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.

it’s not about me…

Category : God, choice, faith, fear, revolutionary

 

No matter how hard, or I suppose how little we try, we tend to be pretty self-centered.  I don’t mean this in a negative way.  Being self-centered doesn’t always mean that we are selfish.  Although it could.  Being self-centered can also mean that we appropriately focus on ourselves.  Which can be healthy.  After all if we lack self-focus we would end up with a lot of people forgetting to take showers, making the world a much stinkier place! 

Think about it this way: during the course of a day we make hundreds of decisions about ourselves.  What pants do I wear?  What do I eat for breakfast?  Is it safe to pull out into traffic?  We are constantly forced into making choices about ourselves.  So it’s no wonder we end up being fixated on oursleves.  It’s not that difficult to go from “Do I feel like going to the gym?” to assuming everything is about us. 

Which is why, when we say “God told me to do X”, we are acting under the assumption that “X” is for our own good.  What if it’s not?  What if “X” is for someone else’s good?  What if we need to do “X” to step out of the way?

Any time I feel God prompting me to do something dangerous or out of my comfort zone I assume that there must be some benefit for me.  I ask the reasonable question, “why else would God have me do this?”  It must be for my own good.  Right?

But does it have to be?

John the Baptist spent his ministry doing crazy things.  Not the least of which involved wearing camel hair and eating locusts.  Yet his entire ministry wasn’t about himself.  It wasn’t about growing his own followers or becoming safe and secure.  It wasn’t even about staying on a low-carb locust diet.  The whole point of his ministry was to prepare the world for Jesus’ ministry!

In other words, the whole point of “X”, for John, was to get out of the way once Jesus showed up.  That has to be hard on the ego.  Yet get out of the way is exactly what John did.  And for his troubles he was beheaded. 

Looking back at John’s story there seems to be very little benefit to him.  Sure he’s remembered, but he was also beheaded.  And knowing that it makes it hard for me to want to follow in his footsteps.  Frankly the same can be said of a lot of people in the Bible.  I don’t really have much of a desire to be martyred. 

But that’s the catch isn’t it?

The story isn’t really about them.  And my story isn’t always about me.  Sometimes in order for “X” to succeed, I need to get out of the way.  And maybe, just maybe, that means I must lose my life in the process.

As long as I remain convinced that every time God asks me to do something it is for my direct benefit, I will never want to take a risk because I may lose everything.  But as I learn that the story isn’t always about me.  That sometimes my role is to get out of the way, I don’t need to worry about losing everything.  Because all that stuff didn’t belong to me in the first place.

Sometimes it’s just not about me.

the joy of the Lord is our strength

2

Category : God, faith, hope, trust

  

Life has a way of overwhelming us.  It’s easy to get distracted, to lose focus, and to simply make poor choices.  For the next few days we’re taking a look at phrases that help us keep our bearings so we make the right choices, not the easy choices.      

No matter who you are or what you do, you will face stress, trouble, and pain.  It’s just a fact of life.  Some of us face more than our share.  In the midst of all this stress and pain we have to find ways to deal with that reality.  Often we turn to God, expecting him to act like Santa Claus and simply give us a bunch of goodies.  The truth is, God doesn’t always solve our problems for us.  So if we’re waiting for God to bring us out of poverty, or bring back a lost love, or in my case the return of Voltron to TV, we may never be satisfied. 

But just because God doesn’t always miraculously solve our problems, doesn’t mean we are allowed to sit around doing nothing.  Or worse, feel sorry for ourselves.  God wants us to be active.  He wants us to be engaged in the present.  He knows that if we wait for our lives to be perfect before we act, we’ll probably never do anything.  

But how do we act when things feel so overwhelming?

Over the last few years I’ve probably heard Chris Tomlin sing ”Holy is the Lord” 100 times.  But it wasn’t until recently that one line in that song really struck me.  He says, ”the Joy of the Lord is our strength.”  I began asking myself, what if my strength really comes from knowing God is happy with my life?  What if the way to overcome the pain and challenges of life is to embrace God’s joy?  What if his joy is more powerful than any other thing I can do?

I’ve always wondered how some Christians can bear unimaginable suffering but still hold onto their faith.  I think it’s because they understand this – that no amount of suffering, no amount of treasure, no amount of praise, is worth giving up God’s joy in our lives. 

There’s nothing in my life that ranks as particularly traumatic.  I’m not facing death or torture.  Although getting ready for another season of reality TV sure feels like that.  But God does ask me to do things I’m not comfortable with.  He asks me to engage in people’s lives when I’d rather watch TV.  He asks me to trust him, when I’d rather trust my bank account.  As I look at these decisions, they scare me.  That’s usually when I feel the panic raising up.  So I remind myself, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.”  And that’s enough to help me stay focused.

Perhaps this is best summed up by Bill Hybels in The Volunteer Revolution, “I’ve never known joy outside of pursuing God’s calling on my life.  Whenever I’ve wandered even five degrees off that course, I’ve lost the sense of God’s smile that I can’t live without.”

I’m beginning to see just how true this is.