & 2-1/2) are welcome to play with any of the many – all if they so choose. But, they are not to play with the Clorox bottle.
Does that make me a mean, restrictive father? Am I a controlling bully? Am I a hulking, omnipresent killjoy who doesn’t want them to have any fun? Or, am I concerned Dad that knows there is a purpose and a place for Clorox and they could poison or badly chem-burn themselves?
Call it Like it Is:
Don’t we all sort of suffer from the tendency to look at what we don’t have rather than what we do? If I can inflict some honesty on us early on in the post – it’s called “ingratitude”, but God just calls it “sin”. I know, you were hoping for a feel-good post to kick off the week, right?
So here’s the scene where it all went awry: God makes everything good, gives Adam and Eve the keys to the kingdom and gives them some time to be “alone together” – if you have small children or aging parents living in your home, this is called “us time”, and it’s a rare commodity. I can’t imagine wanting time away from God, but there they had it. While the bible doesn’t tell us exactly how many trees God left them there with, judging from the incredible biodiversity of the rest of the planet, it’s probably more than the number of Legos and toys in my house, fair enough?
Satan shows up, all hater-like, probably ticked off that there are new neighbors in the best part of “his” town, and starts spinning the instructions God gave them:
“Level with me, lady, did God really say ‘you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?’” (see Gen. 3:1-3)
Not only does he use a different name for God (YHWH) than God had just used for himself over 20 times in the previous two chapters (Elohim), but he completely spins the conversation backward… God did say they could eat of every tree… freely even! (see Gen. 2.16-17 – ” ‘akal – devour, eat freely”) Trouble is, Eve falls for it and Adam lets the ship go right over the falls. Disaster.
Because both Adam and Eve failed to recognize (and quote back to him) what they did have, they allowed their focus to be shifted to what they didn’t have. It’s not like God left the kids alone in the kitchen with candy on the table and said “don’t touch any of this while I’m gone”. On the contrary, He gave them everything with only one prohibition for their safety.
Imagine how Genesis 3 would have looked had Eve corrected the snake by saying “No, actually, God’s not holding out on us, at all. In fact, He gave us 738 species of trees with more to come, each with a different kind of fruit and flavor. Adam and I have tasted all 738 and were blown away by their flavors, but then God told us to try combinations of flavors and totally blew our minds. Oh, that one in the middle of the garden? It’s poisonous, so He told us to stay away from it. Isn’t that great?“
When it appears choices are limited and options are poor, you can be sure the enemy is trying to put blinders on you or spin the truth into a lie of God’s restriction and holding out on you. A wide and deep perspective of who God is, what He has done, and the riches of His grace provide a perspective that can only lead to gratitude. Be grateful for the many Legos and remember, Clorox has its purpose and place.
We’ve been faithfully serving, tithing, members at North Point Community Church for a long time now. We’re lovers and followers of Christ. But, we won’t be there on Wednesday night when Michelle Obama appears to talk about obesity.
Because you don’t like the First Lady? No, nothing to do with whether we like her or not. Because you disagree with her political views? No, not because of the wide gap separating our political ideologies, per se. Because evangelicals were born to boycott? Nopety-nope. Because you don’t see the point in the FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) appearing at your church, especially to talk on this topic? Yeah, that’s more like it.
Am I interested in hearing what she has to say? Sure, I’m intrigued to hear what any high level government official or celebrity has to say about kids in our nation. But, having recently come face to face with the ugly truth about my own flaws and overeating, I don’t see why it’s relevant to me.
Obesity is a spiritual problem, not a political problem.
Okay, I said it. Call me a narrow minded bible-thumping troglodyte if you must. But, as God has drawn my wife and I near to Him during a recent extended fast, I came to a deeper understanding of my own depravity, my own lack of self control, my own need for a Savior: I feed my flesh with more gusto than I feed my spirit. I reach for comfort food when I don’t really want food so much as I want comfort itself, which my God has promised to me in abundance if I’d just reach for Him instead.
Yes, there are great opportunities to witness to those outside the faith, but I’ll be doing it from the comfort of my own home as we watch it streamed online. Yes, I am grateful for our church being selected for such a media heavy event. But, relevance, please?
Am I being a wuss? Yes, a bit, because you and I both know that getting into and out of our church parking lot (even with the thank-you-Jesus-new-bridge) is hard enough when it’s just our church peeps. God forbid, we should have to brave those throughways when it’s every Tom, Dick, and Harry flocking to that building to see the most famous FLOTUS in American history.
The reality is, however, I think addressing childhood obesity with a program, a slogan (imagine: “Just Say No to Seconds”! “Read My Lips: No New Fat Cells”!), or a famous face misses the mark as much as a band-aid on leukemia. Obesity, especially childhood obesity, is not a merely a mindset problem, it’s not a political problem, it’s a sin problem. Without Christ, we are utterly lost and libel to do whatever we want, when we want, as much as we want. Have we forgotten Sodom and Gamorrah? Have we forgotten Romans, 8 verse 12 – “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.”
One of the most poignant truths that jumped off the pages of my bible during this fast was just that – “Aarron, you don’t have to answer the door when chocolate cake is ringing the doorbell.” I need a savior. Kids who are struggling with overeating don’t need a slogan or a t-shirt, they need parents and teachers who have Christ in their hearts and an abiding relationship with the Holy Spirit, who can train them up to live by the Spirit and not by the flesh.
Am I wrong?
I’m not pointing fingers at the kids – they’re just eating what we feed them. So, yes, a change in accessibility to certain foods and a change of mindset and practice by those making food choices for our kids could go a long way. But, as long as a way as it could be, it falls far short of how far God would have us if we would pray for and trust Him for true, penitent, sweeping revival in this nation. Do, yes. But, abide, deny the flesh, carry the cross, and pray for revival, so we can stop putting band-aids on cancer.