Does God Really Demand Obedience?

Most of us grew up seeing the Ten Commandments posted on walls of our schools, courthouses and churches.  Many have claimed these principles are the basis for our Judeo-Christian society.

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My husband and I started 2019 by reading through the Bible – starting with Genesis.  The story was interesting at first as we read about creation, the flood and the beginning of the Israelite nation with patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Then we got to the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus.  Here, Moses was given detailed instructions on how the tabernacle should be built and how the priests should conduct offerings used in worship of God.  There are rules about what to eat and what not to eat, a lot of rules regarding sexual relations and how to deal with skin diseases.

To be honest, this is difficult and somewhat boring reading.  But one thing I noticed throughout that portion of Scripture that over and over it was said that Moses did “just what the Lord had commanded.”

Throughout the Old Testament we read the story of how the Israelites did like we still seem to do today – sometimes obeying God – sometimes not.  The Old Testament ends with the nation of Israel exiled because of their failure to obey God’s commands.

Then we enter the New Testament.  We see Jesus who came to pay the price of our disobedience.  We live in what we call the period of grace.  What a blessing to not have to live in fear of breaking a command of God, of knowing that we are saved not by what we do, but by faith and acceptance of what Jesus did for us on the cross.

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So, does that mean we are no longer required to obey?  The loving picture of Jesus in the New Testament is certainly much more appealing than the demands of obedience in the Old Testament.

But a closer look at the words of Jesus shows He also demanded obedience if we would claim to be following Him.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

“The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

Jesus summed up the commandments when He told his questioners:

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

This all sounds pretty simple.  Really not too demanding.  Much easier than living under the Law.

Right?

I don’t think so.  I think the requirements of Jesus are much more demanding – and something we cannot do without His help.

Think about it:

  • The Law said not to murder.
  • Jesus said if you are angry and curse someone you are in danger of hell.  He said to not bring any sacrifice to Him until you made it right with the one you were angry with.

 

  • The Law said not to commit adultery.
  • Jesus said a person must not look at another with lust in their heart.

 

  • The Law said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
  • Jesus said to love your enemy and to even pray for them.

 

  • The Law was concerned with our outward appearance.
  • Jesus is concerned with our heart.

 

My heart grieves today as it seems many Christians feel they no longer have to obey the words of Jesus when it comes to loving and praying for their enemies.

But I note that He said He would love us and make Himself plain to us (in other words have a relationship with Him) IF we obey His commandments.

Without love for others, I fear we will, like the Israelites, find ourselves without God’s protection.

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Lord God, thank you for loving us.  Help us to remember that as we experience your love and mercy we just give that love and mercy to others.  Even to those who disagree with us.  Even to those who hurt us.  Help us to love as you love and remember that you not only love us, but you love our enemies.

Is It Spring Yet?

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After a record-setting week of cold temps – it is great to be above freezing once again – even into the 40’s.

Last Sunday I came home from church and did not go out again until this past Saturday.  My husband took me to Applebee’s for lunch.

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I have been to Applebees many times to eat.  It is always good food and I enjoy it.  But somehow the food seemed to taste better than normal.  My drink was more refreshing.  As I sat and enjoyed just talking with my husband and savoring being out and about again, I realized it was somehow better because of the days spent cooped inside.

Life I think can be like that.  We go along just taking things for granted until we hit a rough spot.  While going through a difficult time is not easy or something we would willingly choose, maybe those difficult times help us appreciate the good times we have.

I know after my battle with cancer I cherish just being alive – seeing the sunset, the leaves turn colors in the fall, hearing the laughter of my grandchildren, or my husband say “I love you.”

After spending time as a missionary I appreciate running, clean hot water, refrigeration for my food and electricity 24/7.

After a couple of days of warm weather it appears we will return to winter temps.  But I have hope.  Spring is only 26 days away.

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And God’s Word has promised us:

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night will never cease.”

If you are in a tough time right now, I want to encourge you to hang in there – spring will come.

If life is going great for you right now, don’t take it for granted.  Take time to just stop, look around and be thankful.

 

 

 

 

 

Made for Community

Reading the story of creation recently I was struck once again by the one thing that God said was not good.  Each day He created something and then said it was good.  Until the sixth day when he created man.  He stood back, looked at the highlight of all His creation and noted that there was something not good about it.

Man was all alone.  God said:

“It isn’t good for the man to live alone. I need to make a suitable partner for him.”

That verse has been used many times to teach that marriage is designed of God and that a person is somehow incomplete without a spouse.

While I agree God was clearly establishing the marriage relationship, I think it was about much more than that.

God was establishing our need for community – for others.  Not just a spouse but the many other relationships that would grow from this unit of man and woman.

  • children
  • aunts/uncles
  • cousins
  • neighbors

In other words, community.

We were designed to need others.

Sometimes living in community can hurt.  We have all had family, friends, co-workers who have hurt us.  After being hurt our natural tendency is to withdraw, to decide to not trust others again.  But when we do that we are living in opposition to the design God has for us.

One trait most Americans highly value is our independence.  Being self-sufficient often is preferred beyond other abilities.  We feel “I don’t need you” or even “I don’t need anybody.”

But is that really true?

God said it was not good that man should be alone.  Again, I think He was talking about more than a marriage.  If that is all it was, then what were His plans for those who do not marry.  Would it then be good that they were alone?

Jesus spoke about building the church.  Almost all of the New Testament is addressed either to a church group or a leader of a church.  It is not a book written for independent relationships.

The writer to Hebrews said:

“…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another….

Today as I met with my small group after morning worship I realized how thankful I am that Jesus established the church.  Moving to a new state where we had no friends, after less than four months I have many new friends.  Where did I meet them?  At church.

Since church is made up of imperfect people I have been hurt by the church.  I have had some terrible experiences with people from church.  But those bad times are far outweighed by the blessings and wonderful relationships the church has given me.

When we live isolated from others, both we and others are poorer.  We lose the benefits of the gifts their friendship could bring us – and we rob them of the benefits our gifts could bring to them.

When I think of this need for community I am reminded of one of my daughters who was afraid to love again after she had experienced a painful hurt.  My first husband had been killed in an accident and my daughters had been the ones to find his body.  It was a horrific experience for them.  When I decided to marry again my daughter told me she would never love the man I was marrying.

Concerned about that statement I asked her why.  She said she liked him, was glad I would be happy again.  She was not against the marriage.  But she was never going to love him because she was never going to allow her heart to be hurt again.  If she loved him, he might die and then where would she be?

I assured her she did not have to love him or anyone else.  If she shut him or others out of her heart she would probably never experience the terrible loss that death brings.  But in the process, she would also shut out all the joy that loving others brings.

Thankfully, she grew to love him and open her heart to love.

Looking back at my life and seeing how much I have moved from place to place I thank God for all the “community” I have experienced and I realize just how much heaven is going to be great when I am reunited with those I have been blessed to call my friends.

Thank God for all those who have filled my life with joy.

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To Hymn or not to Hymn

Growing up in church we always sang hymns from a large hymn book that was placed in holders on the back of the church pew.  Many times there would also be a Bible there.  The “song leader” would announce the page number before each song and we would all turn to that page and sing from the hymn books which had both the words and the music printed for us.  (In some churches the page numbers would be listed in the bulletin or posted on a sign at the front of the church.)

Depending on the local church, the singing might be accompanied by a pipe organ, an electric organ and piano and maybe even a few guitars or drums.

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This was how worship was supposed to be done.

Slowly over the years in the churches I attended the organ became a thing of the past and the piano was replaced by the keyboard.  A few guitars became many guitars.  Song leaders were replaced by worship teams.  Hymn books became obsolete as the words were projected on a screen from an overhead projector.  Finally, the hymns I grew up with were replaced by what we call “contemporary music.”

Gone were the days of the great song writers like Charles and John Wesley, Fanny Crosby and Isaac Watts.  This was now the time of Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith, Amy Grant and Matthew West.

And the music war began.

On one side was the younger generation who loved the new songs and the new technology which made hymn books seem outdated.  On the other side was the older generation who treasured the songs they had grown up with and loved singing with hymn books that included the music.

Arguments went back and forth.  Some said we needed to use music that would reach the younger generation and keep them in the church, or in some cases, bring them back to the church.  Others said we were showing disrespect to the older generation that had worked hard in the past so that the church even existed.

I have found it so sad that we have had this music war.  While I understand the desire to have worship that we feel comfortable with and really like, I question:

  • Is our worship based on the music itself rather than on praise and gratitude to God?
  • Are we unable to worship God unless it is done “our” way?
  • Is it really worship of God if we seek our own personal enjoyment?

I wrote a couple of blogs on this thought before – hope you will click on and read them also

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

Recently I began reading a book “The Hymnal – A Reading History” by Christopher N Phillips.

I discovered that this war on music in the church is not a new thing.

Mr. Phillips has studied the practice of reading and using hymnals going back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  He relates that Isaac Watts created a small hymnal with only words.  These hymnals were not kept in the pews at church but rather were owned by individuals who used them not only for worship in church, but as a source of devotional reading.  They would carry their hymnals back and forth to church much like we used to do our Bibles.  Many learned to read by using the hymnals as a text book and the songs were memorized as poetry.

Up to this time the worship in churches had been to read only songs taken directly from the Psalms.  When Watts began introducing hymns (songs written about God but not taken directly from scriptures) there was controversy between those who welcomed the new hymns and those who said the church should only use psalms.

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Examining old hymnals Phillips found that family members used them to record special events and even wrote notes in them during the church service to share with one another.  In one hymnal he examined he found written notes in two different hands:

What are you laughing at?

Bumble Bee has struck an atitude (sic)

In one hymnal he found comments on the fashion and appearance of other members.

Mrs. Horatio Fisher has got a new bonnet!

Ellen Stearns looks at this distance like Mrs. Frank Cutter.

As hymns became accepted and replaced the psalms or were used with the psalms,  churches began to use hymn books as a mark of membership.  Phillips writes:

“Only the most ambitious and radical new communities made the effort to produce a new translation of the Bible, but every group seems to have shared an impulse to create its own hymn book.”

At first even the hymns were read more often than sang as there was no musical notation for the songs.  Slowly musical notation for the hymns was developed.  Only a few who were trained in music would purchase the books with the notes since printing both words and the notes was very expensive.  As some became trained in music choirs developed to sing the new hymns.  Most of the congregation still had hymn books with the words only and read along as the choir sang.

Then Henry Ward Beecher came along.  A minister at Brooklyn’s new Plymouth Church,  he wanted his congregation to sing the hymns in church.  He felt a strong need for his people to get beyond intellectual consent to the Gospel and to actually have an emotional response to the good news.  Music was a way to do this.  If he could get the music into the hands of his congregation they would sing and thus engage personally in worship awaking their emotions and heart as well as their intellect and mind.

So – began another war on music in the church.

But that story is for another post.

Questions:

  • What style of music does your church use?
  • Do you like the “contemporary” worship or long for the “good old days of hymns?”

 

 

 

 

Abram! Are You Serious?

Growing up in church many times I heard the story of Abraham as told in Genesis.  This man who is referred to as “the friend of God” is also held up as a great example of faith.

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Regarded by the Jewish people as their forefather through his son Isaac, he is also revered by the Arab nations who count him as their forefather through his son Ishmael.

Any who has heard the story of Abraham knows that his name was first Abram which means “exalted father.”   When he was 99 years old God appeared to him and repeated the promise He had made years before telling Abram

As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.

As a child I did not think too much of Abram making this name change.  I know he is pointed out as a man of faith because he obeyed God and left his home and country to go to a new place that God would show him.  Also his willingness to obey God and sacrifice his son, Isaac, trusting God to restore him to life is another example used by those who point him as our example of faith.

But as I read this week of this change of name I think this might have been the greatest example of his faith.

Think about it.

You are a rich man with lots of cattle and servants.  Many people look to you as their employer, their master, the one who supplies their daily needs.  You are now 99 years and your wife is also very old – clearly past the time to bear children.

You suddenly proclaim that from now on they are not to call you by your name Abram  but rather to call you by a new name Abraham which means “father of a multitude.”

I can almost imagine the comments made by the servants that night in their tents.

Father of a multitude?  Right!  He has not been able to have any children with his wife all these years – and now at 99 he’s going to have a multitude of children!  What does he plan to do – take a dozen wives?  

Yeah – even if he takes a dozen wives – a man his age – is he really capable of fathering a multitude?  Maybe he is losing his mind – old people do get crazy sometimes.

Yet Abraham believed God and made that change.

And how did that turn out?

  • Today there are about 14.5 million Jews in the world.
  • Statistics I could find show there are between 407 – 402 Arabs in the world.
  • There are 22 Arabs states in the world and Israel – what an amazing story there – is once again a nation after being destroyed by Rome in AD 70.
  • Abraham is also revered as the forefather of the Arab nations and Islam, as he was also the father of Ishmael, his son through Hagar, Sara’s Egyptian princess handmaiden. The Koran reports that Abraham and Ishmael raised the foundations of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black stone structure in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is Islam’s holiest shrine. During the annual Haj pilgrimage, Moslems from all over the world circle the Kaaba, reinforcing the central role of Abraham and Ishmael in Islamic faith.
  • On Rosh Hashanah, the Jews recalled the story of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, which Jewish tradition states occurred on the first of Tishri and honor Abraham’s faith and obedience to God.
  • In Christians circles he is the acknowledged father of monotheism, progenitor of Western religion.  So many little children have sung that song

Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abrham.  And I am one of them and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord.

Thinking of the faith Abraham had to declare he was to be called, at age 99, “Father of a miultitude” makes me wonder how many times God speaks to us about something in our lives and we are afraid to share it.  Afraid others will think we are crazy, or maybe even being prideful.

I remember when God called my husband and I to sell our home and possessions and go to the Philippines to teach.  I thought my co-workers might think I was crazy but I was amazed at the response of my fellow Christians.

Some thought we were fools to sell everything and step out by faith.  Others thought we were boasting when we said God had called us to this.  Then, there were those who wondered how we could do that to our family.  Leave them alone and journey to the other side of the world.

Has God ever called you to a task that you were afraid to share?

Has God ever asked you to do something that others would consider foolish?

Always trust God and like Abraham declare that which seems foolish and impossible.

How Quickly We Forget

Reading my Bible this week I came across the story of the great Old Testament prophet, Elijah.  I read of his great faith and courage as he confronted the 300 prophets of the idol Baal and challenged them to prove whose God was truly God.

They built an altar, placed wood on it and an animal to sacrifice.  All day they prayed to Baal to send down fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.  As they danced around the altar crying out and even cutting themselves with knives and swords, Elijah taunted them:

“You’ll have to shout louder for surely he is a god.  Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself.  Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be awakened!

As evening came, Elijah took his turn.  He dug a trench around the altar and had them fill four large jars with water and pour over the wood with the sacrifice.  Three times he had them pour water over the altar until the wood and the sacrifice were saturated with water.  It even filled the trench around the altar.

Then he cried out to the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice and clearly show the people who was the true God.  As fire fell down from heaven it consumed not only the sacrifice but also the stones of the altar and all the water in the trench.

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The people cried out:

The Lord He is God!  The Lord He is God!

They then joined Elijah in killing all the false prophets.

What a great victory!  What an example of a man with great faith in God!

But the story does not end there.  When the queen, Jezebel, heard that all the prophets of her false religion had been killed, she sent word to Elijah:

May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.

What does this great man of courage and faith do?  He runs for his life and hides in a cave.

As I read this I could not help but wonder how someone could have such faith and stand up to 300 false prophets and then run from a single woman.  What happened to his faith?  Where was his courage?

Then Sunday morning our guest speaker spoke about the coming year 2019.  He pointed out that we might see great victories, prayers answered, problems solved.  But in this life we might also see losses, prayers seemingly unanswered and more problems created than solved.  What should we do?

He encouraged us to look back and remember all the times God had sustained us and brought though difficult times.  He then asked us to list three times in our life when we knew for sure that God had intervened in our life.

Sitting with pen in hand, I found there were so many times God has intervened I did not know where to start.

I thought of the time when I was seven years old and there were some reported polio cases in our town.  Earlier my class had been vaccinated for polio but I had a severe reaction to the first shot (there were a series of three shots at that time) and my parents were told I should not take the other two shots which meant I was not protected against the disease.  One morning at school I went to the nurse complaining of pain in my legs and neck.  Checking me for a fever, the nurse called my mother to come get me from school as I was running a high fever.  Today my parents would probably have rushed me to the doctor’s office but they had no insurance and little money for doctor bills so they placed me on the couch, my mother gave me some aspirin and a cool cloth for my forehead.  By the next morning the pain in my legs was worse and mother wanted to take me to the doctor.  My dad asked that we give it one more day and if I was not better when he came home from work, they would take me to see the doctor.  As the day passed my fever grew worse and my neck began to be drawn to my shoulder.  I could not move it and the pain in my legs caused me to begin to cry.

In a panic, my mother called my dad at work and he said he would get home as quickly as possible and take me to the hospital.  Fears of polio filled their minds.  While waiting for my dad to get there we heard a knock on the door.  Opening the door my mother found two friends standing there who apologized for coming by unannounced but said in their time of Bible study and prayer they felt led that they should come to see mother.  They had no idea why.

When they saw me they asked if they could pray for me.  As they prayed for me, the pain in my legs instantly stopped.  After praying mother asked me if I could lift my head.  I could and in a few minutes my fever stopped.  Dad came home to find me sitting up feeling great.

Now a skeptic will say this was just a flute, or just mind over matter.  But I know as a seven year old girl I did not have “mind over matter” ability and I know the pain was severe, the fever was high and they both left instantly.

My mind raced ahead to many other times when God intervened in my life.  I would love to share them all but this blog would then become a book.

However if you are interested in how God intervened when I was receiving radiation for an advanced case of breast cancer, check out this post:

Coincidence or An Act of God?

So – I asked myself:  Am I like Elijah – forgetting all the moments of God’s intervention and His protection as I face a new problem?  Have I so quickly forgotten His blessings in the past that I fear a new situation that requires faith and courage?

I think we all are like that.  So quickly to forget – so quickly to worry and fret.

Forgive us Lord!

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Israel,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

 

Why Sunday Morning Worship Speaks to Me

In Christian circles we use the word “worship” to often refer to the twenty or so minutes we spend on Sunday morning singing songs.

Depending on the church you attend the music may be very formal with hymn books, organ and perhaps a choir.  It may consist of words projected overhead on a screen with guitars, drums and a small group of singers leading.

You may sing hymns written hundred of years ago by Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby or Isaac Watts.  You may sing contemporary songs written by Chris Tomlin, Michael W Smith or Darlene Zschech.

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It is amazing how churches have been divided by the style of music played on Sunday morning.  I have shared some thoughts on that subject in the past.

Worship – What’s Your Style?

Worship – What’s Your Style – Part II

But worship is much more than that.  Realizing that is important if we are to grow in the Lord for only twenty or so minutes once a week  is not enough to keep strong the bond with us and Jesus.

Still, I find those twenty minutes on Sunday morning are such a blessing to me.  First, it is encouraging to sing with fellow believers and hear their voices raised with mine declaring our faith and God’s goodness.

This Sunday I was reminded how important the sense of community really is and my heart was so encouraged.  I try to stay focus on the music and the words and keep my attention on the Lord.   But I noticed a young family worshiping across the aisle from where I sat.  They are a young couple with a small child.  What a joy it was to me when I saw this young couple clearly  focused on worshiping God as the father held their little daughter.  What an encouragement to know we still have  young families loving and serving God.

I am also amazed how many times when the choice of songs seem to speak directly to me.  Songs of joy and praise when I come to church and everything is going great in my life.  Songs of encouragement when my week has been stressful.

Right now I am in a physical struggle facing possible surgery and dealing with pain that I have experienced now almost four years.  Pain that is only getting worse.  The worship leader who chose the songs did not know that but it was as if he had read my mind and picked songs just for me.

These songs have reminded how God has always been there for me – and I will be playing these songs over and over in the weeks to come.

Hope you might take time to listen to these songs also and let them encourage you.

 

 

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