The Law of the Letter or of Life

Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Job 3-4, 2 Corinthians 3

The Olympics are going on in full steam with the final days approaching this week. Though I’ve never been one to follow gymnastics, swimming, track, or fencing, when the Olympics comes around, I’m glued to the screen watching people strain towards earthly glory in the form of a gold, silver, or bronze medal. Today, I was watching the morning news, and Caleb Dressel was doing an interview. When asked about how he took care of his mental health, he said that the first thing he did when he got back home from a big event was to not think about swimming for at least two weeks. When he got home, he wasn’t a medal winning athlete; he was just himself. He said if he didn’t do this, the pressure would be too much. He would start to go after an unattainable goal that would ultimately lead him down a dark path. 

Though we can pursue earthly achievements in our careers, finances, homes, sports, hobbies, etc., we are called to live with eternity in mind as Christians. A gold medal, large retirement account, promotion, or degree is not the pinnacle of our life. The way that we live now is working towards that final goal which will come when the trumpet sounds. As I talked about earlier this week, we can rest in assurance that this goal has already been achieved. The victory is won, and we wait for Jesus to come. 

I can say that… but in my heart of hearts, sometimes it’s hard to live like that is actually true. I like to be in control, and for the things that I’m actually good at (which is not sports), I like to be one of the best. I will go all out. And, so in my Christian walk, I can fluctuate from being distracted and worried about the cares of the world and being so legalistic that I stifle the relationship that I’m trying to work towards. When I make it about me, I can go down a wrong path – just like Caleb Dressel. I can’t do anything to add to the accomplishments of Christ, and so all of my actions where I am trying to be the ‘best’ Christian ultimately burn me out and leave me empty – and they can actually leave me further away from Christ (like the Pharisees). 

In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, Paul writes, “17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We don’t have to live by the law of the letter anymore. We can live in the freedom that comes from living in the Holy Spirit. We are not changing ourselves on our own power; we are relying on the power of God. And, God can do so much more than any man – Olympic medal winning or not. When we rely on him, we have the victory! Whose power are you living in?

~ Cayce Fletcher

Read or listen to today’s Bible reading at Biblegateway.com: Job 3-4 and 2 Corinthians 3 .

Writing the Law on our Hearts

After being taken out of Egypt, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, grumbling their way through the Desert of Sin and failing many tests, the people of Israel have made it to Mount Sinai where God is going to meet with them and establish the rules for them.

Exodus 19

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

Then, after Moses runs up and down the mountain several times, God gives the ten commandments to the people, and it was completely overwhelming.

Exodus 20

18 When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.

19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!” 20 “Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come in this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”  

21 As the people stood in the distance, Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.

When the Israelites saw the pure raw power of God displayed before them they were terrified and realized that they had been disobeying and testing the one true God.  But this encounter was very impactful and the Israelites stuck to the ten commandments and the rest of the law until the time of Jesus, but we do see that their teachers had really perverted the commandments by then.  

In today’s New Testament chapter (Mark 7) Jesus is talking to some of the religious leaders, and they are mad because his disciples are not washing their hands before a meal, which is an old religious tradition from the time of Moses.  Jesus is disgusted with them because of the cleanliness of their hands contrasted with the perversion in their hearts.

Mark 7

9 Then he said, “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition. 10 For instance, Moses gave you this law from God: ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and ‘Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, ‘Sorry, I can’t help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.’ 12 In this way, you let them disregard their needy parents. 13 And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others.”

14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.

We have talked a bit about remembering what God has done for us, and having it in as obvious of a place as possible to remind us so that we do not forget about what God did for us, and this often leads to traditions, which can be very good to remind us.  For instance we have Christmas as a time to remind us to celebrate and thank God for sending Jesus, but it has turned mostly into a celebration of consumerism and credit card debt.  In all of this we need to remember that it is what comes out of our heart that is the most important.

-Chris Mattison

Links to today’s Bible reading Exodus 19-20 and Mark 7

Justified by Faith

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say_ “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness

Romans 4

When I think of the old testament versus the new testament, one of the differences I tend to think of is law versus faith.  In the old testament, the people were under the law, and judged by the law.  Then in the new testament, Jesus changed things up so that we could be saved by our faith, with his sacrifice.  No longer were people required to perform sacrifices under the law.

Is that the right way to look at it though?  I’m not sure because I still find scripture that makes comparisons which lead me to the same conclusion.  However, in Romans 4, Paul talks about Abraham being credited by faith.  Verses 2 and 3 say:

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ “

Paul goes on to say that David also talks about blessings that are separate from works, or in other words, by faith.  Verses 7 and 8 say:

“ ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been coveredBlessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.’ ”

So, how do I get this to fit with the laws and required sacrifices and such that were required for forgiveness in the old testament.  While the laws were all required to be followed, there had to be faith included with it for it to please God.  I can’t help but think of Matthew 5:17 as I am talking about the law of the old testament versus faith and grace in the new testament.  It reads:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

So, with our forgiveness coming through faith, it does not mean the law has been thrown away.  Instead, it means this is the perfect fulfillment of the law.

Why is this important to us?  Verse 16 says:

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”

We are all descendants through the faith of Abraham.  We can also have our faith credited as righteousness.  What a wonderful blessing this is.
– Andrew Hamilton

Guilty, but Justified

Romans 3 23 and 24

Romans 3

In the first 2 chapters of Romans, Paul talks a lot about our actions, and our failures.  Since we have all sinned and failed, these two chapters by themselves would paint a very bleak picture for each of us as individuals.  Thankfully, even though these contain very important teachings, they lead to much more.

Everyone of us is guilty under the law.  Romans 3:9-12 gives us a clear picture of this:

“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;  as it is written,

There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.’ “

So, where does this leave us?  We are all guilty under the law.  We need something else.  We need grace.  This is exactly what we are offered. Verses 23 and 24 say:

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”

This grace is offered freely to all of us if we accept it and follow Christ.  So, while we strive to follow God’s commands, and honor Him in all that we do, there are times we will all mess up, and therefore the law cannot justify us.  The law condemns us.  God has given us another way out through Jesus.  We have to accept the gift, and follow Jesus throughout our life.

-Andrew Hamilton

Looking Inward

Romans 2 6 (1)

Romans 2

As I read chapter 2 of Romans, I see it as a call to look inward instead of at those around us.  The chapter starts with talking about judging or condemning others.  Verse 3 shows us the danger of looking at others faults instead of our own:

 “But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?”

So, when we condemn others for their actions, we are actually condemning ourselves for our sins.  It continues that God will judge us each for the deeds we have done.  However, from my reading of this, and other scriptures, those deeds have to be done with the right attitude in our hearts.  Verse 8 talks about those who are selfishly ambitious.  I have met people who do a lot of the “right things”, but only because it helps the way they are seen or because it helps them feel good about themselves.  These people are selfish, and generally ambitious.  I believe these actions will be judged as selfish ambitions rather than service to God.  Because of this, I think we all need to look at the reason behind our actions.  Are we serving God with what we do, and with our motives behind what we do?

Paul then continues by talking about those who have the law and those who are without the law.  In Chapter 1, Paul talked about no one being without excuse about believing in God, since the things around us make it evident there is a god.  So, in the same way, not knowing the law is not an excuse for not knowing the law.  This is clear in verses 14 – 16:

 “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

We will all be treated equally based on our actions.  Obviously, other parts of scripture show that the blood of Christ covers our sins and the acceptance of that gift, and following Christ will be the largest question in that judgement.

Paul’s final points in this chapter are outward things versus inward things.  Both in what we teach versus what we do, and in holding on to the physical following of the law versus the following of the spirit/heart of the law.  Verses 28 and 29 sum this point up:

“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

Again, are we hanging on to some outward appearance of following the law, or are we looking inward toward following God’s teachings, growing closer to Him, and imitating Christ in our lives.

My takeaway from Romans 2 is to look inward at my own life.  I need to see if I am living a life that shows God in all I do, and when I find areas where I am not, making changes in them.  I am not able to do this all on my own, but I know that God can change me.
-Andrew Hamilton

Make a Choice! – 2 Chron. 34

 

scrolls
This picture is from the Memorial Scrolls Trust (http://www.memorialscrollstrust.org/), a collection of 1600 Czech Torah scrolls saved from the destruction of the Holocaust.

 

Wow! This week has been such a great reminder for me about the importance of scripture! We began this week by looking at our memory verse from Deut. 30:19-20:

 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

We’ve learned how we can choose life through desiring and studying God’s word this week. What does choosing life look like?

Let’s pause for a moment this Saturday morning and turn to 2 Chronicles 34, our key text. The Israelites in the Old Testament always seem to be getting into trouble and turning away from God’s paths. At this point in 2 Chronicles, the kingdom of Israel that Saul and David had established had been divided in two, with the ten tribes in the north making up Israel and the two in the south, Judah. The nation of Israel had become so wicked that God had sent them into exile. The kingdom of Judah had not gotten that bad, yet. But still, the people, under the king’s directions, had begun to worship other gods and neglected the one true God. In 2 Chronicles 33, we find the temple in disrepair and the law of God lost. The nation of Judah was choosing death.

But, in 2 Chronicles 34, we find hope in the form of a boy named Josiah, anointed king at only 8 years old. The Bible said that “he did what was right in the LORD’s sight and walked in the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn aside to the right or the left” (v. 2). Josiah according to this verse was obviously choosing the path of life. But, what does that actually mean? What did he do that was so righteous?

The rest of this chapter goes on to say that he tore down the false gods that his people were worshiping and cleansed the land. Then, he began to restore God’s temple to how it should be. While the priests were looking through the temple and cleaning it out, they found something pretty important. In verse 14, it says that “Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the LORD written by the hand of Moses.” The people of Judah had walked so far down the path of unrighteousness that they totally neglected the law of God and lost it. Later on, it says that the court secretary, Shapan, just told King Josiah, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book.” The law to him was nothing more than an old book!

Shapan read the law aloud to Josiah and when Josiah heard this, he got so upset that he tore his clothes! He realized that his people hadn’t been choosing the way of life; they hadn’t been keeping “the word of the LORD in order to do everything written in [it]” (v. 21).

choose life

This week, we’ve been meditating on the importance of scripture. We have a wonderful gift already because we have such easy access to the word of God! But, just like the people of Judah, we may neglect it to chase after other things. This year, we have another opportunity to commit ourselves to learning how to choose life from God’s word, both through these devotions and more simply through dedicating ourselves to God. Beginning tomorrow, we will learn more Godly wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Make a choice now to dedicate yourself like Josiah did to the daily reading of God’s word so that we can follow the paths of righteousness that lead to life.

Thrown to the Lions

IMG_0031-1

Daniel 5-6                                            

In Chapter 6 of Daniel something very devious and disturbing occurs. After being selected as one of three administrators over Babylon by its new king, Daniel found himself in the crosshairs of the other overseers of the kingdom. They were jealous of the favor Daniel was finding in the eyes of Darius and that the king wanted to set Daniel over the whole kingdom.  This jealousy led to a conspiracy to get rid of Daniel. But how could they entrap such an upright guy? 

The satraps and administrators devised a plan to use Daniel’s devotion to God against him. They convinced the king to enact a law that would prohibit prayer of any kind to any person or god, other than Darius for thirty days. The punishment would be certain death, in the form of being thrown into a pit with hungry lions.

Daniel, in response to the ridiculous edict, went home and did the same thing he did everyday: prayed. He prayed three times everyday, not to Darius, but to the God of the universe, Yahweh.  In the middle of his prayers, a group of satraps and administrators went to Daniel’s house and caught him in the unlawful act. They turned him in. Despite trying everything he could, the king had no choice but to order to have Daniel thrown into the Lion’s den. 

The next morning Darius rushed to the den to see if Daniel was still alive. Not only was he alive, he didn’t have a scratch on him. God had spared him. He sent an angel to shut the mouths of the lions. The king was overjoyed and had Daniel pulled out. And, in a clear case of poetic justice, the men who tried to entrap Daniel are thrown to the lions to meet the same fate they had planned for Daniel.

The big point I want to draw from this particular story, and in this book as a whole, is Daniel’s consistency despite the changes in the world around him. Daniel lived his whole life in a place that was not his home, lived under the reign of several different kings, and he had people who were jealous of him and wanted him dead. Despite these things that were out of his control, Daniel was steadfast in his devotion to God and unwavering in his commitment to living right. 

The world we live in is constantly changing. Every four to eight years, we have a new president. What is popular today will be forgotten tomorrow (silly bands anyone?). What was socially acceptable a decade ago, is now taboo. What was once taboo is now celebrated. Society is in flux. Our devotion to God must not be. We may never live in a time when it is illegal to pray, but we do live in one where it is unpopular and becoming more so ever year. Our foundation must not be the shifting sands of the culture, but the Rock that never changes. It may get you thrown to the lions, but you’ll be in the favor of the one who made those lions. 

– Joel Fletcher

A to Z

Psalm 119

p119-lamp-to-my-feet

Monday, January 16

If you live in the United States, you are subject to millions of laws.  There are so many laws at the federal level, that it would take lifetimes to count them all. There are possibly 20,000 regulations placed upon gun ownership.  The Internal Revenue Code is over 7,500 pages long.  There are over 300,000 expressions of criminal offenses you could possibly commit.  All of these numbers do not include the laws you must abide by at the state or local levels.  I do not tell you all of this to make you rummage through law books before every action, so you will fearfully stay at home (there might be a law against that, too), or even as some kind of backhanded political statement, but to make the simple point — even when you want to follow the law, it can be hard when there are so many.

 

“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.  Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart — they do no wrong but follow his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.” – Psalm 119:1-4

 

“How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word.” – Psalm 119:8

 

Psalm 119 is a reflection on the following: the laws, statutes,  precepts, and words given by God to men through an acrostic.  What is an acrostic?  You have most likely done something similar with your name at some point in your school career:

 

Artistic

Ambitious

Relaxed

Objective

Nearsighted

 

The first letter of each word spell out the theme of discussion.  By using the Hebrew Alphabet to begin each stanza, David, our author, literally covers everything from “A” to “Z” (or “Aleph” to “Taw”) to thoroughly tell about the favor or folly that comes from obeying / disobey God’s commandments.  The ABC’s of living a life for God is closely clinging to His commands – all 600+ of them given in the Torah that make up the Levitical Law? For David, yes.  Thankfully, Jesus Christ simplified the commandments to two guiding principles that encompass them all:

“‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘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.” – Matthew 22:36-40

Does reducing these many laws to two make it easier to live within the law? Absolutely not.  There are no longer loopholes, gaps, or technicalities to exploit which are the reasons for chastisement of religious leaders in the time of Jesus and the ever-increasing amount of laws today.  These two laws encompass every part of our lives. A-to-Z. From Actions with our enemies to the Zeal which we have for His kingdom, these laws apply.  When we commit to following His law, we have blessing, direction, fulfillment, and hope.  Is it an easier life? No. Is it a better life? Absolutely, yes.

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. I’ve promised it once, and I’ll promise it again:  I will obey your righteous regulations.” – Psalm 119:105-106

-Aaron Winner

We Want a King (I Samuel 8-10)

Monday, October 10th

1st Samuel 8:19,20

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

terrence-mon-pic

 

by: Terrence Raper

I said yesterday that I struggled drawing a parallel with the God of the Old Testament, and the grace of Jesus shown in the New Testament. Jesus represented God, but in a way that seems to us studying the Bible years later completely new. In some ways he made obedience seem more realistic. He also taught us that even though obedience may be more realistic, it will require a lot of forgiveness and a different way of thinking about obedience. We will have to strive for excellence in how we treat each other. We will no longer work out our good deeds on some sort of accounting ledger in hopes that we are in the black with God.

   

Before, it was about how well we followed all of the law. The law seemed tangible, and measurable. In a way, that’s how we like it. We love tracking our progress. At the very least we like noticing the failings of others. Then Jesus tells us, we are missing the point. He explains that God has a plan. We say “okay, what is it?”  We are told to trust in the plan. We ask again, “what is it?” We seem to only trust in God’s plan when we understand it. We have a hard time tracking the measurables within God’s plan. This has been the story of us for a long time. The people of Israel got tired of waiting. So when Samuel got old they told him “appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have (I Samuel 8:4).” Basically we have done it God’s way, now we are interested in the system they have in other nations. This is the longing for more than what God has given us.

 

We all act this way. We act impatiently with our money, our relationships, with our expectations. This is not the behavior of faithful followers of God. One thing I have heard said in every church I have ever attended is “God is good”. Some of us even say this on Sunday mornings to stir the congregation  to comment back “all the time”. Do we truly believe that God is good? Because if we did truly believe God is good, our whole world would be different. We would trust that God had our best interest in mind. We would stop rushing our own plans. We would stop trying to make relationship works that aren’t blessing us. We wouldn’t try to make scriptures and truths fit into our own agenda. We would be more faithful with our time and resources.

 

           The Israelites failed to remain faithful. They stopped believing God was going to do what was best for them. So they wanted a king. King Saul is a fascinating person in the Bible. I find something newly perplexing every time I dive into these Scriptures. I hope I find something new to share with everyone moving forward.