Boundaries

Pacific Highway“There are boundaries that exist for our good.” These words are incredibly difficult for me to speak in my flesh, that is, when rising up from my humanity. I dislike the concept of boundaries. I recognize their inherent worth in principle, but, at times, the desires of man’s nature make those boundaries seem intrusive and even impossible.

Yet, if we comprehend the metanarrative of God’s purposeful design then we must acknowledge the value of boundaries. To reject boundaries or to resist their purpose is to subject ourselves to incalculable suffering. Early one morning, I scanned through the channels of the television and came upon a movie about transgressed boundaries. The full story line is inconsequential except for its value in illustrating my point. It was a story of forbidden love and how the draw of the heart brought two people together, even momentarily. Doing so damaged a marriage commitment. In fact, the commitment to marriage had been modified to become “open” so that the heart could wander and fulfill its passions. The storyline presented the case that casting off boundaries, while ultimately causing heartache, freed the heart to experience great and blissful happiness and fulfillment, even if it were only temporary. I was reminded of the gracious and loving gift of boundaries.

Some see God as “old fashioned” because He instructs people to avoid certain things. From the declaration to not eat from the “certain” tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), to the counsel of the writer of Proverbs about the foolishness of lustful naivety (Proverbs 7) and its magnetic draw toward adultery and death (Proverbs 5), Scripture gives us boundaries to guard us and guide us toward unspeakable joy. These boundaries, when tested by the heart, seem oppressive; however, when comprehended by the faithful Christian, are instruments that promote ultimate peace, pleasure, and satisfaction.

“Rules were made to be broken,” as the saying goes, is a recipe for disaster. Time will not allow me to unpack stories of those who have wept before me over adulterous relationships that began as unchecked flirtatiousness. There are not enough hours to detail the immense suffering that resulted from stealing from a trusted friend or family member. We cannot even begin to examine the costs of addiction that began as one pill or one beer to relax. In nearly every case, the grief-stricken person can detail the moment that the heart approached the biblical boundary for the final skirmish and transgressed it.

Truly, boundaries seem archaic at times and the draw of human nature (or you may call the heart) seems overwhelmingly strong; however, can we ever claim that this is unusual to us? Is this not the struggle in Genesis 4 in the heart of Cain? Is this not the allure that seized David’s heart when looking upon Bathsheba? IS this not the battle raging in Peter’s heart as he warmed himself over a stove in Caiaphas’ courtyard (Matthew 27:69ff)?

Dear friends, God always designed us to battle the pull of the heart toward rebellion…not because His ego was massive but because God desired to save us from the consequences of the morning after, and the one after that, and the one after that.

The storyline of the movie positioned the experience of forbidden love as something positive. The “adversary” convinced Cain that his happiness would follow the destruction of his brother Abel. The naïve young man of Proverbs 7 fell headlong into destruction, convinced that the beautiful woman would be his “ticket” to ultimate pleasure. Truthfully, the “enemy” has always packaged rebellion as the means to happiness but the consequences outlive the momentary pleasure. God’s boundaries promote joy over suffering, pleasure over pain, and holiness over dishonor. They are His gracious and loving gift.

Advertisements

Wisdom and Kindness

cropped-039.jpg“She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Prov 31:26.

This is but one of the incredible observations/affirmations of the “virtuous wife” in Proverbs 31. As I read this today I reflected back on a recent conversation with my precious wife Jodi, and was mindful of how this verse describes her. Now, this post may come across a bit sappy…and I get that…and it is not unintentional in that regard, but I want it to serve as an example to us all…if, in fact, we desire to follow biblical examples of virtue.

First, she “opens her mouth,” which speaks well of the absence of apathy or complacency. In a world of subjective truth and self-centered focus…many people refuse to open their mouths at all. Eventually when someone does…others whisper that they thought the same thing but just did not say anything. There is something to be said about those who will take the initiative to make their corner of the world better for all.

Second, she speaks with “wisdom.” Biblically speaking, this word is pregnant with meaning. It affirms true knowledge of God; not simply facts ABOUT Him, but wisdom acknowledge His character and sees the beauty in His person…His existence. Many know facts and doctrines about God but miss the beauty and majesty of His person. Further, wisdom relies on practical knowledge of life. It is one thing to know how a four cycle engine operates and to have gotten a perfect score on your written driving exam, but wisdom drives the car in an efficient and effective manner. This is the product of listening, learning, experiencing, and acting.

Finally and perhaps most admirably…”kindness” typifies her words. As a practitioner of communicating with words, I know that words can both edify and destroy. They can hit you in the head as with a blunt object, or they can pierce your soul as with a sharpened dagger. They have the ability to multiply confidence, or leave the hearer in a pool of tears and self-conscious paranoia cowering in a darkened corner of the room. But words spoken KINDLY edify even when they are difficult to hear. They communicate motives of love and encouragement.

I know a number of wise and kind people…but I know no one who typifies this verse better than Jodi. She recognizes the responsibility of her life…a responsibility to speak up, with wisdom and kindness/graciousness in every syllable.

How can we apply this?

  • Take the initiative to speak up.
  • Figure out how things work. Process that information and consider carefully the implication. Don’t simply blast out 140 character twitter rants! Discover why that thought is important to you, to others, and how it relates in the meta-narrative of life.
  • Finally, with a purified heart that seeks the betterment of others over our own benefit…speak with the kindness of God.

This is beauty. This is the virtuous charge and commendation of Scripture. This is Jodi.

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: If you want to read or hear more about Jodi and her ministry, visit her on her site: jodiaiken.com.

 

#P5: When good things become god-like and must be destroyed

Pastor's Five, P5 logoI was impressed in reading this text this morning, that it is a racial problem (the one human race) that we {As Andy Stanley said when I heard it first,} allow good things to become “god things” which is a bad thing.

In the reforms of Hezekiah in the land of Judah, I saw a nugget that I think is instructive for us. Hezekiah was a good king and did things that good kings do, including the destruction of the idols that had been erected in the land of the people of God. Notice:

“He did right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Neshushtan. He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord had commanded Moses.”  2 Kings 18:3-6, NASB. 

Destroying the idolatrous expressions of the nations that the people had adopted as customs makes sense…but did you see where he also destroyed the serpent that was the focus of the people whom God delivered when Moses lifted it up?

God gave Moses the serpent and used it intentionally for a good thing…but the people turned it into a “god thing” which is a bad thing. They burned incense (Picture a physical manifestation of prayer and adoration. It was a statement of worship) to the serpent image that Moses had given them to focus on and be delivered.

We do this still today. We focus on the gift rather than the giver. Our provision is not in the great job that we have but in the One who gave us the great job. Our security is not in strong defenses or alarm systems or fat retirement accounts but in the One who provided those things for our security. God exceeds all of these things. He uses them as vehicles of His provision but our confidence MUST NECESSARILY be on Him as our Deliverer.

Same is true in the church. We get “saved” through a VBS or Bus Ministry or the preaching of a particular pastor. Our tendency is to elevate that “vehicle” of God’s grace to a place it was never intended. We honor it, defend it, champion it…and soon worship IT more than the God who used it. It was a good thing that we made a “god thing” which is a bad thing.

Idols are made by the hands of man. They are worthless as objects of worship since how can we logically argue the reason to worship as superior something that we created ourselves?

Appreciate and give thanks for creation, but worship the Creator. And, if you find that you have come to worship a good thing…cut it up. Destroy it. Dismember it. Do great violence against it. Do not harbor it or give it quarter in your life. Do not tolerate it or seek to redeem it for a good purpose. Repent of it and destroy it as Hezekiah did the serpent of Moses. Only then will your attention be refocused as it ought toward the One, True God who delivers. Only then…

Shalom, CA

#P5: When God Provides

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“God away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” 1 Kings 17:3-4, NASB.

Even the most devout and pious among us struggle with faith from time to time. We know God says He will meet our needs as a loving Father…we know God will never leave us nor forsake us…we know that God has plans for us to prosper us and not to do us harm. All of these things are a matter of faith in the revealed Word of God, yet knowing them is different from having faith in them.

Faith is intentional action based on knowledge. We “know” our car will crank so we sit down and buckle up before we ever turn the ignition switch. That’s faith. We know the stove works so we put a pan or pot on it, turn it on and go about gathering our dinner ingredients even before the pan is hot. That’s faith.

So, knowledge without action is merely knowledge. It is not faith. What Elijah exhibits here is faith. God said…Elijah did…God provided…Elijah benefited. Simple as that.

So what of the times when we say we know and we believe (have faith) and yet we don’t see provision? This is a looming question in many minds so I want to point out a key element that we’d do well not to miss: God provided for Elijah AFTER Elijah obeyed the Word of the Lord. [NOTE: I am not speaking of God’s common grace provision or how He provided a Word to Elijah…but I am specifically speaking of God’s promise of food and water.]

God said to Elijah…Go to the brook Cherith, east of the Jordan, hide there…I will feed you. None of these commands are ambiguous. None are negotiable. None are too difficult to obey even if they might seem crazy in the mind of the hearer. Simply stated…”Obey My Word…and I will care for you.”

I think at times…we miss the mark on “Obey” and then wonder why God doesn’t care for us. He said____ and we ignored or rebelled while trying to cash in the marker on the promise. Is God a man that He should be manipulated by our actions? NO! He knows what we are doing and is not mocked. What we sow (rebellion and self-sufficiency) is what we reap.

I think at times, when asked about things of God…my response is sometimes passed over simply because it sounds too simple or straightforward. Here is the counsel fo God’s Word…If you want to know the protection of God and want to experience His daily provision in your life…simply Go where He says, when He says, and do what He says.

Could you imagine the 12-year-old boy coming to his mother at 8PM after a long day of video games? He declares that he is hungry and charges that his mother has neglected him. She reminds him that dinner is at 6…that she prepared a meal, set the table, fixed his plate and called him to dinner. He neglected to come and therefore he was hungry. Our complaints against God are often similar and God’s response is also much the same.

Shalom, CA.

#P5: As seriously as God…

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“Thus Zimri destroyed all the household of Baasha, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke against Baasha through Jehu the prophet, for all the sins of Baasha and the sins of Elah his son, which they sinned and which they made Israel sin, provoking the Lord God of Israel to anger with their idols.” 1 Kings 16:12-13, NASB.

These chapter in this book may be some of the bloodiest in all of Scripture. The detail widespread judgment and destruction in summary form giving both cause and effect for the judgment.

In Israel, the northern kingdom, the kings were particularly wicked (as juxtaposed against Asa king of Judah in the South). They not only embraced idolatry but promoted it among God’s people through implication and edict. They named the “Lord God of Israel” as their own but worshipped as the inhabitants of the land that God had given them.

In the verses above, God wiped out a king and all his family because of their sin. Their sin! I know it sounds incredible…since many of us embrace a picture of “hippie Jesus” who eats granola, preaches peace, and lets people choose their own course without consequence; however, the Scripture portrays God far more accurately.

God hates sin and judges sinners. Not just everyone elses sins…and not just the “big” sins…but our sins and every sin. He hates sin. He has no tolerance for it and the only way a righteous and holy God can deal with sin is to destroy it utterly.

A couple of quick reflections:

  • God is the author of this destruction of Baasha and his household because of his unrepentant idolatry and wickedness before the Lord. God is a righteous judge.
  • Baasha knew judgment was coming because He knew the instructions of God, the Law of God and the prophesy of God…yet he refused to repent.
  • God executed justice swiftly but not immediately. Time lapsed from the prophesy to the judgment, but once judgment started, it was overwhelming.
  • God is still the Lord God of Israel even though their king sinned and the people sinned and idolatry was rampant.

The parallels are incredible in my mind. God loves us, is patient with us, desires our repentance…but is also righteous and holy and a swift executor of judgment against our sin. We should and even MUST view ourselves, our culture, and our sin as “seriously as God.” Only then can we experience the redemptive mercy fo God. If not, we will experience only His judgment…for He is a righteous judge.

Did God lie about sex outside of marriage?

Open Bible 1So today I was assaulted by a young woman’s comments on Facebook regarding this article. I know the young woman and those who decided to agree with her as she agreed with this writer. I don’t know that I have ever been more grieved in my spirit as a man, a Christ-follower, a pastor, or as a dad.

Dear sweet girl…the truth behind “true love waits” is a God truth and did not originate in the domain of the church. The church does not own that truth but it should promote it as God’s truth.

All sex outside of that between a husband and his wife is sinful. It is harmful and it is less than God’s perfect plan or desire. There are many things wrong with the perspective of the writer of this article. Many representations of God and truth that are offered in error. One thing is true though…God desires for a sexual relationship to occur according to its biblical design. It is not guilt-ridden. It is not dirty. It is not a provocateur of shame. There is an origin for these things and he is a slanderer and liar.

You can trust God dear girl. God’s plan is better than your plan, my plan, or anyone else’s plan. If we read and understand God’s Word, we know conclusively that God’s plan for our lives is for our benefit/good, not our harm. He is a good and loving God who often warns us to avoid dangerous conduct because of the harm it causes that we cannot anticipate but God knows perfectly. Trust Him. He is trustworthy.

Finally, for whatever role the church or her parents or others played in evoking the feelings this girl speaks of…I am sorry. I was not there but I am sorry. I wish it were not the case. Furthermore, God can do something good with your experience if you allow Him. You of all people have an opportunity to become an Ambassador of Grace. (Certainly you need to experience that Grace from God first…but you can!) Who better to help others see the difference between a righteousness you work for and try to obtain…and one that is lavished upon you when you enter into a relationship with a God who demonstrably loves you “to the moon and back.” What if, God redeemed this horrible experience of yours and showed you how you could save others from it…not by removing God from the equation but by showing them how God really is.

You lady…I pray God demonstrates His love for you in a way that is experientially real for you.

And for those who wrestle with similar feelings as those this writer spoke of…you can trust God too and He is good to you too. He is and His plan, His perfect plan is the best course for your life. I promise…as someone who has tried my plan without God and God’s plan with me….God’s plan is worthwhile and profitable for you.

Peace.

#P5: The Achilles Heel of our lives

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“Now King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharoah: Moabite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the son of Israel, ‘You shall not associate with them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their gods.’ Solomon held fast to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away.”  1 Kings 11:1-3, NASB.

Everyone has SOME weakness. It might be food, love of money, a need to control, or a Solomon type desire for women/men. Everyone has SOME weakness. We often refer to this as the “Achilles heel,” based on mythology. It is that “thing” that causes you to get off track and it seems to exercise some powerful control over you.

God knows this. This is why God gives us instructions…to train our heart toward Him and to guard our hearts from turning away from Him. So, God instructs us in the right way to honor Him and to honor His name.

But we are weak. By nature, we think we have some insight into ourselves that God doesn’t quite have. After all…He is not us! How can God possibly know more about the inside of our hearts that we do? Yet…He dies. He made our hearts after all. He created us and gave us a purpose even before we made our entrance into the world.

Solomon just liked women. He saw no danger and only benefit in having many wives. In fact, many of these marriages and “pseudo-marriage” relationships were political in nature resulting in land acquisition or treaties between neighboring kingdoms/cities. But still, God said otherwise and Solomon had a thing for women.

Now as king of Israel, he had his pick of the Israelite women but his desires ran toward foreign women. They were exciting…a little dangerous…and OFF-LIMITS! Yet they caught his eye. Perhaps it was because they were something prohibited. Perhaps it was because Solomon liked the attention they showed him. Perhaps, they were just benefits of his business dealings… Whatever the attraction…Solomon desired them enough to ignore the commands of God.

Solomon never expected to lose the kingdom. He did not set out to divide it and to leave his son with a fraction of his possessions and responsibility. We never expect the consequences of sin…but there are consequences. Solomon figured he was bulletproof from temptation and consequences. He was not and neither are we.

What is your “Achilles heel?” Do you know what God said about it? Don’t compromise. Do not associate with it and do not allow it to associate with you. It is dangerous and evil. It will kill you and the consequences will last longer than your life and cause damage for generations to come. Trust God. Walk in His way. Save yourself by allowing God to save you.

Shalom, CA