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Living as a people of God
Deuteronomy 6: The next time your child asks you, “What do these requirements and regulations and rules that GOD, our God, has commanded mean?”
The people of God are different than other peoples. However, their difference isn’t just for the sake of difference. Rather, their uniqueness means something. They’re a unique people because they have a unique relationship with God. While there’s no question that God is worthy of worship, there’s more to it than worship. There’s a connection between them and their God and that connection impacts everything about them. Obviously, that includes moral behavior but it also impacts what they eat, how they cut their hair, and how they dress. Even their calendar is built around their relationship with God. It’s because of how their relationship with God saturates their lives that their own children and people from the outside are perplexed and ask questions. Moses tells them how to answer those questions: “We live this way because of God. He has rescued us from our past and he has impacted everything about us. Our lives are all about him. Everything about us is about the Lord God.” This sweeping relationship between God and people was unique in their world and it’s unique in my world too. For others, God (or the gods) has his place and when we enter his territory he is to be acknowledged. Otherwise, we won’t bother him if he doesn’t bother us. For a follower of God-Jehovah though, that approach never works. Our lives are connected to him at every level. We live as we live because of that relationship. This is the message we pass on to our children. In fact, it’s the message we have for all who observe and question our approach to living.
Take Away: The Lord isn’t distant and observing. Instead, he’s present and involved.
Inherited blessings and personal decisions
Deuteronomy 5: God didn’t just make this covenant with our parents; he made it also with us, with all of us who are alive right now.
Some things are generational. That is, they’re passed along from parents to their children. Some of the promises of God are like that. Such promises are made to a people, a nation. Because of that it could be said that the children inherit the promise from their parents. Some generational issues are not exactly the property of the children in the way those big promises are, but because of human nature, they almost seem to be. Parents have an influence on their children. If that influence is godly the result is very likely a positive one. On the other hand, if that influence is negative, it’s very possible that things will begin to unravel more and more with each passing generation. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. The reason is that God remains active from one age to the next. Moses tells his listeners that the relationship God had with their parents, a relationship that was broken by their disobedience, is now offered to them. They won’t say, “We’re God’s people because our parents were God’s people.” Instead, they’ll be his people because God has called them and they’ve responded to that invitation. It’s a wonderful thing when parents pass their faith along to their children. It is even better when the children actively respond making that relationship to God their very own.
Take Away: A person who had godly parents is blessed, indeed. Still, that person has the responsibility of claiming that blessing – that relationship- as their very own.
There’s good news
Leviticus 26: I’ll set up my residence in your neighborhood…I’ll stroll through your streets.
There’s a bit more to Leviticus but this section is really the grand finale. Chapter 26 is the “blessing and the curse” chapter. Here, God says, “If you do this…then I’ll do that. If you do that…then I’ll do this.” To me the finest part of the blessing is God’s promise to move into their neighborhood and stroll through their streets with them. This is the Creator promising to be fully engaged with his Creation. They wouldn’t go to visit God down at the Tent of Meeting, and he wouldn’t just make special appearances at big events like the Passover observance. This is the promise of continued fellowship with their Creator in all the affairs of life. Amazingly, God wants to walk with us even before we’re aware of him and certainly in spite of the truth that we’re not worthy of such a relationship. What we see promised here is fulfilled to a great extent in Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us. It’s further fulfilled when I receive the fullness of God, the Holy Spirit into my life. It will be gloriously completed when I experience the last pages of the book of Revelation. Lord, make yourself at home in my life now, and then.
Take Away: The Lord invites me to an intimate, daily relationship with himself – what an honor!
Rules and regs
Leviticus 1: God called Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.
I know I’ll hear no contrary opinion when I say that the Book of Leviticus isn’t the most read book of the Bible. It’s about sacrifices and offerings and dedicating children and skin diseases. The most direct application of the rules and regulations of Leviticus pertain to the work of the Levites (those who served at the Tabernacle) and not very much to us. The instructions given touch on almost all aspects of how these Israelites of thousands of years ago were to live. In fact, it’s the “almost all” character of these regulations that opens the fuller meaning of Leviticus to us. God is coming down off the mountain to dwell among them. He’s going to inhabit the Tabernacle but that’s not all there is to it. He’s involving himself in every aspect of their lives. Of course, that includes the sacrificial system but it also includes how they’ll handle the messy part of their humanity. It includes their religious feasts and festivals but it also includes how they conduct their business affairs. I may read the prohibition against priests shaving their heads and see it as a quaint old historical fact, but when I put the whole scope of Leviticus into play I see God’s connection to every part of their lives, including how they cut their hair. I never doubt that God’s interested in how I go about worshipping him, and I’m familiar enough with the Ten Commandments to know that he insists on righteous living. However, Leviticus reminds me that the Lord’s also interested in the “non-religious” and “no-moral-aspect” parts of my life too. That doesn’t mean he intends to dictate how I handle the mundane details of my life, but it does mean he’s interested in such things and that he sees beyond the surface to the deeper meaning of things I may take for granted.
Take Away: The Lord wants to participate in all my life.
Come out, come out, wherever you are
Genesis 3: God called to the Man: “Where are you?”
I’m created for fellowship with God. Somehow, in ways beyond my comprehension, God desires a relationship with me. God, you see, is all about relationships. In the Creation he seeks relationships so much that he creates beings with free will. Only such creatures can genuinely connect with him. In the Garden Adam and Eve enjoy the fellowship with God, functioning as they’re created to function. When they sin, they break that fellowship and distance themselves from God. What will he do? Will he press the “reset” button on Creation and give it another try? No, instead, we see the Almighty’s commitment to us. According to the Apostle Paul, that commitment was made before the first act of Creation. Adam and Eve don’t have to sin. They’re created to live forever and to enjoy constant fellowship with their Maker. However, before the very first “Let there be light” words are spoken the Lord has considered the possibly that if he makes beings with free will that that they might just reject him. What will he do if that happens? Out in pre-creation eternity the Lord decided that, no matter what happens, he’ll remain committed to his Creation. Before the first moment of time, he has a plan to “seek and to save that which was lost.” When we hear him calling “Where are you?” we’re witnessing the very first step in that plan to restore the broken relationship that now exists between God and humanity. It’s the first step, and in the distant future, we see a cross.
Take away: God wants more than obedience from me…more, he wants to be in a relationship with me.
Not one size fits all
Revelation 3: The people I love, I call to account – prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.
The message of the Lord to each of the last three churches is far from uniform. Two of these churches are in trouble. The third is doing quite well. One of the two that is failing on the surface looks quite healthy. It’s a church that’s operating an aggressive program with lots of meetings and activities – a full calendar. The other church that’s failing believes in moderation. They feel they’re successful and have earned a respite. Sorry to say, that attitude has caused them to take a bit of a break from God too. The result is a stern warning from Jesus. The third church, though, has been through some tough times. Many have fallen away leaving a small, but dedicated group that’s been tested in painful ways. Through it all they kept the Word of the Lord with “passionate patience.” In other words, their love for the Lord has done nothing but increase even as they’ve patiently worked through some of the hardest days of their lives. The Lord’s pleased with them and promises to open doors for them and to vindicate them and to keep them safe. As I read about these three churches my takeaway today isn’t that it’s a bad thing for a church to have an aggressive program or for church and people to take a breather once in a while. I don’t come away thinking that to be small and poor is to be more spiritual. Frankly, I’ve been around a few groups that were small and poor and proud of it. What does come to mind is that there are challenges to be found in just about every situation. A busy, successful church needs to be careful not to mistake what it does for Jesus for a vital, living relationship with him. A church that has had some success needs to be careful to keep its priorities straight. To personalize this farther, I need to remember that it’s the same for individuals. The satisfied, fulfilled Christian life isn’t defined by past success or current business for the Lord. It’s all about living in a daily, connected relationship with him.
Take Away: My spiritual life isn’t defined by what I’ve done or am doing for the Lord. Rather, it’s all about my living in a current, abiding relationship with him.
Walking in the light
1John 1: If we walk in the light…
John the Apostle is a man who enjoyed a close relationship with Jesus. At the Last Supper he’s the one who leans against the Lord to ask about the betrayer. His unofficial title in history is “John the Beloved.” The short letters he wrote focus on God’s love being active in us. He says that as a person who walked with Jesus, knowing him intimately, he wants to tell us how we too can experience an intimate relationship with the Lord. The key, he says, is our “walking in the light.” Immediately he defines that for us. To walk in the light is to walk with God. Obviously, there’s a way of living that nurtures a close, abiding relationship with the Lord. That way of life has wonderful benefits for me. For one thing as I walk in the light I find myself in the company of God’s people. For another, it’s in that relationship that the blood of Jesus is applied to my life, making me clean of all my sin. As I live in the light, I join the multitudes that have been made clean by the work of Christ. John is remembered as “the beloved” and as I walk with the Lord I join countless others who can be rightly called “beloved.” What a wonderful prospect!
Take Away: It’s such an amazing blessing to be one of the “beloved.”
What God wanted all along
Hebrews 8: God put the old plan on the shelf.
Prior to Christ, the old plan was the only plan. It included laws written on stone, rules and regulations. It was characterized by failure, repentance, and trying harder. It actually never had a chance of setting people right with God and had more to do with letting people who wanted to “do it themselves” find out just how dissatisfying that kind of religion is. All along, the Lord had a superior way in mind. That better way started, not with rules and regulations, but with the Lord taking charge of salvation. His plan all along was to change people’s hearts so that their religion would be less religion and more relationship. There were plenty of hints that this was coming. The revered prophets of old were much more relationship oriented than they were rules oriented. Jeremiah, who’s quoted in this passage, longed for a day when God’s Law would be written inside a person rather than written on stone tablets. Their greatest king, David, was remembered, not as a man of rules but, instead, as a man after God’s heart. The rules had their place, but now they’ve been replaced by grace through Jesus Christ. Now, the old way is a museum exhibit. The new way is life, itself.
Take Away: Through Christ’s death we have abundant life – something rule keeping could never accomplish.
It’s all about Jesus
Hebrews 3: Take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe.
I have but a vague idea of what church was like for the original readers of this letter. Even if I can’t hear what’s being said I can walk into nearly any Christian worship event today and recognize elements I identify as “Christian.” Could I do the same if I found myself back in 50 A.D.? It’s a good question but I don’t have a good answer. How much of what we do is at the core of Christianity? Is preaching or singing or receiving the offering at the core? The writer of Hebrews reminds me today that Christianity is all about Christ. That must be the same whether I’m doing “high” or “low” church. In fact, if I make Christianity about church I’ve already missed the boat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-church, in fact, I’m all for it. However, for Christianity to be Christian it has to be absolutely focused on Jesus Christ. Even beyond that, it’s a living, right-now, kind of focus. I’m not looking at some old, dusty story or some tried and true belief system. I’m looking to a person who’s alive and well and with whom I have an up-to-date relationship. Only in such a relationship can I be a real Christian.
Take Away: If we’re not careful, we make Christianity about behavior or beliefs or church…that’s all mistaken. Christianity is about Christ.
My close, personal Friend
2Corinthians 3: God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.
Paul’s ancestors placed the weight of their hope in God on the Law given through Moses. And not just his ancestors, Paul, himself, starts off here. Then, out in the wilderness on the road to Damascus he has a personal, transforming encounter with the Lord that forever changes his life. Never again will he base his relationship with God on what was written on stone tablets hundreds of years earlier. Now, his relationship with the Lord is just that: a relationship. He doesn’t have to check a rulebook to know how things are between him and God. Rather, he enjoys a personal, intimate relationship with his Creator. This “face to face” level of faith is what the Apostle wants for his friends at Corinth and it’s what the Lord wants to have with you and me. Listen, don’t ever settle for a book of rules when you can personally know God. That’s the offer he makes to us in Christ, who not only came to die for us, but also came to live with and in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. For Christians, the Bible isn’t a book of rules to be followed. Rather, it’s a map that leads us to God and then helps us live in his personal presence.
Take Away: Don’t settle for rules when the reality of God in your heart is abundantly available in Christ.