Desert of Sin

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We’re all told to do something we can’t.

In Numbers, God’s people are told that in order to obey the law, they are to make all kinds of sacrifices to God. But they can’t.

They are told to make grain, oil and and wine sacrifices and offerings, but they don’t have any of that.

They’re in the desert.

And there’s no Desert Costco where they can get it. But Numbers also envisions a future where they will be able to obey. The promised land.

  • We, too, are told to obey and can’t. But scripture envisions a future where we can, too.

We don’t have to stay no-growth stuck. Israel was stuck with just manna. But someday they would enter Canaan and have the ability to obey.

Despite their failures and sin.

In the same way, we’re able to obey. Because we have a sacrifice that allows us to. Jesus.

Hopefully, more and more each day, our failure and sin turns to loving obedience as we grow in our love for the ultimate sacrifice.

The gospel takes us on this journey from having to obey to wanting to obey.

And obedience is the gateway drug.

We may not even want to at the time, but after we do- we’re like wow, that was pretty cool. And then we act shocked and surprised that God really does know what’s best for us… and our heart changes a little more.

The Wall Between Us

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One thing your going to find in Christian community- and its going to be unexpected- it might be surprising. Your going to find a strange mix, this strange brew of people. People that you normally wouldn’t be hanging out with. Different ages than you, backgrounds, nationalities, family types.

The gospel does that. It takes away all the boundaries and groups that we tend to clump ourselves into and uses the most unlikely people in our lives. And it makes for an unlikely church.

Now, if Christ is your Savior, God has broken down the wall of partition between you and God. A consequence of that, a side effect- is that partitions between people, walls between nationalities and tribes, skin color- rich/ poor, red state/blue state- those walls are also torn down.

Because we should no longer be identifying ourselves like that- those things are no longer most important- where we go for our acceptance. Now- our identity- is supposed to be found only in Christ and in what He accomplished for us. In other words, groups aren’t so important. So we no longer find our worth and accomplishments there.

In Paul’s time- a wall similar to what we see today, separated Jews and Gentiles. We often refer to this in theological terms- but in simple terms, they really just hated each other. Some of them would’ve been fine throwing down at a first century version of Charlottesville.

Here’s what Paul wrote about that- speaking of Christ- he says in Ephesians 2:14:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…

Will You Rest?

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In Hebrews 4:1-13 the author alludes to the rest God offered to the Israelites entering the promised land. But can Christians enter that rest today?

According to the author of Hebrews, the answer is yes. This rest is a place where his audience (Christians) have the opportunity to enter “today.”

Interestingly though, he writes that some may have fallen short (v.1)- (not meaning that they are not saved.)- while others have entered the rest already (v.3).

So you can be a Christian who rests- or you can be a Christian who doesn’t rest.

Depending on when you catch me, I’m both.

The key is in v.2: the ones who rest and the ones who don’t-both have had the “good news” (gospel) proclaimed to them- they are Christians- but its their response, with/without faith, that determines whether they are able to rest.

Do you really practically believe, in every area of your life, every day, that your acceptance is found in Christ?

What rest means for the believer today is this: you can rest in Christ today because of His work. Or… you can march on in your anxious frenzy.

You can only rest when you don’t feel that you have to seek acceptance anyplace else, whether its through following the law like a set of rules, or seeking approval from vocation, wealth, friends, parenting, or whatever else drives you.

Most of the anger I have as a parent stems from the pressure I feel to solve everyones problems, provide for them and put my own time aside for their time. When I’m angry, I’m not so much angry at others as I am angry in myself for the potential for failure- either as a parent- or in all the other things I spend time on- like writing this blog:)

But if I’m resting in Christ, those pressures are off, because in Christ, the believer is loved without exception by the God of the universe. And my anger gets short circuited when I remember that whether I fail or not, God still loves me and the sun will rise tomorrow.

  • That may shock. What? No Ten Commandments for me? And I can be a deadbeat in my life too?

Au contraire, mon frère. We are to uphold the law even more now (Romans 3:31)- but in a different way. The believer is now free to follow the law, not out of fear of rejection, but out of love for what Christ has done for us in following it himself. The pressure is off in our own success or failure. We can rest.

And in following that law, the other aspects of our lives: work, parenting, relationships- become easier, precisely because I don’t need to be accepted for my success or failure in any of those areas. And I can find rest. I’m no longer worn out worrying if I miss a swim practice drop off.

So I am actually even freer to follow the law and resist the culture even more.

I’m not so pressured for acceptance by others that I have to break God’s laws to conform to the culture’s laws.

That is rest today. Will you rest?

Difficult People

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Life together is hard. And wouldn’t you know it, people are the leading cause.

We have difficult relationships with people, because we have a difficult relationship with God. We cannot be reconciled to humanity until we are reconciled with its creator:

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10-11)

When we disconnect our desire for acceptance from the only true giver of acceptance- God- it distorts every other relationship in our life.

It causes me to see people only as a means to that acceptance. I’m using them. Life becomes all about acceptance. And because I’m desperate to be accepted I’m:

  • Over-competitive: I have to be successful at all costs- even if I have to cheat or lie.
  • Prideful: I want others to see.
  • Judgmental– put others on defense to take the spotlight off of my own flaws.
  • Offended: I virtue signal. I must be more virtuous than you since I have standards.
  • Addicted: to social media- every time my phone chimes with a like or fav a little blast of dopamine squirts into my brain- ahhh.

When we over desire to be accepted by anyone but God- its that very separation from God that is the cause.

All of our relationships our out of joint, and we need to be rescued. (Romans 5: 8 and 2 Corinthians 5: 20). Therefore, the first and primary focus of any real relationship rescue is to have our relationship with God put right again.

The gospel is news about what has been done by Jesus Christ to put right our relationship with God.

Becoming a Christian is about a change of status. You are either accepted through Christ or you are not.

If you’re not a Christian– that’s where the drive to get better comes from- that pesky morality that rears its head called your conscious.

And if you are a Christian– we still have issues. Because even though we agree that Christ died for our acceptance by God- we go on acting like it isn’t enough.

There should be a deep security in knowing we are accepted by the Lord of the universe through Jesus- so we should be looking at people in a whole new light.

Want More God?

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Want more God? Check your prayer.

Truth is, we spend most of our time praying that God will give us what we really want- and its not Him.

We only go to God to get:

  • the job
  • corner office
  • a spouse
  • hitting our fighting weight
  • for our to kid make the travel team
  • finally getting some money in our savings account
  • straight As
  • or my most favorite muscle car ever (yes, I got it- pictured above:)

Tune to the right channel- THEN, check your content…

  1. In order for the thing we want not to become an idol we seek after more than God, make sure you have an open channel to God.
  2. Then pray for the things HE wants us to be a part of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Along with gospel principles such as mercy, grace and justice. Pray what’s in scripture.

Yes, really! Pray for those things by name, and things going on in your life where you can apply them. What God wants for us, what he wants us to be praying for, is right in His Word.

Every time you do this, even when you’re not feeling it, you are fighting the idolatry in your heart. The Holy Spirit will actually redirect the desires of your heart away from the whatever it is that you really want- to you really wanting more of God.

From Exclusive to Inclusive

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Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:

  • Has your group been together for several years? AND
  • Is your group too big?

Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.

Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
  1. unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR 
  2. officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity 

The solution: plant a new group

Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…

Exclusive becomes inclusive:

Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.

Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.

So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.

 

Two Kinds of Laughing

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We have a choice in how we laugh. In Genesis, Sarah models two kinds of laughter for us. The laughter of Ishmael or the laughter of Isaac? The laughter of Ishmael is either proud and mocking of others because of our imagined self-success, or its bitter as we mock ourselves or blame life for our failure. But the laughter of Isaac happens when we see that God has been patient and he’s blessed us, and even transformed us, despite our failures- It’s the laughter of relief, “how could I have been so stupid.”

Ishmael or Isaac? Ishmael is the way of ‘works’, of getting a son in a way they had a human ability to achieve. It’s a way of unbelief. Isaac: represents the way of grace and the way of Christ, of getting a son by simply waiting in faith for what only God could do. If you’ve never fully trusted Jesus Christ to be your promise- you are stuck in the dry, hot desert of reality without hope.

And for those here who have believed, watch out: don’t have the heart of Isaac but live the life of Ishmael. The place between the pieces, that place of unbelief, Jesus has already passed through for you. So you are free to believe and even free to fail- because the outcome is not up to you. Admitting there’s a space between your belief and unbelief.

Mark 9:24 is one of the most contradictory but accurate verses in the Bible about belief. “Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” This is the space where the Holy Spirit does his best work. Say it, pray it. And He will come. Both Isaac and Jesus are miraculous births that are acts of God’s saving grace. But Jesus is by far the greater one- because Isaac only points us to Christ, and its only in Jesus that we finally hear the laughter of God’s grace.