using loopholes to avoid trouble

Category : Jesus, Matthew, choice, different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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Have you ever noticed how everything in the world is geared towards justifying our choices, our actions, and our decisions?  We live in a world obsessed with finding excuses, reasons, and explanations for why our behavior should be the exception.

“Well officer, I didn’t mean to speed, I just had to go to the bathroom.”
“I’d love to play with you tonight son, but I had a hard day at work.”
“Everyone else is doing it…”

We are always looking for loopholes.  Always looking for an out.

I find it interesting that God is just the opposite.

God closed the loopholes.  No, scratch that.  He doesn’t “close” loopholes, he slams them shut, nails the door, and moves a giant bolder in front of it.  God does not accept “well I just wasn’t paying attention.”  God does not accept excuses and justifications.

Is there anything more revolution, more counter-cultural than that?

We often have this impression of Jesus as a “nice guy” who was in complete contrast to the “big, mean” God of the Old Testament.  But that’s not the case.  Both treated sin in a very-counter cultural way.  And yes, it was counter-cultural 2,000 years ago.   Much to the shock of the Jews of the day, Jesus ramps up the intensity of the 10 commandments:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5: 17-20)

If that’s not enough.  Consider what Jesus said about murder.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that’s terrifying.  Hating someone is the same as murdering them?  God doesn’t see shades of gray?  You can be condemned to Hell for that?!  Talk about closing the loopholes!

Why was Jesus like this?

I believe it’s because God knows how we operate.  He knows that we’re always looking for loopholes.  He knows that if there was any wiggle room we’d be asking, “how close to the line can I get?”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?

That’s what Israel did.  In fact that was their entire history.  They were constantly trying to get as close to the line as they could without crossing.  And you know where that led?  To hardened hearts.  To spiritual death.  And to a life lived not in faith, but a life lived in mindless obedience to minute laws.  A place where there was no room left for God.

There is good news though.  While you and I can never live up to Jesus’ standards.  That doesn’t matter.  Jesus took the punishment that we deserved.  He suffered where we should be suffering.  He paid the price that was ours to bear.  That’s what’s so amazing about God.  At the very moment he was closing all loopholes, he was opening up the front door.  No more sneaking around, we could boldly and confidently walk in the front door.  As Michael W. Smith says in Come To The Cross, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, everyone can come to the cross.”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?  Should we still be trying to avoid trouble by wiggling our way free?  Or should we boldly move forward and simply ask God to forgive us?  Jesus may have closed the loopholes, but by doing so he made it easier to enter Heaven, not harder.

I ask you this week – where are the loopholes in your life?  And what are you going to do to close them?

A life of faith is guided by God, not controlled by loopholes.

history of the world, part 1: the 10 Commandments

Category : bible, humor, just for fun

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In the post, “guard your heart,” I wrote that every time we break one of the 10 Commandments we do serious damage to our heart.  We just weren’t designed to live the way we are choosing to live.  In their book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell and Don Golden agree, saying, “What God begins …with the 10 Commandments is the long process of teaching [Israel] how to be human again.”

God gave us the 10 Commandments not as punishment for being disobedient, but as a guide to how to live a better life.

That’s the serious side of all of this.  But since it’s Friday, and I just managed to run my USB drive through the washing machine, I feel like a little laughter.  So here is Mel Brook’s take on the 10 Commandments

guard your heart

2

Category : God, bible, living a life of faith, sin

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4: 23)

I wonder how many of us make a serious effort to guard our hearts.  Do we make our decisions based on protecting our heart?  Or do we make our decisions based on excitement, envy, desire, passion?

I don’t often like to talk about current events, but sometimes they serve as a good illustration.  Take the case of Ben Roethlisberger being accused of sexual assault.  I don’t know if he did it (if he does, he deserves to go to jail) if he didn’t, in many ways his life is ruined.  The same is true of the accuser.  If she’s a victim, something precious has been taken from her.  If she made up the story, then something is deeply broken inside her.

This whole incident occurred because they slept together.

I’m not here to moralize or judge, especially about people who may not have a relationship with God.  Yet I am here to point out: there’s a reason God gave us the 10 commandments.  It’s not to take away our fun.  It’s not so he can reserve good things for himself.  It’s because our hearts need protecting.  Every single time we violate the 10 commandments our heart is wounded.  Yet most of us don’t’ feel that way.  Why?  I think it’s because for most of us, our heart are so badly damaged we can barely feel them anymore.  We can’t imagine what it would be like to have a protected, guarded, safe heart.

Is it any wonder we live in an age of increasing skepticism and cynicism?

Our hearts are precious.  Maybe we should treat them that way.

the 10 commandments

Category : Exodus, God, Matthew, taking action

  

Sometimes I find myself thinking about the 10 commandments.  

They are such a part of of western society that sometimes we don’t even notice the influence they have.  Almost everyone agrees that the “big” one’s are a good idea:  don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t give false testimony.  Other commandments are not always as popular, but most people still think it’s not a good idea to cheat on your spouse, or lust after the things another person has. 

But there’s one commandment that always seems to stand out: “remember the Sabbath.” (Exodus 20:8).  Doesn’t it seem like a weird thing to add to such a short list?  I mean it is a top 10 list.  Shouldn’t there be something, I don’t know, more important in that spot?

And yet, that simple commandment was so important that God included it right before he talked about how we shouldn’t murder or cheat.  I have to think there’s a link there.  I have to believe that God knows when we don’t have the right priorities only bad things can happen.

Out of all the commandments this is the one I break most often.  And for those of you about to dial 911, don’t worry I’ve never killed anyone or stolen anything.  But I have been furious with people, and according to Jesus that’s enough (Matthew 5:21-22).

So the question becomes, why? 

Why do I feel free to break this one?  Is it because the other commandments seem so obviously important?  Is it because maybe I think I’m a little too good to need special time with God?

I’m not sure I have an answer.  But I do know that if God thought this was important enough to be included in such a short list, then I need to rearrange the priorities in my life.  I need to make sure I’m making time to build that relationship with God.