I fought the law

I’ll bet you can finish this song lyric: “I fought the law and…”

Did you complete it with “the law won”? You probably even sang the tune in your head. The song was written by Sonny Curtis and first recorded by the Crickets in 1959. It was then a top-10 single for the Bobby Fuller Four in 1966. My favorite cover was released by The Clash in 1979. It’s a slightly angrier version than the original. Anarchy!

Did you know that the law wins every time? I’m not referring to crime and punishment here. I’m talking about you and me. Each of us is struggling in a lifelong wrestling match with the law and, spoiler alert, we all get pinned. Sorry.

Our desperate situation is summarized in a single sentence by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. (Romans 3:23)

The “all” is inclusive. God gave the law to provide boundaries that keep us safe. Each of us has crossed the line, though. Envy, selfishness, bitterness, lust, greed, pride, and on and on. Once broken, the law cannot be repaired. We all fall down. This is Humpty Dumpty, my friend.

So now what?

Our Father in Heaven loves us far too much to leave us without hope. Paul follows chapter 3 with the wonderful promise of chapter 8.

1So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, he satisfied the law-penalty on our behalf. When you choose to believe in Him as the Savior from your sin, there is no longer any condemnation. You are free!

Why fight a losing battle? Surrender to Jesus and you’ve already won.

Pray this: Jesus, I need you. I have sinned against you and I am condemned by God’s law. There is no escape for me. Except you. I believe that you came to accept the punishment for my sin. I believe that you died on the cross and then rose again. I believe that you are God’s Son. I accept your forgiveness and ask to know you more. Thank you!

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Do you read the instructions?

When you download new software or purchase new technology, are you more likely to study the instructions or try to figure it out yourself? What about the much bigger assembly project of life? Are you one to seek counsel or strike out on your own?

I’m a careful instruction reader when it comes to IKEA. I complete the software tutorials step-by-step. This is ironic because I ask for and typically receive no instruction in life. I’ll figure it out myself, thank you.

Can you relate?

Because God created us, He knows us. He knows that we are inclined to trust our own judgment and spurn His wisdom. Listen: He wants the best for us, so He provided instructions. His living Word is presented in the Bible.

My two favorite Bible chapters, Kings 1 and 2, appear in the Old Testament. They continue the narrative of Samuel 1 and 2 when David was king over a unified Israelite population. In 2 Samuel 7, God promises that one of David’s descendants will occupy a throne that lasts forever. This points forward in time to the New Testament and Jesus, the Messiah, who would demonstrate His rule through sacrifice. He would give His life to save ours. His resurrection secured the eternal victory over sin and our rebellion.

Kings 1 and 2 follow this promise with a story arc that begins with Solomon’s wise rule and continues to the separation of the kingdom into northern Israel and southern Judah. It follows the generations of kings who murdered to assume power, worshipped idols, and abandoned God’s law. It introduces the prophets God sent to redirect and correct His people (Elijah and Elisha). It culminates in Israel’s destruction and exile. Everything is lost, the promised land is occupied by enemies.

Listen: this is not just a book of history. It offers instruction. Here’s the message.

We can’t do this on our own.

Let’s go back to 1 Samuel 8. At this time, the Israelites were governed by judges; there was no king. Samuel was serving as judge when the leaders approached him requesting a king like the surrounding nations. God was not pleased and told Samuel: “they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer.”

What follows this God’s-rule-rejection is a succession of replacement kings who do not measure up. Listen: you are not qualified to serve as king either, not even within your tiny kingdom of one.

Read the instructions, friend. God wrote them just for you. The true king, Jesus, is already on the throne. Give up your scepter. Jesus is calling you home. Peace!

 

 

 

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The opposite of free

Quick: What is the opposite of free?

What was your answer? Expensive? Costly? Bound? Enslaved?

How about selfish? Paul suggested that selfish is the dark alternative to freedom in his letter to the churches in Galatia. I agree. My personal experience is that focusing on myself leaves me incapable of appreciating, serving, or loving those around me. Selfish is ultimately a lonely destination.

Here is Paul’s advice on free living. It gives new meaning to the phrase “live free or die”.

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? (Galatians 5:16 MSG)

Live free! Love you!

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Test day

What’s your visceral response to a test? Does it fill you with anxiety or anticipation? Do you see a test as an opportunity or a burden?

I’ve been a university professor for 16 years so exams are an integral part of my career. I provide lectures, projects, and assignments to teach mechanical engineering. [Incidentally, I can’t believe this is my job. Most days I feel equal parts inadequate and surprised that I get to do this.] It doesn’t end with these preparations, though. The test is always looming!

Did you know there are tests in the Bible, too? The pattern is similar to school. Prepare, test. Prepare, test. Let’s take a look at John 6.

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:1-6)

The chapter begins “Some time after this…” After what? Jesus had been teaching his disciples. Preparing them. Lesson after patient lesson. Let’s recap briefly.

John 2

  • Jesus changes water into wine at the Cana wedding.
  • Jesus chases the merchants from the temple courts.

John 3

  • Jesus instructs Nicodemus on being born again.

John 4

  • Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman at the well.
  • Jesus heals the royal official’s son with just a word.

John 5

  • Jesus heals the invalid at the Bethesda pool with the command to “pick up your mat and walk”.
  • Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders about healing on the Sabbath.

Preparation complete. Time for an exam. “Philip, where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Listen: Jesus did not put Philip on the spot to embarrass him. This was an opportunity to demonstrate what he had learned.

Would it upset you to know that Jesus will test you, too? The simple truth is that there’s no other way to assess what you’ve learned. We need to determine our gaps in order to know where to focus our studies. No problems with generosity? Great, focus on your weakness in seeking retribution when wronged. Solid on compassion? Super, eliminate envy.

Here’s the really good news. When I write an exam, I also write the key. I already know what I’m going to test and I have the answers in advance. The exam is based on the preparation.

God works the same way. Don’t miss the end of verse 6: “for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Don’t be anxious. You are in good hands. Your God loves you dearly and is preparing you for victory! Peace, friend.

 

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Which dandelion are you?

I was walking my dog this morning when I crossed from the carefully manicured neighborhood lawns (why do we do that?) to an adjacent field. The difference was dramatic. The flora shifted from dark green, uniform Fescue to an unruly comedy of weeds, sparse grass, and dirt patches. The dandelions caught my attention.

The three dandelion stages appeared in close proximity: original yellow head perfect for pollination, the new white seed head, and, well, bare stem — nothing left.

It occurred to me that we are much like these dandelions. We can choose to follow God’s guidelines that keep us safe. This choice is freedom. Yellow.

Alternately, we can succumb to temptation and choose not-God. This sin is bondage. White.

Did you know that the yellow flower closes completely and then reopens as the white flower? Here’s the thing. The white flower is made to be lost. Any breeze, any disturbance blows it away. Nothing remains after the sin choice, friend. Bare stem.

Paul understood this dandelion truth. He shared the good news of freedom through belief in Jesus as Savior.

23For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Be yellow, friend.

 

 

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The trick is the turn

Let’s set the stage. Jesus and His disciples are in Jerusalem sharing the Passover meal. This meal celebrates the Israelite’s delivery from bondage in Egypt. In the final plague God visited on Pharaoh, the first born of each family without the lamb’s blood spread on their door frame was killed (Exodus 12). This symbolic lamb pointed hundreds of years forward to Jesus, the true Passover lamb, the God-man sacrifice for our sin.

During the meal, Jesus is telling His disciples what will follow in plain language. He directly addresses Peter (Simon):

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”  (Luke 22:31-32)

Jesus knows that Peter, the rock on which His church will be established, will deny Him three times this very night. Peter’s alter-self, Simon, will take the reins in this uncertain time, but Jesus calls him to repent, to turn, afterwards.

Turn.

This word arrested my attention; I’ve been pondering it in the context of my own fallibility. How often I’ve had to turn. This also led me to reconsider the words of the Byrds’ Turn! Turn! Turn!  The lyrics are based on Ecclesiastes 3 by King Solomon. I’d always thought of the repeated “turn, turn, turn” phrase as commenting on the inevitable transition from one season and purpose to the next. It probably does.

Here’s another take based on Jesus’ conversation with Peter. Our lives are characterized by “turn” because we are not perfect, because we will make mistakes.

Turn, turn, turn.

The trick is the turn, not the absence of it. Jesus knew Peter would fail; he knew that Simon was lurking in the shadows. He didn’t withdraw His love, though. Jesus will never, ever abandon you. He prayed for Peter; he pleaded on Peter’s behalf. He called him to repent, to turn, and, once he had, to fulfill his purpose. You see, Jesus selected Peter as His church-rock, weakness and all (Matthew 16:18). “Strengthen your brothers, Peter.”

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

Peace to you, friend.

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Iwantitall

God’s Word is alive. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend studying the Bible, you will continue to learn if you simply persist. I had a what-did-that-say? moment last night before bed. I just started reading through 1 Corinthians this week and had reached chapter 3. Check out the final verses.

For everything belongs to you— 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, 23 and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Cor. 3:21b-23)

The bit about Paul, Apollos, and Peter is because the church members in Corinth were squabbling over which was their leader. [Oh, the silly things that happen church. It turns out that Christians remain imperfect. Go figure.] Paul had to set them straight. Let’s focus on the twice repeated, nearly unbelievable phase “everything belongs to you”.

What?

I stopped reading right there and decided I needed to ponder this for a bit. Everything belongs to me? Let’s set the statement aside for a moment and consider the source. Paul (nee Saul) was trusted with penning the majority of the Spirit-inspired New Testament, the Truth, the second half of the Bible that teaches us to know and how to follow the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ. The evidence says Paul is a trustworthy author. Okay, so if Paul wrote it on purpose (he did repeat it after all) and his words are God-instructed, then I simply need to understand the statement to realize it in my imperfect life.

Everything belongs to you.

As one of the faith leaders of all history, Paul was fond of the all-inclusive. He also wrote that oft-quoted verse: For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13)

Everything.

Does this mean I’m guaranteed a prosperous and trouble-free life? Does it mean I won’t face failure? That I’ll never struggle to pay my bills? That I’ll find my beautiful, fault-free spouse simultaneously with the decision I’m ready to marry? That I’ll never be rejected? Never endure heartbreak?

I’m still learning, but I don’t think so. My limited (mostly selfish) human definition of everything doesn’t seem to match what Paul had in mind.

Listen: Here’s what I know. God loves me. Lavishly. He will never abandon me, even when I hurt Him. Jesus died to pay my sin-debt, so I am righteous in God’s eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, this everything is not about me. Maybe the correct definition of everything is God-in-me and me-in-God. Maybe my Father is not so worried about the stuff of my life and is ultimately interested in the stuff of my heart. Maybe when I seek Him first, this generous loving Father blesses me with everything that is actually good for me.

Wait. I think there’s a verse about that, too…

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33)

Jesus said that, by the way. It’s okay to want it all friend. Let that all be Jesus and everything is yours. Love you!

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